Friday, December 14, 2012
Almost every day after that I slid my feet into those gray and white leather shoes knowing that they are not the result of a long assembly line or multiple machines. They are the result of one man living in La Limonada, just trying to make a living so that he can care for his family. I knew only of his son's story and nothing of his until recently. Now, when I slip on what have become treasures to me, I pray for Otto and his family and thank God for the man that he has become. His story really is one that proves beauty can come from ashes.
In October, I was able to spend a little more time with him. It's a given now that any time I am in Guatemala, I must have a new pair or two of Otto originals, so once again I made my way up those stairs and tried not to move too much while picking out my designs and fabrics.
This time I got to hear Otto's story and while I won't share all of the details here simply because his story is not mine to tell, I will tell you that he gives all glory to the Lord for transforming his life in unbelievable ways. His past is one of violence and heartache and despair, but the saving grace of Christ can change even the most hardened heart and he now lives a life surrendered only to the Lord, a life of love and joy despite the hardships of living in La Limonada.
As he shared his heart that day, he talked about something he had dreamed of for a long time. He longed to be able to help children and men from the streets. He wanted to be able to train them and mentor them and to tell them about how Jesus saves despite your past. As two young men worked hard on making shoes behind me, I realized that their stories, though I did not learn them that day, were probably ones like Otto's and that this man that sat before me, one that years ago I would never have considered being near because it would not have been considered "safe" was living his dream and what I believe must be one of God's calls on his life. He hired them to train them when they had nothing to offer. He spends his days with them, making shoes and pouring love and hope into their lives. And he will not stop there. From my two pairs of shoes and my friend's orders and other orders he filled the day before, he told us that he would be able to purchase more supplies, but what really brought me to a place of incredible happiness was when he told me that from the shoes he will create for the school children this month, he will be able to hire another person from the streets. He will be able to train and mentor them the same as he does the ones that already work with him.
When we ask you to donate to supply a pair of shoes for a child in La Limonada and you generously do, you should know that it goes far beyond just one pair of shoes for one child. That pair of shoes is made by Otto or one of his helpers. Otto's family receives income from that. He is able to provide for them because of it. He is able to provide a job for someone that before knew only hopelessness. He is able to help them understand, maybe for the first time, what Christmas really is. And then they are able to take that message to their families and friends. It is more than just one pair of shoes and one child. That one pair of shoes (and imagine if we made it to the goal of 290 pairs!) makes an impact on an entire family and even on this community. It is hard to wrap your mind around just how much of an impact comes from this and I wish everyone could just visit and see it personally. You can't help but be transformed yourself.
If you would like to donate a pair of shoes to a child in La Limonada this Christmas which will also bring much good to many others in the community, click on the GIVE SHOES button on the side bar here.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
In the beginning of the 20th century, The United Fruit Company was the largest land owner and employer in Guatemala. It produced crops that were sold in the U.S. and Europe for great profit. The company invested in shipping ports, railroads, hospitals and more, but it exaggerated the contrast between the Guatemalan wealthy and working poor. Even then the bulk of the system relied on unskilled, underpaid workers.
In the mid 20th century, the U.S. was fighting communism around the globe and in the 1950s, that included Guatemala. The Guatemalan democratic president promoted the Agrarian Reform Law which included redistribution of unused land from The United Fruit Company to landless Guatemalans. Many in the U.S. government interpreted land distribution as a communist act, including the Director of the CIA that also happpend to be a board member of The United Fruit Company. In order to fight what they believed to be communism, on June 18, 1954, the CIA flew over and dropped leaflets in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of the president. A new president was quickly declared and reversed the land reforms forcing villagers to vacate their property.
Over the next decade, the Guatemalan government militarized as the people of Guatemala slowly mounted organized resistance in the name of democracy.
Freddy Peccerelli, the Executive Director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says, "People that had no option but to take up arms decided to do so against the establishment (military government). The response of the military was killing not only insurgents, but also communities - whoever they saw as a threat. They started trying to take control of the areas by fighting the guerrillas, but it led to widespread massacres of thousands of people in hundreds of communities."
