Sunday, August 26, 2012

No More Lullabies

Thanks to a wonderful friend, my first trip to Guatemala was an insightful experience.  She helped us to truly understand the painful choices that many people make each day and the disparity between the "Haves" and the "Have-Nots."  I was prepared for the government orphanage, the ghetto, and the dump.  I knew what to expect.  Still, towards the end of our walk through the National Cemetery I was overcome once again.

The National Cemetery is full of beautiful crypts, hours could be spent walking through just to admire the detail of their stained-glass and carvings.  Beyond the splendor of those elaborate crypts stands towering rows of mausoleums.  The poor bury their friends and families in the mausoleums, hundreds in each building.  Even in death they are not at peace.  The families pay a rental fee for each space.  If they are unable to make their payment, the space is marked and eventually emptied.  All contents are thrown over the edge, into the dump below. 

I knew about the rental fees.  I knew about the tomb cleanings.  I had even seen the piles of decorations and broken tomb markers during my last visit.  What I wasn't ready for was what I saw this time--caskets that had been emptied and thrown down, bones that had been missed in one tomb, just left there without a second thought. 

The worst of all was this child's casket.  The grief of losing a child is unimaginable to me.  Not only has this family lost a small child, they have endured the grief of laying that child to rest, and now they have struggled and been unable to pay the rental fee, knowing the consequences.  A beautiful child was disregarded in the most demeaning and heartless way. 

How cruel must a place be when not even the dead are at peace?  How haunted must those workers be who must carry out that dark task?  What goes through the mind of those who work in the dump when the the tombs are cleaned, again? 

My greatest hope is that someone can meet all those affected by that world and give them just one piece of hope, one bit of insight into God's love and Jesus' gift of salvation so that they also may be saved.  Even a criminal, hanging on a cross can be saved, no matter the sin because he needed only to believe that Jesus was the savior, sent to redeem us all from our sinful lives.  Everyone who believes--that child who's body was discarded, the worker who emptied the tomb, me as I stared at the casket and wondered "why." We all have the opportunity to be at peace with Jesus, those who have believed before, and that wise criminal who was brave enough to proclaim Christ while hanging on a cross.

Luke 23:43 "Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Beautiful Memories

I absolutely love the people of Guatemala.  As we are readying for our departure in the morning, I wanted to share some pictures of the beautiful people that we met. 

Beauty and worth are not determined by the size of your house, the balance in your checkbook, or your status in society.  Beauty and worth are determined by your willingness to accept Christ's gift of salvation and follow his will for your life.

1 Peter 3: 3-4 "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight."

Friday, August 17, 2012

More Change Needed

Over the past year, there have been noticeable visible changes at the Guatemala City dump but none improved the conditions for those who work there.  Instead of dumping in the middle, they now dump closer to the edge and loaders push the trash towards the ravine.

Why would a government allow it's water supply to be contaminated by a landfill?  Why is it better to attempt to treat the contaminated water than address the problem?  More importantly, why are there people who rely on recycling trash and sifting through the river for metal to sustain their families? 

I don't have the answers to these questions but these images are always in my mind.  Maybe one day, the economy of Guatemala will sustain opportunities for progress within the lower class workforce.  Until then I will pray for the workers and their families.  Beyond their safety and immediate needs, I pray that they will find salvation through Christ so that their eternal reward is a heavenly home beyond anything they could imagine while living on earth.  How wonderful would it be to watch these families who have struggled just to provide food and shelter enter into heaven, to live without worry for eternity?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A Rewarding Shopping Trip

Anymore, I don't really enjoy shopping.  My trips are true, purposeful speed shopping.  I am in and out as quickly as possible.  Today was different.  Today I helped provide the opportunity for others to shop for items they needed.  It wasn't about me at all.

A simple home was transformed into a store where families could come choose from all of the clothing, school, household, and shoe donations for items that they needed.  We sorted the items into departments--boys, girls, shoes, etc. so they could easily choose.  Once everything was arranged throughout the house, it looked like an abundance.  There were easily 100 pairs of shoes in varying styles and sizes, not to mention a full assortment of childrens' clothing.

