Last month five of us from All Souls were privileged with the opportunity to glimpse Guatemala through the lens of Children’s Hope Chest, an organization that “exists to glorify God by releasing the potential of orphaned and vulnerable children and their communities through partnerships that cultivate holistic transformation and sustainability”.  The purpose behind the trip, for All Souls, was to evaluate partnering with Children’s Hope Chest: whether this was a work which God was calling us to join.

Our Guatemalan hosts, Nestor and Andrea, who work in and know the communities they introduced us to, greeted us upon arrival. Along with some Hope Chest staff and two other groups from the US, we visited eight unique communities, or Care Points, in and around Guatemala City. These schools, after-school programs, daycares, and other communities are dedicated to providing for their communities through meals, health care, and education.  Beyond working to meet basic needs, Care Points and their staff also model a life with God and hope in a life that transcends daily survival.

During our time in Guatemala, we spent a lot of time listening and learning.  We heard stories that you or I never want to imagine let alone experience. We took in the devastation from civil war and natural disasters and a government corrupt with selfishness and greed. We glimpsed leftover violence in the armed men riddling the city guarding truckloads of goods, gas stations, and buildings. A culture shaped by mistrust and empty of peace even without an active war. We saw people struggling to survive and feed their families; people who are seldom treated as humans with lives worth knowing and seeing. According to UNICEF, four in ten young children in Guatemala are chronically malnourished (as measured by height relative to age), a condition that lowers their productivity, often causes them to drop out of school, and makes them susceptible to illness and even loss of intellectual quotient. Chronic malnutrition affects eight in ten (80%) indigenous children.  Sexual abuse and trafficking of children is extremely common in Guatemala.

My work here in Colorado is with children and teens.  As a counselor it is my job to hear the difficult stories of youth and walk alongside them in struggle. I’ve said before that not much shocks me anymore. However, the high rate of kids who experience trauma, neglect, and abuse in the impoverished communities we encountered was so much more than I’ve experienced before. It was overwhelming and heartbreaking. This trip was also the first trip of its kind since having my own children and my heart bled in a new way.

However, there was a marked contrast to these stories found in the powerful stories of hope. God is moving through the wise leaders we met at each Care Point. We were able to take in their stories—what God has done in their own lives, ways they are serving their communities, and visions of the work they hope to continue and grow. These leaders face despair and brokenness daily; instead of freezing in helplessness, they envision a new reality for God’s children in their communities.  They actively fight hopelessness with a fuel and imagination rooted in a bigger story of God’s love for all people.

A hope that might not be able to fight all the opposing forces at once, but can impact a group of children—a new generation of leaders multiplying efforts to offer dignity and purpose beyond themselves. This is a story I want to have enough bravery to enter into. Not only to join these amazing visionaries we met, but also to join a God who touches lives uniquely and offers true hope and love. It was clear that God is moving in the communities we saw—with or without us. But there was also an invitation to join in, to see the messiness and ups and downs of change, to join in imagining a new story of redemption for communities and individuals.

One thing I know is that God is and will continue to shape me as my heart expands to care for people I’ve only just begun to come to know. I trust that God is a good Father—and His love is moving in me and shaping me. This love is powerful and I am blown away by its current coursing through the stories of hope found against the backdrop of heartbreak and despair in these communities in Guatemala.