This post is going to take a while to write, as I am still trying to process all that has happened in a mere week. I saw God work last week in a way that I have never experienced before; and despite my nerves about going, I am so humbled and grateful that God allowed me to be a part of His work there. I must go ahead and summarize the take-away from the trip:
God is faithful
Well, I guess I shall start from the beginning:
Our plane was scheduled to leave Birmingham at 6 a.m. so we had to be at the airport at 5, which meant leave my house at 4:30, which meant get up at 3:30. I said my goodbyes to my boys and rode with a friend to the airport. Everyone made it through security and onto the plane, but somehow the plane missed the clearance for taking off and we had to wait for about 30 to 45 minutes for clearance again. This put us getting to the Atlanta airport with just enough time to run through the gate as they were saying "final boarding call" for our flight. Thankfully they held the flight and we made it just in time. We arrived in Guatemala City and were picked up by our drivers and taken to the Baptist Seminary, where we were going to be staying.
The remainder of the day was spent getting settled and preparing our VBS materials for the week. We assembled grocery bags full of rice, beans, sugar, oil, and cereal to take to Tabitha House, the ministry we would be working with. Tabitha House is a ministry began by Carol, a Guatemalan believer to help mothers and children in the most poverty-stricken area of Guatemala City, known as the "dump." It is quite literally a community that has been built up around a landfill. Tabitha House is right on the edge of the dump, in a rented building that Carol uses as a day care for children and a sewing center for the mothers. She has been teaching them to sew in order to bring them income and also to fund the ministry. We were told that it costs around $2000 per month to run this ministry and that Carol uses much of her own income to run it. She took us to Tabitha House to drop off the 40 grocery bags we made and to look at the area we would be working in. Upon arriving, I was completely overwhelmed with what I saw. When we pulled up in front of the Tabitha House, there were children playing in the dirtiest street I have ever seen. They were so happy to see us and appeared starved for attention. Inside Tabitha House was not much cleaner. It mainly consisted of one long room that served as the day care for the younger children, a bathroom and sink area, and then a small room in the back with about three cribs in it. Upstairs there was a kitchen area, a partially open area (with no complete roof) and another classroom that was used for the older children (about ages 4-8). These pictures do not accurately depict what it was like, but they give you some idea.
Inside the main room at Tabitha House & the Kitchen at Tabitha House
Upstairs at Tabitha House
The sink at Tabitha House. God have mercy on me the nexttime I complain about doing the dishes.
clothes dryer on the roof!
Sunday morning we went to worship at Jerusalen Baptist Church (spelled correctly). I was not sure what to expect, since I have never been to a worship service in Spanish. The congregation was very welcoming and made us feel at home. They sang many of the same songs we sing at Brook Hills, in Spanish of course. A woman, who spoke almost no English, sang "Open the Eyes of My Heart" for us in English and it was very moving. I was surprised at how worshipful the service felt to me, even though it was in another language. I thought about when people from every nation, tribe, and tongue will worship together around the throne with glorious diversity and perfect unity! Oh that that day would come!
After going to a restaurant (above) for lunch, we divided into groups, according to what we would be doing the following morning. I was part of the group taking groceries to the "dump" area. We got together and prayed that God would give us the faith that we needed to do the work He called us to do. No one (other teams or other Guatemalans) wants to go there and our translator told us that she had never been because her husband would not let her. She told us that it is a dangerous area where people are using drugs (mainly "huffing"). They huff to numb themselves to the pain of daily life and of hunger.
To be honest, I was afraid but I never thought of backing out. I knew this was what we came to do and God would either protect us or take us home. I was going whether I was afraid or not. That night I prayed so hard that God would take that fear and give me peace about going.
I woke up with complete peace. Really. I had total peace about going and even was excited about it! When we arrived, we began walking down the street and alleyways between the houses, trying to comprehend what we saw. Many of the houses only had dirt floors, as in dirt on top of garbage on top of dirt. The walls were made out of anything and everything, plastic banners, pieces of tin, whatever. Some with no running water or electricity. I don't think I want to know about the bathroom situation, but I only remember seeing one. Most of the houses did not have a complete roof, meaning there was some portion of the house that was open to the elements. One woman, one of the first we visited, said that her house floods every time it rains. She and her husband and six children slept in one tiny, dark room. They had no running water or electricity and they paid $100 a month for this place. There were chickens in a corner of the uncovered part of the house, just off the little area where she prepared food.
