You Are Art

I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Team

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]On Thursday morning Laura held her breath and waited to see if her students would come back to class after she had melted their art before their eyes. Miraculously, they did, and as they sat down she finally got to reveal a sculpture she had made of her own melted pieces and those of her translator and workshop assistant—a mass of colorful, curling and swirling plastic, reminiscent of a Chihuly blown glass chandelier. The students approached with wide eyes and began turning, touching, and examining the sculpture from every angle.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]“Sometimes in our lives we might feel like trash,” she told them. “Sometimes we feel like we’re not who we’re meant to be, or who we thought we were going to be. But even when we can only see pain and ugliness, God has a purpose for us. Today we’re going to put our pieces back together to create something unexpected, and even more beautiful than before, just like God can do with us.” Without missing a beat her students broke into smiles and began eagerly reaching for the hot glue gun, lifting and turning their own melted pieces up to the sculpture to find where they would best fit.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7819″ img_size=”full”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]The finished piece was magnificent. At the art show on Saturday it spun in slow circles in the square between the church, municipal building, market, and school—right in the heart of Santiago. Rainbow colors shone and stretched as the sun’s rays pierced it through and Laura’s students stood guard around it, careful to make sure the other kids didn’t touch or bump it.

The other students’ pieces had been transformed as well. The cut-up prints now fluttered above our heads as giant paper stars and the once stripped bicycle passed in gay circles—bell tinkling, plastic dinosaur spinning, streamers flying—as kids and adults took turns peddling around the tables filled with art. Around the corner, a 140-foot mural stretched across the side of the soccer stadium, boasting symbols of pride and hope for Guatemala: the sun, the ceiba tree, the white nun orchid, Quetzales, giant kites, and even Santiago itself in miniature.

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IAA_Se_Luz_2016_Mural.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”The I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Mural.” caption_location=”outside-image”][vc_column_text]That day we celebrated all we had learned and created by singing, dancing, hugging, laughing, and even letting paper lanterns drift into the sky as a sign that we had given everything we are to Christ.

Best of all, when Laura asked her students a critical question, they responded differently than they had on Wednesday:

“Do you think this is trash now?” she asked.

“No!”

“Do you think this is art?”

“Yes!”

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_9454.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Laura’s class proudly displaying their art at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_9009.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Adolfo proudly displaying the Chihuly art he made at I AM ART Se Luz 2016, after it was destroyed and repaired.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0006.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Chihuly Sculpture at I AM ART Se Luz 2016″ caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0202.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Singing Soy Arte at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_column_text]We all understand now, that no matter how you feel, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter how may pieces you’re in, the same can be said of you. Give yourself to God and watch with patient trust how He forms you into something you never imagined you could be. That’s what we did this week, and our hearts are still singing:

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Una creación de Dios / A creation of God

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Envuelto en amor / Enveloped in love

Es amor / He is love

Es amor / He is love

Dios es amor / God is love

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

Soy arte / I am art

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_9921.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”The I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0167.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Artwork displayed at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_9956.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Celebrating at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0094.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Artwork displayed at the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Art Show” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0113.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”Adolfo watching his sky lantern fly into the sky at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_0125.jpg” image_size=”full” lightbox=”true” desc=”A Sky Lantern released at I AM ART Se Luz 2016.” caption_location=”outside-image”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”https://athentikos.com/give” fullwidth=”true” bg_color=”#dd9933″ btn_hover_bg=”#000000″]Give a donation to I AM ART[/mk_button][vc_column_text]I AM ART needs you. Please consider giving a tax-deductible donation to help us continue this mission. THANKS![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Held in Pain

Children processing conflict at Athentikos I AM ART 2016 Se Luz

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Conflict day … On the Wednesday of each I AM ART camp week, the workshop leaders direct their students to destroy or drastically modify the pieces they’ve spent the last two days working on—pieces that represent the children themselves. Everyone knew this day would be difficult and many of us went to bed on Tuesday with knots in our stomachs.

