This week was eventful and full of God.... I will try to keep in short and paraphrase. :)
There is no greater joy than to dwell in the presence of the Lord. I am so thankful for all that God has done and continues to do in my life and my only desire is to serve Him.
This week, the mission team that I worked with was from Florida. It was a group of 6 adults and two teenagers... (I know I'm getting old when they call me "Ms.Sidney").
Monday and Tuesday were construction days. We began bright and early Monday morning carrying loads of materials and tools up a steep, muddy mountain to the building site. The square foundation of this house was literally on the side of a mountain, with steep drop offs from all sides but one. Because of a shortage of money, Iglesia del Camino has had to change the type of houses we build. This was difficult because they had mastered the construction of the other model and could built those houses in about 3 hours. Monday was the first time trying out the new model! We began building (with all elements against us). I literally had to serve as a support beam to hold up one of the guys as he drilled screws into the house while trying not to fall down the mountain. In the middle of the day, it began to rain heavily. We had to stop building until the rained passed which took a large chunck of time... At one point, the men were busy working on ladders and I found myself with nothing to do.
I decided to venture down to talk to the family whose house we were building. Their old "house" was one tiny 5x5 metal room, a "bathroom" which was made with 4 sheets and a tin roof, a stove sat outside with a piece of tin overtop, uneven dirt floors, steep stairs to the road, and chickens EVERYWHERE!
I found a grandmother who had two daughters. One of her daughters had one son and a husband who was a police officer. The other daughter was not there; she had 2 children, one whose name was Javier, and no husband. I spoke with the grandmother for a while and finally asked her how I could pray for her. She began to tell me a long story about her absent daughter. Her daughter was in the hospital and had been for about a month. She had a hole in her heart and was having great difficulty breathing. The children were staying with the grandmother while their mother was sick. The grandmother went each day to the hospital to visit her daughter and update her. Her daughter especially loved to hear about the construction of the new house. The grandmother informed me that her daughter was so excited to have somewhere to sleep comfortably and hoped that it would help her heal faster. Javier (the son of the sick woman) played as we talked. After I finished talking with the grandmother (about 30 minutes), she left and went to the hospital. I then began to talk with Javier (age 9) who has been learning English in school. He showed off his English skills by counting to 20. I told him that after 20, all of the numbers followed the same pattern. He was eager to learn so I worked with him for about 15 minutes. He continued to repeat what I told him until he was able to recite the numbers to 100 perfectly. Javier was so diligent and truly desired to learn more. He was motivated by the promise of a better life for his family, not for extrinsic rewards or candy like so many of the other children I know. Javier followed me around the rest of the day, trying to help us build what would become his house.
It took us A LOT longer than anticipated to finish the house because of the new style and because of the monsoons of rain! (It was pretty entertaining watching us women trying to carry super heavy equipment down a muddy mountain side without falling while be chased by chickens). I continued to talk to the family on Tuesday as well. The rain halted our progress once more as we all squeezed under one 3x10 piece of metal to eat our lunches and "wait out" the storm. It was actually rather funny to watch us all try to throw pieces of tin over the support beams on the roof to provide some sort of shelter for our tools that would be ruined if rained on. Although it was extremely hot in this tin oven, I enjoyed doing physical work for the Lord.
The men put the finishing touches on the first house and built an entire second house on Wednesday.
We returned to the houses on Friday between other mission projects to bless the houses. We went to the first house and we passed Javier (the little boy whose mother was sick) as we walked up the huge hill towards the house. The "gate-thing" was closed and we knocked. We waited and knocked again. No one answered. 2 of the men went back down the hill to inquire about where the family was. Javier walked up to the rest of us after the 2 men went to get details. Javier gave us hugs and called us by name. He was holding a toy truck and had a small smile. Obed (the construction leader from IDC) came walked back somberly. He told us that we couldn't go into the house because there was a dead body in the house.... the woman had died.... in this culture, the bodies are brought to the house for 24 hours so that others can visit the body and mourn over the loss. We went back down the hill where the grandmother was now standing with her 2 orphaned grand-children; we laid hands on the family and prayed for them as the grandmother wept loudly. The children looked up at us confused, unable to fully comprehend what "death" means. The grandmother immediately began thanking God, between sobs, for blessing her family.... wow. In her mourning, she is praising God for all of his blessing. She told us that on her daughter's last day, she spoke of how she was so thankful to know that the family was going to have a house to live in. She was able to die knowing that her children had a house.