The other woman we visited that stands out in my mind had two children, ages 3 and 1 who were both very sick. She appeared as if she had given up hope. She looked so weary, as if she did not have the desire to go on anymore. Just about all that she had was a bed and a chest of drawers. There was no where else to sit and the floor was dirt. There was garbage from the dump everywhere. It was no wonder the children were sick. It was awful. We brought medicine and gave the children antibiotic shots (in Guatemala, you do not need a prescription for almost any kind of medicine, just the money to buy it.) The next day, we did see the younger one and she looked a little better.
In the afternoon, another group went to the dump, while we painted the Tabitha House. When they returned, they told us about one of the worst situations we witnessed the entire time we were there. They had visited a home in which they met two children, Alfredo, age 5, and Katherine, age 2. There mother is a drug addict and physically abuses them. They have also been abused in other ways. The whole group broke down and could not go on for a while, they were so saddened and struck by this situation. They met and talked to their mother, who was described as not caring about her children.
Just yesterday, I received an email that this mother had brought the children and left them at Tabitha House while she was high. She had burned Alfredo's face and they had been abused again. The ladies at the Tabitha House were happy to take the children and keep them safe. A couple of days later some people that they had been living with came to get the children. The ladies knew that these people wanted to SELL THEM and would not let them have the children. The people threatened to go to the authorities because they had the children and were not related to them. I tell you this not to make you sad, but to ask you to pray every time you think of this situation. We need God to intervene in this situation to prevent these precious children from being another statistic of children sold into slavery.
This first day was very hard to process. The dump was so much more.....everything......than we could have imagined. It was hard to see any hope there, but that night, our leader J.T. challanged us to pray that we would not just focus on what the enemy is doing at the dump, but what God is doing there. We all earnestly prayed that night that we would see God, that He would reveal Himself in that place and we would see hope.
Inside Josephina's house, one of the better ones
God answered our prayer! His presence and His work was evident in every home we went in. From the woman who asked us to pray for her extended family, to meeting her family and being asked to come inside and pray over a newborn baby, to a father who loved his family and desperately wanted to provide for them and be the spiritual leader in his home, to a teen who had injured his knee and couldn't go anywhere while we shared the Gospel with him!! He did not accept bacause of what he would have to give up to become a Christian, but we know that the Holy Spirit will work in his heart. Everywhere we looked, God was at work.
The most evident was in the home of Virginia and Melina. Melina was a believer, but Virginia was not. They were both prostitutes and Virginia was pregnant. We shared the Gospel and our testimonies with her and Virginia gave her life to Christ. We also prayed over her, that God would free her from the bondage she was in. As J.T. was praying, the dog outside went completely crazy. I have never heard such a frantic, urgent, panicked bark in my life. The louder J.T. prayed for the enemy to flee, the louder the dog barked. We all knew that the evil that had been in that home had gone into that dog, without a doubt.
As we were leaving, Melina asked us if she could go with us. We had no idea why, but we said "sure." We visited a couple of other homes and she stayed outside. Then we went to visit a woman named Catalina, After she told us her story and asked us to pray for her family, she told us that we also needed to pray for Melina. She asked Melina to come inside and tell us her story. Melina came in and began telling us how she and her children are mistreated living with Virginia. She has no where else to go and feels like committing suicide often. Virginia's father built the house and is also very mean to her and her children. We could see the pain on her face and in her tears and she poured out her heart to us. Then J.T. encouraged her to pray about it, while we interceeded for her and supported her with our prayers. As Melina began to pray, another dog outside began barking wildly. I know it sounds crazy, but at that point, it all made sense to us. I know that the demonic oppression that woman had been under was lifted that day. We knew exactly why Melina asked to go with us, God had already known, He just let us in on it!
Melina and Virginia (holding Bible)
This is such a long post and there is so much more, I'll do the rest soon in another post.