On August 4, five American bloggers will arrive in Guatemala to see, hear and report first-hand about Food for the Hungry’s (FH) partnerships in the Alta Verapaz region. Learn the “who, what, when, where” of it all here.
As I envision their entry into these communities, I can’t help but flash back to my own experience several years ago, when my feet met the ground of Guatemala’s countryside for the first time.
Communities that communicate through textiles
Like so many places around the world, city and rural life in Guatemala are miles—if not lifetimes—apart. Away from the melting pot of the city, I was stunned to enter the Guatemalan countryside and realize that many people (especially women) still wear the traditional clothes to identify which region they were born in.
In Nebaj and the surrounding areas that I visited, nearly every woman wore a long, dark red skirt that identified her as part of the Ixil community.
But as much as the clothes signified a “unified front,” in recent years church and community leaders have not naturally worked together on behalf of their communities.
Ripping at the fabric of society
Maybe you saw news from Guatemala reach international headlines this past May. The news centered around a brutal civil war and genocide that hit the region I visited with devastating force—and attempts to work out justice even today. The indigenous people (with whom FH partners) were terrorized—and killed. My Guatemalan friend who grew up in this region hid in the woods with his family for a decade during this time while they waited for the violence to end. In his words, they “lived in the trees.”
As you can imagine, this is the type of thing that rips apart the fabric of towns and villages. For the bulk of childhood, a whole generation lives under stress. People forget what “normal” life is. Traditions—even basic things like how to grow food—are lost. The effects go beyond one generation, and ripple continues even today. According to the World Food Programme, Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest rate of stunting in children in Latin America.
Weaving a new tapestry
FH began working in Guatemala in 1976. The civil war officially lasted from 1960 to 1996. Even as I learn more and more about what occurred in Guatemala during this time, the leaders of communities where FH works have this knowledge written in their life histories.
Today FH helps Guatemalan churches, leaders and families weave a new tapestry for life. A crucial part of this effort is not handing out food or other supplies—but rather joining with the individuals who lead the communities that dot the Guatemalan countryside to help them band together and work for a brighter future.
Working together for a brighter future—it all sounds well and good—right? But let me ask a quick question. When was the last time your church reached out to the church down the street—a church that represents a different denominational affiliation or a segment of the Christian tradition—and talked about how you all could together work for the good of your community? Or similarly, when was the last time several church leaders in your area met with your city’s mayor to discuss what your town needs most—especially in regard to your most vulnerable citizens? I hope it was recently! But we all know that all too often such things aren’t at the top of our to-do lists.
Alternatively, during my trip to Guatemala, I was privileged to sit in the circle of local pastors and community leaders who FH help to join together to assess the needs of their community. Through their collaboration, cooperation and vision, they got water piped to nearly every home in their village. The below video tells their story. You’ll see that this effort not only cut down on time women and children spent each day fetching water, but also combated disease among children—particularly diarrhea.
When churches, leaders and families walk together, the fabric of society is woven with strength, for the good of the most vulnerable—and the glory of God.
A few villages away from where I met the pastors and community leaders, I also met my sponsored child Cristian. He was a huge highlight of the trip! FH facilitates the same type of leadership collaboration in Cristian’s community.
Back to the bloggers
Thinking back on this time, I can only imagine how the hearts and minds of the bloggers who will soon travel to Guatemala will expand through the interactions, teaching moments and paradigm-busting experiences that will surely come. Follow their trip! And log on for their twitter chat at 8 PM EST on August 6. They’ll be tweeting with hashtag #fhbloggers. Ask them your own questions! I can’t wait to share in this virtual travel with them.