The kids’ reactions were much as expected. Those in the recycled art class kicked angrily at the lights, flowers, and feather boas they had been instructed to rip from the bike they were transforming into recycled art. In the printmaking class, every face was downcast as the children cut into their prints and set them aside, for what purpose they knew not. And in Laura’s mixed media class, Adolfo stared in horror, shaking his head and mouthing the word “no,” as she held his meticulously colored plate over a pot of boiling water.

What we learned that day was, for me, completely unexpected.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7805″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Jenn, the printmaker, tried to explain to her students that even though today was painful, they would be using their now cut-up prints to make a new, more beautiful piece of art tomorrow. “You’ll just have to trust me,” she told them. “But what if we don’t?” one student replied.

Meanwhile Laura’s students gathered their melted plates, cups, and bowls in their arms and began walking out of class. “Where are you going?” she cried. “We’re going to throw it away,” they said. “It’s trash now.”

“It killed me inside,” Laura says, her voice breaking. “I know what’s going to happen and I wanted so badly to just hug them and tell them it’s going to be okay, but I couldn’t.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7806″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]The other artists echoed her sentiment and suddenly I understood a little bit better how hard it must be for God to allow us to experience pain and how much more it hurts us and Him when we don’t trust Him. Though God never positively wills our pain, He does at times allow us to experience it, with a clear vision of how He will use it to make us new, more beautiful creations.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7807″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]

We went to bed on Wednesday night aching for our students who we had left in pain, who couldn’t see our vision, who didn’t trust us to transform their pain into purpose. All we could do was trust that God had His own, larger vision, and was holding us in this pain, using this camp to transform us all.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7808″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Discovering Dignity

I AM ART Se Luz 2016 Day1MixedMedia-3

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Today is Wednesday, the “peak” of art camp, and I am finally carving out time to sit and write. We spent last weekend in Antigua, resting and preparing ourselves for the week. On Sunday we made the 40-minute drive from Antigua to Santiago Sacatepéquez, the location for the I AM ART Se Luz 2016 camp. To put it simply, the transition was drastic.

Antigua, Guatemala’s capital when it was under Spanish colonial rule, bursts at the seams with color and enchantment. Volcanoes ring the city like sentinels, while tourists and natives alike bustle down cobbled streets, their shadows gliding across thick adobe walls painted orange, yellow, maroon, and teal. In Antigua, we ate, drank, and enjoyed ourselves to our hearts’ content. Coffee, wine, and chocolate were staples of our diet, and when we weren’t eating, shopping for gorgeously-crafted textiles, or touring nearby coffee plantations, we relaxed by the hotel pool, slept, and took long, hot showers.

“I wish we could just live here,” Laura remarked at one point. “Yeah, but”—MacLean shook his head and sighed—“gotta go help kids.”

[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_6238.jpg” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Santiago Sacatepéquez. Here, many families live in houses made of corrugated steel and cook beans, rice, and tortillas over an open fire. Those who are better off build their houses out of concrete and cook meat on stovetops. Poverty and a national history of racism, war, and corruption combine to magnify the social evils of alcoholism, drug addiction, gang violence, and teenage pregnancy. Santiago was downgraded from a red zone, or town with an average of one murder per day, just a few years ago.

