Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why I Believe

There exist elaborate scientific arguments, archeological expeditions, philosophical extrapolations all of which explain why God must exist. But when it all comes down to why I actually believe in the God of the Bible, who sent his son to die for our sins, it’s really not due to any of these things that I believe. The reason I believe in the God of the Bible would have to be due to the testimony of changed lives.
In a world of suffereing and poverty, of gangs and violence, the stories that come from the people are nothing short of miracles.
Let me share with you one of these stories.
Maria Ortiz grew up in Annexo Aguilar of zone 3. Like almost all of the families in zone three, Maria’s family was very poor. Like many of the families in zone 3 Maria’s father was a severe alcoholic, spending what money they didn’t have on his drug of choice, and like some of the families of zone 3 he was abusive in the worst way.
Growing up sexually abused Maria learned to hate her femininity, never wearing a dress, keeping her hair short, and walking with a masculine strut. It was in this manner that she began her life working in the dump even at the age of 7. Like I said in an earlier letter, working in a garbage heap is not all that great for self esteem. Maria told me that she saw her life stretched before her, working her entire life in the dump collecting garbage, only to know more pain and abuse and then one day with as little ceremony as she entered, to leave this world. Her death and life both with no more meaning than the garbage she worked so hard to collect. Poverty can go so much further than just a lack of money. At school it meant a lack of friends, a social isolation and a nickname that labeled you as equal to the trash you lived in. At home it means instability, a lack of a father figure and a stream of abuse. In life it means feeling meaningless in every sense of the word, your whole community not even earning enough to change the rounding in a decimal place of a GDP measured in millions. Growing up, living, and dying in an area so forgotten by the world and so rampant with violence that a garbage landslide which barries and kills nine people doesn’t even make the front or even the last page of the city paper.
It was this meaninglessness that Maria and one of her brothers, Alex, one day decided to avoid at all costs. In a community of love and opportunities, joining a gang may seem absolutely irrational, but when you are surrounded by poverty and hopelessness, gang life seems to offer power as well as a ray of hope. It also offered Alex and Maria a way to make a difference, to make their mark, and gain some power and respect in a world that didn’t seem to care at all what become of them.
Also around this time Maria heard about Potter’s House for the first time. She still remembers her first visit, there was a 15th birthday party held for all the girls in zone three who were turning 15 that year. (15 is like the coming of age year for a girl, it is one of the biggest and most exciting events that a girl of 15 years has had until that point in her life.) The Potter’s House party serves to give the girls in zone three that experience because many of the families can’t afford to do something special for the event. The biggest thing Maria remembers from the day was looking at the cake, wanting the cake, and tasting the cake. It was the first time she had ever tasted something so delicious and she remembers the sensation to this day.
So it was with this past that Maria began to prepare to join one of the gangs of zone 3. Her brother Alex was already quite established in the gang. Selling crack and earning a reputation as the fastest gun maker in Guatemala. Maria also had begun to sell crack and to complete the innitiation rites required in order to go from being a marginal member to being full fledged. One of these “rites” for joining was to be raped by all 3 of the leaders within the gang. One of the rules of the gang was that once you fully joined, the only way to leave was in a casket.
Until this point in her life, Maria had wanted nothing to do with God. Time after time God had presented himself to her through various people but she had wanted nothing to do with a God that would allow this kind of suffering in her life. So it was most odd that, as she was walking home one night only a few days before full initiation into the gang, she felt compelled to enter into a church as she passed by.
Occupying a pew in the back God once again presented himself to her but this time instead of an immediate no, she gave God a chance. She testifies that everything at this moment in the room faded and it was just her and God. She challenged God saying, “God, my life has been horrible, why should I put my faith in you? What have you ever done for me? If you exist, prove it right now, you don’t have a week, a day, or even an hour, you have just this instant.” Then the room became like a movie theatre with her life until that point as the movie being played. Every horrible experience and moment that had happened in her life until that point being recalled. “God where were you all this time? It all hurts so bad.” His answer? At that point it came to her clearer than crystal, “Every thing you have suffered Maria, I have suffered with you. You are not alone and you are not forgotten.”
Then something happened that she will never forget. She had the sensation of a smell like that of something absolute pure and divine, so different from the rotting stench of garbage she had known all her life. And she felt the softest sponge running down her face cleaning her of the filth that had become her life.
Since then, her life has changed completely. A month later she was wearing a dress for the first time. She began praying daily for her family’s salvation and a year later her mother and eventually her older brother who was so high in the gang became saved as well. Brother and sister now work at Potter’s House making a real difference in the lives of others in the dump. Maria shines with a confidence and inner joy that few North Americans have ever found. She is completing her final year of college this year and if you congratulate her she will simply point on the glory to God, and tell you how good He is. Maria still lives in poverty in the shallowest sense of the word. She still lives in zone three bordering the dump in the ravine where she grew up, her house nothing more than a few rotting boards and tin walls. But she is rich in the deepest sense of the word. Enjoying a meaning in life, few ever attain. She daily changes the eternity of children, by raising money for the school of Potter’s House, giving them a chance to escape physical and intellectual poverty, but even more important, giving them a chance to hear about what made the difference in Maria’s life. About a God who loves them so much that he was willing to suffer and die himself in order that we might be saved.
Maria’s story is astounding but it is not the only one. In the end it was not a sandwich or a new house or a job which changed Maria’s life and gave her a reason to live. It was not Potter’s House or a really good friend. It was God, the creator of the universe, beginning a personal relationship with one of his creations. God is, right now, at work in our world. Consistently calling those who consistently reject him. Ready to begin a relationship with you, to give you meaning beyond your house, your job, your family, and even your life. He can give you true riches beyond your wildest dreams, riches that can’t be taxed by the government or stolen by thieves. The real question is not, “Does God exist.” The real question is “Will you put your faith in him?”
*Names have been changed to protect identity

