Serving My Little Heroes!

Serving My Little Heroes!

I enjoyed the Casa Bernabe Camp as much as my first camp, I like to meet new people because you never know how amazing people are in this world. I learned so many things from this camp. An important thing I have learned is how important it is to help others. This was something that surprised me in the camp because everybody in the team wanted to help you somehow and they did not accept “no” as an answer (I love that). The other thing I learned was there are always people who are stronger than you, other people who have lived through difficult issues in their lives; when you compare your story with theirs you are surprised by how strong they are; even if the little person is five or six years old! Then you realize that you are sharing with incredible people and they become your little heroes! You end thinking that you can continue even when you think you don’t have a solution, you understand and accept: God has control about everything and everything happens for a reason.

¡Sirviendo a mis pequeños héroes!

 
Disfruté del campamento Casa Bernabé tanto como mi primer campamento. Me gusta mucho conocer gente nueva porque nunca se sabe lo increíble que es la gente en este mundo. Aprendí muchas cosas en este campamento. Una cosa importante que he aprendido es lo importante que es ayudar a los demás. Esto fue algo que me sorprendió en el campamento porque todos en el equipo querían ayudarte de alguna manera y no aceptaban un “NO” como respuesta (me encanta eso). La otra cosa que aprendí fue que siempre hay personas que son más fuertes que tú, otras personas que han vivido problemas difíciles en sus vidas; cuando comparas tu historia con la de ellos te sorprendes de lo fuertes que son; ¡incluso si la pequeña persona tiene cinco o seis años! ¡Entonces te das cuenta de que estás compartiendo con personas increíbles y se convierten en tus pequeños héroes! Terminas pensando que puedes continuar, incluso cuando crees que no tienes una solución a alguna situación que pasas, entiendes y aceptas que: Dios tiene control sobre todo y todo sucede por alguna razón.

SPOILER WARNING

SPOILER WARNING

Greetings from my first week back in Guatemala! This is my fifth visit to the country within the past four years and every time I come back, I am always surprised by the same things upon my arrival. Soon, I will get used to this way of living again, but first I wanted to articulate these cultural differences now that they are fresh in my field of experience. Obviously, how cultural differences are felt depends a lot on each person’s own cultural background. Mine would briefly be something like this: I’m a 36 year old well-travelled white female artist from the North of Europe. 

In case you have been to Guatemala before, or if you possibly live here, this might be an amusing list for you to read. In case you consider traveling to Guatemala for the first time, and want to experience all the richness of the culture, this might be a spoiler warning, so you better stop reading here. Or – maybe it will be a fun checklist for you, so you can see which ones you will experience once you come!

So – for those of you who are interested – here’s my little sum-up:

