Primero Dios – God First
Beginning in the fall of 2018, groups from Mision Floresco have visited the tiny town of San Nicolas, near Guatemala City, at least twice a year. Although through the years, we have participated in other activities, such as working with residents in their cornfields, cleaning up garbage in the town, and providing basic medical services, the main focus of these trips has become spiritual formation through retreats, prayer services, and fellowship to strengthen the Body of Christ there. During last month’s trip, we hosted a weekend retreat for about one hundred people from San Nicolas, both adults and kids. That weekend, we shared meals in the large cafeteria, slept on bunkbeds in rustic cabins, played basketball and soccer, heard the singing of tropical birds, and conversed with old and new friends.
At the lush grounds of the retreat center on that first evening, we struggled through violent rainstorms and loss of power throughout the whole campground, and we also sensed a spiritual opposition, a resistance to open up and receive from the Lord. Deacon Ralph Poyo’s teachings were rich, and the worship team led us in singing anointed songs, but even so, on Friday night, people’s hearts and minds seemed hard and closed. The breakout group discussions felt dry. The people’s responses were superficial. We sensed the undercurrent of town conflicts within and among the families. As a member of the team, I reflected that it can be discouraging to visit year after year and still see evidence of family dysfunction, bitterness, infidelity, and addictions. I confess that I personally struggled with a great sense of insufficiency. I was burdened with the thought that I was completely unable to love like Jesus loves.
But God is good, and He provides. During an earlier team devotion, we reflected on John 15:9 and the invitation to abide in Jesus’s love. We are the beloved of God, Scripture reminded us, and He draws us to dwell in that love, in His “total gift of self,” as Deacon Ralph defined it. Then, in one of the retreat talks, Deacon Ralph led us to focus on Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” I saw clearly that my focus had been misdirected; I had been trying to muster my own love and my own abilities to do the work that only the Holy Spirit can do. Instead, Jesus’ calling was to seek HIM, to receive HIS love, and to allow HIM to work in me and through me. That was the message God was speaking to the team members and also to the retreat attendees.
In one of our Saturday breakout sessions, our group reflected on the common saying we always hear in San Nicolas: “Primero Dios.” This phrase means something like “God willing,” but literally, it means “God first.” The saying took life as we linked it to the passage in Matthew 6. One member of the group shared her experience of seeking God first and receiving His love as a result. She had come to the retreat reluctantly, pushed by her sister, and the first night she seemed particularly surly and resentful of the whole event. But at one point, during one of the prayer moments the previous evening, she had decided to step into a prayer of forgiveness toward someone who had hurt her. As she allowed God to bring forgiveness and healing to her heart, she experienced God’s love physically, like a warm hug. As she shared this testimony with the group, vulnerably and a bit shakily, her whole countenance changed. She had seen God work in her life, doing what only He could do, as she sought Him first.
This dear sister was not the only person who allowed God’s transforming love to work throughout the weekend. We witnessed a reconciliation between an uncle and a nephew who had been feuding. A formerly abusive mother offered humble public repentance to her daughter, and the daughter freely forgave the mother in a lovely moment of tearful joy. One young couple made a commitment to live apart until they could be united in Holy Matrimony. We rejoice in the work that God did that weekend in the lives of Marcos, Luis Miguel, Alicia, Pablo, Grettel, Mayra, Ana and so many others. We pray that those seeds will take root and grow as our brothers and sisters pursue God above all else.
For every person in San Nicolas, for every person on the Mision Floresco team, and for every person who follows Jesus, this seeking first of God and His kingdom requires daily decisions to walk in His will and live for Him. We cannot rely on yesterday’s grace or last year’s retreat to carry us. We seek Him every day afresh as we “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12). Several families in San Nicolas are choosing to follow Jesus in significant ways that go beyond the twice-yearly Mision Floresco retreats. For many months, this group has met weekly, sharing meals and prayers in the home of Edgar and Aida, growing in the knowledge and love of God, and being disciplined by Doctor Mario, Mision Floresco’s missionary doctor on location. This prayer group is a wonderful fruit that has grown from the retreats. Through this group, for the first time, there is consistent fellowship and prayer, with several men in the town entering their roles as spiritual leaders. It was a joy to see these families stepping into their own pursuit of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. They are choosing to live by the truth of “Primero Dios.”
In addition to the weekend retreat, one very significant event took place during the trip to San Nicolas. You may have seen our video of Bryan’s testimony, shown at the 2023 Flourish Conference. Bryan was a young man whose life was miraculously transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit. A few years ago, God freed him from a life of drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuity, and homelessness. But this past April, on Holy Saturday, Bryan was tragically killed by a reckless driver. He left behind a grieving mother, sister, and brother. One of our goals on this trip was to share some moments with them, remembering together Bryan’s life as a follower of Jesus. His mother, Gloria, told us tearfully that after his profound encounter with Jesus on a mountain, Bryan had shared with his family what Jesus meant to him. As he went about his day in San Nicolas, Gloria remembered Bryan constantly singing the worship song “No Hay Lugar Mas Alto.” Because his life had been transformed by the Holy Spirit, Bryan knew he was a beloved son of God. One day after his encounter with the Lord, he met with his estranged father and asked him for forgiveness and also offered forgiveness to him. Bryan knew the meaning of “Primero Dios,” and he now sees God face to face in glory.
– Teresa Pastor