Interpreting God’s Call

The following blog was written by one of our Guatemalan volunteers, Irene. She has volunteered with Athentikos as a translator in the past, but this year she took the chance to become a workshop leader. We are incredibly grateful for her creative and passionate spirit! 

Hi! My name is Irene and I’m a student of translation and interpretation from Guatemala City. Last year I had the opportunity to work with I AM ART (IAA) Camp during Fall 2015 at Oasis. As several times before, I was prepared for a normal week of interpretation, but this one just changed my life and my way to live. I’ve been a Christian since I was 7 years old but I’ve never seen the love of God expressed through art like I did last year. I was the interpreter for Amelia and Tina in their self-portrait workshop and I loved everything about it! I loved their creativity and the way they worked with the girls, even with the language barrier. The love of God could be felt throughout the whole week and I just knew that I wanted to come back and work with IAA again!

On the other hand, besides my interpreter profile, I am also an artist. I’m a drummer, bassist and singer. This is why I fell in love with Athentikos — because they use art as a tool to spread the word and love of God. As a Christian, I’ve seen and heard of God’s love and care through words but as an artist I’ve never seen how it can be expressed in such a powerful way: no words, no long sermons, nothing but ART. I completely understood that we are God’s Masterpiece, and that if He has given us gifts, we must use them to serve others. So, I took the challenge and jumped into a new adventure, leading a workshop at the Art Camp Fall 2016 at Oasis.

This year I was beyond excited to go back and see the girls again. What I didn’t expect was that my love for that place and all the girls was going to be greater now! I cannot express how different it is to be on the side of the interpreter and the side of the workshop leader, both of them are awesome experiences but way different. As an interpreter, I didn’t have to care about what project I was going to do, how much material I was going to use, how conflict day could match with the week project, etc. When I decided that I wanted to participate, I didn’t have a clue about what kind of workshop I was going to teach. I didn’t feel prepared to be a workshop leader and sometimes I thought about declining the invitation and just interpreting, but I knew God was calling me to do something different this time. I was worried about whether the girls were going to accept me, or if they were going to like our workshop. I was worried that my personality was not going to match with theirs, but once again, God surprised me.

This year Ale, a friend from church, and I led the dance and rhythm workshop. It included jazz movements and a very basic drum technique. We were really looking forward to the camp. She didn’t know what to think since this was her first time working with Athentikos and I didn’t know how to react since this was my first time as a workshop leader. I wanted the girls to have the best experiences and to leave every worry in God’s hands. I wanted them to express whatever they’ve been through, with art, and it surely happened, but it also worked with me and Ale too.

Last year I didn’t have a strong connection with the girls because I was focused on my role as an interpreter, (as I’ve been taught, the good interpreter is the invisible one). I thought that this year just being a “workshop leader” would mean things were going to be different and the connection with the girls was going to be quicker, but it didn’t work like that…at the beginning of the week the girls were shy and a little distant. They would get distracted by the staff from Oasis that were helping us and it made things a little bit harder. By Wednesday (Conflict Day) we knew each other a little better, but that day we had a perfect connection with them. We got the chance to share with the girls the little things in our lives that have been a conflict to us and how to overcome those dark moments. They opened their hearts and allowed us to know their past. From that moment, for the rest of the week, things got better. We were blessed to have girls not only from Oasis, but also from two other houses of girls that have suffered sexual abuse. All of the girls are examples of forgiveness, love, fight and strength!

Our workshop was divided into various activities: dance, rhythm and crafts. The main idea for our craft was to work on a t-shirt that the girls were going to use for their final performance. We got to Oasis on Sunday, they gave us the list of the girls, and with that came a huge surprise! The t-shirt sizes were way smaller than our girls’ sizes!! We worried, panicked, and lost track of what was going on and what was going to happen. Thank God, creativity came upon us and we decided that the t-shirts were going to turn into a scarf. That changed part of our project but in the end, I think it worked better than the original plan.

My heart melts when I see the pictures of their lovely and innocent faces! Their hearts are huge and their future is astonishing. I will never forget these girls, how much they taught me, the way they made me feel when they called me “tía Irene” (they call “tías” the people that’s in charge of them, or the ones they appreciate), and of course how God worked through all of us with the amazing gift of arts.

I just get to think about the story written in 2 Kings, chapter 3. Two kings approach Elisha to ask for help, but before he gives them the prophesy he asks for a musician to come with him. Then when the musician starts to play the power of God came on Elisha. I would like to say that all the artists of this camp can be compared to this musician. I would say: “and when the artists overflowed with their creativity, the power, healing and love of the Lord came upon these girls.”