Thursday, February 16, 2006

...and in the local news

First off, I’ve finally got some photos of my time in Guatemala on the internet. If you’d like to view them simply click the link:


…And in the local news, both of the only two shops that I regularly visit in my neighborhood have been robbed. The peluqueria (barber shop) was robbed shortly before I left to the states for Christmas. The thief apparently used a sledgehammer to break the large padlocks holding down the cage door covering the entrance. He made off with both chairs, the hair dryer, both sets of shears, a 15” tv as well as a limited supply of hair products including the ever popular “Moco de Gorilla” (Translation: Gorilla Mucus, a popular styling gel among children… and yes it is the color green.) Sadly having insurance is not the norm. The owner was closed for three days looking for replacement chairs and some new-used shears. He is currently renting chairs until he, once again, has saved up the money to purchase new hair cutting chairs (according to the internet, that’s the official term). And there is no longer a TV with bad-reception in the upper corner giving customers something to do while waiting their turn for a friendly barber to remove their slender threadlike outgrowth of the epidermis (Definition taken from Webster Dictionary). Even still, life continues and for just under three dollars you can get a professional cut with friendly service (Sorry ladies, men only for this barber).

Just this week the local internet café suffered a similar fate, losing all of its computers to an unknown entity. At a cost of 75 cents for an hour of use, the time required to recuperate lost funds will be very long indeed. The café has been closed indefinitely. Fortunately for the rest of the populace the next one lies just 3 blocks up the road.

As for the news in zone three (the zone bordering the dump, and also the zone where Potter’s House is located), there have been 2 more murders within 3 blocks of Potter’s House over the last month. The most recent was a stabbing and killing of a 17 year old girl who was apparently out late at night in the Piedra Santa Colony (just around the corner from Potter’s House). The killer and motive are (and will likely remain) unknown.

In one of my previous updates I spoke of a 3 or 4 year old girl who was kidnapped. It has now been just over two months since the kidnapping and almost all traces of her existence have faded. No longer, do signs that read, “Girl Missing” decorate rusting walls. And there were reports from an eye-witness who saw the mother whether in happiness or out of an immense sadness, celebrating and drunk on New Years eve. When the eye-witness was asked if the mother was still mourning the loss, the response was, “Why should she? She still has five healthy children, and the lost one was likely sold to an adoption agency to be given to some family in the states.”

As is quite apparent, violent crime has been on the rise ever since the end of Guatemala’s 35 year civil war. The war was begun and maintained in large part with the help of funds from the US government and support from the CIA to prevent possible socialistic or communistic governments from maintaining power. However, the result was that a dictator government with power invested in the military pushed big business and economic growth at the expense of the poor which generally happened to also be the indigenous people of Mayan decent. The result is that the gap between the rich and poor has grown extremely wide. The poorest 10% now garnering roughly 0.9% of the national GDP. With a year 2000 per capita GDP of $1670, that comes to about $150.30 per year for the lowest 10%, far too little to live on. Since 2000, Guatemala’s national GDP has enjoyed a positive 4% gain per year, however the average per capita income among the poor continues to decline. And out of that hopelessness comes the ability to do the extreme, even commit atrocious acts in order to allow you and your loved ones to survive. (Data from www.countriesquest.com)

On a lighter note, the new school year has begun and over 200 students now attend Potter’s House’s primary school. Additionally, the computer lab has been finished and a computer teacher is able to teach children valuable computer skills that may one day allow them to find a job outside the garbage. Also, an English teacher from the states fluent in both English and Spanish has volunteered a year of her life, and so students will begin down the path towards being bilingual, giving them a leg up in the job market.

Another highlight, is that this year the education department will begin offering adults without high school degrees the opportunity to continue their own education in the comfort (or lack thereof) of their own home. By broadcasting classes over a localized frequency adults in zones 3 and 7 will be able to take the courses required to earn their high school diplomas.