THINGS I AM SURPRISED BY IN GUATEMALA OVER AND OVER AGAIN

  • It’s considered strange (or impolite or funny) to yawn having your mouth wide open and not hiding it with a hand for example. My first encounter with this happened just after boarding the airplane in Mexico City, taking off to Guatemala City. I had barely found my seat (and indeed was tired after 20 hours of traveling already) when an old man walks past me and teasingly puts his finger into my yawning mouth (yes, literally).
  • How funny and humorous people are! Talking to others passing by and making contact with strangers is normal. I love it! (Yes, even if it means having a stranger’s finger in my mouth once in a while.) In my culture everyone minds one’s own business.
  • “Buen provecho” which translates as “enjoy your meal” or “bon apetit” is said after (or while passing other people) eating, not before. Apparently it’s actually considered rude not to wish this to other people when they are eating and you pass them by.
  • Toilet paper cannot be washed down the toilet but needs to be put in a trash can. Otherwise it will block the pipe system.
  • The way people are direct. I met someone new this week, and within the first two minutes they would have asked me a) how old I was b) if I had a boyfriend.
  • The way people are indirect! Apparently it’s impolite to say “no”, “I don’t know” nor to express direct wishes. So, for me it’s been challenging and sometimes even frustrating to know what a Guatemalan person really thinks or means. For example: A person asks me what time would I like to eat lunch. I answer: Anytime that suits you is fine. A person: It depends what time is good for you. Me: Ok, how about… 2 pm, could that work? A person: Yes that’s fine, 11 or 11:30 works.
  • That particular sound of clapping is the sound of (hand)making tortillas. Three times a day.
  • How amazingly delicious pineapples are here. Omg.
  • And mangos. 
  • What the mannequins look like. You will notice a difference.
  • It takes approximately three phone calls to arrange a meeting. As an example, let’s say that the context is that two friends have agreed to meet at a certain place and at a certain time. Typically it goes something like this: First call – hey how are you, how about meeting in an hour. Second call (after an hour): hey how is it going? yes I’m ready, cool, yes see you soon. Third call (after half an hour): hey how are you, nice, yes I’m here now, ok see you soon bye.
  • When it comes to taking a taxi, each part of the country, city and village has a different recommendation whether it’s safe or not. Negotiate with your local.
  • Street-smartness is necessary at all times. It is possible to get robbed anywhere.
  • The way people show hospitality. Like there is no limit to it!
  • The length of each trip/journey depends hugely on the traffic – depende el trafíco – as they say. First I thought this was an arrogant joke, but now I’ve realized how true this is. Any route can easily take double or triple the time with traffic than without traffic.
  • The roads are bumpy and curvy and I always get motion sickness here! I keep forgetting this each year and never prepare well for the following trip. However due to these experiences I’m happy to tell you that they always have plastic bags in the busses and some wonderful magic pills (it’s called “noseal”) can be found at any kiosk (those are called “tiendas”). They also sell all other kinds of medicine there, very effective and cheap, so you should be fine to leave your own drugstore at home.
  • This last one is rather personal and slightly uncomfortable to share: I tend to have curiosity towards the cultural differences that are mainly connected to poverty. For example: Yesterday as I was visiting the sea I wanted to capture a photo of those cute old rotten fishing boats there. I was ready with my camera as we were sailing through the channel where I had seen them. But this time only a fancy sailing boat was passing by and I caught myself feeling disappointed and not wanting to take a picture of that. Isn’t that interesting? Yes, and dangerous. Even if I’m obviously wanting to be making a difference for progress and equality here, not for maintaining the existing images of people trapped in poverty, with the history of exploitation towards this nation, I need to stay alert. By choosing what I document, I choose a reflection of how I want to remember things being here. But also – for me the remaining key question is why would I want to remember things here being a certain way – and not the other. My prayer is that becoming more aware of these tendencies is becoming more conscious and respectful on these matters. 

Kati

Ps. In that split of a second I fought my tendencies and actually did take a picture of that sailing boat passing by! This incident became such an eye opener for me so I know I will remember those cute old rotten fishing boats forever.

Your Problem is Boredom

Your Problem is Boredom

Athentikos team member Kati Korosuo asks herself some of the hard questions that traveling, volunteering, and mission work can bring up, and identifies Athentikos’ efforts to exist as an ethical organization in this sector. Kati is a dancer, choreographer, and artistic director from Finland, Europe.

I ended up going to Guatemala for the first time after a friend of mine had pushed me to go for about 13 years. It was June 2016 and I had just performed an astounding contemporary dance piece at the New York Live Art. I flew from having a drink at Manhattan to the biggest slum in Central America – the notorious La Limonada. Now when looking back I realize that trip became a turning point in my life. Probably that moment when our car left the slum for the last time and my fellow volunteer worker, a 60-year old Mr. Mural, asked me whether I plan on coming back. My answer came with heartache and tears: I don’t know.

 I’ve travelled to about 30 different countries and surely seen plenty of things. Going to Guatemala was, however, the first time I was working with people who lived in such challenging circumstances. The ghetto of La Limonada is divided into different regions that are ruled by gangs. In these streets there are shootings weekly and funerals often. They say that the police don’t intervene because the gangs are better-armed. There are also lots of kids in La Limonada. That’s why Athentikos was hosting an I Am Art camp there. The kids came to the camp from different areas of the slum – from each other’s enemy territories. One of our goals was to enable the kids from rival territories to form friendships, thus stimulating change in the communities on a grass-root level, so that the violence in the area could diminish.

When it comes to my experiences working as a dance artist, teaching dance, and living as a human being, my time working in La Limonada has been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. And that feeling, it’s a hooking feeling…. When returning to Finland, the culture shock hit strong. It felt difficult to get interested in things that we at western welfare states are privileged with, and can afford to get interested in. My culture shock didn’t settle until I booked a flight to go back to Guatemala.