I know it wasn’t because of us, but it was through us. It happened because we are attending to our call. Well done Team Oasis 2016! We made it!

– Art transforms pain into purpose. –

Unmasking God’s Plan

One of our Guatemalan volunteers, Cristha Fuentes, wrote the following blog. Cristha assisted in our mask-making workshop at our Oasis camp this Fall. We loved having her creative and happy spirit as part of our team.

Two weeks have passed since Oasis camp finished and I can sum up my amazing experience in 3 acts narrated through Ephesians 2:10…

  • ACT 1: For we are his workmanship,

On Tuesday, I was sitting next to the dorms where we were staying and admiring a beautiful sunset.  While I was enjoying the sunset, I could hear the girls playing soccer close by and I suddenly started feeling overwhelmed by the outrageous love God had shown me that day. All of these feelings brought to my mind the verse of the day and especially the word “workmanship” and how if we search for its Hebrew root it actually means “poetry”… why did this matter at this point?  Because even though the beauty of the sunset was breathtaking, God’s poetry wasn’t there; it was in me, and not only in me, but also in the girls playing soccer and in pretty much everyone around me.  We are His poetry, His masterpiece; despite everything we’ve done, in His eyes we are perfect.  And that single thought reminded me how Guatemala is not just beautiful because of the landscapes it has, the volcanoes or even the stunning lakes; Guatemala’s beauty lies in its people and their stories. That was something I didn’t realize until I was able to see my country through the eyes of the U.S volunteers, they could see us in a way we couldn’t see ourselves. I have no words to describe how much it fills my heart with courage and hope hearing how much they love Guatemalan people, and how they admire our capacity for resilience. All those things gave me hope and perspective on how God sees us, His Guatemalan poems.

 

  • ACT 2: …created in Christ Jesus for good Works

Since my first camp at La Limonada with I Am Art this past summer, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life… for once I felt useful.  So when I was asked to volunteer at Oasis I immediately said yes. I was thrilled to be with the girls and humbled by them trusting me with their stories. Nevertheless, on Wednesday I started feeling anxious about the idea of leaving them after camp. I had doubts like: “what will happen to them after I leave? Will they be okay?” All these thoughts were making me feel terrible and even guilty about coming back home to the comfort of my life. God knew how I was feeling, so He started working on me.  During large group and the workshops, I started understanding how being there was my way of being God’s tool in a much bigger picture, much greater than the small fraction I was seeing. I was only a small brushstroke on God’s masterpiece, and like me, He is going to use other brushstrokes to finish what He had started in the girl’s lives.  Therefore, I understood that being there was my mission and I could rest and believe God was going to be with them and finish His good work. So, “be still my heart and know that I am God”.

  • ACT 3: …which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The biggest lesson I learned in this journey was: Trust in God’s process.  For the workshops to be a success and the purpose of the camp be fulfilled, the girls had to trust us during the process. They had to go through all the steps even if they didn’t understand them.  The girls had to go through the journey of creating something they considered beautiful, go through the pain of seeing that beautiful creation being altered through conflict, to finally be comforted by the masterpiece created after the restoration process. During the process we live in IAA, conflict was particularly harder than the last time I participated. The girls had been working on their masks, and putting in their best effort to reflect who they were in each color and design they added. All of the sudden, on Wednesday, we asked the girls to grab someone else’s mask and destroy half of it. At first they got angry, they couldn’t even looked us in the face…for 10 minutes or so they stood quietly just looking at their masks, and suddenly I started seeing tears falling from their eyes; they started crying. Even if they didn’t understand at the moment what was happening they still did what we asked them to do. After that we had a group hug and we started praying for each other and talking about the experience. Of course, they were not simply crying about the mask, the girls went deeper in this exercise. In one girl’s words, they “went back to that single moment in [their] lives when [their] hearts got broken.” Hearing those words broke my heart too. I felt so guilty for putting the girls through that experience again. Even if I already knew the next day was going to be better and they would learn to find solutions and that God can fix anything… I still suffered with them. It was an emotional and hard experience, but above all it was powerful. For once, we were not teacher and student, we were sisters; their pain was my pain and my struggle was their struggle. We really opened our hearts that day and I know they will keep that moment in their hearts forever and I´m sure I will too.

Later on that day, I was laying on my bed, trying to acknowledge all the experiences of that day and I realized that, that’s life and we need to trust that God knows the plans beforehand. He knew what would happen in the camp. He knows all our stories, and He knows how our stories will develop; we just have to trust He has control on the outcome.  He says in Jeremiah 29:11 that He has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Our duty is to trust Him and enjoy the ride. Just trust in His process, trust that He has big plans not just for us, but also for each one of the girls at Oasis.

