Something positive is happening in Guatemala, one of the world’s most violent countries. In the 20 years since the end of its long civil war, it has been crippled by widespread corruption and impunity, and its homicide rate has spiralled to five times higher than the global average. There has been so much bad news to report that many Guatemalans have become almost indifferent to it.
But there are signs of change in this year of general elections – an awakening dubbed ‘the Guatemalan spring’. The Bible has had a prominent profile at this important moment, thanks to a campaign by the Society of Guatemala called Un Gobierno como Dios manda (A government as God commands.)
“In April, one of the worst ever corruption scandals was uncovered, implicating some of the country’s most prominent businessmen and politicians, including the president and vice president,” explains the Bible Society’s Director of Programs and Projects Marco Vinicio Martinez. “This caused national outrage and Guatemala finally woke up as a country and saw the urgent need for change. A peaceful protest movement began to grow, using social media and rallies to call for change.
Dawn prayer meetings
“Churches got involved by organising dawn prayer meetings in Central Park, the place at the heart of the protests. Prayers were said before each rally.”
With massive demonstrations taking place across the country, the vice president resigned in early May. It was in this context, and with general elections due on September 6, that the Bible Society launched its campaign in July.
“We wanted to remind all citizens that it is everyone’s responsibility to vote wisely in order to help transform our nation,” says Mr Martinez. “The campaign presented Bible verses about leadership, and invited people to reflect on these and pray, asking God to help them elect the right leaders.”
More than two million reached
More than two million people were reached by the campaign, which was carried out in the national media, including newspapers, television and radio, on social media and on public billboards in various cities. Audio messages about the campaign were translated and broadcast in the five largest indigenous languages, and more than 100,000 leaflets were distributed, including Braille versions.
“The message was so well received,” says Mr Martinez. “August was Bible Month, and more than 300 churches enthusiastically joined in the campaign, with sermons, Bible study groups, and social outreach activities such as debates and meetings with politicians to discuss the biblical model of leadership.
“This was all taking place amidst unprecedented solidarity in our country. People of different indigenous groups, religions and backgrounds united to call for an end to corruption and the resignation of the president. On August 27, the largest peace march in the history of Guatemala took place, attracting more than 120,000 people. Altogether around 200,000 people across the country took part in peace marches that day.
Not a single drop of blood
“What is incredible is that, in a country where violence has become a way of life, not a single drop of blood was shed.”
A few days later, just before the elections on September 6, the president resigned. Election day saw the highest turn out of voters ever recorded in Guatemala. Its result wasn’t decisive, so a run-off is due to be held on October 25.
“We are grateful that so many people have been reached by our campaign so far,” says Mr Martinez. “It has been wonderful to see how the Word of God is changing the hearts of many Guatemalans at this key moment in our history. We pray that our next government truly will be a government that practises the biblical principles of leadership – justice, peace, compassion and integrity.”