During my second trip, the culture shock hit strong on the latin end. Things change constantly, and the difficulty and uncertainty about everything challenged my pedant character big time. I was trying to plan and execute an Artist-in-Residence pilot program for Athentikos, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, all I wanted was to go to the airport and wait for my return flight. I felt I couldn’t handle any more unpleasant surprises.

Back in Finland I appreciated the dullness of a gray November for a little while. However I soon felt that this was inevitable: Guatemala would become a part of my life. For my third trip in the fall of 2017, I knew what to expect, both good and bad… and that trip become the finest one so far: As I’m writing this, I’m in Guatemala yet again. It feels difficult to imagine a life without this work: these communities, people and experiences of meaningfulness.

This writing could well end here, but this is only the beginning. Make yourself comfortable. 
 
This Guatemala-case coming into my life has led me into some serious contradictions, and each time I face more and more complicated questions. These questions deal obviously about flying, ecology and climate change and less obviously with post-colonialism and exoticism. I realized that many of the things that I perceived as beautiful or exotic in Guatemala were actually due to poverty. I became aware, or maybe just confused about, my motives to document life around me: how people lived, what they ate, and how they would dress themselves. Poverty tourism, exploitation – I became cautious.
Athentikos and its partners in Guatemala have some strategies to prevent exploitation. For example, taking pictures or video is prohibited both in the slums of La Limonada, and at Oasis, a center for sexually-abused girls. Athentikos’ protocols are there to eliminate misuse and maintain safety. In La Limonada it’s about my own safety: Having a camera visible there could soon make me person with no camera. In Oasis it’s about the girls’ safety: The center doesn’t want to risk revealing a young victim’s location to her abuser, for example through social media.While at Oasis, the girls’ legal processes are still unfinished and the criminals are still on free-foot. In some cases there criminals are their family members, some cases members of gangs, and some cases both.

I read a thesis by political science student Suvi Aarnio that say “Volunteer tourism is a growing sector in the tourist industry”. This news made me very excited, until I read a little further; “International volunteering can be seen as a negative, imperialistic, and paternalistic charity, which serves the prowess of the career and personal development of the Westerner” (Aarnio). These words really challenged me, especially in the midst of writing this article…Aarnio continues to explain the complications of volunteer tourism:

 

“There are not many better ways to thrust your own social status than to participate in volunteering in the global south. There are a lot of personal consumer goods on the market where consumers can express themselves, but few are so powerful to show the buyer’s generosity, world citizenship and adaptability, than volunteerism…A journey that has a good purpose invokes a Western post-materialist, guilty, and ethical consumer….”  (Aarnio).

The critics of poverty tourism focus mainly on two aspects, according to Aarnio, those are “the voyeurism of the poor” and the “post-colonialist, selfish motives”.

So what about my motives then? Selfless motives could be seen in a willingness to help and do good. Selfish motives can be categorized by a willingness to learn and grow as a human being. I get caught here- I want to continue my work in Guatemala because it feels so meaningful to me. So what are the effects of the work, which I do through the medium of dance, for the Guatemalans?

 

I’ve worked here mainly with a dance technique called Dances to a Beat (DTB) which, next to its aesthetic and artistic contents, deals very directly with self esteem, body image and collectivity. This work feels important everywhere I teach it. And then – it has felt meaningful in a very specific way to teach at Oasis, where the girls would tell me that they had never thought anything good about their bodies before my workshop. That is quite astounding to hear. I can help in Finland as well, and there are many people who need this kind of help. Besides, I don’t even speak fluent Spanish. Surprisingly though, I’ve noticed a kind of ‘nobody is a prophet in their own land’ phenomenon. Some of the doors that I’ve been knocking in Finland for years opened to me in Guatemala very easily. But I can do volunteer work in Finland too: One of my recent favorites has been working as the artistic director of a contemporary dance festival of instant choreography.

Did I mention the adventure yet? It would be ridiculous to say that I don’t think it’s interesting to travel to Guatemala because it’s so, well, EXOTIC. These challenging places are also the most beautiful ones I’ve ever been to. Divine Volcanoes, delicious mangos, blossoming flowers, green valley, bright sunshine….

