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I just returned from 10 days in Guatemala, a time of connecting with staff, building relationships, visiting the community, gathering stories, and hosting a vision trip from our home church in Phoenix. It was a joy to return to the narrow streets again, and to reflect on the experience.

There is a grand paradox when we step into the paths that weave down into the ravine of La Limonada. We pass people whose eyes convey stories of pain, violence, and lack of power. We feel the weight of their marginalization immediately, and are welcomed into homes where we learn more about each individual and family. These stories of sickness, loss, abuse, fear, prejudice, and poverty overwhelm you.

The questions fill up your mind and heart: What is it like to be hurt and alone? What is like to be abandoned? What is like to watch your children go hungry and suffer? What is like to be powerless to stop it or defend yourselves? What is it like to feel like you matter to no one?

But as the pain feels like it will swallow you whole, you realize there are other emotions simultaneously welling up – peace, joy, and the very tangible presence of God feel like electricity going straight for your heart. You’re witnessing something nearly unrecognizable in places of ease and comfort. With the outcast comes God’s clear voice.

The people of La Limonada are no different than you or me. They are hard wired for love and human connection. They want to know their lives matter and carry purpose beyond the daily grind of survival. But, how do you open yourself up to human connection when every experience from your birth screams you are not safe and no one will help you?

The message Tita and her team carry into these stories is of God-with-us. A God who became flesh and lived among us. A God who understands their pain and the bad things they have done. A God who has been present and active all along. A God who defines their worth, not by the tattoos on their skin or the wrongs they have committed, but as his beloved and redeemed creation.

As Henri Nouwen eloquently said:

This is the good news of God’s taking on human flesh. By calling him Immanuel or ‘God-with-us,’ we recognize that he has committed himself to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us. The God-with-us is a close God, a God whom we call our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, and even, more intimately, our helper, our shepherd, our love.

By offering their presence, the team in Guatemala reflects this God-with-us. They visit homes, letting people express their pain and give voice to wounds. They listen to what is in their hearts and minds, and offer truth. They show up in the darkest moments of suffering, sickness, evil, and need. They pray with the mother watching her son grow sicker from leukemia, plead with the gang member contemplating retaliation from his recent gunshot wound, affirm the dignity of the former prostitute, encourage the young mother to take care of her unwanted pregnancy, and celebrate the growing faithful who want to see their community healed and whole.

In La Limonada, you can actually touch trust, peace, and hope. You watch it emerging from darkened eyes that begin to illuminate with new life. You reach out your hand and almost feel God’s arms holding you as you love what he loves – as you care for the widow, the orphan, and the outcast.

In Tita’s words, “We are in La Limonada, because God is in La Limonada.”

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