The Odd Healing of Humor

“Though a mighty army surrounds me, my heart will not be afraid.” – Psalm 27:3

During Guatemala’s 40-year civil war, millions of people were disappeared, displaced, exiled. Some hid in remote regions of the country. In the early 1990s, the “Communities in Resistance” went public. They asked to be recognized as unarmed civilians. Human rights and church groups began traveling into the mountains, to verify their claims.

On one of those trips, having been promised a cease-fire, we flew by plane then helicopter to a clearing cut into the seemingly endless jungle. Guides led us on a sweaty, muddy walk to a settlement of corn-stalk walls, plastic tarp roofs, and furniture of roughly-dressed logs. We listened to heart-breaking, grueling stories, and slept with distant sounds of mortar fire.

The day we were to leave, thick clouds rolled in: too dense for the pilots to navigate.

Our group included one Guatemalan priest; one U.S. citizen (me), and ten Scandinavian journalists and advocates. We had no radio or phone. Hours of waiting piled up. Anxiety about being stranded started giving way to the deeper fear that fighting would resume in our area.

Then the priest suggested we could start walking. It would take, he reflected somberly, about five days to reach the nearest telephone. The Scandinavians looked at one another in alarm. Padre M. kept a straight face for several minutes, then cracked up. His laughter proved contagious.

Later we learned that concerned friends had broadcast a radio announcement, saying we were still in the jungle; the warring parties had extended the cease-fire. The next day, the cloud lifted and the helicopters arrived. Soon after we left, armed patrols resumed.

The work for peace is a long haul. But there are good, rich moments, when laughter has power to push back the fear.


God, when I go into scary places, keep a clearing of light in my heart. If possible, grant me a friend who knows how to make us all laugh. Amen.

About the Author
John A. Nelson is the Pastor of the Niantic Community Church (UCC/UMC) in Niantic, Connecticut.