And yes, I caught myself from many cliches, too. For example, a feeling of superiority- that I would know better than the people in these places, like how they should practice religion, or how they should recycle. However, my global worries and conscious remarks don’t mean a lot here. What matters is how much patience I would have for a disruptive kid, or if I was being fair when we played soccer. The conservative religiousness that is mainly history in Finland is starting to feel natural here. In Guatemala, I realized that this is the context that I have to respect. For example, in Guatemala I’m not a vegetarian like I usually am at home; In Guatemala I eat what is offered to me. These things are not black and white, they are not easy, they are in constant dialogue and change.

After each of my trips to Guatemala, I didn’t know if I’d ever come back again. So what is the point of traveling to the other side of the world to connect with people, many of which I would never see again? Do these kids need another adult that will abandon them? Naturally so, every time I go, my time there makes more sense. Also, I remember many of my own meaningful teachers from early dance camps, whose impact to my life has been indelible – even if I never did see them again. I was reading Teemu Mäki’s (a Finnish author and theatre director) thesis “Darkness Visible” on these trips and I remember reading something like: “The biggest problem and threat for a western person is to get bored.” And that, as a matter of fact, is a severe threat. In Guatemala I feel that this threat does not reach me, since life is so present in every moment here.

That moment in the car, which I wrote in the beginning of this article, felt like a moment where everything in my life could change. At that moment however, I was rationalizing: It’s ok, I will return back to Finland where I can continue my comfortable life, and nothing needs to change. A realistic Kati, however, was talking to her heart: most likely some things will change, but a little. That little expresses itself slowly in practice, but most likely my heart has been changed due to these experiences in a way where there’s no way back.

 

Kati is currently preparing to make her fifth trip to Guatemala this fall to complete more I Am Art camps. There are still spots available for anyone who wants to join Athentikos in its mission to instill creativity as healing! Click here for registration information. If you cannot attend an I Am Art camp, please consider supporting Athentikos through a donation to help pay for camp supplies and operational costs. 

Why You Should Join an I Am Art Camp

Why You Should Join an I Am Art Camp

Former Athentikos intern Courtney Noya reflects on her unexpected participation with I Am Art, and how anyone can join despite doubt and inhibitions.

When I first began working with Athentikos in 2016, I didn’t quite understand what kind of path I was starting to journey down. To be quite candid, I began working with Athentikos out of necessity. I needed to fulfil a college internship requirement, and I was running out of time and options. Thanks to the small world we live in, my friend Tina was already connected to Athentikos through its founders, Amelia and Scott Moore. She had gone to Guatemala with their I AM ART program in 2015 and then did a mini art class with some preschoolers at an inner-city school as part of our church summer camp. I loved helping with the mini art class, so the next thing I knew, I was sending a text: Do you think Athentikos would want an intern?

And so, it began. First it was just for a few months for my school and then it turned into two years for my soul. The thing is, I never intended to go to Guatemala. I thought I’d help with social media, write some blogs, fill in wherever I was needed, but not actually GO on a trip. But Amelia can be quite persuasive, and I’m not one to deny an awesome opportunity, even if I am nervous terrified. Thus, I went to Guatemala. Not once, but twice. And then that wasn’t sufficient, so I made my thesis about it too. I researched whether going on a short-term mission trip (like an I AM ART camp in Guatemala) could have an effect on a person’s social awareness and desire for social justice. Long thesis short: It does.

At the time, I didn’t realize the full application of my thesis to my life. All I knew was that after seeing the beauty of mission work in a global context through Athentikos, it was something I wanted to keep as a significant part of my life. Or as my thesis found: a little taste of global mission made me want more. Therefore, when the opportunity arose, I applied for the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and now I’m writing this blog from my home in Mexico, where I am living for a year while I work at a short-term migrant shelter.

What I appreciate most about Athentikos is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of “voluntourism”; there’s no going in uninvited and trying to fix communities by building a church, donating some shoes, converting people, or gawking at impoverished children. As a YAGM ,I learned the term for the style of mission work Athentikos embraces: accompaniment. The I AM ART camps are about creative people visiting communities that invited them in, listening to what that community wants, and helping it develop hope for the future. Building on that, one of the most amazing things about the IAA program is that the Guatemalan translators who have been connected with Athentikos for a few years now. These volunteers make recurring visits to our partner organizations every month. They’re strengthening their own community through their partnership with Athentikos, and helping make the program more than just a week of service.

