And then we had a run-in with gangs…

Remember that numbness I said I was feeling about everything? It’s gone. Everything is coming to me clearer than it was even while I was there. It took seeing the Kony 2012 video to break it free, but now that it has, my heart is on fire. Because along with releasing those feelings that my heart locked away, it’s made me realize what I think it is that my calling in life might be. Because right now, I am on fire.

If you don’t know who Joseph Kony is, don’t know what Kony 2012 is about, and haven’t seen that video yet, click the link above and watch it. If you do know and have seen it, then its highly likely you understand why it is that this broke my heart free.

But this post isn’t really about Kony, or about what I’m being called to do. That will be saved for another time. No, this post is about the first piece of sharing from my Guatemala trip, and part of the story as to why I think I know what it is that my calling is.

I’m not sure how many of you know this, but Guatemala City ranks in the top 15 most dangerous cities in the world. This is because the city is overrun with gang violence, druglords and corrupt police and politicians. It’s quite common to hear gunshots fired off throughout the day and into the night. All houses have bars on the windows, and barbed wire or razor-wire lining the tops of the walls that surround their homes. If the occupants are too poor to afford either, they cement broken glass bottles to the top. Common shops such as convenience stores are often behind bars, with a window for people to order what they want and pay for it. The majority of shops, mechanics, gas stations, grocery stores and pretty much every restaurant or other type of store you can think of are protected by armed guards situated outside during all operating hours. Guards holding shot-guns, machine guns and AK-47’s.

Last year, during our church’s mission trip, the team met a boy at the church they were building whose parents had been casualties of a gang shoot-out on their street only a week before the team’s arrival.

This year, something happened on our trip that will stick with me until the day that I die, and it is what made me realize that I really need to step up and do something.

On the Thursday that we were there, the missionaries we were staying with (the Aragons) decided that we would do some relief work rather than our regular ministry, and put two stops on our schedule. The first stop would be life changing for me. It was a small church/parsonage out in the mountains just below one of the volcanoes. The drive was an hour and a half and we were filled in on the story as we drove.

Two years ago, the volcano erupted, and large ‘splashes’ of lava landed on the tin roof of the church, melting it. The Aragons heard about it, and took a mission team out to repair the damage done. While they were there, they noticed the pastor’s oldest son walking around holding a bag —  a bag containing his intestines. Upon inquiry they found out he had been shot by a gang, and while he had been to the hospital, they did not have the technology and the family could not come up with the finances for the operation necessary to put his intestines back in. They also do not have proper medical bags, and so the teen was carrying his intestines around in a regular shopping bag.

Moved by this story, the Aragons raised the money necessary to put the teen through surgery at a private clinic. After the procedure, they found out that the teen was actually involved in a gang, and that was the reason he had been shot. One of the nurses told them that once the operation was over, before he was even out of the hospital, he had started making drug deals and getting on with the gangs again. This was in the fall.

In early January, the gang came to the parsonage. Why, they didn’t really know. Could have been he owed them money. Could have been a rival gang. Could have simply been that he pissed off the wrong person. The reason didn’t really matter, because they were there for blood. That night, they shot and killed the teen (who was 17) and his 16 year old brother, then shot their 15 year old sister three times. Though still alive, the sister still has two bullets in her; one in her jaw, one in her shoulder, and a broken wrist. Currently, the hospital does not have X-ray equipment and the family cannot afford to send her to a private clinic, so she has simply remained injured. Their 14 year old and 10 year old sons were unharmed, though we don’t know if they were even there that night.

It was one thing to hear about it. As devastating as it was, it didn’t really hit home. They didn’t tell us what our ‘relief work’ would be with this family until we arrived. The pastor and his wife came out to greet us, and the moment his wife saw the Aragons, she broke out crying and wailing. I had never heard a sound more full of heartbreak in my life, and I felt my own heart shattering as I heard it. That was when we were told, our job, was to go inside the church and pray with them.

I’m not going to lie, when we were first told that, my initial response was “That’s it?” I felt like it wouldn’t be enough… but then again, what would be enough to do for a family who had just lost two sons and had a daughter who had barely survived?