In addition, at times it seems that everything in Santiago is bleak and dirty. A walk up the hill behind town offers a sweeping vista of steel rooftops in various stages of rust, broken occasionally by concrete walls—a patchwork of gray, tan, and reddish-brown. On the streets stray dogs wander in circles looking for scraps of food and we can’t look ahead as we walk for fear of stepping in dog or horse feces. The dirt that covers buildings and streets soon covers hands and feet as well. At our hotel (it still surprises me that Santiago even HAS a hotel) we experience intermittent losses of electricity and water.[/vc_column_text][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/IMG_4810.jpg” image_size=”large”][vc_column_text]On Monday and Tuesday, though, we discovered that in spite of the struggles the children of Santiago face, they are as full of color as the streets in Antigua. The artists used their workshops to help the kids explore who they are and where they come from, with magnificent results. In the mixed media class, for example, the kids colored plates, bowls, and cups with hues that reflect their emotions. In the miming class, each child practiced trust as he closed his eyes and ran toward a wall of his peers, their arms open, waiting to catch him. In the paper-making class, children traced and decorated their own footprints, recalling that they walk in the light of the Lord, who is always watching over them.

As artists, we left feeling overjoyed at the way the children had used the tools we gave them to express the beauty of their individual selves. Their dignity is seldom celebrated, often violated, resulting in wounds that cannot be healed by anyone but God. At the end of day two we felt thankful that He had put us in this place and used us as His instruments—His artist’s brushes and tools—to help the kids recognize their infinite worth.[/vc_column_text][mk_gallery images=”7787,7788,7789,7790,7791,7792,7793,7794,7795,7796″ column=”5″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Giving Life Through Art

Courtney Smalley

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]I had an enchanted childhood. When I wasn’t coloring, playing dress-up, or playing with my stuffed animals, I would daydream for hours in my backyard, swinging on the jungle gym, singing softly to myself, and listening to God whisper through the leaves how much He loved me. In the age of innocence I walked in my own golden Garden of Eden. I think of it often now when I pray.

In addition, I am the only child of two wise, loving parents. Growing up my mother was my playmate by day and my favorite storyteller by night. She encouraged all of my wide-eyed wonder and creative efforts with the most sincere enthusiasm. My father, who came from a broken family, hugged me every day and often told me how my mother and I were the fulfillment of his lifelong dream to have a family that loved each other. Not for a moment did I doubt my infinite value or the infinite amount that I was loved.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smalley_Dad.jpg” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]I am well aware that not everyone grows up this way. In 2014 I travelled to a small, rural town in Guatemala and met a group of kids who my Spanish professor, through her recently founded non-profit, was sending to school. There was one little girl—Elvia—who looked at me with such astonished, aching hope whenever I paid attention to her, that I sobbed at night thinking about it. Elvia barely has enough self-confidence to speak her own name, so I don’t know her story. Others’ stories I do know: Lluvia and Luis’ father was killed while walking home from work one day, by a man he may or may not have owed money. Irineo, an orphan, spent part of his childhood shining grown men’s shoes in the town square and sneaking into farmers’ sheds to sleep at night. Marvin, the gentlest, sweetest 12-year-old I have ever met, still says he wants to be a barber like his father, who died of alcoholism.

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”https://athentikos.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Smalley_Marvin.jpg” image_size=”large” lightbox=”true”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]In less than a month I’m going back to Guatemala to see these kids, and this time I’m bringing a team of artists with me. Through Athentikos we’ll be putting on an art camp called I AM ART, designed to help Elvia, Lluvia, Luis, Irineo, Marvin and the other kids understand that they are works of art created by God, and therefore of infinite worth, infinitely loved.

God has asked me to share my time and talent as a writer and photographer to help with this camp, but as a recent graduate who works at another nonprofit, I am still a little lacking in the treasure department. If you would like to contribute to I AM ART, and send me there as the official Storyteller (i.e. person-who-gets-to-take-photos-and-write-about-what-God-does-in-the-hearts-of-the-kids-and-artists-during-the-camp), you can visit my fundraising page. THANK YOU for supporting Athentikos. Even when we don’t have enchanted childhoods, God never stops trying to reach us and communicate His love. I believe He’s using I AM ART to do just that.

