Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Price of an Orange

“Buenos Dias,”
“Buenos Dias,”
“How do you call yourself?”
“Is your mom dead?”
“What’s her name?”
In many ways, when the children are at school, it’s difficult to tell the difference from them and any other classroom of kids. But little reminders such as this conversation serve to jolt us back to reality. For lunch on Friday, instead of juice, someone had provided cans of soda for all the students. After lunch, a number of the workers in the kitchen and teachers were going around with black bags collecting the cans separately from the rest of the garbage. One assistant teacher was going through the garbage can, food and all, searching for any cans that might have gotten mixed in. The interesting thing was that after everyone had collected their cans, they didn’t just put them in a bucket and leave them. They all took their findings along with them. I remember back to an earlier walk with Lazaro. After we finished our canned juices, he told me to set the empty cans out on the side of the sidewalk and within 10 or 15 minutes they’d be gone. When you collect enough aluminum you can sell it. Enough said.
This past week I had the pleasure of working directly with a short term volunteer group. 23 people from a church in New Jersey came to give a week of their lives to helping the treasures surrounding the dump (Treasure is the word Potter’s House uses in place of scavenger because scavenger has a negative connotation here). After a day of touring, the group was welcomed to Potter’s House by one of the 100 communities surrounding the dump called Santa Piedra (Holy Rock). Potter’s House has separated the area surrounding the dump into these communities and has assigned each a community leader from within to listen to the needs of the people in the community (this one was made of roughly 25 or 30 families). These leaders will then present their needs to Potter’s House who will allocate volunteer groups to the approved projects. The project in Santa Piedra was to install concrete floors in place of the mud ones in two houses and to paint the gigantic cafeteria of the Potter’s House building.
A seriously multi mediatric welcome the presentation included the warm greetings of the people, dozens of balloons strung between houses and the wall separating their community from the dump, the sickening-sweet smell of rotting garbage, and the gun-like bangs of a 25 foot string of firecrackers (unfortunately for neighbors this also seems to be the traditional method of waking someone up on their birthday). While only two families would be receiving floors roughly 50 from the community showed up to welcome the North Americans. The session was a tear jerker for Guatemalans and Gringos alike as the locals expressed their overwhelming gratitude for the volunteers. Expressing their unbelief that, “Someone from farther away than I can ever dream of visiting cares enough about me to come and help?” Others described the hope and joy at seeing their community improve over the past decade or so, that change was happening, one giving a testimony of her life over the last few decades. One of the two women who would be receiving floors breaking down into tears describing how faithful God is and her joy that she mattered enough for Him to hear her prayers. The mud-caked children looking up curiously at the proceedings, contributing to the chorus of Puedo Ver? (Can I see?) as the gringos took photos with their digital cameras. A comment from one of the older women that this was the first time she had EVER seen what she looked like.
After pulling a 12 hour day on Saturday we finished all the work projects and there was a goodbye from the same community. Unfortunately I was unable to attend. An alter call (without an alter) was given and 4 people chose to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. It was an amazing week for both the volunteers and those who were helped. Numerous people expressed to me how much this week had changed them and their seemed to be a general desire to return the following year.
After work I return to the Rivera’s. Unlike our zoning in the states where we have the luxury of completely ignoring the poor should we desire, corrugated tin and aluminum shacks are crammed between the more affluent houses, guarded by high walls topped with barbed wire and locked doors behind that. Between that and the guards wielding shotguns, it’s hard to forget the higher levels of crime. The Rivera’s are a family of 5, the mother Llaneth (pronounced Janet) works at Potter’s House, one of the daughters is attending college to be an architect, another is working 70 hours a week in a Residency type program in order to become a doctor. (twice a week she has a 29 hour shift, is that even legal?) And the third has landed a job with her English skills and is currently receiving calls for a States based cell-phone company that are channeled through Miami. She desires to attend college someday but currently is helping to support the family. Nery, my host father, between us volunteers and the family ends up chauffeuring roughly 40 hours a week. In addition to this he has recently opened up an internet cafĂ© and lately has been spending his evenings there. They have been a huge blessing to live with and they’ve asked me to say thank you to everyone in the states who is supporting me so “Thanks” from the Rivera’s.
One last story before I forget, for this one we have to think back to the days of the fantastic four (no, I’m not referring to the new movie, I’m referring to us four Wheaties before the other three left). We had stopped at a market and the moment we stepped out we met a barrage of people desperate to sell their goods. Among other things were these beautiful hand made baskets, with hand made yarn designs. This stop was after nearly two months of Guatemala experience and we had become proficient at saying, “no”. When they saw that we were not going to buy, one of the girls offered to simply trade this beautiful basket for Sally’s orange. AN ORANGE. I have no idea how long it takes to make a hand made basket with yarn sewn on top, but the fact that they were willing to trade the materials and that much time for an orange was overwhelming. Sally, being the virtuous daughter of Christ that she is, handed over the orange for free. I watched as the girl took the orange back to her family and the 8 or 9 of them split it and ate it hungrily. I hope this story will help you enjoy your next orange just a little bit more.
Love you all and God Bless,

