Returning To Guatemala

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today was the day I have often thought about and anticipated over the last five years. Since our last visit to La Limonada in 2011. La Limonada is a place unlike any other I have ever experienced first hand. It is a place that is full of sharp contrasts, a place with beautiful people, and extremely hard lives. A place that is known for violence and poverty and crime. Even amongst Guatemala’s own people, it is known for it’s unsavory reputation. When we were in Antigua earlier this week, we were talking with someone who asked where our group was from…when we replied with what we were in Guatemala doing – facilitating and running an I Am Art camp with Athentikos for children in Zone 5 – we were given a shocked and completely surprised response. A response that said, “wow…you guys are crazy!”

But what most people don’t realize about La Limonada (Central America’s largest slum community) is that it is also a beautiful place. A place where the people living there are no different than you or I, a place where you will most likely be greeted with a hug and a smile and a Buenos Tardes as you pass them on the narrow streets. You will be welcomed into their homes and given first priority for a place to sit. Many of the residents in the slum look out for their neighbors, and are doing the best they can to raise good kids and make ends meet…you know – just like you and I.

What struck me today, as I visited the community for my third time – is that there is an amazing amount of hard work, determination, and love that has already been established in the community – that makes it even possible for a ‘gringa’ from the States to visit. This work, this labor of love, and this choosing to extend Jesus’ grace and good news of His Gospel to any and all – is the work of the amazing staff members and leader of Vidas Plenas, Tita. I affectionately call Tita a Guatemalan Mother Theresa, because, well…. few people on this planet love and live as Tita does. The beauty of the slum was first seen in her eyes, and because of her compelling to engage with the people in the community – there is now a beacon of Gods light radiating there through the work of the committed staff and Tita, and offering hope and a future to precious kids in the Academies.

I was thrilled to see kids in our art camp this week that I had first met 6 years ago. They are taller now, but they are still there – excited to participate and engage and dreaming big and wanting to do right. Learning about Christ, and thriving in an extremely difficult environment. It has blessed my soul. I will forever be grateful to Tita and her work, and thankful for my opportunities to experience the beauty that is La Limonada.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7875,7872,7871,7869″ column=”4″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

The art of creating begins in our dreams

La Limonada

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today was the start of I Am Art, Vidas Plenas. Our location is a small church outside the La Limonada slum in Guatemala City. The neighborhood isn’t pretty by most people’s standards and is a very hard place to live, but the people of La Limonada and those that live in the surrounding zone 5, are beautiful! We started off the day talking about the theme of the day, who we are. We wanted the kids to start to think about who they were, in their community, in their school and in their families. Most importantly who they are to their creator. That they are God’s workmanship or poetry as Ephesians 2:10 tells us and that all of God’s work is a marvelous creation therefore they are a marvelous creation. After the children went into their workshops we had a chance to talk with many of the children about who they are and who they would like to become. To our surprise many of them seemed to have it already figured out! They dream about a brighter future than what they currently have. Most are confident in who they want to be and the things they take joy in. Simple things are important to them, like ice cream, fotball (soccer), and their pets. They’re also concerned about weightier things like family, good jobs and safety for their future. The kids also know that they have to work hard to achieve their goals and dreams and are not afraid to try new things, whether it was learning to dance or write their own stories or try their hand at the art of miming, they quickly became engrossed in the task at hand and their personalities started to shine. We are looking forward to sharing with you throughout the week what the kids learn about who God says we are as a reflection of Him, and how that gives us purposeful lives.

Dreams are limitless[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7847,7848,7849,7850,7851,7852,7853,7854,7855,7856,7857,7858,7859,7860″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Where Our I AM ART Trip Began

La Limonada

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Throughout my life, I have been profoundly influenced by the work of missionaries, and have been exposed to many of them personally.  From a cousin who served for many years in Haiti, to missionaries that visited my childhood church and shared the Gospel with me as a 3 year old in Cubbies clearly enough that I knew I needed to know Jesus for myself, to some friends from my years as a teenager that are now actively serving on the mission field in Bolivia, and very dear friends of ours who left the ‘American dream’ behind to obey the call of God on their lives to serve in full time mission work in Jamaica and in other parts of the U.S…..  YEP! It’s safe to say that missionaries have left their imprint on my life and world view.

Growing up with these influences, and in a Christian home, I always knew I wanted to serve on a short term foreign mission trip ‘one day’. In 2010, the church we attended at that time announced that they were looking for a small group of adults to go and serve in Guatemala City, for a ‘work trip’.  I knew I could swing a hammer and I could wield a paintbrush – but I didn’t really have an interest in going on a WORK trip.  But, after 3 nights of waking up in the middle of the night with GUATEMALA as my first cognitive thought, I asked with my heart pounding in my chest, “Is that you, Lord?” Turns out – it was!  The trip that was designed to be a ‘work trip’ ended up being a group of 5 women who did not once hammer a nail or paint a single wall. God was up to something!!

