Our visit at La Limonada was breath taking! Literally we were speechless not only because of the inhuman conditions but because of the pillars of hope that were established throughout.
First, a little information from the website for La Liminada (Lemondae International):
‘La Limonada is the largest urban slum in Guatemala City. Located in a large ravine, this shanty town is surprising in its beauty. In 1994, a Guatemalan woman named Tita Evertsz began volunteering her time in La Limonada (“The Lemonade”), even after her church leaders encouraged her to avoid the community due to its violent reputation. Her own past included drugs and an abusive relationship, so Tita could relate to the struggle of the people there. She would push her children in a stroller while carrying a pot of rice and beans to share with people in the community. Years of serving the community and witnessing cycles of poverty, drug abuse, violence, and death reaffirmed Tita’s conviction that she had to do more. Tita founded Vidas Plenas (“Fulfilled Lives”) in 2001 as a Guatemalan NGO, beginning with an academy providing quality education, healthy meals, training in nutrition and hygiene, sexual education, prevention programs, a spiritual safe haven, and plans to provide students with scholarships to attend formal schools in Guatemala City.”
Tita’s school and it’s various programs were the essence of light in darkness. I was amazed by how much respect she received from the residents and even those involved in illegal activities. There wasn’t a moment when she did not greet those we encountered on our tour of the village. She had so much compassion for her people. That doesn’t mean that it was easy for us to view the poor conditions — residences, infrastructure, and roads and walkways.
Before leaving we went to the hilltop of La Limonada to pray. At the mountain, we felt God’s presence beaming from the sunlight. Hope and light
Today the group worked with ADISA, the Association of Parents and Friends of People with Disabilities. We heard from the director of the school, Senor Pedro Mendoza. The theme of ADISA is unity. ADISA has been working since 1997 with families and friends of children with disabilities to provide better educational access to children with disabilities. Sr. Mendoza described the school’s efforts to prepare and integrate special needs children into public schools. In addition to education and awareness programs, students learn various crafts including making jewelry out of recycled items so that they have a trade and income.
Today was full of surprise from the rain to our devotional. We left from our home stays and headed to Santiago Atitlan. We all enjoyed the boat ride and were stunned by the various volcanoes as we approached Santiago. But the rain caught us by surprise and on arrival to our hotel, we dashed to the church for the Ash Wednesday ceremony.
There was a massive group, mostly Guatemalans and a few tourists, and us. During the ceremony, I felt the sun shown through the doors of the church. It came at the conclusion of the pastor’s sermon. He advised is to cleanse ourselves of our dull and outdated ways and to envision something meaningful with our lives, and for the world.
Our devotional that night brought about a time of cleansing. We were able to reflect on our time at La Limonada and Tita and with the Heart of the Women. But most of all we were able to vulnerable with one another by revealing our feelings about the trip so far.
Everyone wants to carry the experiences and memories of the wonderful people we have met. Through our reflection with one another we were cleansed.
After our team toured La Lemonada, we boarded the bus and traveled to Chimaltenango to spend some time with the Heart of the Women. Queens University of Charlotte has had a long relationship with this organization. This group of Mayan women have made a new life for their families after the devastating Civil War that forced many indigenous people to flee the countryside and seek refuge in urbam area. We were split up into groups to stay overnight with the families. I got to stay with Dora and her family and my stay with her was humbling and joyful. Dora has such a people friendly personality; she has the ability to be liked by everyone.
Dora shared her story with us but rather than focusing on the suffering her family experienced she spoke with a great deal of hope. Instead of being victim to La Volencia or trapped by the horrors of it, she chose to show her preserverance through it all. She shared her hope to receive an education and her presistence in that belief which led her to receive an education through CEDEPCA. So although she was denied an education as a child and lacked the funds to get one, God gave her the opportunity as an adult. Before then she worked to put her niece through school. In every home, there were similar experiences in that we were given insight into the courage and selflessness of the women.
We have had a huge shift in culture as we have eaten Guatemalan food but most of all we have entered the lives of the Guatemalans. Our first encounter was our attendance at a church service at Espiritu Santo. We were welcomed and prayed for. Can you believe that, can you believe that of all of their problems they still prayed for us?
After the service we socialized with the Guatemalans; we ate desserts, drank some of their amazing coffee, and even played basketball with the children. At that moment we were people to people and not “Gringos” and Guatemalans. At our devotional discussion our leader for the night, Crystal Artis, stressed the concept of forgiveness. This paralleled our perception during our welcome: that we had been forgiven.
Our visit to the main catholic cathedral was a very inspirational time; a time that whipped my voice away. The most striking exhibit was the inscription of names of those massacred during the civil wars of 1960-1996. These were some of the 250 thousand persons we had read about. But seeing the inscriptions on the pillars of the cathedral gates made it all the more real.
