Storytelling – Day #5

After the struggle on Thursday, Matt & Sky took portrait shots of each of the guys.  Some chose to smile, others straight faced.  Each one tells a story.  Photos tell stories, stories that begin when the shot is taken, before it is taken actually and unravel as the photos are developed and our young photographers put titles to them for the photo exhibit on Friday, Dec. 3rd.

They will finish their cameras shooting photos of hope.  Hope can be a hard concept to grasp.  One of the guys described it as laughter or joy.  A good description.  And off they go chasing hope.

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Unexpected – Day #4

It’s 7:50am and I am on my way to the park.  We are meeting up with the shoeshine guys this morning for a quick photo lesson and to take portrait shots of each one.  I find Jose on my way and we walk together in silence.  Soon after, Chris and Matt arrive ready to translate and teach.  I wander to the other side of the park, looking for the guys when I see an all too familiar brown sweatshirt – this has to be Victor.  He is peacefully asleep, basking in the warm sunshine surrounded by an otherwise cold morning air.  I sit beside Victor, who awakens shortly after, proud to be the first to greet him with “Buenos dias”.  He is grateful for the sunshine after sleeping on freezing cold, hard cement block all night which makes me more grateful for my warm, flannel lined jacket.  I cannot begin to imagine how he was able to rest last night out in the open, in the cold.

Just then, the cops drive by and Victor notices that they have his friend Mario with them.  Mario, who attended our weekly time of prayer on Tuesday, just two days ago.  Chris goes running after the truck which makes a loop around the park and comes back full circle.  Two policemen get out and walk towards us.  They look at Victor and say, “you are not cooperating so you are coming with us”.  I stand up and ask why they want Victor….”we have an order for his arrest”.  “For what?” I inquire.  “For sleeping on the street”, they reply as they come towards Victor, aggression in their stride and determination in their face.  My fighting lion spirit arises; I stand up and tell them that I will walk with Victor but they need to leave their hands off of him.  They lead us to a lady, a social worker of sorts, who is with them.  She starts talking about her “order” to arrest them and I decide to give her a piece of my heart.  “What good are you doing if you send these youth to a temporary home where they are abused?  I know Victor and Mario.  We see them every day.  This week, we are doing a photo project with them.  They are cooperating with us.  Please let them stay with us.”  Just last week Victor helped serve pancakes to shoeshine guys in the park.

Then I see the TV cameras, ready to shoot images of Victor physically fighting with the police out of frustration and fear, pleading with them, with us, to not take him away.  Tears flood my eyes.  I walk over to the cameramen and say, “Come on guys, not like this, don’t film them right now.  If you want to film them come tomorrow morning when we serve them pancakes.”  They stop in their tracks, look at each other, take in what I am saying and we start talking to them about InnerCHANGE.  We befriend these guys and treat them with dignity.  They are human beings, created in God’s image.  All of a sudden, the scene changes and the cameramen and newsmen are interviewing InnerCHANGE staff.  We later find out that the news people came so that the police could candy coat their act of “cleaning” up the streets.  We pretty much ruined their plan, gut punched their plan.

Several hours later, this photo appears on Facebook, posted by a journalist who criticizes how the police treat youth like Victor.

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Oh yea, what was the photo assignment yesterday?   Take 7 photos of struggle…and what a struggle this morning has been.

Framing – Day #2

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It’s not often that a shoeshine boy leaves his “cajita” (box) behind but today, day #2 of the photo project, they were eager to set it all aside to learn about the art of framing in photography. They were attentive as Matt taught and showed them examples of creative framing as they walked around the park and took some pics with his camera.

Now it’s their turn….5 pictures of their work for tomorrow.

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Perspective – Day #1

Perspective — how you see things.  Street youth don’t get asked their perspective, most assume they don’t have one.  Oh, but the stories they tell when you sit down and listen.  The world through their eyes is amazing, surprising and at times heart wrenching if given a chance to share.  And that is what we are all about this week with the help of our friends from “The Darkroom Project”.    Image

The Darkroom Project is in Xela doing a project with us.  Their mission is “Giving a voice to vulnerable populations and empowering them to tell their story”.  Yesterday Matt did a lesson on perspective.  Each kid was given a frame to play with as they held it close, at arms length and experimented with looking through the “lens” at different angles.  At the end of the lesson, each one was given their disposable camera for the week.  We have chosen 10 youth to participate in the project.  Their homework for tomorrow is to take 5 pictures of their neighborhood.

