Friday, August 12, 2011

The Beauty of Life

As we walked through the ghetto, cemetery, and dump in Guatemala, I intentionally tried to photograph the beauty that I saw there.  I was struck by the fact that even in the depths of poverty, the people of Guatemala still have a sense of pride in their homes and community.  Their hospitality was far greater than their means.







Discarded magazines from the dump are rolled into beautiful beads.  Displays overflow with necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.  The pieces are not only beautiful to purchase but also provide a path to greater independence for the women who create them. 



Being in Guatemala made me appreciate the beauty of life.  It had nothing to do with big houses, nice clothes, or fancy jewelry.  The beauty of life is being content and satisfied with the path that God has chosen for my life. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Hard Goodbye

The people of Guatemala and the members of the team we met here have made an incredible impact on me.  I never imagined that in one short week, I would become so attached to this country.  Even in the midst of extreme poverty, the people are welcoming and open to our work.  I couldn't help but become attached to the children and workers.  Desi, Missions Coordinator, and Joel, Missions Team Leader, are the model of sacrifical living.  They have set aside normal personal lives to promote the mission of Dorie's Promise and make a positive impact on not only the children but also the communities where many of the children previously lived.  The Special Mothers balance their own families with providing for the emotional and physical needs of the children.

I was so moved when Becky came up and sad that Nayali, a preteen girl, and Carol, a twenty-three year old Special Mother, wanted me and Charity to come down to see them.  Carol has small children and Nayali is a young woman searching for herself.  I was able to speak to Nayali and she would translate to Carol.  Next time, I want to be able to speak to Carol myself.  It was so hard to say to goodbye to them last night.  I just pray that my short time here has somehow made a difference in their lives.

As I was saying goodbye to Abel last night, he told me that he would be ready when we came back.  I don't think it will be long before we're back.  There is more for us to do here...






Adios mis amigos!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Life...Priceless

How much would we pay for one more day with our loved ones? 

In Guatemala City's National Cemetery the value of human dignity is 250 quetzelas (approximately $36) every two years.  Families rent a burial spot much like our mausoleums.  The families dutifully visit the graves, washing them and decorating with with flowers and gifts.  If they are unable to pay the rental fee, they lose their space at the cemetery.  The bodies are removed and thrown over the edge of the cliff into the outer edge of the city dump.  Hovering over the dump are hundreds, if not thousands, of vultures.  The smell rises from the bottom of the cliff--trash and bodies. 








Women and children are treated as commodities.  They are actively traded as sex slaves throughout Central America.  Women are used by men and then discarded, often times with children to raise.  One of the pregnant teens that we met at the government orphanage was found working as a prostitute.  The girl's mother, who had originally sent her to be a prostitute, brought her birth certificate to prove she was eighteen and could be released.  I know that beautiful girl is already back to work on the streets.  What will happen to her and her baby?

In some extreme cases, children as simply abandoned by their parents.  One disabled boy was found in the dump, thrown out like trash by his parents.  He is a bright, happy boy that deserves a family who will help him develop and show him love.  I can't imagine being so detached from your child that you could thrown him or her away, knowing they will most certainly die.

Everyone has value and deserves dignity.  Psalm 139:14 reminds us that we are all "fearfully and wonderfully made."  Life is priceless!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Can the Circle Be Broken?

As we see more parts of this country, I wonder if it is possible to break the circle?  Even in a country where Catholicism is so prevalant, the traditional family does not seem to be valued. 

While at the ghetto on Sunday, we visited five families.  Of those families, three were single mothers.  One mother fled an abusive husband, another woman's husband went to the US but never came back.  These women are carrying the full weight of a family by themselves.  They don't have husbands who can provide for them financially or emotionally.  At the second house that we visited, ten people lived in a one room building.  The mother lived in the home with her three daughters and grandchildren.  The daughters are also unmarried.  This family fled to the ghetto after a son was murdered by a gang.

On Monday, our final stop at the government orphanage was the teen mothers' home.  Those girls came to the orphanage after they became pregnant.  In most of the cases the girls were raped, many times by a family member, or collected from prostitution.  They are so young, some of whom would not have completed middle school before they became mothers.  Until they are eighteen, they are able to live at the orphanage, with their children in a crib besides their beds.  Not only are the teen moms confined but their children are born and raised in that environment. 

Even here at Dorie's Promise, the children are surrounded primarily by women. These women love them and are working to create the best environment possible for the children but they can't fulfill the role of both father and mother.  How will these girls know what a father and husband should look like if they have never had someone in their life to model love and respect?  Will the girls who live at Dorie's Promise be able to make the transition into adulthood and make responsible choices?

I pray that these girls will find the strength to break the circle and become strong women.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Play...

Being free to play. 

We spent all day at Dorie's Promise helping to improve the facilities and playing with the children.  We built cars and houses from legos, played dress-up, and danced.  The best part of the evening was watching Sylvie sing Baby, Baby by Justin Bieber, dressed as the Iron Man.






Playing today was a great way to recover from the orphanage visit yesterday.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

147 Million Orphans in this World...

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."  James 1:27

Have you ever wondered what life would be like as an orphan?  Probably not.  I can tell you that after today, there is a drastic difference between a government orphanage and a private orphanage.  Today was spent with the children of San Jose Pinual orphanage.  The orphanage is operated by the Guatemalan government and is home to more than 800 children. 