In light of these experiences and especially after watching the documentery: “Reparando,” we could dwell in the moment to reflect. In the present time we are able view the Guatemalans for what they really are: a forgiving, hopeful, and most of all people trying to transform their circumstances, their country. In other words, they are not “victims” or hostages of their situation. They are forgiving and with this forgiveness is their hope for a better life, a better Guatemala.
We will have the honor of meeting two advocates – Erwin Luna “Shorty” and Tita Evertsz – who are partners in a reformation project in the “La Limonada,” Guatemala’s largest urban slum. They set out to spread God’s love to that community and to help them help themselves. Shorty’s story is a story of transformation because of his acknowledgement of God’s unconditional love.
So as we move forward in our journey I hope that we can live in every “present” moment by spreading God’s love and learn from the hope and happiness of the Guatemalans.
Thank you for your ongoing support of our mission,
Queens Mission Team
This might be an extreme change of our normal conventions in that my team and I met at 3:30 am Saturday morning to start our journey. In light of our last Reading, Chapter 5 of An Altar in the World warns use to stray from our “cow path.” And we certainly have done so – not only are we starting our day at a strange time, but we will end the day in a strange place. But most important was our arrival in Guatemala.
When we arrived at the Guatemala City Airport I could feel the culture change in part due to hearing the Spanish language. We exited the facility and were greeted by the CEDEPCA team: coordinator Mr. Emerson Morales and Ms. Rachel Lee. We loaded our luggage onto our bus with the help of our driver, and we were off. Emerson planned to take use for dessert before heading to our hotel. Along the way he shared information about our surroundings and the sites we passed. He explained that eight families control the country and their roots can be traced back to Spain in the early 1800s. He also explained that Guatemala is divided into 22 departments (like counties), has only 2 private churches, and that the downtown área provids the city’s residents with inexpensive shoping outlets.
We arrived at the ice cream shop and were enjoyed our first Guatemalan treat. I got to experience my first banana Hawaina. When we arrived at our hotel we had two infromation sessions — one was a detailed overview of the country´s history (1492-1996) given by Pastor Héctor and the second was more about our interactions and activities of our misión given by Ms. Judith, who is also part of the CEDEPCA team. We closed the evening with a devotional centered on concentrating our presence in this journey.
P.S. I hope each individual of my group can gain a sense of fulfillment from our purpose here. It is stated in An Altar in the World: “The point is to find something that feeds your sense of purpose as as high” – Ms. Barbara Brown Taylor
Some of you may have heard that Pacaya has begun spewing again. Pacaya is one of the many volcanos in Guatemala. The group is absolutely fine!! I spoke with Emerson Morales this morning, the group leader from Cedepca. He laughed and said Pacaya does that all the time and it is not news at all in Guatemala. They are perfectly safe and far away from Pacaya right now anyway. He said to tell everyone that they all have had a wonderful few days. Feel free to call me anytime (704-724-7487) if you have any concerns. In the mean time, know your loved ones are safe and having a most incredible experience.
After sitting of the plane in Newark for almost 2 hours, we made it to Guatemala . This afternoon, Hector castenada spoke to us about Guatemala in context, and he helped us understand this complex country. Tomorrow we will go to church in the morning, have lunch, and then take some of the young women from Emerson’s youth group to a soccer game.
Everyone is happy to be here well fed, and loving the warm weather!
The group was pretty excited despite the crazy early time. Sorry for the quality of the picture — it was early for the drivers too
They will update as they can but be assured that they will have an amazing experience every minute of their time in Guatemala.
It has been quite a wait but just several days from now our group of nine will be on our way to Guatemala for an encounter of a lifetime. Initially, we will be staying in Guatemala City and visit Heart of the Women. Then we will leave to stay in the beautiful village of Santiago Atitlan where we work with a community organization and experience a home-stay. I can remember our last meeting like it was yesterday, being that it was. But we could not help but express our overwhelming excitement.
We gathered for the last session before our departure and discussed our logistics for the trip. Our inquiries created quite a circus. However the consensus was that we knew this would be an amazing experience. The class meetings, readings, and discussions have prepared us well and each of us has developledso much compassion for the Mayan. So now we can not wait to be “lost” in these moments; this may often be more literal than figurative.
As part of our academia we are required to complete devotional responses. In light of this our last chapter instructed us to trust the Lords’ guiding presence in every moment, particularly this moment. I can only hope that we will allow our hearts and minds to open to Gods will in our journey.
We are the Guatemala mission trip group of 2014 and we approve this message.