Thank you![/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-se-luz-2016/courtney-participates-in-i-am-art-a-special-art-camp-for-at-risk-youth-in-guatemala” target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#dd9933″]Support Courtney in I AM ART[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Labor of Love

Paper pul for Athentikos I AM ART

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]I cannot believe I am finally doing this…I am going on a mission trip to teach art to Guatemalan children.  This has been a thought in the back of my mind for 16 years.  The moment I decided to become an Art teacher, I wanted to teach art to everyone.  I have always believed that art is within everyone, it just has to be nurtured out and the person will create.

The fact that I leave in less than 4 weeks to give these children an opportunity to allow Art to become their voice is so inspiring to me.  I am going on my mission trip with I Am Art, through Athentikos.  I am truly in awe of the work they do.  They have asked me to create a lesson with paper-making.  I have taught paper-making years and years.  I even made handmade paper for my sister’s wedding invitation.  I love making paper, it is fun and open to all kinds of possibilities- like adding mixed media to the top of it before flipping it to dry on fabric or newspaper or drying the paper pulp into ripples.  So many ideas, so little time.

I brought my blender and shredded paper to class and that’s when my 8th graders started asking me what I was doing.   I started to talk to them about my mission trip.  They were all over me to help, so much so that I was overwhelmed giving them jobs. I taught a few of students to make paper pulp-Jane, Emma, Iva, and Abby.  We made the colors of the rainbow.  I gave Sierra some paper I had made and asked her to decorate it.

[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”7594″ img_size=”large”][vc_column_text]Once again my 8th graders started voicing their opinions, they told me to do more with my students in Guatemala.  I started bouncing ideas off of them.   My 8th graders liked my idea of the journals, and of using glass and creating dream catchers.  I asked them what they thought of “walking in God’s light” and creating footprints of who you are.  I have some of theirs to show my students.  I also said something about masks and they went wild.  They told me I have to do these projects too.  Well, I just couldn’t stop there.  I asked my students to help me cut paper so that I could make my 8 to 10 student a sketchbook.  And then I had one of the girls drilling holes in wood so my class can make wall hangings while the paper is drying.  At this point, it became a labor of love.

My suitcase is over flowing with materials and love from my students.

I would love to tell you that the love stopped there, but I can’t because past students have now become involved and donated art materials and wrote letters for my art students.  Thanks to my good friend Sherry Amorocho who teaches Spanish at our high school.   I am so proud of our 4 year Spanish students.

My labor of love is a beautiful journey for all of my students- past, present, and future.[/vc_column_text][mk_button dimension=”two” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-se-luz-2016/sarah-cook1″ target=”_blank” bg_color=”#dd3333″]Give a donation to support Sarah Cook in I AM ART[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_gallery images=”7602,7597,7598,7595,7596,7599,7600,7601″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

GO-ing for God and I AM ART!

I AM ART - Jen Galvin Blog

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]“ Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”

My journey to Se Luz began when I took a class, a class that changed my “perspective” and my life. In the winter of 2011 I took the Perspectives class. A class that teaches you to be in a mode of looking to GO and tell ALL peoples that Jesus loves them and is there for them. This class did literally change my perspective and my life and made me go from wanting to help people locally, to really look to needing to help people for God both locally and globally.

I want to live to glorify God through my art and to take the love of God to people all over. I truly believe that we all have creativity and art inside of us and that God wants us to use this creativity to glorify Him. When I work with people and get to play and make art with children or adults, I want everyone I make art with to feel empowered and creative. I often find myself telling people, “If I handed you a basketball, you wouldn’t expect to make the shot the first time, maybe not even the fourth time.” Or, “ If I say you down at a piano, would you expect to play perfectly?” the answer is no, but we expect, somehow that art is something a person is born with the innate ability to either do or not do, and I am here to tell you that maybe some people are that way, but most of us, myself included, need to practice! Just like anything else we want to be good at, art is something that we can do that will glorify God and it can also just make our souls sing, but first we need to give ourselves the grace to as Ms. Frizzle of the Magic School Bus used to always say, “get messy, make mistakes.” Getting messy and diving in and letting yourself make some mistakes is sometimes one of the hardest things to do for me as an artist, but sometimes ends up being the most rewarding. I want to help children learn that art doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, that it can be fun and healing and just good to do for the sake of expressing ourselves. And, that as we do this, we keep getting better, and this practice is what makes us better artists, the mess and the mistakes. Just like in life, living through the mess and mistakes with the forgiveness of God makes us better humans.

