Creation of our Family- May 24, 2014

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sendas Dios hara

“Sendas Dios hara cuando camino no lo hay… Dios hara algo nuevo hoy.”

“La pobreza abre la puerta a todos los tipos de violencia.” (Poverty opens the door to all types of violence) This sharing and growth in community has been transformative for me, and for so many of the other participants. We have begun to both understand and experience transformation as God has opened our eyes. Many have been awakened to the suffering in their own countries, and have committed to truly seeing the needs around them.

Two women here have really touched my heart. I spent time with each of them one on one in the last couple of days. They shared their struggles and pain with me, and I prayed with them, listened, and encouraging them to allow God to use their pain to help others. This morning, during our opening time of devotions and reflections, both of these women shared their stories of transformation and encouraged others to allow their hearts to be touched and to support one another as we seek healing. 

Let me take a moment to describe the place where we are holding the conference. We meet each day in the Volcano Room, on the fifth floor of CASAS. The room has a wall of windows on three sides. All around us, we see palm trees and flowers, and there are volcanoes in the distance on every side. CASAS is located in Zona 11 of Guatemala City, and is within a small, gated neighborhood. To the right, from my view in the Volcano Room, I see NoviCentro, the shopping center where we have gone for groceries, ATM machines, printing, ice cream, and other food. 

The food here has been very good- I love the comida tipica. Our evening meal (cena) has been red or black beans with tortillas, white cheese, salsa, and crema. One night, we had hardboiled eggs with it, and the other night they served sausages. The juices here, of course, are wonderful. The most common is rosa de Jamaica- hibiscus flower juice. I already bought a little box rosa de Jamaica tea to share when I get home.

 The evening today was incredible. After a somewhat difficult afternoon with some cultural and language confusions in the conference (turns out that the concept of “trauma-informed care” does not translate very clearly), the night was a beautiful celebration. The Nicaraguan students prepared the cena for everyone: gallo pinto (rice and black beans cooked together), planatanos maduros fritos (my favorite!! Fried sweet plantains), pico de gallo, crema, and queso nicaraguense. Amazingly delivious!

Laurel and I with Olga Piedrasantas
After dinner, an older Guatemalan woman name Olgita, who is helping facilitat 
e the conference, prepared and led a Mayan ceremony of healing from trauma. She shared about the war and the pain of the Mayan people facing the deaths and disappearances of their family members. Twenty years after the war, some of them participated in exhuming the bodies of their loved ones from mass graves. She shared about her role of providing psychological support at the site of the exhumation. She stood side by side, arm around their shoulders, as the forensic archeologists delicately uncovered and presented them with the clothing their family members were buried in. Twenty years later, they still recalled exactly which shirt, pants, or skirt they were murdered in.
For grinding the corn into flour

The ceremony focused on the process of making tortillas… from sowing the seeds, to growing the plants, to harvesting, to shelling, washing, cooking, grinding, mixing with water, preparing the masa, and palmeando las tortillas. Finally, they are ready to cook, and eat. These new friends of mine shared for fifteen minutes or more about each of these steps (and a learned many new words! I don’t think we have quite so many, many words to describe corn in English). Then Olgita took everything through visualization, bringing us to a place of rest and bringing with us the person we most love and trust in our lives. There were raw grains of corn there is a bowl, along with a pot of water, brought to us by our loved one. Then, one by one, we were asked to picture removing each raw piece of corn from the bowl, which represented each time of pain and suffering in our lives. Slowly, as we removed them from the dark bowl and brought them into the light the shell began to crack. As we put them in the pot of water, they began to soften, to become something more edible.

The cross and Mayan symbols of healing
With candles, music, and incense, flowers and traditional Mayan cloths and symbols, this healing ceremony was so powerful for everyone.  At the end, we each shared in some freshly made tortillas. You see, each person here needs healing from something. As the creations of God, we know that our Creator can heal us if we surrender to Him and allow him to work the long process of healing in our lives. A major theme this week has been “the process.” What we have all been learning is that, even in the midst of our pain, two things are still true: (1) God can lovingly heal us and (2) God still wants to use us, through our own pain, to come up alongside of others who are hurting.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Guatemala, Day One

I arrived yesterday afternoon in Guatemala City. From the sky, you notice the stark contrasts in the city: the big buildings, fancy stadiums and malls on the one hand, and. on the other hand, thousands and thousands of very poor structures precariously leaning on the sides of mountains. These are the homes of many in Guatemala City. The city has virtually gone through a population explosion, as so many capital cities in the developing world have.

            I am staying at a place called CASAS. It is an international guesthouse, Spanish language school, and home of Central America’s Mennonite seminary. It is located in a quiet, gated community in Zona 11 in Guatemala City. Staying in a gated community is always a little bizarre at the beginning. Due to the increase in crime, CASAS and the families who live on the street decided to build a wall and gates and hire two guards a few years ago. Other than a short walk this morning (to drop Laurel’s daughter off at school half a mile away), this is the only place I have been so far. After the conference ends for the day, we are venturing out for a little adventure. Needless to say, this compound it self is somewhat separated from the desperate poverty of so many in Guatemala.

My friend Laurel and I before starting to facilitate the conference
And yet, it is not that separate at all. As I have begun to interact with the conference participants, I have been touched by their stories of immense personal, familial, and community suffering and violence. The history of war and torture, the present realities of gangs, drug trafficking, family violence, rape, and human trafficking seem to affect everyone here. Today, on the first day of the conference I am co-facilitating, I learned a lot more about the realities of many communities of Central America. Gangs, violence, and grinding poverty are the daily reality of most of the communities where the pastors and leaders at our conference serve. Literally, one person shared that 7 people were executed in the past seven days in the neighborhood where she works. These pastors and leaders experience trauma everyday in their own lives, where they live, serve, and work.

How does the church respond? How do Christian psychologists, lawyers, teachers, and social workers respond? Violence is ripping apart the lives of so many men, women, and children in Central America. But one participant put it in simple terms: poverty is the biggest factor that leads to this extreme violence.

            Our conference participants come from seven different countries (all Central American countries, plus Mexico) and they are all people who work everyday in communities torn apart by violence. They are also individuals whose very own lives have been impacted by violence, abuse, poverty, and other traumas. How do we, as imperfect people with our own difficulties and traumas, effectively accompany victims of violence as they heal and seek restoration in their lives?

            I am so extremely blessed to be here, sharing with these extraordinary people and facilitating learning about very practical ways to help ourselves and others heal from trauma.  Today we shared our motivations and some of the stories that drive us to this work.  For me, the motivation is from Psalm 34:18-
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Of course, I shared the verse in Spanish. That version actually speaks to me even more: “El Senor esta cerca para salvar a los que tienen el Corazon hecho pedazos y han perdido la esperanza.” In my life over the past year, I have repeatedly experienced God's closeness in moments when I was brokenhearted and feeling nearly hopeless. We, as Christians, should likewise draw near to the brokenhearted and to those who have lost their hope. All of us have experienced broken hearts and trauma at some point in our lives- and those experiences of pain help us to know how to draw near. 

            Thank you so much for your prayers and for your support for me while I am in Guatemala. I am so grateful to each of you. Vayan con Dios, y que todos nosotros encuentremos maneras de acercarnos a los que se han perdido la esperanza.  (Go with God, and may we all find ways to draw near to people who have lost their hope).