The conflict, a civil war, lasted 36 years. At least 200,000 people were killed. One million people were displaced. An entire generation lost many of their family members. Over 450 Mayan villages were destroyed. Farmers lost homes AND their farming traditions. They were left without a means to survive. People fled from violence to the city. They had no resources, no opportunity, no food, nothing.
That is how shanty towns were formed. "Slums". That is how La Limonada was formed.
When people are left with nothing and no way to care for themselves, extreme poverty sets in quickly and violence soon follows.
La Limonada literally means "The Lemonade". It is a part of Guatemala City that brings fear to most Guatemalans. Once a beautiful ravine, with streams and abundant wildlife, it was destroyed by what Guatemalans call "the invasion".
In the 1950s, people migrated there when the reform law was reversed and took up camp on the sides of the ravine. Where there were once fields and crops, became contamination and plagues. It became one of the largest urban slums in Central America.
La Limonada is one mile long and a half mile wide. There is an estimated population of 60,000-100,000 people living there. It is plagued with gang culture, violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition and a lack of health care. The walls of the narrow alleys are scarred with shot gun blasts and bullet holes as a visible reminder of violent gang history.
It is a result of the civil war. Effects of the conflict are immeasurable. A lack of security and justice is a result. In Guatemala, 75 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. In Guatemala City alone, more than 6000 children live on the streets. Many of them eventually join gangs or are exploited into prostitution. The youth do not see a way out. Joining a gang becomes their twisted sense of hope.
Guatemala is still at war. It is a different kind of war, but it is still a war. And that war is being fought in La Limonada every day. Lives continue to be lost. Many continue to feel hopeless. Children still suffer. Families are still torn apart.
Simply having a La Limonada address is a red flag to potential employers and often prevents even an honest worker from getting a job. Without education, transformation and the provision of alternatives, people are left with basic survival tactics and chaos becomes the normal. That is what happened in La Limonada. "Gangs are looking for places with a lot of children and this is one place with a lot of children, "says Guatemalan journalist Estuardo Zapeta. There are over seventeen murders per day in Guatemala, making it one of the most violent countries in the world.
Many have committed horrible crimes, but we must ask ourselves...what circumstances limited their choices in the first place?
Despite what may appear to be a hopeless situation, change is coming. In fact, it has already arrived. Guatemalans are stepping up to help their communities. Two of these individuals, Tita and Shorty, are pouring their lives out for the people of Guatemala, specifically La Limonada. And some U.S. based organizations are beginning to realize that working in partnership with those local Guatemalan ministry leaders is the only way lives will be changed long term. Lemonade International is one of those organizations and I am happy to be a part of the team. We partner with Vidas Plenas, Tita's Guatemala based organization, and the people of La Limonada in community development. I can't wait to share more here about Tita and her vision, how Lemonade is working to help her in many areas of ministry including building the Community of Faith with Shorty (another Guatemalan ministry leader), schools, micro-enterprise, a safe home, vocational training and scholarships for older children that want to continue their education beyond 6th grade, and my personal thoughts and reflections along the way.
As it is stated in Reparando, "Hope is rising," and we would love for you to be a part of it. Consider joining us.
Sponsor a child. Donate just $10 per month to end malnutrition. Provide a scholarship. Plan a trip to visit La Limonada. Set up a Lemonade Stand. Sponsor a teacher. Pray.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
He was working hard at a table with three other boys. They were making Christmas gifts for their sponsors and all were having a good time. I walked across the room excited to see what he was creating and feeling almost giddy for his sponsor(s) because I knew there was something so special about this child and THEY were blessed to be his sponsor(s). But then I saw the dreaded mark in the corner of the page beside his name and my heart sank.