Also, as we use art to glorify God and just to express ourselves, it heals our very souls. Whenever something happens in my life that I can’t vocalize, I need poetry and drawing and painting. I can’t talk it out, so it just comes out in my art. This is what I hope to bring to the children in Guatemala is to help them to tell their stories through art. And, not just for the week that we are there, but to give them some lifelong ways to use art as a form of hope and also of just getting out the feelings when we feel hopeless. When I pray before I create, my art is somehow different, always better, and this too, is something that I hope to help the students to see, that when we involve God in our lives, it matters!

Stepping out and GO-ing is always amazing, but usually involves some of those getting messy and making mistakes kind of moments. In order to be able to show God’s love and grace through Jesus to other people, first we need to give ourselves the grace to go and just be humble and experience another culture and hope that in that minute of joy and art and love that God Himself can only provide that we can be part of something greater than ourselves, part of the plan of the great I AM. And, through art, we can share love, share compassion, and show God’s love. Art can help us all to get messy and make mistakes together to grow and discover who we are for God![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][mk_button dimension=”flat” corner_style=”rounded” size=”large” url=”http://athentikos.kindful.com/i-am-art-se-luz-2016/jen-galvins-i-am-art-se-luz-2016-mission-fundraising-campaign” bg_color=”#dd3333″ btn_hover_bg=”#000000″]Support Jen Galvin’s I AM ART Trip[/mk_button][/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

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Dancing in the Orange Glow

It was our last evening in Guatemala before returning home. We had traveled to Lake Atitlan to rest and reflect for a few days after an incredible I AM ART Camp at Casa Bernabe, an orphanage outside Guatemala City. My head was full of thought, so I went out for a walk by myself to soak up one last evening before eating dinner as a team. I wandered through the small town of Panajachel recounting countless stories from our many journeys to Guatemala … everything from our first trip in 2006 when we visited our son during his adoption process, to filming Becoming Fools. I must have been on autopilot because I didn’t have a specific destination in mind. But, I ended up at the back end of town, where a small river meets the lake – a place I had been to before under different circumstances. It had rained a little that afternoon and the air was cool and damp. Far in the distance the sun dipped into the horizon. I heard children playing and kept walking towards the source of that magical sound.

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Before I knew it, I was standing at the water’s edge watching a glorious sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth. The scene was absolutely breathtaking. A red-orange glow reflected on the glassy water as the green mountains faded into the distance. Dark clouds rolled in to contrast the fireball laying down to sleep in the west. In the foreground children ran free, laughing and playing, calling out to one another as they and their parents looked to the sky.

I followed the sightline of their gaze up and was suddenly overwhelmed with a surreal emotion I couldn’t quite define. Long strings stretched from the hands of these children, crisscrossing into a purple sky … filled with dozens of colorful handmade kites dancing in the twilight. I paused for a moment to soak it in. For just a moment, I was transported back in time. This place of awesome beauty was the place of horrific tragedy just a short four years ago when a holy fool named Italo Castro drowned in these very waters, at this very place. I began to weep in remembrance. It was an odd feeling because I had only spent a few hours with him during the production of our first documentary, Reparando. But, this man significantly changed my life (and many others). I spent three years working on a documentary about the impact of his ministry to homeless children, and somehow, he felt like a brother.

