Recently, I have been seeing how much the themes of pain and healing have been present in my time here in Guatemala. As the months are winding to a close, I see how much my heart feels at home here among the beautiful mountains, pines, and corn, and among these incredible people who continually radiate hope and joy. At the same time, my heart breaks for the pains and hardships that these people and this country are facing— poverty, malnutrition, corruption and lack of access to education and healthcare, among many other things. During my ‘honeymoon’ phase of being in Guatemala, I was blind to many of these problems and didn’t realize the extent to which this country suffers. However, as my eyes have been opened to more of the hardships here, they have been equally opened to the miraculous ways in which God’s hand and Spirit are moving among these people and providing hope and healing in the most desperate situations.
One stirring example of this which I encountered a few weeks ago was during a visit to a theater group in Guatemala City called Las Poderosas (the Powerful Ones). This group is comprised of six women who are all victims of sexual violence and abuse. However, through the use of theater they are finding strength and healing as they are able to share their own stories and empower other women to do the same. The group not only does performances, but they also do workshops in rural areas around the country, asking women and children in the communities about the most pressing problems they face and giving them tools to tell their own stories. In a culture that is very private and oftentimes oppressive for women, the work of this group is inspirational. As we sat and talked with them, hearing bits of their testimonies and seeing pictures and videos of some of their workshops and shows, it was obvious that these women are no longer living in shame and fear. They are strong and beautiful examples of survival and of the strength and hope that redemption brings. One of these women, who I will never forget, is named Maria. The first thing I noticed about Maria was her brilliant smile- her face just shone with joy, and her eyes gleamed vibrantly with life. It was only afterwards that I noticed that Maria was missing her entire left arm. She later told us that she lost her arm fighting for her life while her husband tried to kill her one night. Fortunately, Maria escaped with her life and her husband was put behind bars (a circumstance which doesn’t always happen). For many years, Maria was ashamed to be seen in public that way, but she shared that ‘Now I don’t have shame to walk around like this… I feel like a free woman.’ Just from seeing her face, worn from hardship but resolute and glowing, I could tell that this was the truth. Her story, and the thousands of others unspoken in Guatemala and around the world, give me hope for the possibilities of healing and leaving situations of darkness and entering into light.
That same day after our visit to Las Poderosas, we got to hear from two other strong and faithful women who voluntarily work to help victims of domestic abuse in their communities in Coban. Coban is currently one of the more violent departments in Guatemala, and work like what América and María Elena are doing can be fraught with danger. Even knowing the dangers involved, these women voluntarily open their homes to neighbors and others who come searching for help, even if they come knocking in the night. In these cases they provide food, shelter and help to get these people what they need, all out of their love for neighbor and love of God. Without receiving any financial support, they work in an office to provide information about legal processes and shelters that are available to victims of violence. Although América and María Elena live in full knowledge of the risks they’re taking, they do not live in fear- instead, they say it is a blessing to be able to help their brothers and sisters and continue to work willingly, despite the burdens and struggles involved.
We also visited an organization called Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation) in the capital that provides psychological, social and legal assistance to victims of sexual and domestic violence, as well as other types of violence and human rights abuses. Their work was striking, and although they face many challenges and hardships they are continuing to be a voice for the downtrodden and provide help and healing to those in need.
After seeing these different examples in the Capital, I started to realize some of the examples of hardships and healing that I’ve seen closer to home. In the end of May, my host mom here had an extensive surgery because of some health issues that she had been facing. After just 2 days in the hospital, she went home and made it up walking the steep hill to our house! She took the doctor’s advice very much to heart; he told her, ‘Be sure to get some rest, but it’s also important to walk every day. Just don’t do anything too heavy!’ Well, the ‘walking’ advice soon turned into hour outings in the morning… about a week and a half later, she took my friend Jillian and I hiking up to the top of a mountain! I was absolutely in awe of her strength and persistance to be well, which flows out of her desire to be back in the community again to help others. As I talked with her, sharing my admiration of her strength and resolution, she told me, ‘It is the prayers of so many people that give me strength. I feel that without all of those prayers, I wouldn’t have the strength to be well… but God is faithful and good, and He is healing me!’
I also think of the children I work with in the daycare, some of whom are suffering from physical and emotional abuse. My heart breaks to see children who are so young going through these hardships, especially when I know that not all of their hurt is visible. However, I have faith in this same powerful and loving God of healing and know that they are in His hands. While I can give them hugs and wipe away their tears, I pray that they can someday know that they are in the hands of their Creator, who ‘created (their) inmost being, and knit (them) together in (their) mother’s womb’ (Psalm 139:13) and who has “plans to prosper (them) and not to harm (them), plans to give (them) hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
I know that our God of healing is living and active around the whole world, and this gives me sustaining hope even when we are bombarded with news of death and destruction each and every day. God is sowing stories of strength and hope; He is loving and faithful, and will always be so. I know that God’s Spirit is present in situations big and small, and that his healing will come. For this I am grateful, but also prayerful … prayerful that my eyes will be opened to the pain and suffering in this world, but also to God’s healing hand and the ways that the Spirit is at work and how I can and should take part in that. I also put my hope and trust that God will heal my own mom, and be present with her as she undergoes a surgery later this week. While it is difficult to be away from home during this time, I take so much consolation from the fact that our God is a God of healing and of life and that she is safe in His hands! Most of all, I ask for your prayers as well… for my mom, but also for so many people who are in need of healing, and thanksgiving for those who are healed. Pray for anyone you know, and for any type of healing at all… physical, emotional, spiritual, anything. God is powerful, God is good, God is there. Always. That is a reason to praise!