Dancing in the Orange Glow

It was our last evening in Guatemala before returning home. We had traveled to Lake Atitlan to rest and reflect for a few days after an incredible I AM ART Camp at Casa Bernabe, an orphanage outside Guatemala City. My head was full of thought, so I went out for a walk by myself to soak up one last evening before eating dinner as a team. I wandered through the small town of Panajachel recounting countless stories from our many journeys to Guatemala … everything from our first trip in 2006 when we visited our son during his adoption process, to filming Becoming Fools. I must have been on autopilot because I didn’t have a specific destination in mind. But, I ended up at the back end of town, where a small river meets the lake – a place I had been to before under different circumstances. It had rained a little that afternoon and the air was cool and damp. Far in the distance the sun dipped into the horizon. I heard children playing and kept walking towards the source of that magical sound.

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Before I knew it, I was standing at the water’s edge watching a glorious sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The scene was absolutely breathtaking. A red-orange glow reflected on the glassy water as the green mountains faded into the distance. Dark clouds rolled in to contrast the fireball laying down to sleep in the west. In the foreground children ran free, laughing and playing, calling out to one another as they and their parents looked to the sky.

I followed the sightline of their gaze up and was suddenly overwhelmed with a surreal emotion I couldn’t quite define. Long strings stretched from the hands of these children, crisscrossing into a purple sky … filled with dozens of colorful handmade kites dancing in the twilight. I paused for a moment to soak it in. For just a moment, I was transported back in time. This place of awesome beauty was the place of horrific tragedy just a short four years ago when a holy fool named Italo Castro drowned in these very waters, at this very place. I began to weep in remembrance. It was an odd feeling because I had only spent a few hours with him during the production of our first documentary, Reparando. But, this man significantly changed my life (and many others). I spent three years working on a documentary about the impact of his ministry to homeless children, and somehow, he felt like a brother.

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Four years ago, we mourned the loss of a hero. Four years ago we stepped forward in faith to share the legacy of his life in a way that would honor his life’s work to help children at-risk. Four years ago, we had no idea … how difficult … and how beautiful our journey would be. But in that moment at the water’s edge, all of the tragedy and comedy collided together into beautiful irony written by the hand of an author writing a greater story. After all, it was the weekend of All Saints Day and Día de Muertos, a holiday to remember loved ones who have passed away. In Guatemala, kites are flown during this holiday as a symbolic gesture to connect with the spirits in heaven. I had seen people flying kites all weekend, but these kites were different. These kites were like angels hovering over the water, quietly, but powerfully honoring a holy fool. The children, the place, the sunset, the memories – they all combined in a way that I could never quite understand nor communicate. I’ll just sum it up to say it was beautiful.

In that moment, my spirit was carried up with those kites, and I caught a glimpse of heaven. I imagined Italo looking down at the place where he breathed his last breaths on earth … and seeing so many children playing joyfully with their families … he smiled … and I smiled with him. In that moment, there was no tragedy, there was no comedy … there was only peace.

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Kristi Bredeweg – Returning Home

I’m sitting on the plane. The man next to me is fast asleep. I have three hours to think; so I do. What on earth just happened to me? I left the comfort of a typical American lifestyle and wound up in a country where I knew not one soul, did not speak the language at all, and had no idea what was expected of me. Result? Unbelievable personal growth, new friends, a scant smattering of Spanish words and a new appreciation of God’s sovereign providence.

There is a certain comfort in returning ‘home’, wherever that might be, and I’m experiencing it as I fly over the Gulf toward Atlanta and then Michigan. However, I start letting my mind process my time recently spent with mostly teenagers for long blocks of time each day, trying to convey to them an art concept that even I was skeptical of! My fellow team members did an excellent job of supplying me with what I needed to pull it off. Along with the supplies I purchased and lugged to Guatemala, I was well equipped. And so we began.

Within 10 minutes of my dive into the approved workshop, I scrapped it. This isn’t going to work with this group. I sensed a guarded and apprehensive mentality. Let’s face it: I was a white American woman of privilege coming into their world. There wasn’t much common ground there. Or was there? I calmly put aside my agenda, sat on a chair in the middle of the room, and told them about my life. My real life. The one where my 5 year old son died while I was pregnant. The one where my husband left me with 4 kids. The one where my roof collapsed.

I stared into the eyes of 10 interested kids. They saw that even I, this white American woman of privilege, had real issues. From then on, they trusted me. We began the workshop. They knew I cared about them, their lives and struggles. I may not be able to fix all or any of the stuff they dealt with, but I knew with all my heart that we would connect on some level that transcended skin color, location, language, age, and status. We were all on the same artistic journey.

I watched them as they used their individual talents to transform a simple mirror into a reflection of who God made them to be. I shared the meaning of their names with them. They quietly took that information in.