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Four years ago, we mourned the loss of a hero. Four years ago we stepped forward in faith to share the legacy of his life in a way that would honor his life’s work to help children at-risk. Four years ago, we had no idea … how difficult … and how beautiful our journey would be. But in that moment at the water’s edge, all of the tragedy and comedy collided together into beautiful irony written by the hand of an author writing a greater story. After all, it was the weekend of All Saints Day and Día de Muertos, a holiday to remember loved ones who have passed away. In Guatemala, kites are flown during this holiday as a symbolic gesture to connect with the spirits in heaven. I had seen people flying kites all weekend, but these kites were different. These kites were like angels hovering over the water, quietly, but powerfully honoring a holy fool. The children, the place, the sunset, the memories – they all combined in a way that I could never quite understand nor communicate. I’ll just sum it up to say it was beautiful.

In that moment, my spirit was carried up with those kites, and I caught a glimpse of heaven. I imagined Italo looking down at the place where he breathed his last breaths on earth … and seeing so many children playing joyfully with their families … he smiled … and I smiled with him. In that moment, there was no tragedy, there was no comedy … there was only peace.

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Help us empower at-risk children through I AM ART.

Kristi Bredeweg – Returning Home

I’m sitting on the plane. The man next to me is fast asleep. I have three hours to think; so I do. What on earth just happened to me? I left the comfort of a typical American lifestyle and wound up in a country where I knew not one soul, did not speak the language at all, and had no idea what was expected of me. Result? Unbelievable personal growth, new friends, a scant smattering of Spanish words and a new appreciation of God’s sovereign providence.

There is a certain comfort in returning ‘home’, wherever that might be, and I’m experiencing it as I fly over the Gulf toward Atlanta and then Michigan. However, I start letting my mind process my time recently spent with mostly teenagers for long blocks of time each day, trying to convey to them an art concept that even I was skeptical of! My fellow team members did an excellent job of supplying me with what I needed to pull it off. Along with the supplies I purchased and lugged to Guatemala, I was well equipped. And so we began.

Within 10 minutes of my dive into the approved workshop, I scrapped it. This isn’t going to work with this group. I sensed a guarded and apprehensive mentality. Let’s face it: I was a white American woman of privilege coming into their world. There wasn’t much common ground there. Or was there? I calmly put aside my agenda, sat on a chair in the middle of the room, and told them about my life. My real life. The one where my 5 year old son died while I was pregnant. The one where my husband left me with 4 kids. The one where my roof collapsed.

I stared into the eyes of 10 interested kids. They saw that even I, this white American woman of privilege, had real issues. From then on, they trusted me. We began the workshop. They knew I cared about them, their lives and struggles. I may not be able to fix all or any of the stuff they dealt with, but I knew with all my heart that we would connect on some level that transcended skin color, location, language, age, and status. We were all on the same artistic journey.

I watched them as they used their individual talents to transform a simple mirror into a reflection of who God made them to be. I shared the meaning of their names with them. They quietly took that information in.

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They were so special and so unique. I would have taken any one of them home with me. I said my “goodbyes” to each of them individually. My tears flowed freely. They looked me in the eye and told me that they too would miss me. We connected. We shared. I was blessed beyond anything I could have imagined when I began this journey.

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I now see the lights of American soil and the Atlanta airport. I get a lump in my throat at the real possibility that I will forget their idiosyncrasies and individual quirks; all the things that make me want to return and once again sit in a chair in the middle of a room and become a real person to real kids and delve into art… and so much more.

Kathlyn Beyer – Casa Bernabe Retrospect

I’ve been processing, the past several days, I AM ART camp that took place last week at a children’s home in Guatemala City. It was a week that I dreaded, stressed over, planned for and simply, to be quite honest, didn’t really want to begin. Little did I know I would feel very differently by the end of it.

When I had heard that Athentikos would be leading two art camps this year, I signed up. My anticipation of my involvement was that I would help with translation like I had the year before. As logistics were being sorted out stateside, the team realized they needed more artists to teach workshops so they asked me what I thought. The idea of workshop leading excited and terrified me all at once. I responded to them that I’d pray about it but they could probably count on me to do it. It happened. I was signed up to lead a workshop. Then fear set in.

