I traveled to Guatemala in April with a team of writers for Children’s Hope Chest. We were there on a Vision Trip, visiting communities, schools, homes, and after-school programs, in order to choose which Care Point the four of us writers felt called to support.
We didn’t want to be voyeurs witnessing the degradation and poverty these children were experiencing. We want to pool our resources, the writers and readers of our four blogs, to generate support for the community and sponsorship for the children.
The most striking thing I noticed is how happy the children were. They were exuberant and excited, smiling and laughing and falling over themselves to interact with us. Some of these children lived in corrugated tin shacks near the dump where their mothers gathered food and things to sell, competing with dogs and other women and children. The moms would run alongside wagons heading for the dump, pulling out plastic to recycle, grabbing bags of carrots discarded by the produce stands. The kids would run across the street with arms full of things they had dug in the dump for, presenting their collection to moms and sisters crouching in the shade.
Some of these children can’t even attend school because their family can’t afford to pay for uniforms, books, and school supplies. Public school is “free” but still requires a regular income to make it happen. During the day the city shuts off the water randomly, requiring the programs that serve these children to collect buckets of water when it’s on so they can flush the toilets when it’s off. An after-school program used to be able to feed the kids in the afternoon, but it’s too expensive now, the donations stopped. So in the afternoons the staff makes a hearty drink consisting of various grains to help stave off the hunger. Nowhere in America is there poverty like this.
Another program serves families one meal a week in another dump area in the mountains of Jalapa. When I told this to a Guatemalan woman I know in Chicago, she said, “Why would you go there? I don’t like Jalapa. Why didn’t you go to someplace nicer?” We went where the need is. And the need this program has is to feed these families more than once a week. The church is filled with kids and their families, kids who don’t go to school, who will never receive an education. The staff cooks for them and the kids eat while worship songs are played through a speaker.
The love these people have for these hurting people is so evident, with their hugs, baby kissing, smiles, and concern. They ache to be able to give more to these struggling families. They visit them in their homes, help them get what they need, let them know they are seen and loved. Many of them volunteer their time.
These Guatemalan Christians are confident in God, his provision, his presence. They believe the help will come, that people’s hearts will be moved to give and serve. They’re raising up a generation of children who will have more opportunity than many of their ancestors. They’re building a community, one child at a time. In one after-school program, there were teens who had come through the program and were now teachers. They lavish affection and attention on the younger kids, helping them with school work, performing silly Bible songs, being present in the need.
Being present in the need. The heartbreaking, overwhelming need. These teenagers asked the question, “What can I do?” and they lived into the answer. Acknowledge the need. Offer yourself. Stay in the need. Be present and available. Invest in the people you love. Create community right where you are. The needs are many, but not impossible to meet. Pray about how you can help, whether it’s in your church, your neighborhood, your state, or overseas, there is something you can do.
Tammy will have an essay included in the forthcoming book Soul Bare: Raw Reflections on Being Human, being published in 2016 by Inter Varsity Press.