After the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500's, Guatemala remained a colony of Spain until independence in 1821. Guatemala's modern history from that point has been turbulent, with periods of both military and civilian government. In the period 1961-1996, Mayan guerrilla insurgents and US-backed government forces were engaged in a 36-year civil war, during which over 200,000 people, mostly civilians, died or vanished.
Guatemala emerged from civil war only to be faced with a range of other serious issues including organized crime and gang violence in the cities (notoriously so in the capital, Guatemala City); inequality of wealth distribution with severe rural poverty; high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and malnourishment; drugs trafficking; and violence against women.
Economic development, though boosted by the removal of foreign trade barriers after the war, has remained muted overall as Guatemala struggles with its many problems. Agriculture - including coffee, bananas and sugar - remains the bedrock of the economy at national level, while providing a livelihood at individual and family level for many Guatemalans, especially in rural areas.
Christians in Guatemala
Traditionally, the majority of Guatemala's population followed the Roman Catholic church, indigenous Mayan beliefs, or a blend of the two. As in much of Latin America, there is a great danger of syncretism obscuring what is distinctively Christian.
The quest by Guatemalans to find spiritual hope amidst tragedy in their country increased notably after the 1976 earthquake, which brought terrible additional suffering in the middle of the civil war.
Many people have now joined Evangelical churches which now include over a quarter of the population. However, discipleship is not always strong, and many communities remain with little Christian influence.