Walking into the therapy room, I couldn't even make it in the door before I was hugged by the children.  They were immediately loving--hugs and smiles--and they didn't even know me.  They yearn for love and affection.  We completed worksheets to help them with their fine motor skills.  Boys and girls, men and women, from elementary school age to their forties with developmental disabilities, were all working on their papers.  I helped one boy to draw circles on his page.  He was probably 13 but couldn't even hold the crayon by himself.  I also helped a 33 year old man make shapes on his page.  Helping Tito was difficult.  He is three years older than me but will never experience the life that I have.  He won't have a wife or children but he is so happy to sit and color with me. 

I was overcome by the smell as soon as we entered the first building.  I don't think I will ever forget the smell of those rooms--a mix of body odor, the staleness of the buildings, and the occassional breeze of sewage.  The buildings were reasonably clean but the size of the campus, the large number of residents, and the limited number of staff leaves the facilities overwhelming.

Much to my surprise, I was more comfortable in the ghetto yesterday than I was at the orphanage today.  The orphanage made me feel confined, what I imagine it would be like to be in jail.  The older children are made to march between their activities like soldiers, chanting songs.  The perimeter of the property is surrounded by a cement wall topped with barbed wire and the housing sections are separated by gates with armed guards.  As we walked through the sections, I was so afraid that I would get stuck inside.  It's no wonder that children try to escape.  I wanted to escape!

I struggled all day to contain myself as we visited the different children.  The special needs nursery had 24 cribs and too many children who had been abused.  The infant nursery is home to 16 babies between the ages of 0 to 3 months.  The other nursery has 39 cribs in one room for children between 4 months and 1 year.  When we entered the room, there were children crawling everywhere.  All that I could think about when looking at those beautiful children was that they will most likely spend their entire childhood in this place.  It is so sad to me that they will never have a family to love them and comfort them. 

After supper, I sat quietly in Casa 5 feeding Maria while the other children slept.  It was so comfortable to be back at Dorie's Promise. Today was a challenge but it makes me so grateful for my own family.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What keeps us from Worship?

Beware!  I am currently towering on my soapbox.  If you are faint of heart, you may want to avoid this post. 

We were priviledged this morning to attend Iglesia El Shaddai.  The first half of the service this morning was live praise music.  I was able to follow some of the words during the songs but I spent much of the time just absorbing the spirit within the room.  The atmosphere was welcoming and open to praise.




I may not be the one who will be dancing at the front of the sanctuary, but I appreciate that he loves God and feels that love so strongly that he wants to dance.  How often have we danced for ourselves or with our friends?  Why is it appropriate to dance at a wedding but not at church?



Even those who were not singing, were genuinely enjoying the music and worship.  They were absorbing the spirit in the room. 


Why do we limit our worship expression?  If we are genuinely moved and want to sway, raise our arms, stand in the aisle, why not?!  Why do we feel like we can dictate how others should share their praise?  We need to be respectful of the talents God has gifted each of us with.  I may not prefer some genres of music but I hope that I can genuinely respect and appreciate the heart of the worshipper.

If I can feel free to express my love of Christ in a church where I don't speak the language, had to pass through a gate to get into the parking lot, that has security personnel, and closed circuit video, then why not in America?

What Can I Do?

What can I do?   What can I say?


Today was overwhelming.  There are so many needs in Guatemala and it is overwhelming to see so much in just one day.  We were able to enjoy lunch and some play time at the park today with the children from Dorie's Promise.  As I sat on the pavilion floor and played Lincoln Logs with Brandon, I felt guilty.  I can't remember the last time I sat and patiently played with my own children.  Most days, I am hovering over my computer or hurriedly trying to complete some other task while the children play. 


After lunch, we traveled to the Maria Teresa Ghetto on the outskirts of Guatemala City.  The residents literally live on the side of a cliff.  I can fairly judge it's steepness because I climbed to the bottom and back up today.  If I hadn't been trying to avoid hyperventilating, I may have thought to count the steps.  The homes in this ghetto are mainly built from whatever construction-type materials the families can find or buy.  One home had trees limbs for studs.  Another home had carpet for some of the walls.  The homes are by no means extravagent but they are tidy and loving. 

I am amazed by the ghetto residents.  They were welcoming to us and more than willing to share about their lives.  At the same time, they weren't sharing so that we would give them money or show them pity.  What they enjoyed most was the time we spent praying with them--for their families, for necessities like a new retaining wall so that their homes are not flooded when it rains or destroyed in the mudslides.  As I share this evening, it is steadily raining.  I wonder how many homes are wet inside tonight and who is sleeping elsewhere because their home isn't safe when it rains.



When we reached the park at the bottom of the hill, we were greeted by many of the residents.  Believe it or not, we played basketball and soccer with some of the ladies.  We won basketball but got smashed in soccer.  While we were in the ghetto, I never felt afraid or even different.  It didn't matter that I was an American.  We were just spending time with families.  Even though we brought much needed food, school supplies, and clothes, the people really wanted to interact with us.  On several occasions, we were told that we are always welcome with them, their homes are always open to us.  How many times do we open up our comfy, oversized homes to others, especially those we have just met?  Would we be willing to share our necessities with others if we barely survived ourselves?