By Michael Ashcraft
Ivan Arango never liked the party because, as he repeated, they always ended with fights, hatred and vows of revenge. But his close friend, Antonio, prevailed on him to go to his high school graduation’s celebration in Guatemala – in the cantina.
Sure enough, a fight broke out over some stolen beers, and Ivan and Antonio found themselves fleeing a death squad in the City of Quetzaltenango in the Western side of Guatemala.
Formed to efficiently kill dangerous targets outside of the proper channels of justice during Guatemala’s dirty civil war, clandestine death squads were paramilitary groups that devolved into despotic gangs answerable to no one.
A death squad member had stolen Antonio’s beer, and he had punched him, not knowing he was a paramilitary.
Out of his devotion to his best friend, Ivan had planned to accompany the graduation festivities in the cantina for only 30 minutes. In the next moment, he was fleeing for his life.
“Are they going to kill us?” he worried.
Ivan and his friend hid in a room in the back of the cantina, and a friendly lady locked it with a padlock on the outside. Sure enough, the death squad came to to that room, pounded and kicked the door and fired bullets.
Terrified, Ivan remembered his brother, Diego, who was first of the family to become a born-again Christian.
Images passed through his mind of his mother coming to recognize his dead and blood-spattered body at the morgue.
In his heart, he cried out to God. “Lord, forgive me. If you can get me out of this trial, save me. Don’t let these men kill me here.”
The paramilitaries busted down the door. They shoved a .44-Magnum in Ivan’s mouth, but it jammed.
“I couldn’t say anything,” he said. “I didn’t argue. He insulted me like a demon.”
Responding to disturbances in the neighborhood, the military police showed up. The paramilitaries stood down and left.
The streets were silent like a cemetery. Ivan asked the cantina owner if he should go home.
“They’re waiting for you to come out to torture and kill you,” he said.
At 3:00 a.m., Ivan and his buddy fled. Slinking through side streets and keeping in the shadows, the two made progress toward home. But the paramilitaries spotted them and pursued them in their jeep. Ivan and his friend quickly hid themselves.
In the darkness, they managed to elude the death squad. First, Ivan dropped his friend off at his house, and then he wended his way to his own home.
Always lurking, the paramilitaries spotted him from a distance.
Ivan prayed again. “Lord, You are real. Change my face so that they don’t recognize me so that I can get inside my house without them knowing.”
The paramilitaries approached and apparently didn’t recognize him.
“They asked me where I was coming from, and I responded that I was coming from revival services at an evangelical church,” he said.
Just then some Christians came walking down the street singing praises.
The paramilitaries left.
“Upon entering my house, I bowed my knee to Jesus,” he said. “I thanked God and asked His forgiveness.”
The next day he attended church and got saved.
Eventually, Ivan immigrated to the United States and met and married his wife. The couple were medically unable to have children. But they prayed, and today Ivanna and Ivannea, twins, attend the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. Today, they live just west of Downtown Los Angeles and commute to our seaside community to receive a Christian education.