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They were so special and so unique. I would have taken any one of them home with me. I said my “goodbyes” to each of them individually. My tears flowed freely. They looked me in the eye and told me that they too would miss me. We connected. We shared. I was blessed beyond anything I could have imagined when I began this journey.

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I now see the lights of American soil and the Atlanta airport. I get a lump in my throat at the real possibility that I will forget their idiosyncrasies and individual quirks; all the things that make me want to return and once again sit in a chair in the middle of a room and become a real person to real kids and delve into art… and so much more.

Kathlyn Beyer – Casa Bernabe Retrospect

I’ve been processing, the past several days, I AM ART camp that took place last week at a children’s home in Guatemala City. It was a week that I dreaded, stressed over, planned for and simply, to be quite honest, didn’t really want to begin. Little did I know I would feel very differently by the end of it.

When I had heard that Athentikos would be leading two art camps this year, I signed up. My anticipation of my involvement was that I would help with translation like I had the year before. As logistics were being sorted out stateside, the team realized they needed more artists to teach workshops so they asked me what I thought. The idea of workshop leading excited and terrified me all at once. I responded to them that I’d pray about it but they could probably count on me to do it. It happened. I was signed up to lead a workshop. Then fear set in.

I had no clue of their expectation or what art medium I would use to teach the I AM ART curriculum. After a couple of days I decided on photography. Team Skype meetings came; I dreaded them. Every time it stressed me out to present my ideas to the more experienced artists. I had no clue how it was all going to pan out. A supply list was compiled, but there was no way I could afford to buy it all. I was overwhelmed! I was looking at the big picture or at least what I perceived it to be and it seemed impossible for my human form to accomplish. As time went on, I realized how right I was. God revealed His hand in three tiny miracles;

Miracle #1: God gave me community. A friend, the right artistic and creative friend, came alongside at just the right time. We spent 2 hours bouncing ideas off one another and developing a plan. I felt more at peace with the undertaking after having her help.

Miracle #2: He supplied the resources to make it happen. My mom shared the need with our support team and in little to no time all supplies were on their way!

Miracle #3: As time passed and I attended more meetings and my confidence and preparedness grew. I had freaked out about the details but He didn’t leave me there long. God provided. He is faithful.

The week approached and I was stressed. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wished for more time. Feeling somewhat unprepared, I had forgotten Who had and would work it out.

Monday, the first day of classes, I was nervous. So many unknowns flooded my mind. I had no idea if the “plan” would work well, if it would engage the children or bore them, if it would last the full three hour session or leave me frantically filling time with unplanned games after completing the lesson in 30 minutes. Would the children behave, enjoy, tolerate, or act out? Perhaps the biggest uncertainty was that not only would I be teaching photography for the first time but I would be doing so in my second language, Spanish.

I survived day one. My Spanish held up. I didn’t love or hate the outcome of the day but was glad it was over. My kids were some of the oldest in the group so along with their adolescence there were the attitudes you might expect. With many of them having lived at the children’s home for the majority of their lives, they have come to be calloused to short term groups and teams. If they don’t allow themselves to feel attachment, they won’t feel the heart tugs as the short-termers skip country. This dynamic was fairly obvious from the get go. I didn’t struggle understanding their hesitancy or should I say their cool attitude. In fact, I’ve found myself, to some extent, on the other side. Me being the cold host. Sounds pretty harsh but I don’t have any lighter way to put it. I was thankful to have that deeper understanding of the children’s lives.

Slowly they began to open up. Not nearly as quick as I did but they got there. Very seldom was I able to see the excitement of the children as they learned. I guess partly because I didn’t truly know them yet. But I would. My first perception was I had a class full of uninterested young men and women, a potential flirt and a class outcast. Man was I wrong. I quickly learned (well perhaps it took me the whole week to learn) you can never know the heart from that which is displayed on the faces of others.

One example of this was one that brought tears to my eyes. It is that of a young man of about 15 or 16. He hardly ever spoke. I struggled to remember his name at the beginning of the week. So expressionless, I wondered if he even cared to be there. Second to last day, I sat down beside him on the basketball court and he turns to me and asks,

“Will you all come back next year? I mean to do an art camp?”

To which I respond “I really don’t know. Hopefully!”

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

This from the expressionless adolescent. His voice spoke with sincerity. It spoke deeply to me. As if that wasn’t enough to touch my heart, he wrote me a sweet note thanking me for teaching him so much, that he had really enjoyed it, and that he was going to miss me. I had observed this boy all week. During our large group session he would enter, his face would say “I feel alone in this crowd of people, I don’t even know where to go”, and then he would awkwardly shuffle to the back of the room. I had seen it happen several times as if he was lost and couldn’t find anyone he knew. But by the end of the week he knew me, that I was there because I cared about him and the others. That he realized that blessed me.

One of the older girls had an attitude at the beginning of the week but that disappeared as the week came to a close. She would walk up and greet me with the sweetest of hugs. Hugs of friendship.

…to be continued