-This situation hit me really hard; I had developed a relationship with this grandmother and her grandchildren (now orphans) over the past few days. My heart broke for the children. I know that God will take care of them and watch over them. My heart just breaks knowing the pain that they will have to endure as they seek to fill that hole and that longing..... I pray that they do ultimately discover what I discovered when my father left my life; God is the only worthy father and more than any person on this Earth could offer. But, I do know the heart ache and suffering that these children will have to endure as they seek their own understanding. My heart breaks for them. I cried with them, wishing I could help carry their burden of pain.
VBS & "The Club"
On Wednesday, the women and I went to lead a bible study and do the feeding program again; followed by a VBS for the kids. This was great once more! Hundreds of poor, malnourished kids walked alone to the church to eat and learn about God. I loved watching the children come and drink in God's word as well as a hot meal! I sat with the children on the floor while we listened to the lesson; they rubbed my white legs with their tan hands. Their big eyes smiled at me and without words spoke volumes.
On Friday, (after we went to the house blessing), we went to help at "The Club". This is a program for rural, poor children after school each day. A man runs "The Club" and provides them with a snack, a safe place to stay after school, and activities to teach them. There is also a feeding program through this organization. Hundreds of kids came on Friday. They came in and did our activities that we had planned. The thing that shocked me was how quickly and attentively they sat and listened to the sharing of the gospel and the bible stories. Children ages 3-14 all sat quietly and listened for at least 30 minutes as one of the ladies from our team told stories of Jesus.
I fell in love with a sweet little boy who had special needs. He could not talk and had difficulty walking; his legs were deformed. He was so joyful when I put my arms under his to hold him up while we sang the "jumping" song. He jumped up and down just like the other kids... smiling from ear to ear. Children like him would receive help in the United States. In this part of Guatemala, he is left unattended and in the eyes of those in his neighborhood, his disabilities are accepted and he is made un-able to overcome. There is no money nor support to help him. He will grow up and be limited not by his disability but by a lack of education and resources for the adults in his life. A sweet child of God.
When it was time for the kids to go home at the end of "Club", they all gathered together to pray for us... they prayed aloud for us. Wow. They thanked God that we were there and they begged God to bless us... how humbling... these small children all raised their hands in prayer for us. They really "get it".
Weekend In Guat. City with Pastor Saul's Family
On Saturday, Pastor Saul's daughters came from Guatemala city to pick up Grace and I. We spent the weekend with their family. Saturday night we went to a worship service (all in Spanish) at their church. It was just what I needed! It is funny how all language barriers are broken when the Holy Spirit moves amongst his ONE united body of believers. The service lasted for 3 hours (from 5:30-8:30); I can only imagine what some Christians I know would do if church lasted this long. The service consisted of some preaching but was mostly a time of prayer and worship. It was beautiful. I loved listening to the sounds of hundreds of voices raising their individual prayers to God, making a incompressible but holy roar. We sang in Spanish, all hands raised high; songs of thanksgiving (many of these people who are homeless or live in the trash dump), songs of praise and adoration, and songs praising God for his wonderful presence.
We ate dinner, slept, and ate breakfast at Pastor Saul's church. We had fried platanos (plantains) and black beans for breakfast which were delicious!!!