The night before we sat around preparing for the day. We wrote each child's name on their project, but beside the names of those that do not have a sponsor we put an asterisk. The children know when they have a sponsor and they know when they do not. When it is time to prepare things for their sponsors, the ones without sponsors also do the same thing so that they aren't left out, but also just in case they get a sponsor. I hated making that mark. I hated seeing their faces create things for the sponsors they do not have even more. It would not be hard for every one of these children to be sponsored...if only more knew, if only more acted on what they already know, if only more would give and maybe those that already do give just a little more.
So I stood next to Julio, this nine year old boy with a demeanor much like mine...quiet in the beginning and very shy...and the rest of the children in the room disappeared as I prayed, "Lord, send someone just for him."
That still, small voice wasn't so still and small when He said, "I already have. It's you."
I didn't argue. I didn't go to Guatemala to add a new sponsor child to the one we already sponsor though I was convinced we would begin sponsoring a girl. I went so I would be better educated on all that is going on so I could recruit more churches to partner with us and more people to sponsor children. But then there was Julio and an instant connection so strong there is no way I would consider saying "no". So plans were made to bring him on the outing with us a few days later. Him and the child we already sponsored. The one that I didn't know would no longer be our sponsor child after that day so he wouldn't even be on the outing with us.
My heart broke a little more the next day as I met our first sponsor child for the first time and said good-bye probably forever on the same day, but I'm thankful that He kept reminding me throughout the day of a boy at the other school that already had a hold of my heart. With so many other children I have met in La Limonada that are in need of sponsors, there is no way we can sponsor them all alone (though I wish we could), but there was no doubt that this child was the one that we had been called to sponsor, to love, to cover in prayer, to watch grow.
We arrived to pick the kids up for the zoo. The Lemonade staff each picked a child from the program to take with them. There with Julio stood another, much younger child. Marvin. Julio's brother. He appeared shy, too, so he didn't have much to say as I tried to make small talk. He had come with his mother to see his big brother off for his day of fun. I couldn't not take him. I didn't even have to think before deciding that I would just have to split my sponsorship between the two because I learned that Marvin did not have a sponsor either. How could I fully sponsor his older brother and leave him without a sponsor at all? I would just do a partial sponsor for each. Their mother was so happy when we told her we wanted to take him to the zoo, too, and quickly ran home with him to change him into something she thought more presentable.
Still shy and quiet until close to the end of the day, it was obvious that Julio and I were the perfect match and cute Marvin would have been, too, but when he broke out of his shell soon after arriving at the zoo and started doing ninja moves I saw my friend's face light up. She had come with me to Guatemala, just to see and learn. I love her words from that day. "I see a need and I can meet it." But I don't think even she realized that a need would get as close to her heart as this little four year old bundle of energy named Marvin that has her personality made over. She decided she would fully sponsor Marvin which meant I could fully sponsor Julio instead of splitting sponsorship between them.
Now we talk about "our boys" and I get to listen to her tell others about Marvin and show off his sweet face through photos to anyone that will look and hear her plan for when she will see him again next year and I think, "If only more people knew...if only more acted on what they already know...if only more would meet the needs they see..."
Now I know what my Christmas gift from our sponsor child will be and I cannot wait for it to arrive. It will be what I watched him create the first day I met him. The asterisk will still be by his name. I am the one that put it there, but even though it is still visible, the Lord removed it. Two less children need sponsors now, but there are still so many left that do. Will you consider child sponsorship through Lemonade International and make a difference in the life of a child in La Limonada? You can sponsor a child for $35 or $70 per month. Or if you are interested in sponsoring a teacher, that is also an option. Please prayerfully consider partnering with us.
Friday, November 9, 2012
I have seen and felt it all in countries around the world and time and time again in Guatemala, where my heart remains no matter where I go. For years I poured myself out for one small village there, but I knew all along that the time would come when the Lord would call me to move on to another place in Guatemala and that time is now. For two years I heard about and watched the work of Lemonade International from a distance, never being involved any more than just an occasional donation and certainly never thinking that I would become part of the team that works in La Limonada in zone 5 of Guatemala City.
