He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” – Psalm 91:1-6
If there was one thing that nearly everyone in our group mentioned as striking, it was how precious the children of Guatemala are and how few opportunities and resources way too many of the children actually have. For a handful, by the grace of God, a door opens and they and their family walk through. This was true for the children of two government schools we visited on this, our fifth day.
The schools we visited were started by the former First Lady of Guatemala, Patricia Arzu. She runs three schools through her foundation. For preschoolers (Los Patitos), school age girls (Los Rosas), and school-age boys (Los Cedros). These schools serve the children who live on the outskirts of Guatemala City. Many are so poor that they are nearly naked and living in the dumps. But, in each clean, brightly-decorated school, the children gather each morning in clean uniforms given to them by the school.
For the Girl’s School, our congregation donated underwear, which we gave in bags to the director of the school. She wept at what we thought a simple gift from the good people of FRC. She told our group that many of the girls come to school not wearing underwear because they don’t have any or don’t have any clean. It is hard to imagine, but here are the facts:
- 56% of children live on $2/day or less and suffer from chronic malnutrition.
- Over 31% of children never start school and less than 1/3 of children will complete 9 years of school.
- More than 29% of children in Guatemala are involved in child labor before the age of fourteen.
- Guatemalan girls are frequent victims of trafficking, sexual abuse, and neglect.
- 32% of Guatemalans are illiterate, but that rate is as high as 60% in the indigenous population.
- More than 1/2 of Guatemalans live below the poverty line.
That afternoon, we went to the Guatemala City Cemetery, which itself displayed the wealth and poverty of the nation in the size and decor or rough simplicity of the tombs. Randall led us to the back of the cemetery, to a cliff that overlooks the Guatemala City Dump. Our breath was literally taken away at the sight before our eyes. Forty or so trucks were lined up winding through the cemetery and dumping their refuge, as hundreds of people swarmed to pull food, scrap metal, clothes, anything worth something, out of the pile. If there were a cast system in that country, those people would be on the lowest rung. Circling in the sky and covering the trees around the dump were hundreds of vultures. If I could describe what hell on earth looks like, that would be it. We stood in silence on that cliff watching because we could not believe what we were seeing.
Out of that dump came some of the children we met that morning. Out of that dump benevolent groups and ministries try to pull humanity from the grip of despair.
Our prayer: “God deliver them from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. Cover them with your pinions, and under your wings may they find refuge; for your faithfulness is a shield and buckler. May they not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. For you are their refuge and fortress, the God in whom they are called to trust.”