The Sunday festivities began at 8:30 with the feeding of the children. The church takes a van and picks up about 100 children. The children are fed a hot, large Sunday breakfast. Almost all of the children who go to this church (Jesus es el Camino) come alone without parents. They love to be there; there are willing to come as young as 3 years old without any adults. They are desperate to dwell in this place where they fill loved; the love given to them is from God alone and through men and women whose hearts have been transformed by this same love from God.
The church service lasts from 9:30-1:00ish. It is wonderful and none is looking at their watch wondering when they will be able to leave for lunch! The children (without their parents present) sit in the front few rows for the first bit of the service (worship) and sing songs to God with arms raised high.
Home Visits- Trash Dump
Sunday after church we went to visit 2 homes in the trash dump. I was shocked at how many children recognized me (from weeks ago when I came with the Lakewood women's team) and the little voices that called out "Cindy" as they ran to give me a hug.
The first house we visited was a home that the men from Lakewood built. It was a one room house filled with children and 3 women. One of the women inside (the mother of 5 children) told a sad story when I asked her what I could pray for. Her husband died a year ago from alcoholism. She was left alone with the 5 kids. The family of her late husband is convinced that she killed him. They kicked her out of the "house" that they were living in; another woman from the church (who also lives in the dump) has invited this woman and her children to stay with her. (All of the people now living in this house; 5 children, 3 women, one bed, one room, dirt floor, one light, no bathroom, no locks on the doors, no safety other than shelter from the rain). The family of her late-husband come to this house and torment the widow telling her that her deceased husband is going to come from the dead and kill all of her children. The woman is scared when she leaves each day for work; leaving her 5 children (all under 7 years old) alone in the house. My heart was burdened knowing that if these people were threatening this such as this; it could be a ploy to kill the children and have an excuse to cover up the deeds. Can you imagine raising your children, knowing that you have to work each day in order to simply feed them. But when you leave for work you are haunted by the idea of your children being left alone, unattended, in danger of death. You daily have to weigh your options; will you work and leave your children at risk for because of lies you believe to be true; or stay at home with them and let them die of starvation?
Pastor Saul, Layla, and I all offered her words of encouragement taken from God's word and we prayed. Layla, a servant of God who works according to His leading, decided that starting Monday Layla would have someone from the church pick up the children and take them to a "day care" type place where the mother could pick them up after work.
The second house we visited was the house of the 2 deaf children that I spent so much time with two weeks ago. A woman and her 5 children (in total) live in this house. There is no father; he was shot while he was working a few years ago. The woman told us about the hardships of life that she was currently facing. The government now wants her to pay Q2,000 to re-rent the shack that she is living in in the trash dump or else they will sale it (prime real-estate I guess?). She also told us that she was worried about her 2 children who could not hear (Elisabeth is also bilingual and I asked her for clarification on something the woman said.... Elisabeth said, "The 2 children who don't listen". I thought that was hilarious! Luckily that wasn't the part of the story that I didn't understand). Last night, a boy was killed in the trashdump and the boys who killed him threw his body in a sink hole that was later filled with water because of the rain. The mother at this house was worried that her 2 deaf children would go over to that spot which is located right beside their house, and see the dead body and blood. Because they can not hear, she did not know how to tell them no to go to this place; and if they did see the dead body, she could not comfort them with words. At first we were terrified that a small child was murdered last night. We later found out that there were drugs involved of some sort.
-Can you imagine raising your children in a place where you can offer them no safety, death and murder fill the air, cries of pain and hunger ring loudly........ you have no way of protecting or caring for your children. A small light shines in the darkness; a light shines in the midst of this hell. There is a light of hope that radiates from those who possess the Holy Spirit in this place. This is literally their only hope.
So, what then will it take for those who do have the comfort of their lives to fully understand this "only thing worth living for"? Hopefully, it won't have to come down to that for most of us. I pray that God can be our only thing worth living for in any and all circumstances.
“God himself will be with them. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes’” (Revelation 21:3-4)