By Matt Eldredge
One of the best days of my very first trip to Guatemala (in November 2010) was our visit to the Refuge Women’s Shelter and then to meet Pastor Jorge, some of the many families he is helping, and his church family at Refuge City. Best not only for the experience and excitement of seeing these new places where God is at work, meeting new people and hearing their stories, but also for the way those stories and testimonies wrecked my heart and mind.
That Wednesday morning I was invited to go along with Scott, Amelia, and Cesar to first visit the El Refugio women’s shelter and then Refuge City church and Radical Mission. That was an amazing time of visiting with their ministry, being treated to delicious cinnamon rolls and coffee for breakfast, and then of course hearing the sweet women share their stories. Afterward, I was already quite emotional and the weight of all we had just heard was so heavy on my heart and mind. But God is faithful! Our healer, awesome in power. Now the girls here are breaking the cycle of abuse. I watched as my friend, Cesar, was also responding to these stories in his heart, and mine filled with warmth for what God was doing through the shelter to impact my friends in Guatemala. Thank you Cesar for your response about that special visit.
After our visit there, I was actually glad we had a little breather and I could mentally process and recover while waiting for one of the Refuge City church leaders to come get us. He picked us up and we rode to Burger King for lunch, and it was delicious, fresher and better than the states, of course! Pastor Jorge and his wife Annie met up with us there and Jorge started sharing the story of his past. Now here is a man that you could just sit for hours listening to his heart and his amazing story! It turns out that they both used to be high ranking in a militia and came to Guatemala after having to flee for their lives. You would never be able to tell just from seeing Jorge and Annie and their hearts, and I probably can’t share too many details for their protection, but needless to say these guys have an amazing testimony and are now radically saved. Jorge shared about many of the struggles of doing the ministry God has called him to. He has stuck to his calling and remains faithful even when some in the church try to discourage him from helping the sick, poor, and needy when it will not financially benefit him or the church. It was such a blessing to hear his passion for changing the community and see his faithfulness to God’s calling.
We drove to their house church, which is actually a garage type space, a big open room right next to his house that he gives to the church every week for their use. Other families across the street also give their houses each week for Sunday school! I was amazed just to see how he drove into the garage space, across two really narrow groups of pipe pieces. I would have been scared to attempt it, but Guatemalans are so resourceful!
Jorge then drove us in to visit with several of the orphan care families. They all live in a squatter settlement. During the war, so many people were displaced from their land and homes, and then the government divided this area up where families just live in shack type houses with no city services, no running water, nada.
One of the main missions they have is taking care of the orphans and abused and getting them off the street. The church has several families that are currently raising orphans, not to mention the countless that he and his wife have taken in themselves and helped with all their basic needs. The government has no official program to deal with the situation, but since Jorge and the church have been so active in helping for so long, they are actually being officially recognized as care providers and will hopefully be Government registered soon!
We got to visit several of these special adoptive families. The first was an amazing couple, 84 and 85 years old, that have taken in 4 kids! Jorge joked that this woman is probably stronger than he is and full of life. She still cooks and bakes many delicious foods to support her family, I think the jist was that she can do it all. The kids might affectionately call her “Grandma” considering her age but they know she loves them as her children. Their oldest boy was one of the smartest in his class, a very talented musician, and they are hoping to be able to send him to a great music program. He also teaches his own class of younger kids music and other art forms like dance. He really struck me as being so mature and responsible and wanting to do his best to take care of his family.
At the next home we visited, the foster parents were away but we met a 17-year-old girl that was so full of life and beauty, and her precious 2-year-old boy. She is overcoming a painful past and shared with us how very grateful she is for all the ways God is blessing her. Through the church and foster shelter, God provided her a really nice home and also paint and supplies so she can make money selling her own artwork! My heart broke for her and her son but it was also amazing to see God’s beauty reflected in her face and her art and how He is at work to redeem and repair their lives.
Then we went to another shelter where the oldest daughter, 19 years old, was home taking care of 4 of her 5 siblings. The next oldest daughter, 17 years old, was away at work and was a victim of abuse. She now has her own baby son. We played and took photos of the children for a little bit. It was refreshing to see their innocent smiles.
From there Jorge drove us through to another neighborhood and to an overlook down onto a beautiful valley and lake. There was a golf course hidden behind a huge wall of trees. The trees planted to block out the sight of their community and the needs they have. We then drove past an old coffee processing plant. The plant got busted for polluting the area, letting waste runoff drain down to the lake so they were shut down. Jorge shared his vision of purchasing and turning this space into a giant youth center with several indoor soccer fields and space for the kids of the community to be loved on and cared for, and away from the street and gangs! We need to pray that this will happen soon for their community. One of the biggest problems and recurring issues is the cycle of abuse from men to their wives and own daughters. Women are treated like trophies or possessions and then their children are left neglected or abandoned, or families are simply unable to provide the proper care and education to break the cycle. Abuse may be the only way of life they ever know, with no way out in sight. That’s why the work people like the El Refugio Women’s Shelter and Jorge’s church is so needed, and why we need to support them! We can change this generation, showing these young men and women the love of Christ and raising up new leaders for the next generation who will know how to love and care for their families with the support of these ministries, and us! I am so thankful to now have these friends who are responding and can continue to have direct hands on experience helping out with all the needs and opportunities we were able to hear. I definitely feel responsible for everything I saw in Guatemala. There are many opportunities for us to financially contribute through micro-enterprise and giving, but this first burden I am feeling is prayer, lots of prayer, no ceasing- it’s time to get serious!
As we were leaving the settlement, Jorge said he had to be honest with us and wanted us to hear it from him and not someone else: if we hear that it is very dangerous to go into these areas and minister, they are right. It is a hard place but this is the ministry God has called him to and he remains faithful that the Lord will provide, AMEN!