This is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Today we walked around in a dangerous, gang-filled barrio. We saw the blood still on the street from yesterday’s shooting and listened to stories of heartbreak. And then we returned to internet and heard about more heartbreak from Boston. What causes people to act out in violence against other people? How can we respond?
After 19 years of working with gang members, Tita pictures these fierce youth as scared children who were never given definitions for love unmingled with abuse, home separated from insecure and neighborhood un-dominated by tension. She believes in the power of love to break down these walls of fear and anger.
Great sentiments, how do you do that? Where do you begin? Tita claims she was simply walking with Jesus and following each day. She laughed as she thought of how he has used her ignorance to simply offer presence. As we debriefed tonight, the Director of Lemonade International reflected on the ‘power of presence’ to bring healing and follow the example of Jesus. When Jesus wept, he entered into the pain of death and gave relationship. Before offering the answer of resurrection to the problem, he entered in and acknowledged the suffering. By imitating Christ in this way, Tita and her team are visible signs of the same resurrection power. They are proclaiming in word and action the love of Christ causing hate to die. As 2 Corinthians 2:14 says, “Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” I could almost smell it.
Today we visited the sponsored children in the two Academies and did home visits. Two of our home visits were to children in the Scholars program. These are wonderful programs filled with color, life and hope. They offer present teachers, hired more for their heart for the children and community than actual skill (Skill can be taught, heart can not!). Tita, Yoli, Rebecca and other staff are there. In the cold, they are a warm embrace.
I would love to share two of their stories, knowing they desire prayer.
Meet Maria* – Maria grew up with sexual abuse and mostly absent parents. At 10, she described the responsibility she bore to provide food for her siblings. Finally when she was 15 she decided to steal – an easy outlet for the anger of powerlessness she felt and more fruitful way of providing for her family. She quickly joined a gang becoming a very powerful presence in her neighborhood before being shot several times in the arm and back. Her spine was broken causing paralyzation. With 4 out of 9 siblings killed, Maria is now in charge of her niece and 2 nephews. Her only means of income is begging on a street corner causing her to sit uncomfortably in a wheelchair for nearly 12 hours a day. One leg was completely amputated and she fights the constant infection of her bed sores. Her hope and prayer is to stay alive long enough to provide for her niece and nephews so they can have a different life than she had. She wants them to go to school, learn and find work.
Meet Ana* – Ana was widowed with four children and a dependent sister. She provides for her family with a small ‘tienda’ at her door where she sells various food and home items. Tears came easily when Ana described the difficult life she has had, her dream of having her children complete school and the friend she has found in Lemonade staff Yoli who listens when there is no one else to share her burden with. Assuming we were part of the financial support enabling her daughter to be apart of the Scholars program, enabling her to go past the 6th grade and come one year closer to her dream of working for a bank. Ana blessed us, offered a standing invitation to her home and embraced me with her whole heart.
How can I begin to describe the impact of spending time with these beautiful people? Hearing their stories and looking at their realities I want to scream, “THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE.” I am so grateful to follow a God who said this first, already raised up a team of people to work in La Limonada and this opportunity to bear witness to the aroma of Christ there.
If you want to sponsor a child or support a scholar, you too can be present in their lives. You can write similar life-giving words of encourage which fights violence with love and replaces the impossible with hope. That’s all for tonight! Thank you for all the prayers, please continue to pray for God’s protection and blessing on our team as we go back tomorrow.
* Names have been changed.