Last night. She sat in the corner of the bed-couch in the corner of the room. One leg tucked under the other, face still red from the laughter she has both given and received over dinner. In one turn, though, the tone becomes serious as a question rises above the crowd, asking for her story. The story that has brought us here.
A nurse to burn victims, Tita began making home visits to a severely injured gang member, not knowing that her feet were walking upon the holy ground of poverty, violence, and death.
She eventually realized that she was in the neighborhood of La Limonada, nestled in the valley of the shadow of Guatemala City, considered a trash heap by those outside; both the people and the items are considered its waste.
And yet she continued going. And serving. And loving.
* * * * *
Today. School attendance is light as our feet walk over concrete still stained with blood from the night before. Twin bullet holes mark the pillars holding the railing leading to the classrooms of smiling, laughing, loving children. Outside, the tension is high. The shooter last night wounded the wrong target and fears of on-going violence and retaliation linger today.
We spend time with children being sponsored to attend these schools. We do crafts with them. We exercise with them. We learn with them. We watch them learn how to pray. I’m reminded of how essential a skill this will be in their lives to come.
Tita comes and invites me to come with her to make a special home visit.
* * * * *
Weekly funerals dotted her calendar as gang members cannibalized La Limonada. She got closer and closer to them and began to find those key moments in their youth where the road forked and they chose the wrong path.
She began agonizing over those pivotal moments of change and decision and what she could do to break the cycles. She started a school and began her work.
When asked why she would do this, she just looks at us and says, “I read the Bible, and I saw what Jesus was passionate about.”
When asked what she has learned about Jesus in all this time, she says, “that Christianity is simple, and humans make it complicated.”
* * * * *
My eyes took time to adjust to the darkness of the small room in which an entire family lives. Two women lie on the bed against the back wall, huddling over a pink pile of blanket between them. They see Tita and rise to kiss her cheek, if only their smiles would lessen enough to properly pucker. I see a small face emerge from the blanket pile on the bed.
Our interpreter asks the mother how old the baby is. Twelve days. The mother comes to greet us, but hugs are awkward as the cast on her arm is held in place with six-inch long pins through a metal frame and through her arm.
Tita starts handing out gifts. Tears begin. My interpreter tells me a story.
It is a story of four brothers and a young pregnant woman. Two of the brothers are involved in the gangs. Two months ago, this young mother’s brother-in-law is shot and killed. The pregnant woman is shot and lives, earning the cast and pins. Just two weeks ago, the other brother–the young woman’s husband–is killed. Two days later, his daughter is born.
* * * * *
She begins crying as she continues her story. But the tears are not over the pain and loss this neighborhood has seen. It’s over bitterness that rose in her heart over the past year and a half over the sheer constancy of sexual abuse the little girls of La Limonada endure.
She has grown angry and frustrated, not knowing why God allows such pain and evil. She has seen his blessing and how much he loves these precious, precious girls, only to see their humanity stolen from them night after night after night.
Two-months ago, she lashes out at God: “what are you going to do about this?!”
He replies: “I have given them you. Now what are you going to do about this?”
* * * * *
Tita gives this young mother a framed picture taken shortly after she gave birth. Along the frame, Tita has written words of wisdom old: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains–from where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.”
I’m given the honor to hold the newborn and feed her. She is still nameless, with no control over her arms or eyes. Metaphors and symbolism abound. I pray over her whatever blessing I could manage, pleading with the Spirit to be strong with her and to give her strength for her fatherless, painful, hard life to come.
I hear only silence from the invisible Spirit above.
I look up and see the last two remaining brothers, one in his twenties, the other younger than ten. The interpreter tells me this older one has not let himself get into the gangs. I watch him open up Tita’s gifts for his younger brother, discipling him in the rhythms of family and love. The mother and her mother pray with Tita in the corner. I look back down to the child in my arms.
In the voices and presence of Tita, the women, the brothers, and the cooing newborn, I begin to question just how silent and invisible–and above–this Spirit might just be.
* * * * *
Tita concludes our time and her story–now ours–and our tears. A long pause lingers in the room as the Spirit does what he does best. Her voice then cuts the silence:
“It’s hard. But it is what it is. And it’s beautiful.”
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[photos by Scott Bennett]