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