When Tita first walked down the narrow paths into La Limonada, she was working with youth who had fallen deep into gang culture. Many were drug addicts and thieves. She looked past the menacing guns, tough faces, and feared reputations of the youth guarding the boundaries of their barrios, and sought to uncover the stories behind the pain-filled eyes. She learned their names, stories, and always asked how she could pray for them. It was impossible not to love each of them.
When others saw cold-hearted criminals, Tita saw – through God’s eyes and heart – vulnerable children who had once been full of life and potential. She noticed how the depths of the poverty began to hit the children around the age of eight – and how any hope for the future was choked from their hearts. Hopes were crushed under the weight of abuse, hunger, fear, lack of love, constant violence, and rejection from their fellow Guatemalans.
Their only role models were nearly too far down the road of violence – with jail records and tattoos to keep their past ever present.
When Tita cried out to God in the midst of this heartbreak and pain, asking God how to respond to all this, she received her call to gang prevention and presence with the children. What if she could get to the children before they found themselves in these formative, destructive moments? What if she and her team were able to provide these children with love, structure, training, and discipleship before their future was so heavily marked by violence? What if the academies could provide a safe environment to preserve their innocence and to influence the future leaders of a peace-filled community?
Miriam agreed it was worth a shot.
The mother of two sons and a daughter in La Limonada, Miriam worried for their future. Even if they could manage to stay out of the gangs themselves, what would keep them from absorbing the despondency, hate, and fear that hangs thick in the air of La Limonada? How would they stay occupied in anything positive when the only options around them seemed so negative?
Miriam’s sons were among the first to be registered in Limon, the first academy in the community. Only little boys, they attended each day. Miriam was amazed to see their minds expand, character strengthen, respect for their elders develop, and trust in God grow. They loved receiving letters, gifts, and pictures from their sponsors. These relationships brought encouragement and confidence beyond words as they felt valued and known.
Education beyond sixth grade costs money most parents in La Limonada can not afford. Many feel the urgent needs of the present require their youth try to find some work to help support the family rather than invest in a better future. But, Mauricio and Dempsey were motivated to keep studying.
The scholarship program helped both sons attend vocational training. Mauricio is now 21 years old with a job as a bookkeeper for a motorcycle company. He was married this year and is proud to be able to support his family. Miriam’s older son Dempsey also has a wonderful job as a marketing promoter and is married with a son.
Miriam said earnestly,
“The academies kept my sons safe from the contamination of violence in the community. Instead of being vulnerable or bored, they were safe here with education, good values, Bible studies, and people who taught them to respect their elders. The teachers kept their minds busy here on good things, and not the bad things on the streets. If you help kids now, [then] tomorrow, we won’t have these gangs.”
She looks to the future with hope for her younger daughter, two sons, and their families. And so do we.