After going to bed with a heavy heart the night before thinking of the horrors the children I had just played with are facing, I woke up with the renewed excitement to be apart of standing against such evilness. Another day of enjoying an incredible team of people, the opportunity to attempt Spanish, to engage with the work that makes my heart & God’s come alive, to learn more about Guatemala and to know God more. To my surprise, God had a hope-filled schedule for us to stand in contrast to yesterday. Including an opportunity to visit our sponsored child Cristian once more in his classroom where we built puzzles together and squeezed in another big hug!
First we witnessed a historical milestone in the community of La Limonada. A significant meeting where presidents of the various neighborhoods making up La Limonada gathered at the invitation of Tita and a small group of university students in a one of the academies which served as a neutral location. Why would this be historical you may ask? The moment you step foot in this barrio, you sense the tension created between the ongoing neighborhood rivalries. These boundaries are distinctly marked by young guys protectively ‘hanging’ around. With dull looks in their eyes like they just sniffed some glue to mask both their hunger and pain, they watch everyone who passes very carefully while preventing many to come close. These were peace talks.
The goal of this meeting was to get to know each other by finding things in common as groundwork for future meetings to discuss the history of the La Limonada for documentation and honor for their home. This process will require consensus among the leaders on how history has played out. A wikipedia of sorts. We went through exercises of listening, remembering names and getting to know each other as well as drawing out the desires and needs for La Limonada. These leaders described dreams of working together until everyone in their city sees them as apart of society, parents leading by their example, happy children and access to government attention (i.e. clinics, police, etc). It was a beautiful experience of the fortified walls beginning to crumble. All of this would not have been possible had Tita not followed Jesus into a trust-building relationship with La Limonada 19 years ago. One does not simply walk into these neighborhoods without a known person such as Tita by your side.
We then met with two women who have been given vocational training and opportunity to make jewelry to sell. Both are single mothers with 4 and 5 children. [You can purchase some of Salma and Alma’s jewelry here] Their stories are dominated by pain and despair. The one described horrific experiences which drove her to consider suicide. Though turned away from a church due to her tattoos, she found Tita who welcomed her and shared the beautiful message of hope. They were very eager to know why we would come from so far to spend time in La Limonada and with them when they have only known discrimination. Gratitude lit up their faces as we described the purpose of our trip. It is amazing how God could use even me to communicate his love and value for them. By simply following Jesus where he is at work.
So often we calculate the big things we will do for God, how we will cleverly live out his call to love the least of these and what the measurements of our success will be. Sometimes I wonder if we are attempting to reach the Kingdom of God by constructing our own tower of ministry into the sky. Have we even stopped to ask Jesus what he is doing and where we should follow him? Where is he already at work? Tita decided to work in this forgotten place when, as she describes, “I was reading my Bible and I knew what I had to do.”
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood. Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.” Isaiah 58:6-9
Lord, I want to follow.
I have visited several slum communities before but have never experienced anything quite like this place. One of the major reasons for this has been the posture of Lemonade International towards the community as well as us as visitors. The community is not the project. The community are people Jesus loves. We are not potential donors for what Lemonade wants to do. We are partners in what God is doing. The organization is not acting as mini-Saviors. They are imitators and proclaimers of THE Savior to those who most need to see his hands and feet. God is very clearly at work in this place. Story after story pointed to what only he can do to transform lives so completely. His hand is on Tita and her team. But there is no sugar-coating what they are fighting against. It is un-checked evilness with need for what only the Spirit can do to change hearts, heal wounds and come into relationship with the people.
“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” Phil 2:13-17
My prayer as I continue to process this experience is to imitate Tita as she imitates Jesus. To follow where he would call me to go. To love the sponsored child he has asked me to enter into a relationship with. To consider what else I can give. To see and take opportunities to share what I have seen. To pray fervently for God to transform hearts, heal brokenness and continue to pour out his favor on the work of Lemonade International. To follow the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.