But that is exactly what has happened.
Earlier this year I visited La Limonada to see in person the work being done by Lemonade International and more importantly the work of Vidas Plenas, the Guatemalan organization that Lemonade partners with and supports. What I found while I was in La Limonada is partnering organizations that are as real in person as they are online, by phone, in Reparando and in the testimonies of their supporters. There are many good organizations working in Guatemala, but what I have learned over the past two years is that Lemonade International and their partner, Vidas Plenas, is the organization that I believe in more than any other, even more than my own, because they are one of the few doing what I always envisioned but could not grow in a small village that is not yet ready for it. After returning from Guatemala and accepting that it was, indeed, time to move on to another area of focus in Guatemala, it was decided that I would end the ministry of Across All Borders and join the team of Lemonade International as their Director of Strategic Partnerships.
I returned to La Limonada a few weeks ago, just nine days after returning from a twelve day trip to Mumbai, India. It was during this time in Guatemala that I realized I only thought there was conflict in other parts of the country, but there is nothing like the conflict in La Limonada. I can see it. I can feel it. I have heard stories that are so heart wrenching, just the thought of them brings me to tears and I have heard the cries of just a few of the people living lives there that I cannot even begin to explain. But what's amazing is that I know that good will win over evil. Darkness is becoming light. The empty are being filled. What is dirty can become pure. There is peace in the midst of war. Joy prevails in sadness. And while there is hate...oh how there is hate...there is intense love like I have never seen before. The presence of the Lord is so strong in this place where there is such evil, that you cannot help but believe and know that He is overcoming the darkness with His Light.
I am humbled, blessed and excited to be part of the Lemonade team and looking forward to what is ahead for the beautiful people of La Limonada.
If you or your church are interested in partnering with us in any way, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
So, some of this I already knew well before going to Uganda, but confirmation is always a good thing. Other things were brand new to me there and it is incredible to be constantly learning more about yourself and others from around the world. Some parts of the trip were hysterical; other parts as serious as it could be. Here’s what I learned (or learned more about):
1. Taking photos of the bridge that crosses the Nile River is illegal. And even if you are taking a photo of the rapids and are not interested in the bridge whatsoever, you will still be pulled over by crooked cops if they see the flash of your camera.
2. I am not above paying $10 to keep my camera and avoid any type of conflict with said crooked cops despite how much I protest paying bribes in other countries.
3. Learning how to work the camera properly BEFORE arriving in Uganda would have prevented the problem. So would listening to the driver that said taking photos of the bridge is illegal (but still, I wasn’t taking a picture of the bridge!). Lesson learned: know your camera and even if your driver is “off”, pay attention.
4. As afraid as I am of creepy, crawly things and most things with scales, I can sleep when there is a mini dinosaur of a lizard under my bed.
5. Some guys are more afraid of mini dinosaur lizards than girls are.
6. Team leaders are not super humans. In fact, they are just regular humans. Like me. It makes me feel better to be reminded of that.
7. I can go MUCH longer on a LONG drive than I ever thought without stopping to use the restroom.
8. Gas stations are few and far between when riding to North Uganda. And those that exist usually do not have toilets (the ones we found anyway).
9. Latrines are no big deal. They serve their purpose. So does the side of the road. Because sometimes there is no latrine to be found.
10. Lights out by 11pm. Maybe before if the generator stops. And I mean out. For the whole town. Until the next night when they come back on for a few hours.
11. I can be in total darkness by myself for hours without having a panic attack despite being afraid of the dark. God likes hanging out under mosquito nets in the middle of the night, too.
12. There is a hospital in Arua. If you’re dying, just suffer through it at home. If you’re not, suffer through whatever it is that’s wrong. Because if you go to the hospital, which appears to be the only medical care in the area, you probably won’t make it out alive. The closest decent medical care is 7 hours away in Kampala or a short flight to Nairobi.
13. If you must be sick enough to require being flown to Nairobi, try to get sick during the day. The tiny airport with the unlit dirt runway is not open at night.
14. People are human no matter where they live.
15. Being the only girl on a team isn’t bad at all.
16. Mosquitos will find the smallest hole in your hotel provided mosquito net and attack when you least expect. And some of them obviously like the taste of deet.
17. I can live on chips (french fries), toast and pineapple for 10 days. And sometimes I prefer goat to chicken.
18. Being close to the (White) Nile River was as exciting as I thought it would be.
19. Having a fan in your room is pointless when the power is out. You eventually get used to sleeping in the heat despite being used to having your thermostat set on 70 degrees or lower at home.
20. I enjoy cold showers.
21. Every country is not as full of stray dogs as Guatemala. In fact, I only saw ONE the whole time I was there. But just like in Guatemala, there are cows and goats and chickens that wander around all over.
22. Darkness is everywhere, but so is the Light and I know what wins in the end.
23. Malaria really does kill a lot of children under the age of 5 simply because there are not enough mosquito nets being distributed.
24. Even if people have access to clean water, they often do not use it for drinking just because they are not being educated on the importance of drinking clean water. People are DYING from diseases caused by dirty water when they have access to clean water because how can they know if they are not educated? And we all know that many still do not even have access to clean water.
25. Missionaries usually rock (the Taylors do!) and are totally human.
26. Some people get it. Most still do not.
27. There are clothes and shoes and soccer balls and every thing else you might consider collecting and bringing over already in Uganda. Buy it there. And if you won’t take my word for it, find a missionary that “gets it” and talk to him or her. They will tell you the same thing. Let’s stop crippling already broken communities with our handouts.
28. After day 1 of any trip, especially this one, I do not care how much texts and calls cost and will pay anything to have access to my family and dearest peeps whenever I want.
29. God really does care about the seemingly small things that matter to you.
30. Praying helps settle your stomach.
31. Lost souls stand out more than poverty.
32. We need to rethink the way we think about short term missions and realize that we do not need to fix everything because not everything is broken despite what we think.
33. Tukuls (hut houses) are NICE. Really! I WISH the poor in Guatemala could live like that, but hurricanes and earthquakes make it impossible.
34. African tea is not bad, but my favorite wake me up drink will forever be my Guatemalan coffee.
35. African mountain dew looks like a glowing toxic chemical and may very well be just that.
36. Coca Cola Light bottled in Kampala is better, yes BETTER, than Coca Light in Guatemala.
37. You can fall in love with a place quickly. And you can fall in love with the countries that border it without even going there. I always thought that you could love a place and the people that live there without ever having visited. Now I KNOW you can. And that makes me pretty excited since I am still totally in love with the people of Southeast Asia (and maybe even India…we’ll see soon enough) and I have never been to that part of the world. Yet.
38. White people freak a lot of people out.
39. Muslims want to win Uganda. It is coming across borders from all sides.
40. I am loved.
41. You can feel the prayers of your friends and family when you’re on the other side of the world.
42. My husband rocks.
43. So does our kid.
44. Flying still freaks me out. I guess it always will. And that’s OK since it’s never going to stop me from getting to where I have to go.
45. Being in Uganda makes you stink different than your typical “I’ve been sweating in the Louisiana heat stink” and it. is. BAD. But it’s OK because everyone else around you smells the same way or worse.
And the biggest thing I learned….
46. Guatemala is just a part of the story God is telling with my life, but it isn’t the biggest part or even the overall theme. A new chapter is beginning. I do not know what will be written. Guatemala will definitely be in it, but so will some other parts of the world that until now I have only dreamed of. And some country in Africa, maybe Uganda, maybe the Congo, maybe Sudan or maybe another part of Africa altogether may possibly (I will even say likely) be a part of it. Every thing seems to be changing and because I know it’s Him turning the page and starting this new chapter, I like it.