I am in Guatemala!
“I don’t think I have ever smiled so much and spoken so little,” my friend, Susie said today. I guess that’s what happens when you dive into playing with children of an orphanage in a land of a foreign tongue. Jen, a Michigan soccer mom friend of mine extended her heart beyond imagination all the way to children in Guatemala. She has visited Dorie’s Promise, a private orphanage in Guatemala City, many times, and invited Susie, Tracey and me to go to the land for our hearts to grow. Forever Changed International is a charity which not only supports the orphanage, but also aids the poverty-stricken within Guatemala City.
Today was our first full day, and many apprehensions were cleared, while the chains of our hearts loosened. We are staying in an adjoining house that sleeps 20. We are with other Americans from Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.
First thing this morning was church. After boarding a hired bus, about 20 of the 39 orphans came onto the bus and jumped onto our laps, clearly familiar with how the “volunteer team” works. The Holy Spirit transcended any language barriers in the 8am church service, as His name lifted the roof of worship for my English ears in a Spanish world.
Afterward, we took the orphans to the park where the laugh of a 3-yr-old child (whom I was teasing with tickling on the swing) was a universal language. Those children went back to their house, which runs like a never-ending daycare; except it runs 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week and is so much more permanent now that international adoption is closed.
Next, our team of volunteers left the grounds to go to one of the many ghettos in Guatemala City. As we drove, Joel, the angel who works for Forever Changed International (FCI), and hosts and translates for us for the week, explained that ghettos begin when a group of a hundred just sets up a camp on city property. The sheer numbers prevent authorities from removing them. “They begin with 100, and some cardboard homes,” Joel continued, pointing to a relatively new cardboard ghetto as we drove past. “Over time, the people add more and more, and eventually end up with something like the ghetto we will visit today.”
When the bus finally stopped at the appointed place, we were immediately surrounded by children, so excited to see the “gringos” (slang for white people) bringing gifts. I began to wish they would not think it was the color of my skin that was the giver, but the God whom I worship who was giving them gifts.
Jen handed me stickers she had brought from the states, and I began giving them to the children, while she handed other gifts. We walked through the streets, followed by a crowd who loved “the day the gringos come” (first Sunday of the month for this particular location). We carried stuffed animals, food baskets and two piñatas to end our day with a party. I overheard Tracey ask Joel, “How do you say, ‘God loves you’ in Spanish?”
Perfect! I thought. I can tell these children God loves them, while I hand out stickers.
I continued handing out stickers. “Que dios te bendiga! [God bless you!]” I said as I pressed a sticker onto each hand and looked deeply into their eyes.
I hate poverty.
Seeing ominous clouds coming in our direction, I pictured what these homes would look like when the storm hit. This ghetto was more established than the ones we passed, so walls were made of cement, or built into the side of the mountain, but I could picture the noise of rain pounding on the tin roofs, leaking through, while ten people huddled in the middle with one square foot each. Each “building” was smaller than my 8-yr-old’s room, and I never saw a bathroom. Pots and pans adorned the shelf next to the bed, but I never saw food, except once: Corn hung from the ceiling of one place to dry. The woman grew the corn on her own in “free land” a mile and a valley away where she planted corn and hauled it back to dry, in order to grind it for flour to make tortillas on the open fire on cinder blocks in the “hallway”. She had tortillas cooking under her close watch, hoping to sell them tonight for profit. (The cynic in me couldn’t help but wonder if a president thought he had helped her start that business.)
We continued our walk, stopping at houses to meet residents and ended in the park for play and piñatas. Word got out that I had “stampas” and children flocked to me. I practiced my Spanish, asking if they wanted the princess sticker or the flower. “Que dios te bendiga [God bless you!],” I said with each gift.
A sticker brought delight to these kids who probably wondered when/if the next meal would come. One baby had a “crib” which was a blanket tied to the ceiling “beams” with rope, as a hammock above an adult bed. My legs ached at the hill climbing and uneven steps OSHA would never approve.
I still hate poverty.
In my mind, I raced to solve the issues…a new roof for that one? Cement floors so the dirt doesn’t wash away under the leaky roof? Running water?
How did they get here?
Education? – if they only knew a better way. Do they know the Hiding Place where they can go? Do they know that heaven will be better?
Thoughts pounded, and children enjoyed our presence.
“Better is one day in heaven than a thousand on earth,” I thought. I am grateful for the volunteers here. “Well done, my good and faithful servant!” will surely be heard by Joel, FCI, Jen and the hearts that surround the work to make this place better for these 400+ children in this one ghetto alone.
I prayed for the children while I watched them race for candy, a temporary joy amidst the struggle called life.
Suddenly, a group of young teen girls approached me, interrupting my thoughts. The four giggled incessantly, as though from my American neighborhood. They all looked on in anticipation, while they egged each other to ask a question. Finally, one stepped up and asked:
“Como se dice ‘Que dios te bendiga’ en Ingles? [How do you say, “Que dios te bendiga” in English?]”
“God bless you,” I answered. They each repeated it slowly, practicing, trying to cement it to memory to be retrieved later. I was overjoyed by their approach.
I hope that when the “gringos” are gone tonight – as the rain pours outside – that those children remember His name above all else.
God bless those children,