Day Five: Hope/Despair

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.”

 

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Day Four: Restore/Reflect

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

Coming from the first world into the third and fourth worlds was a shock to all our senses; the smells, sights, sounds, etc, are foreign and after three days of full immersion, it was a wonderful relief to have a day to breathe and reflect.

In the morning, we worshipped at Fraternidad Christina De Guatemala, a 12,000 member non-denominational church where the Darbys worship.  It was a beautiful, enormous and contemporary church, a great out-of-our-box experience.

After worship, we drove to the ancient city of Antigua to invest in the local economy through its artisans and venders who sell their wares at the City Market.  We visited a former monastery that is now a gorgeous hotel.

It was great to have a day to lay down our heavy burden of compassion and find rest for our souls.

Day Three: Faith/Fun

“Faith is the assurance of things you hope for and the conviction of things you cannot yet see.”  – Hebrews 11:1

Our day’s journey took us outside the city to rural roads winding through gorgeous Guatemalan landscape. The 2 hour drive brought us to El Molino. a quaint village with dirt roads, beautiful people, and simple dwellings. The Evangelical Assembly of God church was started by the Pastor Lois and his wife (known as the Pastora) several years ago with a handful of people, but now worships over a quarter of their community – 30 or so adults. The building in which they worship is a simple structure with twig-like walls and a cement floor.  During a brief time of worship, the pastor’s 10 year old daughter served as the drummer and a worship leader/soloist who made “a joyful noise” led songs.  Our team did our skit and message, then served hotdogs and drinks to the children and adults gathered.  A spontaneous game of soccer was played on the dirt road, with rocks forming the goal line. The team set up two pinatas and the kids had a fantastic time trying to break them, creating a cascade of exuberant joy that filled the courtyard. We learned that we cannot underestimate the power of laughter to bring diverse people together; people who are resourced differently, speak different languages, are racially and ethnically diverse, and are worlds apart in so many other ways. On that day, we were one community.

Across a rickety rope bridge in a valley with fabulous views of the volcanos, there is a plot of land where the church members had grown and sold and replanted about 100,000 small coffee plants in order to raise money, a sustainable entrepreneurial endeavor. On its initial year the church raise $20,000, which they used to purchase a piece of land on which they will eventually build a better worship center and house for the pastor. The coffee plant nursery is an example of how the Darbys are moving their ministry toward a vision empowerment model, which they have named “Start with One.”

The initial success of this project showed great promise as model to enable sustainable change. “Start with One” looks for people who are willing to take ownership for their future. Instead of seeking opportunities where the Darby’s feel they can make a difference, they are letting opportunities come to them via the relationships they have developed the past twenty years in Guatemala. Once those opportunities present themselves, they work with the leadership to discover what they are passionate about and look for ways to support them on their journey.

Their only ask of those they work with is to pay-it-forward once the project looks to be sustainable. In the case of the coffee nursery, the church is already working with the Darby’s to find a project they can help get off the ground in another community enabling them to take what has been provided to them and give support to another community in need to those initial resources. The hope is that this will enable a cycle of change in Guatemala of people taking ownership and responsibility for their future.

They are currently in discussions with a school that provides for the Mayan Indians.  The school’s desire is to develop a sustainable funding source to eliminate their dependence on outside scholarships for each student. The Darby’s are working to guide them toward development of a feasible solution that can be self sustaining once up and running like the coffee nursery. It may just be that coffee nursery ends up providing the seed support for the project once it is determined. The pastor is already excited about the prospect to be able to help another community to get their start.

So, in summary, our gift of presence to the small community was graciously received, but the real gift was not for them, but for us; it was a lesson about faith.  In faith and sacrifice, they started the church. In faith, they borrowed property to build a simple worship center. And, in faith, the church started a sustainable and lucrative business to carry them into their future and, by extension, to bless others to be a blessing.