In the meantime I love

I live in Xela, Guatemala.
I love God; it is precisely that love that has brought me here to walk among the poor, among street youth.
I trust that God is working even when it seems contrary.
I hope for a day when there will be no such thing as street youth in our world.
In the meantime, I love.

Boyfriend came to our house in the rain, “Baby is on the way”.
We got in the car & headed for the hospital -oh how those labor pains came back to me as I looked into girlfriend’s17 year old soon to be mom eyes.

Now in the ER, we are told to wait outside.
I sit by the door that’s open just a crack, giving me permission to keep an eye on girlfriend.
At carefully calculated intervals, I sneak in to be with her ’til I’m discovered and
told to leave.

Soon family members in the waiting room, ask me to check in on their loved ones — I’m the only non-Guatemalan for miles, the only one who dares to enter.

“Who are you?” I’m asked by a white uniform
“She has no family.  I am like an Aunt.  I am here to be with her,”  I reply
A baby boy safely arrives by C-section 3 hours later.

Next day boyfriend, now father, and I go to visit during the only hour for visitors (I tried to sneak in at 8 am, no success).
Girlfriend’s grandmother arrives.  I greet her as my insides turn and that still, small voice tells me to not trust this lady.

Mother and child are well.

The following day I arrive to a disturbing turn of events
Girlfriend’s grandmother came, asking for the baby.  Girlfriend said no.
Grandma went and told the doctor that boyfriend and mother want to give the child away to “una gringa”(American)…that would be me.
I suddenly feel all eyes on me, and recall that still, small voice that told me not to trust.
Now all medical staff are on alert (sadly, this has happened before); baby is now hostage in the hospital until a judge investigates.

I call my husband.  He demands, “Get out of the hospital now! If grandma points you out to medical staff you will find yourself in jail with no exit.”

I hang up the phone as girlfriend informs me that she is going to escape from the hospital and leave with me.  Because she is under-age, her mother (who is in jail) or grandmother (who has just turned herself into the enemy) has to sign for her to leave the hospital.  I advise her and boyfriend that leaving without proper permission is a huge mistake as it will be seen as abandonment.  I turn to girlfriend, begging her to stay and tell her that I will not take part in her plan to escape.  I leave them both as I take one last look at baby through the glass; utter a prayer for loving nurses; and shove down my tearful longing to hold him & tell him how precious he is to God, to me, to his parents.

I come home frustrated and angry.
Frustrated that I am unable to help because of a rumor, a lie.
Angry at the system that keeps this baby from his mother’s arms, from her breast.
Frustrated that I cannot walk around the hospital hallways un-noticed because of the color of my skin and height of my German ancestry.
Angry at all the hospital staff that question my intentions.  Can’t they see my heart?
Frustrated that this broken couple has been granted a healthy baby boy when just one year ago my 3rd daughter had her life taken from her, from me. at birth.
Angry at my friends who tell me, “This couple is not worth your time, your love.  Get out while you can”.

Fast forward 3 weeks…
It’s time to go to court.
Boyfriend and girlfriend are present, accompanied by his Mom (who is visiting from El Salvador), Julio (my husband) and baby with his temporary caregiver (he is now in a children’s home).
Grandma, who turned baby hostage, is nowhere to be found.
Girlfriend is called forward to testify.
She tearfully recalls how her grandmother took her from her mother’s arms as an infant and sent her to a home.  “Please don’t let this happen to my son.”
She also admits to abandoning her baby at the hospital, having escaped moments after I left her side.
Boyfriend states his desire to care for his son.
Both deny accusations that they intend to give the baby away, testifying to our friendship.

Julio (my husband) testifies and asks that my name be cleared – we are friends, here to support and encourage.

Baby is in the room….turns out he is at the same home where his Mom was sent as an infant 17 years ago.

