Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Result of Civil War in Guatemala

I have been familiar with the history of Guatemala for years and continue to learn.  Each time I am in Guatemala I see results of the civil war, but it wasn't until I began visiting La Limonada that it became real to me.  There, the results of the civil war are so evident, so raw.  I realized a few days ago that despite how often I have written about Guatemala, I have never written much about the history of it, especially about the war,and what it caused.  I am not an expert by any means.  I have read and researched a lot, watched every documentary I can find on this country that I love and talked to many Guatemalans that experienced it all first hand.  Much, if not most, of this is quoted directly from Reparando, a documentary by Athentikos, that most accurately depicts what I know of Guatemala and the situations I most want to bring attention to.  Without watching the film again and going through pages of notes, I cannot remember now where their exact quotes end (and there are MANY of them) and mine begin, but I do know that their words far outnumber mine here.  Thank you, Scott Moore, for allowing me to quote you and those that helped you create Reparando here.  Most of the history and much of the information about La Limonada are exact quotes from the documentary. It is good information to know and I pray that it moves you to action.  (This documentary is a MUST SEE.  There is so much more to it than what you read here.  Please visit their website to order a copy.)


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 childDonate just $10 per month to end malnutritionProvide a scholarshipPlan a trip to visit La LimonadaSet up a Lemonade StandSponsor a teacher.  Pray.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Meeting Our Sponsor Child

I had never been to the Mandarina school before (one of the two schools in La Limonada that Lemonade International partners with and supports).  I was excited to see this place that I had heard has a different feel than the Limon school, where our family's sponsor child attended school.  I had no idea that the next day during our first meeting I would learn that because of horrific tragedy, our sponsor child would be moving to another part of Guatemala and the sweet boy we had loved and prayed for from afar would no longer be our sponsor child.  I did not know, but the Lord did.  I wonder if that is why after walking around exploring the Mandarina school on my own I walked back into the room where the rest of the Lemonade team was and out of all the children in that room my eyes landed on a quiet boy on the other side.  I was drawn to him instantly.

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

Endings and Beginnings

Good and evil. Light and dark. Filled and empty. Pure and dirty. Peace and war. Joy and sadness. Love and hate.

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 terry@lemonadeinternational.org.