Thursday, May 13, 2010

Faces and Names

2007. Newly opened eyes and an open heart, finally willing to follow His way instead of my own. A walk in the place that would soon feel like home and an image that is forever burned into my soul. A mother and her son. Begging for money, for food, for hope.

Nothing new. The same thing plays out on every corner every day. But that day, that moment, everything became new. When my eyes first landed on the bundle of color that was crouched on the sidewalk holding a small, plastic bowl and a small child, I thought about turning away. I thought about crossing the street. I thought about ignoring them completely. I thought about dropping a coin or two in the bowl and going on with my day, with my life. But that would have been me before the pleading. That would have been me just one day earlier. Instead as I approached I realized that I was seeing one of the most incredible sights of my life. Somehow I knew that I would never be the same and instead of fighting the life long conviction of spending my life working with "the least of these", I embraced it. This was the start of something. I could almost hear the Lord whisper, "They are mine and I love them just as I love you. What are you going to do to help them?" I did not have an answer and as I fumbled through my bag trying to find my camera because I knew I would want to remember that very moment, tears filled my eyes because there was nothing I could do. I could drop money in the bowl. I could bend down and speak to them in a language that they would not understand. I could, for just a moment, pour out an ounce of love that could come only from Him. I did all of those and then I walked away. Because there was nothing else I could do. How I wish they knew what a large part they play in this story. I am convinced that they will one day. I believe that one day the vividness of a photo will come to life in what was their once dark, hollow eyes. I believe the look of despair will be gone and we will all laugh the loudest of laughs together. I believe that one day I will know their names and they will know mine. One day. Until that day comes, I will never stop talking about them and never stop remembering the impact they continue to have on my life.

2010. Trip number four in less than 12 months. I see the same faces and I know many of them by name. Only a handful are uncomfortable with our presence there. Now, instead of holding tightly to their children, mothers smile and wink at me as their children run full speed into my arms. Most learned quickly that we are not there to harm anyone or to take their children. They are not just dirty faces in photos or numbers in a poverty statistic. These are our friends, our neighbors, our families and we love them. Every single one of them. In just a year, actually, in just 4 weeks, this has happened. I wonder what it will look like ten years from now? I imagine it will look similar to my relationship with God. I'm pretty sure I will look back on old prayer journals and notes and say, "...and I thought I loved them then." His once quiet whisper has grown into a soft roar over the years. There was a time last year when He whispered for the last time, "They are mine and I love them just as I love you. What are you going to do to help them?" But now all I hear is, "They are mine. I know every one. And I love them more than you ever could. There is nothing that you can do alone so don't even try. But if you keep holding on to Me...if you keep following My way, you will see lives transformed...their lives and yours." I long to know every name, to know every battle, to know every heart's desire, but no matter how close I may get to each person in Pueblo Nuevo, I will never know them the way that He does. Still, how different life is and love is when you can put a name to a face, when you can hold a hand, when you can give a hug and somewhat know the person you are touching. This must be so different than short term mission teams that take many trips, but rarely return to the same place or who send different leadership on every trip. Because our mission is long-term development as orphan prevention instead of short term relief, we will continue to get to know the people of Pueblo Nuevo and continue to fall more in love with them. How different life is as you begin to put names to faces and as hearts begin to connect in a way that is indescribable. We are working for an entire village. Our goal is not to do anything to them or for them. We are not trying to change anyone. But we are working WITH them to help them break the chain of poverty that has been choking them for generations. As we work with this village, there are children and families that we already know by name and that have such a hold on our hearts that the thought of them often makes it difficult to breathe. The number of personal stories and struggles grows each time we are there. There are times when I doubt that my heart can hold another, but somehow it always stretches to allow another one in. This trip was no different. I will write more details about the trip soon, but this morning my mind is racing and I feel the stabs of injustice from many miles away. And I just have to let it out.

It has gotten to the point that I hesitate to share photos of families and children in Pueblo Nuevo online. I know that in order to bring support to this area, I have to, but there is just something about putting their precious faces and stories online that rattles me. I do not want people that do not know them to look on them with pity and then forget about them five minutes later. What I want is for people to know and love them, to really love them, and never forget them. I do not want them to be just photos in someones mind. I want them to be as real to you as they are to me. The people of Pueblo Nuevo, the rest of Guatemala and in fact, the rest of the world, do not need our pity. They deserve so much more than that. So while I have hundreds of photos at my fingertips that could be used to provoke pity and to encourage people to donate money because the situation is "so sad", I will not post them. I know that a lot of people do post pictures of starving, fly-swarmed children in an effort to tug on the heart strings of potential donors. We certainly want you to see through to the heart of these families and we want your heart strings to be pulled, just not by pity. Right now I am not asking for donations and I am not sharing details about upcoming projects. For the first time, I am asking for prayer for specific children in Pueblo Nuevo. As always, I ask that you continue to pray for all of the children and families there, but today would you stop for a moment to put a name with a face and go before the Throne on their behalves? More than pity, that is what is needed and because of that, I want to share briefly those that are weighing most heavily on me this morning.