We gathered inside and I found myself already struggling to keep the tears back. We started praying, and their 14 year old son came and joined us, and he too started crying. Not the wails that his mother was making, but he was sobbing loud and hard enough that he came close to hyperventilating… and I broke. I couldn’t focus on praying anymore as I stood there sobbing with them, my heart never feeling more broken.

Words really cannot describe the pain in the mother’s voice. Even now, as I think back to it, I cannot think of words… and it is hard just to think on it.

And then, my heart went out to their daughter, and I began to cry even harder. I began to think about how I would feel — how having such injuries that would be scarring and permanent would make me feel about myself. I started thinking about how devestating it must be to have witnessed the death of both her brothers, and how, were I in her shoes, I know I would be tormenting myself with wondering why, why couldn’t I have died instead of them and why I was the only one who survived.

And in that moment, I cried because never in my life had I wanted more to do something for someone, to encourage her, to help her, to do something, but I had no idea what I could possibly do or what difference I could possibly make.

We did not get to meet her while there, but she has stuck with me in my heart ever since.

The reality of life down there is harsh — it’s harder than anything I could have ever imagined. The biggest contributing factor to the violence and crime in Guatemala is the lack of education. There is a 48% illiteracy rate, and most children, if they are lucky enough to receive any education at all, do not make it past the third grade before they are pulled out to work.

I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I’m going to find out what I can do to help this girl. And then I’m going to find a way to start helping more kids. To try and find a way to help them see that they have options, that there is a choice outside of poverty and gangs. Even if I never directly get to help or speak to this girl, I hope that one day I will be able to let her know that she changed my life.

You leave on a trip like this thinking that you’re going down there to change lives. And maybe, maybe you do. I’m struggling right now with whether or not I had any impact. But I do know one thing for sure, it changed me. And that makes everything worth it.

5 thoughts on “And then we had a run-in with gangs…

  1. That is a touching story. When you figure out what your next move is, I want to help you. I write for a multi-author blog with a sizable readership, so if you need help in getting the word out, send me an email.

  2. I believe you had a tremendous impact on the mother and son. You may not have seen it but your crying like you did showed God's love and compassion. Your tears were tears crying out to God and they touched an area much deeper than words were able to. You were interceding for them at such a deep….deeper than you even could explain. God turned you into an intercessor at that moment with your tears and heart. Sometimes words cannot even begin to cover what our hearts are feeling and the only thing we (I) can do is cry. What you did that day had everlasting effects in the spirit for them.
    Mission trips almost always end up changing the person that has gone on them. I am happy that you got a chance to go. I know a couple personally who have gone there….she's a nurse and has been there many times and her new husband went down with her a year ago. He's a very good friend of mine. When they went down they helped in building a school, hospital.
    I will be keeping you in prayer sweet Tabitha. You have such a precious spirit and loving heart. Here's a virtual hug as you too far away for a physical one. If I ever come to Orangeville or area I would love to meet up with you or if you ever travel down my way…..from Betty Catto

  3. Amazing story, it is so easy for people to forget how lucky they are, and that there are places in the world were truly horrendous things are happening on a daily basis. The fact that you have already done something to help them, and are now trying to spread the word, is a… noble, inspiring, respectful, remarkable… well done is basically what I am trying to say.

  4. I'm glad that you were able to finally settle into this story. It is one that will stay with you, I'm sure, for life. It was important to be able to work it around and put words to what you were feeling.

    Many hugs,
    Lor

  5. Tabs,

    This is one of my favorite posts from you. Honest, raw, and heartbreaking. I find it difficult to empathize with people that I have never met, and yet my heart breaks to read about the anguish of these families. You are such a good person for traveling to the country to work with them – even something as small as kneeling with the family members in prayer can do wonders for their family. They are experiencing such a great deal of grief, and seeing your kindness in action will make a difference in their lives.

    You are going to do great things. I believe I have mentioned this in a previous comment, Tweet, or Facebook comment…but there is no doubt in my mind that you will change the world. And when you do, it will be an honor to follow you and witness it as it happens.

    ~Shane

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