On that trip in 2010, I visited the community of La Limonada for the first time.  It is one of the largest slums in all of Central America.  It is a hard, extremely poor, often dangerous place.  No amount of ‘preparation’ could have truly prepared me for this trip. Our group ran a VBS type lesson with activities and crafts for the children attending the mission based academies within the slum, the heartbeat of the AMAZING ministry of Lemonade International/Vidas Plenas. Emotionally, I was completely undone on this trip.  As a mother of two small kids, I could not imagine what life must be like raising a family in that environment.  I found myself wrestling with the Lord all throughout the week on WHY ME?  WHY WAS I HERE?  WHAT COULD I DO?

On day 3 of our trip, we visited the second mission- academy on the opposite side of the slum, and there was a boy around 10 years old that was very quiet and shy who had deeply sad eyes.  I couldn’t stop staring at him from across the room.  I asked our translator if he had a sponsor family yet, and the translator told me that he didn’t think so.  In that moment, I knew what God wanted my response to this experience to be, and that was to sponsor Yeremi.  My translator introduced me to him as his ‘padrino’ which is spanish for ‘god-parent’.  That day started a relationship that is in tact 6 years later.  We write letters and send pictures and gifts and he knows how much he is loved by us and by his Creator.  It gives this dear boy dreams of a better future, one outside the walls of the slum, one that does not embrace gang culture, one that helps him to aspire to rise above the circumstances he has been brought up in. He has tangible proof that HE MATTERS.

Upon my return to the states in 2010, I tried to articulate all that God had done in my heart and mind, and how my world view had shifted on it’s axis.  I spoke of it so much, that I just KNEW I had to get my husband there to experience the slum and meet the precious people of La Limonada for himself.  At that time, we were leading a new college ministry and realized that many of those students would learn from experiencing it as well, so just 8 short months later in 2011, my husband and I traveled back to La Limonada a second time, with 3 college students in tow. The sheer size of the slum, and the vast needs represented there hit my husband like a punch to the gut, much like it had to me the first time I had visited.  Guys, this place demands a response from you!  We were able to work within the classrooms again with the students, and many of them remembered me from my first trip – and boy!!!… was Yeremi surprised to see us!!!!  We were blessed to have a day with him and his mother and little sister.  It was an experience I will never forget.  We also did many in-home visits and heard stories of so much hurt and sickness, and having to go without – something most of us in our American way of life never truly experience.  While life in La Limonada is hard and each day is with it’s own set of challenges – I could not deny the unwavering faith many people declared in our GOOD GOOD FATHER .  We prayed with them in their homes, we heard their joys through their sorrows, we saw their contentment with so little… and this place, that so many see as scary and terrible and dangerous?… took on a new quality to us.  Is it a sad place?  Yes, of course.  Is it dangerous?  Certainly. But you know what else?  It’s BEAUTIFUL.  In this place, I felt the presence of God more tangibly than any other place or time in my life.  His deep love shows all throughout Scripture for the least, the lost, the broken, the widows and the orphans…for the typical people of a place like La Limonada! This place matters to God!  God is there, He sustains when all else is empty, and it is etched into the faces of so many of the people there who have experienced His faithfulness in the midst of their struggles.

Since our trip in 2011, there has not been a single day that I haven’t thought about La Limonada and wanted and wondered when we could go back again.  It is a place that we cannot travel to on our own, due to the dangerous nature of the slum, finances have been a concern, and our timing has not been right….until NOW!  Now, this summer, my husband and I have been selected as team members for a trip with Athentikos – (another ministry we are very passionate about)  and we are so compelled to step out in faith and GO! The most amazing thing of all – is that this trip will be serving the people of La Limonada!  We are so excited to be going and facilitating an art camp for the children!  Through this camp, we will help the children discover who they are, and who God sees them as.  That each has value to the Creator who loves them and wants them to know Him.  We are leaving our own 2 children, ages 8 and 10, to be able to go and minister to these precious kids who need to see and feel the love of God and we want to be an example to our kids of what it looks like to serve and be uncomfortable for the sake of His name.  We desire to have Yeremi involved in this art camp as well, and hope we can somehow make that happen.  We want to be an encouragement to our friends on staff at Vidas Plenas that we have remained in touch with, and we want to once again, allow God to wreck us for His glory.  We are asking God to stretch us in this experience, we are seeking and asking what He wants our response to be this time, and we covet your prayers as we are trusting God with the finances and other details of this trip.

For His Glory and Our Good –

Harmony Charles

[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-vidas-plenas-2016/connect-campaign-sottharmony-charles” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Help Scott & Harmony empower children of La Limonada with a tax-deductible donation.[/mk_button][vc_single_image image=”7518″ img_size=”large”][/vc_column][/vc_row]