By Kali Pliego
About 10 years ago, during my third trip to Guatemala, and halfway though a semester abroad, I naively professed my love for all things Guatemala to a man who told me, “If you’re telling me that you love Guatemalans, then I’m telling you—you must not know many Guatemalans.” He was a North American missionary for a world-renowned mission organization in Guatemala City.
That interaction did two things for me.
- It broke my heart. How dare he trash talk Guatemalans—his supposed ‘mission field’! How dare he judge my capacity to love Guatemalan people and culture? Up to that point, I had accumulated relationships with many Guatemalans. I served in a school, so I knew the staff, students, and a handful of parents. During previous trips to Guatemala, I had been to Guatemala City jails, orphanages, out to the streets, and on visits to hospice patients who were dying of AIDS to share my testimony, prayer, a comforting embrace, or a simple smile with many who were in the midst of experiencing struggles I would never fully understand.
- The missionary’s comments helped me to realize that I didn’t choose to love Guatemala or Guatemalans, but that the love I had in God had placed my heart, for a purpose. It was a defining moment, through which I realized that God was calling me to do ministry in Guatemala.
I was obedient to the call, and in 2006 founded an organization in Santiago Sacatepequez, Guatemala called Se Luz Ministries (Ministerio Cristiano Se Luz, www.se-luz.org). Se Luz works with young local Guatemalans (10-30 years old), empowering them, through weekly discipleship and monthly community service projects, to bring about positive changes in their own community. Although I lived in Guatemala while laying the groundwork for Se Luz, I always believed that the power of our ministry lied not in the fact that it would be funded with US Dollars, but because the ones doing the actual work of ministry were Guatemalans themselves. I was merely a tool used by God to implement an infrastructure for ministry so that our Director, Romeo Sactic (the one who is really called) would have the means to live out his vision for the eradication of gangs and the experience of Shalom in Santiago.
Se Luz’ ministry strategy is that we meet the same basic needs as a gang would (a sense of belonging, safety, empowerment, and value validation), and then we add something the gangs can’t touch—we give our youth the opportunity to make a meaningful, positive contribution to their community.
Gangs take away; youth in Se Luz give freely.
Through service projects Se Luz youth have the chance to serve and give a hand up to their literal and spiritual neighbors. They build, paint, fix, clean, lay concrete, distribute food; they spread the gospel in word and in deed. Our youth freely give away their time, their labor, their talent, their effort, and I think most importantly, they freely give joy to those whom they serve.
Thankfully, just as our reputation in Guatemala has been established, the same has occurred in the States. Each year since Se Luz Ministries, Inc. became a 501(c)3 non-profit public charity in the US (2009), our annual revenue has increased. Marvin is a Se Luz youth who started out as a project beneficiary last November. His family suffered a tragic loss of Marvin’s father, Elias, when he fell into their well and died of noxious gas poisoning. This story is especially sad because Elias was a hard-working father who did not drink alcohol and was raising his children to have strong Christian convictions. All of this makes Elias and exception to the rule for many families in Santiago, whose husbands and fathers are lost in alcoholism and bring abusive patterns in the home. At the time when Elias died, he was building a cinder-block home for the family to move into from their wooden shack—but he had only finished half the walls.
With the help of Se Luz, Marvin’s family was able to finish building their house. Since the completion of that project, Marvin has become integrated into our youth group. He has paid it forward to many other families needing help. He has also experienced a spiritual change in his life, after seeing so many youth come to his home to help them despite their own personal struggles. Because of this testimony, Marvin decided to re-commit to the faith in Christ his father taught and modeled for him. Marvin is just one youth in a group of more than 60 who participate in Se Luz programs. Each of them has a unique story of transformation.
Seems to me that #HopeIsRising.
This July 4th, I will be running a half-marathon in Minneapolis to raise money to support Se Luz. My goal is to raise $200 per mile in the 13.1-mile race. Assuming I reach the goal, the money raised will fund one service project in late 2013. If you’d like to support Se Luz with a donation, you can do so at this website: www.givemn.razoo.com/story/Red-White-And-Boom-1-2-Marathon-For-Se-Luz.
Thank you, Athentikos, for allowing me this space to share about Se Luz! I pray that our personal and ministry relationships continue to grow into the future! I look forward to working with you to bring Becoming Fools to Minnesota on your screening tour!!