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).