Quick(? ha ha) update on some of the things that have happened recently:
On Tuesday we got to visit the CEDEPCA office in Guatemala City, which is an Christian organization that works throughout Central America and Mexico. Their main focuses are women’s ministry, disaster relief, theological education and cross-cultural exchange and education. Our director Marcia also works there part time in the disaster relief ministry when she’s not running around with YAVs 🙂 When we arrived in the morning, we got to participate in a time of worship and Bible study with all of the employees, which was so much fun! One of the songs we sang was a version of ‘Go, Tell it on the Mountain!’ that talked about the beattitudes, and was really up-beat and joyful. Our devotion time centered around a verse from Leviticus 19 about welcoming the outsider and the verse from Matthew 25 about loving and welcoming the ‘least of these.’ I was really struck by these verses, especially in light of the boys coming to our house for dinner (they’ve since come back on a few other occasions, and I learned that the mom of one of them also helps our family with cleaning every day. She is an extremely kind woman, and we’ve sort of become friends in the short time that I’ve been here. Sadly, I learned from my host mom that her husband is an abusive alcoholic… something I never would have guessed from our interactions. It is just another testimony to me of the strength of the people here, and it is so inspiring!).
During our visit to CEDEPCA we also got to learn a little bit about each type of ministry and the work that they’re doing. The employees are so passionate about their work, which is awesome to see. It was also really cool to see how many women worked there, since one of their main focuses is women’s rights, empowerment and well-being. I’ll get to work with CEDEPCA a little bit later on in the year, with a few different groups from the States who will be coming for medical work in my community! I’m really excited to continue to get to know the people at CEDEPCA and get to know the organization a little bit better as a whole.
On Wednesday I got to go back to the Arms of Jesus school, which was just as wonderful as the first time! We got a wonderful tour of the school, and learned about a few of the other services that they offer to the students. For example, the kids can all get free haircuts there and can even learn how to cut hair 🙂 Also, there is a workshop where girls can go and learn how to make bags, tapestries, dolls, jewelry, etc. so that they can have a trade if they’re not succeeding academically in school. We also learned that even though the school only goes through 6th grade, the students are still sponsored until they’re 18 so that they can continue to go to school. The staff hope to eventually expand the school to include a colegio (7-12th grade), but are waiting for enough funds and staff to come in. Definitely something to be praying for! I also got to meet the little girl who is sponsored by a woman at my church, and passed along some clothes and a card to her. She was precious and shy, but she was grateful to be receiving the gifts and I was grateful to meet her!
One of my favorite parts of the day by far was getting to visit the little pre-k room. As soon as we stepped through the door, the kids swarmed us and every single one of them gave us a hug. All of the kids had huge smiles and just radiated love. While we were there, the kids were eating their snack for the day – some soup and bread, which we were told may be their only nutritious meal of the day. While I was watching them eat this meal, an adorable little boy with ruffled curly hair ran up to me and Kate and thrust an apple and some animal crackers towards us. We were taken aback and told him he should keep his own food, but he just smiled and shook his head, saying “No, it’s for you!” We thanked him for the gift and he smiled again and ran back to his seat, not knowing how much of an impact he had just made. I stared at the tiny apple sitting in my hand, wondering if that little one would eat again today, overwhelmed by the joy and generosity that just eminated from him and all of the other little children in the room. It is true that the Kingdom of God is like a little child; there was just pure love in that room, and as we left the director of the school said that it is exactly that love that blesses him every single day he comes to work.
On Thursday we visited a women’s cooperative in Chimaltenango, a town a little farther outside of Antigua. These women all come from different parts of Guatemala, but had to flee from their own communities during the war. Many of the people who suffered violence during the war were Mayan Guatemalans, who continue to face much oppression and discrimination in Guatemalan society today. All of the women in the cooperative were from various Mayan ethnicities, and all had lost family members during the war. After sharing lunch with them, two of the women told us their stories which were very impactful. Despite their hardships, the women are very strong and are working to create better lives for themselves and their children. Through the sale of their products (textiles, scarves, bags, headbands, bookmarks, etc.), they are able to earn a bit of money to support themselves and their families and ensure that their children have an education and a brighter future. I hope and pray that these women and children can continue to seguir adelante, and that their stories and strength continue to be shared and known.
On Saturday, I received a wonderful visit from my dear friend Jillian, who is working at the IJM office in Guatemala City this year! It was great to spend the morning with her, catch up and share life (and licuados – fruit smoothies! yum 🙂 ) together. It is a blessing to also see how present God is in the work of IJM and in Jillian’s life, and I’m excited to continue to share this year with her in Guatemala. Later in the afternoon my family had a big party, because my youngest host brother, Renato, had his confirmation! It was tons of fun; we all crowded around tables in the kitchen, on the patio and in the hallway, sharing delicious food, great conversation and lots of laughter. It reminded me of holiday dinners with my own family at my Grandma’s house, and the family here made me feel right at home. It has been such a blessing to live with them, and it will be sad to leave San Juan del Obispo in just three days! However, I’m also really looking forward to meeting my new host family and seeing where I’ll be living and working in Pachaj, and also seeing where the other girls will be as well.
The time here has just flown by – almost a month already! – but I still feel very grateful to be here and I can’t wait to start this new stage of the journey. This past week, after having seen and heard hard but beautiful stories, I was reminded of the song “Beautiful Things” by Gomer. Part of the chorus talks about how God is an active healer, present in creation: “You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.” This is very true, and I know that even amidst the hardships in life God is present and working. I don’t know what exactly lies ahead for me in Pachaj, but I know that I can continue to look for the beautiful things along the way. I’ve been challenged (and challenge you all!) to open my eyes and look around – we might just all be surprised by what we find 🙂 Thank you for journeying with me and with all of the people here. ¡Que Dios les bendiga!