Day Two: Love/Compassion

“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?” “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ –  Matthew 25:42-45

Whereas the eyes of the glue sniffers we met last night were glazed and vacant, the eyes of the children we met with today at Centro Educativo Apoyate En Mi sparkled with life and hope and promise.  The majority of the kids come from the ‘red areas’ of Guatemala City, the most dangerous areas. The homebase for their broken little lives are on the streets, a room, or for 1/2 of the kids at the school, their dwelling is in the refuge of the Guatemala City Dump, which is known as the fourth world in this third world country.   Guiseppe sends out buses to pick these children up every day.  The majority of the kids are children of widowers or street people.  If they have a father in the picture, many are in jail.  The school can afford to provide a set of clean clothes for them, breakfast and a snack (which is likely the only food they eat in a day), books, and an education.  They want to provide them lunch, too, but can’t afford it. More than that, Guiseppe provides the children with a loving and caring Christian environment and a break from the reality of their harsh lives. They try to teach them that there is a different way to live than the one they see daily in their young lives; that they are not an accident, they were designed by God with a purpose.

In meeting with Tanya, the school’s director, we learned that half of Guatemalans are iliterate.  Basic education is expensive and parent(s) must pay for it.  The school we were at has 300 children and Guiseppe must have sponsorship. He raises sponsorships for each individual child, which amounts to about $60 a day.

In the afternoon, we went to El Oasis, the Darby’s ministry to the women who prostitute themselves along the railroad line. Most of the women are simply single mothers desperately trying to support their families. Some prostitute in order to have the money to put their children through school and generate a better life for them. Having no education or job skills, they have little choices, or “resources the world values.” They have their bodies, which becomes a commodity for trade, a service to sell. Each woman rents a small room with a bed for about 25 Quetzals a day, which is roughly $4. Whether or not they ‘work,’ they have to pay that amount everyday. At the end of each afternoon, the gangs come through and charge them another 25 Quetzals. They make approximately $3 per ‘trick.’ We asked what happens if they don’t pay the landlord or the gang. The Darbys said they will hunt them down and either beat them up or kill them. If the women get sick or something happens in their family that prevents them from showing up on the line, they can easily accumulate in debt and become essentially a slave to the lender.

With Randall, three team members walked down the line and invited the women to take a break and come over to El Oasis for an hour. Within 15 minutes, the El Oasis room was packed with women. We worshipped with them, shared a testimony and a message with them, then showed them how to make necklaces (a girl thing), which they loved. The team was in awe at the gratitude the women showed for our best attempt that day. The hugs they gave us were heartfelt. The Darbys highlighted that the women were grateful simply because all we wanted to do was to ‘give to them,’ whereas most people in their lives  want to ‘take something from them.’ As we drove away, we saw them once again in their doorways, selling themselves to feed their hungry children, waving as we left, grateful for a moment of relief.

Jesus was in the stranger and we invited them in.  Jesus was in the hungry and we fed them a Word of hope. Jesus was in those who needed clothes and we clothed them in our love…for an hour before they went back to walk the line.

Day One: Darkness/Light

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.” – Isaiah 45:3

We arrived in the daylight, but our ministry this first day took us out into the darkness.

Within a couple hours of arriving in Guatemala, our team of 11 people literally hit the ground running. From our Ministry Base (our home for the next 5 days) we traveled in vans through the congested streets of Guatemala City headed toward Centro Educativo Apoyate En Mi, a Christian school. We would be back the next day to meet with the children, but our destination that afternoon was the kitchen of the school where we would make soup and 300 sandwiches. We were to distribute the food to people who live on the street, some homeless, some who live in apartments, some live in the Guatemala City Dump.

Despite the delay of a van that contained all the food we would distribute, the 25 or so men and women at our first stop waited patiently in the darkness, lined in a seated row, backs again a wall.  Guiseppe, a Christ-like man who runs the school, takes food consistently to three separate locations three times a week every week. He gave those waiting a message and prayed for them.  When the food finally arrived, our team and some of the children from the school whom Guiseppe brought with him distributed it. As each person reached for a sandwich, some had so much grime on their hands that was clearly visible even in the dark. Children came from around corners with siblings. An older child, maybe 8 years old, walked his 2 year old brother through the darkness for 10 minutes to get to the distribution site. Their mother was working and they were alone.

Our second stop took us several miles away to about 10 young men, women and a few children who were also waiting for Guiseppe, lounging on cardboard or a dirty blankets, some sniffing glue as we arrived.  Their eyes glazed and vacant; their pain evident.  Guiseppe spoke to them, prayed for them, and we served them the meal.

Broken people, God’s treasures in dark places.