Tonight is my last night in Guatemala. By the time this is posted and most of you read this, I will be on a plane (or, more likely, waiting in an airport), on my way back home.
The past couple of posts this week have been a little intense. The way I received and processed those first few days was definitely through the filter of brokenness and pain. And this was definitely appropriate. There were so many stories of poverty, violence, abuse, economic exploitation, injustice, paedophilia, and rape that I simply could not tell.
We have to see the need for hope before we can feel its presence.
Today we were a part of history for La Limonada. Each of the ten barios (or neighborhoods) within La Limonada have their own “President” of sorts. Today, for the first time in known La Limonada history, five of the ten Presidents met.
We gathered in the basement of one of Lemonade International’s Academies. Local university students have found a heart for this community and have taken as their final project an incredible endeavor.
They want to hold leadership workshops to help equip these Presidents as agents of change for their barios, and they want to compile the first written history of La Limonada, print it, and hand it out to the residents. These leaders understand the rhythms of their neighborhood so well and have a passion for seeing its healing come.
I ask one of these elders the question I have received more than any concerning my trip here: why is the neighborhood called “The Lemonade”?
“Because Lemonade is strong and sour, like La Limonada”
“But in America, Lemonade is also very sweet. Is it different here?”
“No. So yes, La Limonada is also very sweet.”
We shared a good laugh after this. Little did he know that this statement would mark the rest of my day.
We left this “summit” to meet with two women that are in Lemonade International’s vocational training program. They make beautiful jewelry and sell it online for a fair price, and it has brought them out of poverty.
They told their stories to us, and we all cried together as one particular woman spoke of God delivering her from the edge of suicide, abandoning her child, and slowly dressing the wound from of rape. We prayed for her seven-month-old, who took a fall on Sunday and has to undergo a dangerous surgery soon. She doesn’t know what she’ll do if the child dies.
She said, “Trusting God and giving him everything makes life much easier, even though it makes the trials harder.”
I asked who God was to her and she said, “He is the father I never had. He is my strength, my rock, and I run to him and hold on to him when I hurt. He loves me. Even when my child’s father tells me I am nothing, I know I am loved by God. He is all I have.”
And then her co-worker and sister in the faith started teasing her about crying so much. And she laughed. And for some reason, it wasn’t awkward. The love of community, the faithfulness of God, and the strength of grace on her has given her a freedom from the ultimate experience of her tragedies.
They are not who she is. They are there. They are real. But they are not ultimate.
And this was encouraging. We all continued to laugh together and share our stories and rest in our God’s presence. They asked me why I came to Guatemala. I said, “It’s because I can see that God is strong in Guatemala, and I needed to see God, and you have shown him to me.”
After lunch, we then went to the central market of Guatemala City. It’s an underground marketplace where nothing costs what the price tag says. We saw craftsmanship, beauty, economics, and people exercising their dignity in ways that we haven’t gotten to see in La Limonada. We all got to taste strange, amazing fruits of which we’ve never seen nor heard. We got to haggle. We got to laugh and invest in the people and the work of their hands.
We then went to one of Lemonade International’s “Safe Houses”. As Tita and Lemonade International have done their work in the community, they have encountered children that are experiencing mistreatment, neglect, and abuse that is far outside the norm. These are extraordinary cases in which Lemonade International works with the family to let the child live in a safe house–far from the community and abusive family members–and live there for as many years as it takes for healing and restoration to come to the family.
We walked into this house that few outsiders are allowed to enter. It is a house full of 18 children that have suffered unspeakable things at the hands of those that they should trust. Some of the stories we heard I could never post here. It was into this that we went.
And it was the most fun we’ve had the entire trip.
We walked in to a strange and beautiful world of thriving children. We walked in, and children ages 4 to 15 were all playing with one another. Kids were lounging on the couch reading, others of diverse ages were playing board games, some were on the playground out back, and still others just wanted to be with us.
And finally, I was able to complete the one requirement of any visit to Central America, I got to play futbol with the kids. We picked kids up, we hugged them, we spoke words of truth and affirmation over them, and encouraged the staff at this house so they might continue being amazing surrogate families to these children.
Really, I cannot convey the joy, life, and freedom this house held. And it wasn’t chaotic at all. It was simply life. It was love. It was hope. It was redeeming their past to give new life to their futures.
And this is what Lemonade International does. They have decided to pour themselves out in the most radical, human, and relational ways into one particular community. They have no visions of “bigness” that, if I’m honest, I have a hard time fitting into Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom.
They simply want to see life and beauty break into the largest slum community in Central America. Actually, that’s not true. They want to take the life and beauty that is already there in those people, and help extend that to be blessing for all those in its midst.
And to do this, they have a conviction that it takes uncertainty, a ministry “model” with flexibility, real relationships, and lots of prayer. And laughter.
In other words (and you all had to see this coming), they want to take life’s lemons, and make them into strong, sour, bitter, acidic, and oh so sweet Lemonade.
Please consider joining them in this work.
CLICK HERE to follow the rest of my Guatemala posts for Lemonade International
[photos by Scott Bennett]