 

I offered to write this blog for Athentikos because I know that recruiting for I AM ART trips can be a challenge, and I know that accepting an invitation to participate can be a big leap for many people. Not everyone feels “ready” to visit a foreign country where they don’t speak the dominant language, and a lot of people worry about not being “artistic” enough for art camp (I promise, if I can do it with my lack of artistic skills, anyone can). All of that to say though, it’s worth it. I encourage people to go on an Athentikos I AM ART trip not because you might find yourself becoming a year-long missionary like I did, but because it’s a truly impactful experience. There’s something extraordinarily valuable in crossing boundaries and building relationships.

 

We’re called by God to accompany one another in this world. It’s not always the easiest or most comfortable thing, but it’s always the right thing. It’s the thing that helps us grow and thrive in a world that is often filled with hatred, division, and misunderstanding. Athentikos is a small, nano nonprofit and the shelter where I work is a community supported initiative. I am not saying that involvement in either of these places is going to change the whole world, but they changed my small part in it. That’s not an opportunity that comes around every single day. That being said… this is your chance. Athentikos has FIVE opportunities to go on a trip this year and you can check out information about those trips here: https://athentikos.com/iamart/. If you’re on the fence about making that leap, reach out! Ask the questions you need to ask and listen to the stories you want to hear about. I know I am happy to talk about my Athentikos experience, and so are many other alumni/volunteers. Just send a message to Athentikos on any of its social media accounts or visit their website for more info. Take the first step. God will light the path and Athentikos will walk with you down it.

There are FIVE I Am Art camps happening in the Summer and Fall of 2019! If you are interested, follow the link below to learn about dates, locations, and more. If you cannot attend a trip but want to support Athentikos’ mission of creativity as healing, you can also donate to our I Am Art program.  

The Best Prize

This post was written by Guatemalan team member Diego Armando, a Spanish teacher from San Pedro La Laguna. Diego served as a translator and photographer for the camp

Athentikos’ is an amazing mission because it’s a way to know how much can I do for other people. My experience with Athentikos at the jungle school was wonderful because I was able to share a part of myself with the students, and in the end, this project let me learn and understand many things about my own life. The team was incredible and talented, and we became good friends really quickly. I appreciate the opportunity I had to learn about each person on the team, and students as well. I was definitely satisfied with the camp and all the activities we did. The best prize was the smiling faces of the students every single day of the camp. Thank you to everybody who is a part of this mission. I enjoyed this camp very much. If you are not in yet, I recommend you to try to join the program and live the experience of changing and impacting your life and the lives of the other people!

To support Athentikos’ mission through financial donations, or to read more blogs from I Am Art alumni, click the links down below!

Still Working

This post was written by Athentikos Alumni Jen Galvin. She has participated in several I Am Art camps, both in Virginia and Guatemala, and returned this December to serve with Athentikos at The Jungle School.

The Jungle School and the children that go there have really left me feeling like I need to do more, to be more for them, and for the world. God has
really spoken to me this week through this experience and the children at Jungle School. Saying goodbye to the team and Guatemala gets harder each
time I leave. I learned to know my kids and appreciate each of them, and wished I could have stayed
longer.

As my workshop walked through the week, we made lots of art together. We journaled together, laughed together, and then, of course, on conflict day, they got a little upset with me. This conflict day was a little different from my past experiences. It felt like the kids didn’t want to admit they were upset, like if they admitted it, they would
be admitting defeat.

Our workshop made prints and put them on bags. By Wednesday they had each made eighteen prints, one on each side of nine bags. On conflict day I asked them to cut their bags. After cutting his, one of the boys asked ‘is that all?’ and looked at me like I was a little crazy when I asked him to cut it. After we finished I asked them how cutting their bags made them feel…

Silence fell. My translator asked again. Still silence. One child said good, one said bad. We asked both why…the girl said bad because they are no good anymore. The boy said good because even though they were broken, he was still working.

Still working…. This child knew. Even though he hadn’t experienced the
redemption of changing our bags into stars, he                                                                                          knew that he needed to keep working through the pain and the troubles, because if you stop nothing gets achieved.

The next day I asked them if they thought there was any hope for their bags. One girl said, “No”. Then I took out my example of all nine bags glued together in a gigantic star, she gasped and said, “Oh, beautiful!”

These words let me know they got it. We talked about how God is always with us as we work through the conflict, even if it looks like there is no hope. God is always there and there is always hope. And there is beauty.