I was overwhelmed by the thought of managing the people as they came through.  I didn't know how to fairly distribute the items so that as many people as possible would be helped.  Fortunately, the owner of the home took control.  She had a few rules and several friends who helped facilitate the shopping.  Her rules were simple:  1. Everyone got either one outfit or one pair of shoes per child.  2. The children could also have some school supplies, new underwear, or a book bag.  3.  Each child received a new toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap.  4.  Only those who were present could receive items.  They couldn't get items for some cousin, relative, or friend who wasn't there.  5.  The shoes had to fit the children currently, no ideas about reselling them.  6.  If you had helped, you got to go first.  If not, you waited in the line.

This was the remainder of the line when we left.
One outfit or one pair of shoes doesn't seem like much but the line was long and I had to trust that she knew what to do better than me.  For more than two hours, we watched and helped families come in one by one to receive their new items.  In the end, what seemed like an abundance didn't seem like enough.  Sneakers of all sizes were gone first.  Then clothes for the bigger kids.  When we left, there were still people waiting in line for the few remaining items. 

Cute new shoes

We even found baby shoes.
 A new-used pair of shoes or pajamas can change the day for a child.  We can't do everything for everyone but we are all called to do something!  What is the something that you are called to DO?

Matthew 25:40 "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Welcome back to the Dump

Drive past the large solid gates, turn right into what resembles the outskirts of an American landfill, drive down a small muddy path and when you start to see rows of tin shed-like buildings, you're there.  I like going to the communities surrounding the Guatemala City.  The working poor live and survive outside the dump.  People in this community buy a permit to collect recyclables from the Guatemala City landfill.  In America, this would be filmed for an episode of Hoarders because the piles would never move.  In Guatemala, those piles are carefully sorted by type of recyclable and then sold to support the family.  There is no welfare system here. 

Today, we were able to deliver six pilas to families and start pouring a concrete floor for yet another  family.  The pilas are 500 pound, three compartment, concrete sinks.  The sinks are strong enough to withstand an existence in adverse conditions, extremely useful, and too heavy to be easily stolen.  The concrete floor will immediately provide this family with improved living conditions.  It's amazing that something so basic by American standards can help to transform the life a family here.  

Even though these children have so little, they didn't ask for anything.  They just wanted someone to love them and pay attention to them.  My dear friend Molly (that's what it sounded like with her front teeth missing) even sang us a song.  Would my children be so content with so little?  I hope so but very much doubt it.

Matthew 19:14 "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Monday, August 13, 2012

What a Difference A Year Can Make, Sometimes

It has been a full year since I last saw the children at Dorie's Promise and at the San Jose Pinula state orphanage.  For Dorie's Promise, the last year has been full of change.  There are new children in the home.  There have been several new children added in just the last few weeks.  A sibling group of three children just arrived at Dorie's and is slowly becoming acclimated to the home.  Meanwhile several children who I met last year have moved away from Dorie's to their loving families.  Still there are those children who have remained but even they have grown, changed, and are excelling.

(Here are some for pictures for Becky, Charity and Leslie.)



Nayeli Soto

Maria La Luz

Dulce Maria, 2 1/2 months old, 4 pounds
At the same time while we were at the state orphanage today, there were many familiar faces.  The past year has not brought them change.  They are still at the orphanage without the support of a loving family or loving caregivers.  Tito was there to give me a hug and bless me with his smile.  But he was still there.  He hadn't progressed.  He will never be able to leave there because of his disabilities. His life doesn't change.  Juliana was still there.  Her baby boy is a year older, chubby cheeked and adorable but they are still living at the orphanage.  Her future is uncertain.  Where will they go when she is 18?  What will become of them and will the cycle continue?

As joyous as it is to see the babies learn to walk and talk, it is a challenge to know that others still struggle.  What can we do to improve the life of those who are held in the bondage of this world?  What impact can we have on their spiritual lives?

Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek , for they will inherit the earth." 

When it Rains, It Pours

A year ago I came to the Maria Teresa ghetto and fell in love with the people.  They live in a poverty beyond what we can imagine in America but find joy within their means.  One of the most surprising observations I made was that the residents of the ghetto did not have extravagant wants.  Their prayer requests were for the necessities of life--a job that could provide for their families, a retaining wall that would save their homes from mudslides, safety for their family, and their children's salvation.

I remember lying in my bunkbed while it rained later in the week and thinking about those families.  What would the night hold for them?  How much of the dirt that held their homes on that precarious hillside would wash away? 