We first saw her last June, first learned her name in October. She was incredibly shy and behind her eyes was intense fear not caused by us. I was not sure why, but I had a feeling that someone was responsible for the terror that struck me each time I looked at her and what was worse is that I knew she had to return to it if that was the case. We talked to her about the children's ministry and for the first time she attended. This is one of the few smiles we saw from her that week. In December, she was shocked when she realized we remembered her and not just her, but her name. The biggest smile crept across her face and I have never received such a big hug from a child for such a simple reason. But it wasn't simple to her. We couldn't remember all names, but we remembered hers. We knew her and that brought her so much joy. The rest of the week she was happy and smiling every time we were near her. She freely hugged me over and over and was sad to see us go. Last week, Maria was a different child. She is not allowed to attend the children's ministry and not once did we see her smile. As I reached out to hug her, she pulled away, almost cringed under the touch of my hand. I do not know much about her, but I do know that she is fighting a battle and for now appears to be losing it. What she doesn't know is that I believe that her battle is already won and that I will walk through fire to bring that Truth to her. Whatever she is facing and whatever is yet to come in her young life, I will not give up on Maria. The child we saw in December is in there somewhere.


Carmen is a mom. Each trip she welcomes us into her home and shares a little more of her life with us. She is a compassionate woman that loves her children and all of the children in Pueblo Nuevo. I'm not sure why, but she is one of the handful of moms that I felt instantly connected to. She is warm and friendly and there is just something about her that I cannot explain. Her life is not easy. It never has been. But she has more faith than I have ever known. I so often pray to be the kind of person that when people look at me or talk to me, they know without a doubt that I am a Christian because the love of God is evident in every thing I say and do. I am far from being that person. Maybe that is why Carmen is often on my heart. Because she IS that woman and there is so much that I can learn from her. She may not know it yet and even I do not know what is in store, but something is in the works for her family and I can't wait to be a part of it.


The boy in the top of this photo is Yoni. Yoni captured my heart in October. If you think a child that is struggling in a life of poverty cannot be happy, you are wrong. Yoni was a very happy child. His smile was contagious. It was obvious that he loved life and laughing was one of his favorite things to do. In December, he was still smiling and laughing. Full of life. Full of joy. Despite the circumstances. Last week, I knew the moment I saw him that something was wrong. There was no smile. His expression was blank. And instead of playing around to get our attention, he withdrew. We walked away from his house our first day and I kept saying that something was wrong. My heart was crushed for him and I desperately wanted to know what had happened to him. We returned the next day to speak with his mother and learned what is going on. Yoni is 12 years old. He started the third grade for the third time in January. Soon after, he was forced to leave school and cannot return because he has a "memory problem". He now works in the fields all day, every day. I can only imagine what he thinks about all of this. I have no idea what is causing his "memory problem" or if he even has one. He enjoyed school and I know that he would rather be there than in the fields. According to his lack of expression most of last week, I know that he thinks his life is now hopeless. It is not.

He has no idea that the woman that grabbed his ear last week in order to get a real smile instead of a forced one is now 1600 miles away sick with worry about him and praying every day for the wisdom to know how to handle his case and all of the others. He has no idea that while we are constantly working to come up with ways to reach Pueblo Nuevo long term and beginning to zone in on education, that HE is now at the front of my mind and when I meet with the local school in August that his name will be the first that is spoken. He has no idea that I will do whatever it takes to pull him out of the fields, find out more about his "memory problem" and help him return to school. He has no idea that at this moment there are advocates standing in the gap that are going to fight for his future. We know his face and his name for a reason. God did not lay this child so heavily on my heart just to have me turn away.

There are so many others. Every child that we meet, every name that we learn stays with us and we carry them with us always. They are a part of me and forever will be. I know that I write similar things often, but I just can't help myself. This morning Carolyn called to say how much she misses Guatemala and how it's strange to look at pictures from our trips now because "we know them". I was in the process of already writing this when she called. Those are my thoughts exactly. We know them. We love them. And every day we are working out the next turn it around, to end poverty there...hopefully in this generation, to make sure that they do not become orphans, to see them again. I am so happy that we consistently travel to Guatemala so that we always have a fresh, vivid memory of what this feels like and so that they continue to learn that we love them, but most importantly, that He loves them.

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