Guatemala 2016 | Hope Stirs in La Limonada

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 1.49.01 PMToday our bus driver, Eddie, maneuvered some tight spaces as we made our way into the heart of La Limonada. “Developed” may be too organized a word to describe how this community came to be over the past six decades. Composed of ten neighborhoods, La Limonada exists in a once-lush ravine, populated by Guatemalans whose lives were turned upside-down by a horrific, 36 year civil war. According to Lemonade International, it is the largest urban slum in Central America, though it is only about one mile long. La Limonada is known for its high levels of violence, mainly perpetrated by the ten gangs that rule the ten neighborhoods.

It would have been downright foolish to have entered La Limonada except for the fact that we went with Tita. Tita is a Guatemalan who has been working in this community for the past 21 years. She and her team have already built three academies and are opening a fourth academy any day. Based on a holistic model of community development, Tita and the teachers focus a lot of effort on violence prevention through love and before and after school education.

Silentimages 13289 smallcopyIt’s a Saturday so the children are not at the academy. We fold ourselves into their little wooden desks and listen with rapt, astonished attention as Tita describes the community dynamics. She tells us that by age 7, the reality of poverty begins to hit the children hard, and many turn to gang involvement early on. While the children do attend public schools at the edge of the ravine, Tita and her teachers find that their before and after school programs at the academy provide more education and development for students. In the academies children will receive their only meal of the day, as well as limited psychological services, hygiene education, and attention from loving adults. While the three existing academies serve 500 students, it is still less than 1% of the child population of La Limonada. And of these 500 students, nearly 100% have experienced or are experiencing sexual abuse.

We stagger under the weight of such realities.

After a week of conversations like this, we are becoming familiar with the sense of being overwhelmed….

And yet.

We can’t let the immensity of the problems excuse us from partnering with the God who is already at work in the darkest of places. Our professors Paul and Mary remind us: if you want to go about the work of justice, begin by getting on your knees. And that is how we began today. We surrounded and placed loving hands on Tita and her teammate Lucia. We allowed the tears of Christ to fall from our eyes, mourning the brokenness yet clinging to the hope that “though the wrong seem oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Prayer is that centering act that frees us to be humble in our pursuit of justice. In prayer we are invited to not take our finitude and ineptitude too seriously, but to take the merciful, powerful love of God very seriously indeed. From such humility flows action that is just and a creativity fueled by love.

Hope stirs in La Limonada.

If you want to learn more, visit http://www.lemonadeinternational.org/.

References:
Hymn: This is My Father’s World
Lemonade International http://www.lemonadeinternational.org/

Becca Bio PicBecca lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Jon. They both work in higher education and love exploring, hiking and traveling in their spare time.