I had no clue of their expectation or what art medium I would use to teach the I AM ART curriculum. After a couple of days I decided on photography. Team Skype meetings came; I dreaded them. Every time it stressed me out to present my ideas to the more experienced artists. I had no clue how it was all going to pan out. A supply list was compiled, but there was no way I could afford to buy it all. I was overwhelmed! I was looking at the big picture or at least what I perceived it to be and it seemed impossible for my human form to accomplish. As time went on, I realized how right I was. God revealed His hand in three tiny miracles;

Miracle #1: God gave me community. A friend, the right artistic and creative friend, came alongside at just the right time. We spent 2 hours bouncing ideas off one another and developing a plan. I felt more at peace with the undertaking after having her help.

Miracle #2: He supplied the resources to make it happen. My mom shared the need with our support team and in little to no time all supplies were on their way!

Miracle #3: As time passed and I attended more meetings and my confidence and preparedness grew. I had freaked out about the details but He didn’t leave me there long. God provided. He is faithful.

The week approached and I was stressed. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wished for more time. Feeling somewhat unprepared, I had forgotten Who had and would work it out.

Monday, the first day of classes, I was nervous. So many unknowns flooded my mind. I had no idea if the “plan” would work well, if it would engage the children or bore them, if it would last the full three hour session or leave me frantically filling time with unplanned games after completing the lesson in 30 minutes. Would the children behave, enjoy, tolerate, or act out? Perhaps the biggest uncertainty was that not only would I be teaching photography for the first time but I would be doing so in my second language, Spanish.

I survived day one. My Spanish held up. I didn’t love or hate the outcome of the day but was glad it was over. My kids were some of the oldest in the group so along with their adolescence there were the attitudes you might expect. With many of them having lived at the children’s home for the majority of their lives, they have come to be calloused to short term groups and teams. If they don’t allow themselves to feel attachment, they won’t feel the heart tugs as the short-termers skip country. This dynamic was fairly obvious from the get go. I didn’t struggle understanding their hesitancy or should I say their cool attitude. In fact, I’ve found myself, to some extent, on the other side. Me being the cold host. Sounds pretty harsh but I don’t have any lighter way to put it. I was thankful to have that deeper understanding of the children’s lives.

Slowly they began to open up. Not nearly as quick as I did but they got there. Very seldom was I able to see the excitement of the children as they learned. I guess partly because I didn’t truly know them yet. But I would. My first perception was I had a class full of uninterested young men and women, a potential flirt and a class outcast. Man was I wrong. I quickly learned (well perhaps it took me the whole week to learn) you can never know the heart from that which is displayed on the faces of others.

One example of this was one that brought tears to my eyes. It is that of a young man of about 15 or 16. He hardly ever spoke. I struggled to remember his name at the beginning of the week. So expressionless, I wondered if he even cared to be there. Second to last day, I sat down beside him on the basketball court and he turns to me and asks,

“Will you all come back next year? I mean to do an art camp?”

To which I respond “I really don’t know. Hopefully!”

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed it.”

This from the expressionless adolescent. His voice spoke with sincerity. It spoke deeply to me. As if that wasn’t enough to touch my heart, he wrote me a sweet note thanking me for teaching him so much, that he had really enjoyed it, and that he was going to miss me. I had observed this boy all week. During our large group session he would enter, his face would say “I feel alone in this crowd of people, I don’t even know where to go”, and then he would awkwardly shuffle to the back of the room. I had seen it happen several times as if he was lost and couldn’t find anyone he knew. But by the end of the week he knew me, that I was there because I cared about him and the others. That he realized that blessed me.

One of the older girls had an attitude at the beginning of the week but that disappeared as the week came to a close. She would walk up and greet me with the sweetest of hugs. Hugs of friendship.

…to be continued