That is what I AM Art does, it helps leaders and children in our camps see that there is beauty, even when conflict takes over, and gives us the courage to keep
working even when it looks bleak and we don’t know where we are going. God
is always there. God is good all the time!

If you support Athentikos’ mission of processing pain through creative arts, please consider joining a trip (stay tuned for 2019 trip announcements!) or donating to support trip fees, operational costs, and camp supplies. You can stay posted on blogs, newsletters, and announcements by signing up for our mailing list and following us on social media.

We Are the Light of the World

This Blog was written by Danny Rodas, a Guatemalan translator  who has participated in two I Am Art camps.

“Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.”
– ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭22:6‬ ‭

Jesus told his disciples that they are the light of the world.  This is also said to us, that we are the light of the world. Children are tremendously important; as adults, young adults or elders it’s our job to help them learn, to hear about their father, to learn his love and his purpose for them, and to worship and glorify him. We need to teach them how to accept and understanding who they are without God, and who God turns them in to after salvation…New.

This was my second I Am Art camp, and it was my first time at Casa Bernabé. It is always so encouraging to see how such strong relationships with the kids are developed in such little time. Teaching the kids that they are unique, companions, brave, strong, and that they are art is just wonderful. I Am Art definitely teaches the kids that we are the Creations, works of art by the God Almighty! I’d like to thank Athentikos and I Am Art for making me a part of this, for letting me help and serve my Jesus in this wonderful way… the experience was wonderful

…and the art camps are always super fun!

I hope to do this again, God bless Athentikos and I am art!

To donate and support Athentikos’ mission of creativity as healing, click here! These donations will provide supplies and resources for the team, and the children they serve, at future I Am Art camps.

Serve Each Other With love

This blog was written by Mafer Farnes, a Guatemalan translator who helped with the Casa Bernabae I Am Art camp in October of 2018.

I give thanks to God because despite the difficulties that happened to me during the year, God has blessed me with experiences like this, and I can say that my year is ending in such an amazing way. I was blessed to serve as a translator in the art camp with Athentikos. It was the first time I shared with the children at Casa Bernabe, and I couldn’t be more grateful to each person who made this possible.

I must confess that I was doubtful about going to serve, but I believe in a God and His perfect plans and I’m sure it was His will for me to go be a part of this amazing camp. God changed the lives of these beautiful kids, and my life for sure. The happiness that the kids experienced during each day made all the effort worthwhile.

The main goal in working at Casa Bernabe is about giving love, affection and compassion to each of the children, but I experienced the inverse of this. Their smiles light up your heart. When they run to hug you they fill you with love. When they ask for help, and tell you that you’ve helped them, they teach you to be more humble and grateful. It’s likely that you’ll shed some tears. The kids definitely make you stronger. They change the way you see the world and the biggest feeling that struck me was how I wanted to be in a favorable situation so that I could adopt these children who are so wonderfully talented.

Thanks to all the people who work at Casa Bernabe, and to the incredible team of people who came to donate their tim e and love. I am sure that God will bless them, and will continue blessing  the staff and children that are the light of the Casa Bernabe. Gods light shines in their hearts and faces.

“Serve each other with love” Galatians 5:13

Because recruitment goals were not met for our fall and winter camps, Athentikos is in need of financial support. Please consider donating to I Am Art to provide supplies and support as we try to advance our mission of creativity as healing! 

The Power of Story

This post was written by team member Bethany Cok who currently resides in Guatemala 

I leaned against the concrete wall of the high-ceilinged room we’d decorated to the rafters with balloons, streamers, and chalk art, the explosion of color matching the explosion of chaos that descended on the room every afternoon at 1:50. I watched and couldn’t help but laugh, looking at over a hundred kids running in circles, chasing balloons and volunteers and each other, and I tried to savor the moments before we all sat down for our (hopefully) more orderly group activities.

One of the second-grade girls in the art group I was helping with, Artes Mixtas (Mixed Media), came up to me in the chaos, gave me a huge hug, and ran off to keep playing. And I couldn’t help but think, looking at this group of kids and volunteers, how incredibly different were the paths that brought each of us to this echoey, concrete room in Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala. The kids lived there, growing up in homes so different from mine, in an area with high rates of poverty and alcoholism, some with loving families but others with absent or uninvolved parents. The rest of us were visitors to the neighborhood: young Guatemalan men and women there as patient, enthusiastic artists and translators, passionate art workshop leaders from the US visiting Guatemala for the first time, and a few others like me, in the middle, born and raised in the States but who moved to Guatemala and decided to stay for a while.