Support Letter

Enoch in Guatemala
August 2005

At Urbana during Christmas of 2003 I made a promise to God that I would serve for a year of missions after I graduated from College. A number of circumstances made me back that number down to 2 months which I have just completed with Potter’s House in Guatemala. However, recently God has made it clear that my promise to serve a year still stands.
Potter’s House is a Guatemalan run ministry that is located less than a block away from the city garbage dump. Smelling strongly of rotting garbage and inhabited by more flies than people, casa del alferero (Potter’s House) offers hope to those who’ve spent their lives literally living in the garbage. In addition to basic relief including sandwiches, shoes and blankets, Potter’s house works to make a permanent difference in the lives of its treasures (a treasure is what they call anyone who relies on the garbage for their living). One unique aspect of Potter’s House is that it is run by Guatemalans, even more striking is the large portion of the staff who previously scavenged in the dump. For the last last two months I have worked in the micro loans department where we make loans of less than a few hundred dollars allowing the people to have enough capital to get out of the dump and start their own small business (fruit stands, barber shops, auto repairs, snow cones, etc.)
It's been life changing to live here, it really makes you think a lot about what's important. In many ways life is different here, some things are much worse, like crime is rampant (I got robbed the other day, although I ended up getting away without paying a thing), I saw a car intentionally hit a homeless man and sometimes death isn't the worst of it, surviving in poverty is. Then on the other hand, some things are much better, people actually take time to talk to other people. The guy at the local restaurant knows all our names, we actually talk. You realize a lot more about what Jesus was talking about with the poor. I'm a bigger believer in a social gospel than I was before. Just because we don't see poverty doesn't mean it's not our responsibility. So there's that combined with my promise at Urbana and I just don't think I can leave. I made an agreement last Wednesday that I will stay for another 10 months in order to complete a year.
So now I find myself in the opposite situation from where I expected to be. Instead of earning money at Allstate and supporting missionaries I'm giving up my job that pays a salary and am looking for support. Here are the details: I'm trying to raise $1000 a month for 10 months. I figure if I can find 50 people who are willing to pledge $20 a month for 10 months I'll be set. I don't know how much you care for the breakdown but here it is. $625 a month goes to food, housing and transportation to and from work and to church. This is a package deal and is done through Potter's House. $100 dollars a month goes to Potter's House itself for their staff and bills. The remaining $275 monthly will go for medical costs and medical insurance, clothing (I only have two pairs of pants down here), transportation and food outside of work, any additional unforeseen expenses, and a plane ticket at the end of 10 months. If I end up raising too much, the additional will be split between a fulltime missionary here named Matt who is currently under funded, and Potter's House towards sponsoring children, many of whom live and work in the dump.