As for the weather, we are officially more than half way through the summer season (roughly October through April). To mark the occasion we had an absolutely astounding display of rain. October through April is known as summer because during these months it generally does not rain (This rain was the first that I remember since November). However, the temperature is on average a little cooler, the coldest month being December reaching average lows of 54 degrees and highs of 73. The winter runs from May through September and it will generally rain daily during these months. May being the hottest with lows of 61 degrees and highs of 84 degrees.

While, during this time (right now) the clouds in the sky are scarce, clouds of dust roam the earth in abundance. Within the dump a new flying specie now competes with the vultures for domination of the skies. On windy days plastic bags of all sizes and colors float amongst the dust for all (except those who work within the dump) to enjoy. Yet the dry season has one huge advantage over the rainy season. The stench has been greatly lessened. Also, your house is much less likely to collapse due to erosion or mud slides.

And finally, on to personal news. For those of you who were praying for my grandfather, thank you for your prayers. My grandfather passed away early Christmas Morning. While the event of death is a sad one and we are all definitely sad to see him go, my grandfather lived a good and full life of 91 years. He had a loving wife and a loving family as well as a host of adoring friends. I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the memorial service and to see over 300 of these friends and to hear some of them speak and to listen as others gave their talents in honor of him. He was and continues to be greatly respected and loved by all. For those of you who were praying for him, I ask that you’d redirect your prayers now towards my grandmother who has just lost her husband of over 67 years. Pray that she would find comfort and encouragement from the Lord in this time and that she would know that she still has many on this earth who love her very much.

On another note, even though I delayed by 10 months, Allstate has graciously allowed me the opportunity to work for them and I plan on starting with them late summer.

That’s all for this segment of News in Guatemala, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. I’d love to hear from you personally so write me at Enoch.Hill@gmail.com.

God Bless,

-Enoch Hill

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Merry Christmas

Dear friends and family,

It’s been a while and there are many stories I could tell since my last letter.

I could tell of Maria, a 4 year old girl who was kidnapped from her family on December 1st, I could tell you that when something like this happens in zone three, that actually nothing happens, there are still children smiling and playing in the street, the newspaper continues to print stories of soccer, and only a mother with a broken heart and a child who’s life will be forever affected will note the first of December 2005 as a day forever infamous.

I could tell of the second most commonly celebrated December birthday in Guatemala. How on December 7th, millions of fire crackers serenade thousands of bonfires while hundreds of devil piñatas are thrown in to celebrate his (the devil's) birthday by symbolically throwing him into hell.

I could tell you of the Christmas celebration held yesterday for 150 children from the colony called New Sunrise, made possible by a volunteer group from the States. I could tell of the excitement as many received the only tangible gift they will get this Christmas.

I could tell you of how the money came in for Lorena to buy her house in answer to prayer, thanks to some very generous people.

But it is not about these events that I wish to write today. Today I want to write about what’s been happening internally.

After a little over half a year in Guatemala and working adjacent to the dump, it’s hard not to realize that the fullfillment and happiness promised by the American dream is a sham. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to get back home to start renting a comfortable apartment North of Chicago, to have internet 24/7 as well as a hundred other luxuries you hardly notice until you go without, and I’m more excited than I was at 16 to have a car again and the luxury to decide when I come and go. But in the end, the ultimate and final prize the American Dream has to offer is money, and that’s it. Happiness and fulfillment are a completely separate issue. They say the best things in life come for free, they were a little off. The best two things in life cost more than money could ever buy. The first costs time the second costs life but it is true you don’t need a single cent in your pocket to take them home with you.

Just as it is not riches that keep you up, it’s not poverty that keeps you down. Poverty can and is being overcome daily. It’s broken families, abuse (verbal, sexual, and physical), drugs and gangs that keep people unhappy and hopeless, and I refer both to the rich and to the poor. If the dream of the 20th century was a second car in every garage, then the dream of the 21st should be a second parent in every home. The first thing that costs no money is the love of others and the currency for which it is paid for is time.

I am convinced that

neither poverty (though perhaps wealth) nor lack of education

neither infirmity nor inability to read and write

need separate a child from the love of a parent.

Furthermore I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God

That blessed love which came in the form of a man. The only man to hold true throughout his entire life, without sin. On the true Christmas day Christ took the first step towards what would be the most costly payment ever paid for anything in the history of the world. The death of a deity.

Through this payment the path was raised up or rather lowered sufficiently for us to be able to enter upon it. The path that leads to heaven and eternal life. Still, difficult it proves to accept, for to accept this gift one must give up trying to earn it for oneself. We must give up the façade we keep up so well primarily to protect ourselves from the reality that we cannot achieve perfection, communion with God, or much less true happiness, peace and satistfaction on our own. We need the payment of the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. He paid the penalty so we don’t have to. To us the gift is free but gifts cost the giver.

While physical poverty definitely exists and is an evil to overcome, I have learned that there are many types of poverty and physical poverty is neither the most evil nor the most widespread. Giving a man a fish or even teaching him to fish will not cure him from the wound his father left when his father left. And more importantly it will not cure him of our true emptiness and the lack of a purpose in life without God.

Merry Christmas

-Enoch Hill