Monday, June 21, 2010


*This post has been sitting unplublished for almost a week as I have been trying to decide whether or not to share my thoughts here.*

With all that has happened in Guatemala since our time there in May, I think I completely skipped writing about some of the things that took place and a lot of what was learned during the trip. The short version - we learned that Pueblo Nuevo is a village divided (as are many other areas in Guatemala, around the world and even in the U.S.). The major cause of this division is religion. Like I said, it's a cause of division all over the world. The problem is that this type of division (well, any type I guess) wrecks havoc in communities and essentially keeps those that are living in poverty in poverty because it isn't likely that in a small village only a couple of people will break out of poverty while the rest continue to live in it. Focusing only on certain families over a long period of time would make no sense at all. Of course much of what has been done and will continue to be done has been with the families that attend Marco's church, but we are there not just to focus on one church family and each time we are there strive to work with more families than the last trip. You can't alleviate poverty without COMMUNITY development. Community is the key word. And you can't really start community development when a community is so divided that there is no trust within churches, not to mention no trust between churches of differing denominations and especially between Christians and people that are not Christians. For a year it feels like we have been gathering pieces of a puzzle. In May we were able to put many of those pieces together to realize that this is what it is like in Pueblo Nuevo. Families within the church do not trust each other. No church (or pastor of that church) trusts another of a different denomination. And there is absolutely no trust between Christians and people that are not Christians. In fact many that are not Christians have been ostracized so severely that they want absolutely nothing to do with anyone of the Christian faith.

What we learned in May isn't shocking. It is common, actually. It's hard to deal with. It takes a long time and a lot of work. But eventually when you continue to work to build and strengthen relationships, change begins to occur. I have heard it time and time again from people that have gone through this in just one area and those that have been working in the field of poverty alleviation for years. Their advice, "It seems impossible. Do not give up! You are only just beginning. This is going to take a while. Some people may not understand it. They may think that nothing is being accomplished, but what is being accomplished with every trip is bigger than you realize right now. Keep going. You are already starting to see hearts soften. God is breaking down walls that have been standing for too long and it is only the tip of what is to come. Those walls, the walls among families, within the church, between churches, they all have to fall before a unified wall can begin to be built. With every need that is met, every hug that is given, every time you are there, a wall is going to fall or at the very least be cracked. This may be just one small village in Guatemala, but never be broken down enough as to think that this one small village doesn't matter. It matters to Him. You know the families that you love matter to Him. You love them because of Him. Remember that and you will see the walls continue to fall and before you know it you will begin to see families living lives on the other side of poverty. And with that, your mission of orphan prevention will come full circle as fewer children will be left to live as orphans."

Oh how I cherish encouragement like this from people that know what it is like because they have lived it. Sometimes it does feel so overwhelming and so often I have no idea where to begin in even thinking about it all. We have to continue working to meet needs now as we focus on long-term poverty alleviation. But how can we focus on that when we can't even get some of the local pastors to meet with each other? For weeks my mind has been spinning with thoughts and ideas of how to bridge some of these issues. It feels easier to be able to meet with families that are not Christians than to deal with so much division between people that claim to share the same faith.

Yesterday in church as we continued our current sermon series, "Ephesians: God's Blueprint for the Church", I 1) wanted to climb under the pew to hide because I am guilty of so much that was mentioned and 2) because those notes are being tucked away in my Bible and will be traveling with me every time I go to Guatemala. The message yesterday was on Ephesians 2: 11-22.

I won't type it all, but I will copy part of it.

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, but on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit." Ephesians 2: 19-22 (NIV)

We are all "fellow citizens and members of God's household". We are brothers and sisters in Christ. But how often do we not act as if we belong to the same Father? How often do we forget or ignore the fact that God loves each of us and He does not want to see us hurt each other? I will be the first to admit that this is why I wanted to crawl under the pew. It felt like I had the word GUILTY stamped across my forehead. I sat there asking myself, "How far can I sink back in this seat," as Mike Holmes, our Associate Pastor of Ministries, poured out a list of how Christians treat other Christians badly and how we are responsible for giving Christianity a bad image and often turning people that are not Christians away from faith. "Right here. Guilty! So horribly guilty!" Thank God for mercy and forgiveness. We are all guilty of this in some way, but it isn't comfortable (but it IS necessary) to have it put boldly in your face like this.

As Mike continued speaking, I began to think of how all of this relates to what is going on in Pueblo Nuevo. How Christians there are at odds with other Christians because of differences in beliefs and opinions. If someone worships differently than another, that is wrong. If someone wears pants instead of skirts or dresses,that is wrong. If someone allows their child to go to school, that is wrong. If you attend a different church, that is wrong. And if you are not a Christian, you might as well stay far away because there is no room for you to be a part of this community.

According to When Helping Hurts, poverty is rooted in broken relationships...with God, with self, with others and with creation. As I have said before, I believe that every Christian involved in any type of missions work (within the U.S. or internationally), which should be EVERY Christian and especially pastors and those that lead ministries and organizations should read this book. It is true. While we can spend time focusing on a number of types of poverty (material poverty being the first that most would think about), unless we get to the root of what caused that poverty to begin with, we aren't likely to see long-term success in any of our alleviation efforts. What is at the root of poverty according to this book, even if it is from generations long ago? Broken relationships. And the more you learn about poverty, the more you see...they are right on with their definition of it.

If we ever wondered just how severe poverty is in Pueblo Nuevo, we have learned that it is severe. This typical Guatemalan village is just like the rest. Some families have greater needs than others, but poverty is widespread and holds in its grasp every family there. There may not be children left abandoned on the sides of the road, swarmed by flies and starving to death, but poverty is very real here and if things do not change it will get much worse. But in order to change the future, we have to at least glance at the past and break through some of what has caused this division. Without some sort of unity, the alleviation of poverty community wide will be all but impossible to accomplish. We do not expect everyone to be best friends. There will always be differences in opinions, religion, etc., but working toward to the same goal with disregard to those differences is a must.

So how do we go about bringing unity to this area? How do we help bring unity to the Church (the body of Christ) when there isn't even unity in individual churches? How do we reach people that are not Christians when just the fact that WE are Christians has them on the defense because of how they have been treated by other Christians in the past?

The answer is simple. Mike repeated it several times and it will likely travel with me everywhere I go from now on.

"The cross levels division."

I love that statement; I just have to say it again.


That is the answer. We will not bring unity to Pueblo Nuevo. We may be used to help repair broken relationships, but the division that exists cannot be bridged solely by anything we can do.

All we can do is keep going. Keep following His lead and doing what we know He is calling us to do. Keep working and keep giving Him the glory for it all. In the end, He has this under control. The cross levels division and the division in Pueblo Nuevo is not an exception to that.

My trip dates have changed from leaving this Friday to leaving July 9. Another trip, another crack in a wall and hopefully a wall collapsed as we work to help families rebuild their physical walls.

We are blessed to be a part of what God is doing in this part of Guatemala. I pray that as we work to bring people together, that we ourselves will not be a hindrance in any way. It is so easy both here in the U.S. and while we are in Guatemala to look at other Christians and judge what they are doing or not doing and it is just as easy to judge those outside of the Christian faith. For the rest of my life my prayer will remain the same. The mistakes that we have made in the past are in the past. I pray for now and the future...

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer." Psalm 19: 14 (NIV)

No comments: