Dear Friends and Family,
Not only is punctuality not a virtue for people here, even the television stations seem to have no concept of time. The Academia (think American Idol meets Central America) runs for four hours every Sunday. The movie on TV just finished at 9:41…exactly. Just about the only thing that does keep time is the roosters. Unfortunately their day starts precisely at 4:30 AM. An hour and a half later we are up and showering.
Shower water is heated in a little heating coil directly above the shower head. There is only on or off, to get hotter water you turn the pressure down, more water means cold water. This is luxury compared to most houses, who have water for about an hour a day. They fill up all their buckets during this hour and use it throughout the remainder of the day. Still these people are better off than most around the dump. Their showers come direct from above, and their baths from below. As their dirt floors are finally drying out from last nights rain we arrive at Potter’s House. Today is particularly pungent as the rain water has accentuated the smell. Unlike the squirrels and deer that run rampant where I live in the US. The local wildlife consists of a myriad of vultures hovering over the dump and literally hundreds of lactating dogs running the streets. A few minutes later I find myself three blocks away at AVN (Associacion Vida Nueva) (Micro Loan Department) even here the smell remains overwhelming. I can’t imagine what it must be like for those who work directly in the dump.
Like normal I am not the first one to arrive. Lazaro, a 21 year old who lives in one of the neighboring towns is already here. Unlike me his day began before the rooster’s alarm. Every day he wakes at 4:00AM in order to take the two hour bus ride from Chimaltinango to Guatemala City. Spending roughly 10% of his daily earnings on bus fare. He won’t return until after I leave, fortunately the traffic isn’t as bad in the evening and he can make the trip in an hour and a half. The thirteen + hour work day is followed by school where he is studying to be a lawyer. Someday he hopes to have a family, be a lawyer, and own a small store. Apparently working two jobs is the norm here, yet somehow everybody still has time to talk with you.
As Lazaro doesn’t speak English I guess I’ve learned to converse to some extent in Spanish. At least I’ve passed the point where I can speak faster than I can play charades. Today I spend my time sorting checks and entering deposits into the computer. As I sort the checks I start to wonder why so many of them have thumbprints and then I realize that it’s because they can’t write. Walter informs me that Guatemala has the highest illiteracy rate in Central America and his figure of 60% is overwhelming (please note that when I give statistics I have received through people here, there is a great chance that I misunderstood something when translating from Spanish to English, add to that the fact that many statistics are made up on the spot and 60% is better stated as a lot of people are illiterate).
Back at Potter’s House the summer teams have started coming in from the states. Churches will supply one to two teams per week until the end of the rainy season (the end of August). Teams have and will continue to work in the surrounding communities. Potter house employees have helped create a system of communities to organize the people surrounding the dump. The communities have roughly 100 community leaders who will meet with their communities to let Potter’s house know what types of work projects can help their community. For example, one community has petitioned for concrete to be laid in their streets in order that rain water will flush faster through their community leaving the mud floors in their houses dry.
Most people who live near the dump know about Potter’s House and that they are a Christian Organization. As this week’s team handed out food and new shoes while helping to build a number of houses, many begin to ask about Christ.
Back at Potter’s two of my friends from Wheaton work in the school. Sally tells me about one of her fellow teachers who grew up in the dump. She had a number of kids and a husband with a drinking problem. Approximately 10 years ago her sister told her about Potter’s House and she decided to give it a try. Receiving help and hope she continued to get involved in the activities offered by Potter’s House. Fast forward to today, she works in the very place she once came to for help. She says she can’t believe that they would pay her to stay in this place. Her husband hasn’t had a drink in years and they were just recently able to buy a real house. In addition, with help in regards to funding from Potter’s House, she has recently received her Bachelor’s degree and has started her master’s degree in medicine. Most importantly she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who she has claimed as her Lord and Savior. While not all stories are as happy as this one, God is definitely working through Potter’s House to make a tangible difference here both physically and spiritually.
I really want to write about my host family, but there is one other thing that I also want to write about and I am afraid to write too much. So just know that the Rivera’s have been absolutely marvelous to live with.
Ok the other thing that I wanted to write about is something that’s been on my mind lately. In my heart of hearts I’m a Christian but just outside that I’m an economist. After my last email I received a number of replies with sayings roughly equal to, “Doesn’t the way these people live make a person feel guilty for all the things we have?” And you know what? It does, at least for me, and it should. And I think that’s a good start, but it must lead to action. And I don’t want to euphemize the power out of these feelings just so that we can feel comfortable with the way we live. After seeing how hard these people work, there is no way I can say that all I have I deserve.
I’ve been reading a book (“God’s Politics”) lately that accuses religious Republican’s of getting caught up on a few issues like abortion and homosexuality and forgetting about everything else. And you know what? I think to some extent, he’s right. Especially when it comes to the poor. However, as a Christian Republican I believe that the government is inefficient at helping the poor, and that it is better done through individuals. That is IF individuals, (that’s me and you) actually start doing something with the money that we don’t end up giving to the government.
How many times do we see a poor person on the street and not give money to them because we assume they’re going to use it for drugs and alcohol (this may be a justifiable thought). But the problem is, the money we say we would have given to them had we known their intentions to be good, we most likely will never give to the poor. Whether it be our laziness or our selfishness we Christian Republican’s don’t do all that great a job of really giving that extra money we save through a smaller government towards the poor or towards some other worthy endeavor. Maybe the democrats are right, even if sometimes inefficient, something is better than nothing. Either way government alone is not going to solve the worlds problems and it is not enough to simply vote our problems away, we have to take action on an individual level.
Two of the three times I can think of where Jesus gives a direct response for how people get into the kingdom of heaven involve helping the poor. The rich young ruler was told to sell everything he had and to give it to the poor, and in the passage of the sheep and the goats, those who Jesus recognizes are those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison etc. (The third one I can think of is Nicodemas).
I’m not saying that I don’t believe in salvation through grace, but I am saying it’s time we started getting uncomfortable with the way we live, and doing something about it. There’s no shortage of poverty in the world, according to the facts in this book I’m reading, 1 billion (1 in 6) live on less than a dollar a day, and 3 billion on less than 2 dollars. You don’t have quit your job, there’s plenty of organizations to give to, but you may have to change your lifestyle. If you truly feel bad for how much we have, there’s nothing stopping you from doing something about it.
OK thanks for letting me rant.
Thank you for your letters and your prayers,
PS. If you send me mail I do read it, but I only have access to the internet for a few minutes a day, so my replies are limited