Hugs in the middle of chaos

Throughout the week, we talked about identity, community, conflict, resolution­—the arc of Jesus’s story of redemption in the world and in our lives. We encountered it through art projects, crafting this story with our hands, and we discussed it and tried to live it out. As we talked about God’s amazing story for us, a story of love and redemption and perseverance, I was struck by how each of our unique stories intersects with that great story, and how these stories matter profoundly in ways we can only begin to understand.

At the beginning of the week, I talked with some incredible young workshop leaders from the States who had come down to Guatemala with open hearts and suitcases full of art supplies, and I heard something that surprised me. These people whom I immediately saw as creative shared some of their insecurities, saying things like, “Oh, I don’t really see myself as an artist.” And I also saw this in some of the kids as they expressed doubts about their own abilities: “Oh, I don’t know how to do that. I can’t do that.”

One of the things I loved most about this week was seeing the change in the hearts of the workshop leaders and the kids, seeing them gain the confidence to step into their gifts and say, “Yes, I am an artist. I can do this.” To me, this is the essence of the phrase “Soy Arte.” When you dare to say “I am art” loudly and boldly, when you sing it in a packed church room with a bunch of boisterous kids, you can’t help but start to believe it. To say that we are art affirms that we are created by a Creator and that we are creative. It affirms that we are valued, that we have something to offer the world.

Something stuck in my heart from that week. I came away asking, What are the stories we tell and believe about ourselves? What are the stories we tell and believe about God? And how can that change everything we are? During Soy Arte, we didn’t just talk about stories—we created one and we lived it. And it’s my prayer that a piece of this great story stuck with those rowdy, wonderful first-graders I worked with, so that beyond everything else, they know they are loved and redeemed and part of the greatest story ever told.

Because when we accept God’s story, what He says about us, and step into the fullness and richness and deepness of that incredible story, we can then begin to help others step into that same story, and together we’ll paint the world around us to be just a little bit brighter.

Registration for the December I Am Art camp at Jungle School has been extended! We are in need of more team members to join us on this new adventure! Check out this amazing opportunity here, and if you can’t make it we’re also collecting donations to help support the camps with operational costs and art supplies.

Why Are You Here?

This post was written by Chloe Hunsbarger who participated in the 2018 summer I Am Art Camp at Magdalena Milpas Altas

Upon arriving in Guatemala, David challenged our whole team with the simple question, “Why are you here?” Right out of the gate. Before any of us had the chance to really sink our toes into the experience.

So all week long, I searched high and low, ferociously awaiting for that lightbulb moment. I thought to myself, “When my reason for being here unveils itself, I will be so ready. It’’ll be so clear. I’ll have my camera on standby. I’ll be prepared to write it all down. I am pumped”.

But what I’ve gathered from spending this tiny portion of my life in Guatemala is that it’s the tiny, holy moments of climbing out of bed, pulling on my shoes, and tying my hair back where I come face to face with the God who calls Himself “friend.” The same God who steps out of His intimidating highness of Heaven and meets us in the kitchen for morning coffee. It’s here in these mundane moments I am reminded that there’s a man who plants excitement and hope into our very bones. And because of this, I’m ecstatic to be small and human, simultaneously sinful, and drenched in candid grace.

It’s in these moments I’ve found myself totally humbled, knowing that my reason for being here doesn’t have to be something big and grand. It can be as simple as the call to love; my reason for existence here on this earth – to love. Even when I feel utterly incapable and unnecessary for this type of work. Being God’s hands and feet. Even when I don’t have a handle on my lesson plans or can hardly understand the kids.

Good question, David. Why on earth AM I here?! I’m just a small human with big sin and a lot of fear.

But boy is there beauty to be found hiding in those insecurities. Because duh – God knows all of that! He knows how messy we are and He still invites us in and says: “Look, just be who I say you are. Because I promise you it’s enough.”

That’s why I’m here. To do what I can, even if it isn’t much. Even if it’s just holding little hands, giving hugs, kissing cheeks – repeat. It’s my effort and my willingness God wants. He’ll handle the rest.

And that’s something I hope to carry with me wherever I go.