So in conclusion, it was another amazing camp, I do not regret for a second spending my week there and it was the best way to celebrate that I’m finally done with college. It was God’s purpose to have me and everyone from the team there. And to finish, I just want to say thank you…

Thank you to the volunteers for flying from U.S or Finland just to help my country and to fulfill God’s purpose. Thank you to Athentikos for using art to heal wounds and for giving me the chance to finally use my artistic talents in something that is not for myself. And thank you to the girls from Oasis for changing my life forever.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

Reassembling the Collage

image1-1I came home from Guatemala feeling a lot different than when I left. Maybe it’s because I only got an hour and a half’s worth of sleep the night before I boarded the airplane home, but I think “emotional wreck” might be an understatement for describing my internal condition. I stayed up all night and into the early morning trying to hold onto the very last bit of time I could spend at Oasis with my new friends and passion for I AM ART Camp. But in the end, I knew I needed to return to go to classes, write papers, and take final exams.

Now that I am home, everyone keeps asking how my trip was and I want to be able to tell them everything, but words just don’t seem to be enough to explain it. I LOVED my time in Guatemala. The country, the culture, my team, and those girls were all enough to break my heart apart into a million pieces and reassemble it like the collages I helped the girls make in a workshop. Together we learned about the process of layering different pieces of papers and materials (ourselves and each other) to create a beautiful masterpiece, even if we didn’t know what it would look like in the end.

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(A completed canvas from one of the girls in the collage workshop)

I knew I would be sad coming home; I wanted my final collage to look like Guatemala and I AM ART Camp, not school and work. I didn’t want to leave when I was having such a great time and connecting with both my team and God in ways that I haven’t connected in a while. But what I didn’t expect was a different kind of emotion that I couldn’t even name on my own, a layer I hadn’t really planned on putting in my collage.

I asked my friend Tina who had gone on this trip last year about how she felt coming home and she finally gave me the word I was looking for – resentment. I’m not trying to say that I didn’t experience incredibly positive emotions. Everything you’ve ever heard about mission trips is true: they energize you in an unexplainable way. They supply you with extraordinary amounts of joy and love and connection. I feel all those things on a level I didn’t even know was possible. But I also feel resentment. I am bitter about coming home to all the obligations and necessary work when I feel so called to the mission of Athentikos and I AM ART Camp. Then once I recognized the resentment, I started to get mad at myself. I began asking myself, “Why didn’t I do all this work before I left? Why am I letting everything get under my skin? Why can’t I just enjoy all the positive feelings I felt before I came home?”

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(Gluing previously torn up pieces of art onto the painted canvas)

So as I wrote this blog and tried to answer those questions, I remembered a message we were told about Jesus’s presentation of bread in the Bible. First, it was chosen. Second, it was blessed. Third, it was broken. Then, finally, it was given away to be shared with others.  I was chosen when I felt God calling me to ask about working with Athentikos, and chosen once more when Amelia encouraged me to join one of the I AM ART trips. I was chosen to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Then I was blessed through my experiences in Guatemala. I’m blessed to have met all the wonderful people on my team and to have been able to open up my heart wide enough to fit over 100 girls and their stories inside. I’m blessed to be able to come home and tell my stories to everyone I meet. Yet as much as I keep trying to resist the brokenness, I know that I have to go through that too. It’s not a forever brokenness. I wrote in my Wreck This Journal this week, “Broken isn’t forever”, and I still believe that to be true. It’s hard to be grateful for being broken, but the girls at camp showed me just what it means to be part of the step where you’re given away to be shared with others. It doesn’t make missing my team or the girls any easier, but I think I might be able to love a little more and forgive a little easier. They set an example for me in their faith in God and love for one another.

As I mentioned, the night before I came home was rough. But that night (or early morning if we’re going to get specific), Amelia took my hands in her own and said a prayer for me so that I might come home and be filled with joy and spirit and not overcome by depression and pain. She didn’t pray that I wouldn’t experience hurt or brokenness; I think we both knew it was going to be difficult no matter what. But she knew that I would be changed in the best kind of way if I could let my heart be open to it… if I could give my broken pieces back to God and trust Him to create His masterpiece. So now, I am trying to figure out what that looks like exactly, and because of this trip, I have the courage and faith to grow and discover what I am called to do. I think that’s worth being a little bit broken.

God is our refuge and our strength. Our safe help in times of distress. Psalms 46:1

(Artwork from one of the girls in the collage workshop)