The judge pauses to take it all in as he looks around the room, glancing down at the facts written before him.  He starts with a list of conditions for boyfriend and girlfriend…

And now

WE WAIT…for DNA results; to see if boyfriend and girlfriend follow through with the judge’s orders;
WE HOPE…for God to break through in the hearts and lives of this family; for the judge to make the best decision for this little life; for boyfriend and girlfriend to hold on & not turn to past addictions; for God to transform our frustration and anger into love;
WE WALK…with boyfriend and girlfriend – sharing pain and joy in the good days and the not so good days;
WE TRUST…in a God who can do much more than we ask or imagine;
WE LOVE…in all moments we love with the extravagant love of God.
That is why we am here – to wait, hope, walk, trust and love.

“Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.”

1 Cor. 13:13 (The Message)

Falling Apart Together

“How does their ‘falling apart’ speak into your life?”

It surfaces my own brokenness, my own falling apart;

I am a part of their descent, the bits and pieces;

It reminds me that no one is perfect, we are all broken;

It brings tears to my eyes, deep grief swells in my heart;

At times I am overwhelmed and sink deep into the “apartness”, later to arise and grab a hold of hope once again, giving me strength to enter in and fall apart together;

Life is hard; that is why God has given us each other, to be one, with one, for one, united

Their falling apart speaks out loud….

She sat sobbing from the inside out as she said, “I need my Mom.  I need her to get out of jail.  Me hace tanta falta.  I need her help, love, warmth.”  Seconds later, “I can take care of myself.  I don’t need you or your help, leave me alone.”  And my own tears start to flow, to hear her crying heart and refusal that is really a cry to be loved.

Another youth confessed, “I can’t help myself; I keep inhaling paint thinner.”

We asked the youth during our Friday small group time, “If you could sit with one person for an hour. Who would it be and what would you ask?”

  • My Dad.  Do you love me?
  • My Mom.  Why did you leave?
  • My Dad.  Where have you been?

An 8 year old orphan shows up at our house.  His father shined shoes in the park, passed away a year ago.  His mother wants nothing to do with him.  He lives with his Aunt who can no longer care for him because he continuously runs way in the middle of the night in search of his mother.

Their falling apart reminds us of our purpose…why God has sent us out as lambs among wolves; the devouring, blood thirsty wolves who attack, depress, steal…we are here ”to heal the brokenhearted; to set the captives free” in the name and power of Jesus Christ.
Together, our falling apart shared and sanctified, makes us stronger to move forward together.  My falling apart speaks into yours and yours into mine. 

You are God’s beloved, his divine imprint is in you, in each of us – permanent and holy.

This falling apart together brings me to my knees:  Lord, make my presence welcoming, loving, grace-filled.  Anoint me to accompany the broken and lost

“It is when we dine together in brokenness, that we are transformed from a fragmented collection of wounded individuals into an authentic community of the Cross.”   

– Meal From Below, Street Psalms

May we all have the courage and love to enter in, to dine together in brokenness, and there find healing.

Savoring the Crumbs

We live above a bakery – Checha Pan

Once just a place to buy bread, it has become a place of learning, sharing & family

Orky, the owner, has always been friendly:  sells bread with a smile; asks about my girls; genuinely cares about me

And then…

  • she came to the hospital when my daughter was stillborn at 40 weeks – no words just to be with me
  • she attend the funeral & drove my tired body & broken spirit home
  • she baked me my favorite cake for my birthday 3 weeks later, a glimmer of joy amist the tears
  • she tearfully told me she was pregnant with a baby girls shortly after, rejoicing yet mourning with me still

Along the way, God filled me up with love & urged me to enter life with Orky…to love her well, deeply

  • in remembrance & honor of Mayela (my daughter), my family gave Orky some of Mayela’s clothes & infant bath
  • I visited & laughed with Orky as she was on bed rest & just wanted her baby to arrive
  • I was the first friend to hold & kiss Baby Carmen Maria the morning after her birth
  • I go down to the bakery with my 2 girls during the busy hours & take Carmen Maria to my apartment as others look on & wonder why Orky let’s me do that…it’s because we are family she says

 Checha Pan…so much more than a bakery…it is where I savor the crumbs of the bread of life.  It’s a place where I receive & share the bread of life and it tastes oh so good!