Today, I had the opportunity to witness the destruction of the rains.  I was so excited to visit the ghetto again.  I wanted to see Juanita, the President, and visit the families.  My mind was already swirling with ideas about playing with the children and capturing my experiences through photos.  Today would be the chance for me to learn more about their lives than I could have understood merely by listening. 

As we were leaving Dorie's Promise, the sky began to darken but I held out hope.  When we were preparing to leave the home of the third family we visited, I heard the familiar sound of rain coming.  It is unmistakable, just like the sound of a storm coming across the fields at our house, the rain was coming down through the valley.  Of course, I hadn't brought my rain jacket but I figured it would be quick and not a problem.  Within a minute of leaving the home, the skies opened and the full force of rain descended.  As I raced to the protection of a shared umbrella, Juanita offered me a rain jacket.  How fitting that the lady who had packed two separate checked bags solely for donations was now receiving a jacket.  There are times when we all need someone to provide for our needs and sometimes we will be humbled and surprised by the source of our help.

For the next hour and a half, we continue through the ghetto for two more visits.  The already steep steps become more dangerous when the concrete is wet and rivers of dirty water are rushing down the hill.  Visiting those final two homes opened my eyes to their lives.  I was soaking wet, as they would be if they had been caught on their way home when the rains started.  I had just made my way down the steep, wet steps, careful not to slip or fall.  And then I made it home.  Home has one or two rooms, a dirt floor, a metal roof with no insulation, and walls made from metal, or thick sheet plastic.  The floor was wet.  There were several drips that would keep beat on my shoulder.  But I was relieved to be home and safe from the storm.  I felt comfortable there with those families.

The chicken also sought shelter inside.

Reality...this wasn't my home, I got to leave.  We began the long assent from the bottom of ghetto and rounded a corner to find their greatest fear.  The rains had already caused a small mudslide to start.  On the steps was a pile of dirt.  Above was the corner post of a house just hanging over the edge where dirt once held it.  Their fear is real.  Any rain has the opportunity to wash away their homes, cause them loss, and endanger their lives. 

Many times, I have decried the fact that I don't have a garage.  Every time I open the mudroom door and see rain and utter the words "stay under the porch as long as you can" to the kids I silently curse our half width porch roof that is more of a nuisance than a help.  Wow am I spoiled!  Even when it floods and the fields are covered, our house is usually spared.  Even if the house flooded, we have flood insurance. 

My rainy afternoon just made me remember that I am blessed beyond my own imagination.  It is my job to make sure that I keep my own life in perspective and be a blessing to others in need.

Luke 12:48 "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Aren't We All Israelites?

I have read through the book of Exodus at least twice.  (I know because I have started and failed twice at the Read the Bible in a Year schedule.)  Twice, I have read about the Israelites' rescue from Egypt and twice I have thought about how ridiculous it seemed that they could witness firsthand God's miracles in their lives but still reject him when they were faced with obstacles. 

I haven't been enslaved and freed like the Israelites, had my child spared from a plague while those around me died, or seen food appear where before there was none.  All these experiences seem like clear examples of God's power and love for his people.  Yet each time, the Israelites would eventually face hardship and begin to doubt again.  Don't fool yourself into believing that disbelief and inappreciation ended with the Israelites. 

While reading a devotional recently I came across Exodus 14:14, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."  In the face of Pharaoh's army, with the Red Sea at their backs, Moses declared that they needed to trust God.  They needed to remember all the miracles they had experienced.  If God could give them the opportunity to escape their enslavement, surely he would not lead them to an immediate demise.  Consider that in their time of despair, the angel of God and the pillar of cloud moved from leading the Israelites to protecting them.  With only the power of an almighty God, the sea parted and the Israelites fled, leaving the Egyptians to die as the waters closed.

Lately, I find myself wondering "why" but I know that I need to be still.  I am no better than the whiny Israelites.  I have experienced God's grace in my life and have the benefit of knowing the word of the bible.  I know that Jesus died for my sins but I still find myself doubting during the trials.  Not so much doubting his goodness but doubting my own ability to endure.  I can't solve every problem or situation myself.  I cannot control everyone's actions, only my own actions and responses.

I need to follow God's will.  I need to trust in his ways.  His ways are not my ways and it is not my place to judge his methods. I am not omnipotent and I can't see how his glory may be revealed though my trials or successes.  He is the great designer to whom all glory belongs.  I will (try to) be still and trust in him.