The slum of La Limonada began as a squatter community in a large ravine between two zones in Guatemala City. In a 1 mile long and 1/2 mile wide, somewhere between 60,000 and 100,00 people live in 10 different barrios. An address in La Limonada conveys you are zone-less, unidentified on most city maps. Everyone is afraid of you, assuming you are a thief, criminal or gang member.
This was the theme of our day 2 in Guatemala. Stories of women trying to get a loan from the bank and being denied based on their address. Men searching for honest work but not hired based on their address. Women and men treated poorly at the hospital, on the bus or walking on the street because of their tattoos.
Listening to their stories, I was overwhelmed by the message each person receives from an early age. Constant reminders of being powerless, worthless and less than the rest of society. Can you imagine the anger they must feel in response?
Through small business loans with pastoral loan officers, special rooms for the abused with school psychologists, classrooms with invested teachers and discipleship from Tita and her friend, God has raised up this team to fight this denial of their humanity. Isaiah 43:17-18 says, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst, I the Lord will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
We met many with stories which proclaimed the work of God opening rivers and fountains. I will share two of them. But, we also faced stories I wish I didn’t have to face. The realities of the sexual and physical abuse, violence and danger has forever changed me. If Christians forsake this dark place, what will stand against this? Who will tell these children “THIS IS NOT THE WAY IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE”? Please pray with me against this ugliness. Pray with me the lies of worthlessness would be replaced with the truth declared by their Creator, “You are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you.” Isaiah 43:4
Meet Efrain* – When fully active and tattooed gang member Efrain first met Tita, she asked him how she could pray for him. In a rare moment of vulnerability, tears welled up and he told her how much he desired to work – an honest job. He knew his tattoos were a sign of his gang involvement, causing fear and rejection from any employer. In desperation, he began taking a razor and scraping the tattooed skin off of his face and arms. After he was committed to not stealing, he fell into depression. Day after day, his wife would return from working hard, long days. “Her tiredness should be my tiredness,” he said as he described the shame he felt over not providing for his family or setting an example of hard work for his children. He looked up with the scars on his face and shared God’s amazing mercy to him. He was able to get a good job as a parking attendant and feels like life might be worth living. God heard his prayers and has provided a way to be an honest man for his family. The smile on his face was filled with peace and true joy.
Meet Cristian – Cristian is our sponsored child who we had the opportunity to meet both in his classroom this morning as well as in his home. Though he was shy, he was clearly excited to meet us. His classmates swarmed around him we gave him bubbles to play with. They screamed with delight and tried to play with him. Our team later squeezed into a small room with him, his two sisters and blind grandmother. I am heartbroken to see the world this beautiful, bright eyed boy lives in. Our sponsorship will help him go to school, have lunch, brush his teeth and most importantly have a teacher who loves him and looks after him. But I believe it will be our prayers and pleading before the throne for God that will have the greatest impact. We have the joy of being in relationship with him, but also the heartbreak of the entering the brokenness of his circumstances.
Father, flood this barren land with springs of life. Use the example of Efrain to demonstrate the preciousness of each life in your sight and the fullness of joy that comes from your presence. Heal La Limonada, turn it’s scars into monuments of grace.
*Name changed to protect his identity.