Tuesday, May 17, 2016

"Our lives do not have a price"

This line escapes the lips of our translator, Sofia, as she reconstructs what Ana Sandoval describes to us. Ana is a university student who is entangled in the protests at La Puya, a paradise which is plagued by the greed of an American mining company. The company, originally has been mining in La Puya for several years, with nary an attempt to consult the locals. In 2012, research began to show the true result of the mining: it is destroying La Puya. The process conducted to extract gold and silver from the land destroys the earth, uproots trees, and releases poisonous arsenic into the water supply. The company has also been involved in governmental corruption. They have created false reports; slandered the people of La Puya, calling them terrorists; and falsely accused the local people of death threats towards their company. This last point is especially biting: those accused are often held without trial for indeterminate lengths of time while the claims (which have absolutely no basis in fact) are continuously held up in court. All of this violence, all of this ecological destruction, all for money. But the people of La Puya, ever vigilant, will never let up on their 24-hour, around the clock blockade. They have been attacked, teargassed, and thrown in jail, but these people do not give in. "Our lives do not have a price".

"If you have a goal set, nobody can change that"

In our next meeting with students of the CEDEPCA seminary, goals become a constant conversation. One student, near graduation, wishes to be a minister. Another tells of how seminary at a previous school failed her - it did not show her the God she has always seen. The third speaks of her relationship with her husband strengthening and changing as they work through CEDEPCA coursework together. These people have true hope, and it is certainly possible to see why. CEDEPCA is (although I am most certainly biased) one of the most hopeful places in Guatemala. They teach about  God as wonderful, spreading love to all people of this world. They believe that there is no barrier for God's love except the speed at which a human may work. Finally, CEDEPCA teaches of social justice and human rights. In many of the numerous theological schools in Guatemala, a woman's place is the home, and only the home. In the eyes of those who teach at these schools, the Bible is the literal translation of the word of God, and salvation is found by following each verse exactly, and to the letter, as it is written. The students in this meeting drive home continuously that fundamentalism is rampant in Guatemala. I asked the students what they may have done, had they not found CEDEPCA. One of the students told me that it is likely he would have become a preacher still, but one that follows the principles of a fundamentalist church. However, his current goal is to become a minister that tells of a God that appreciates the work of women and men, of a God that considers all people as children. His goal is noble, and he believes CEDEPCA has brought him halfway there. "If you have a goal set, nobody can change that".

"Get into groups, and talk together"

In our meeting on the Women's Ministry of CEDEPCA, we repeatedly got into pairs to discuss the rights of women. We discussed numerous types of violence against women: physical, emotional, sexual, economic, and even theological. I learn many times over that violence against women is constant in Guatemala, in these many forms. We discussed machismo culture, prevalent in many Central American countries, especially Guatemala. Women are tied to the home, are told that school is unnecessary, and even convinced that their worth as people is tied to their fertility. In talking about how to represent the rights of women to the people, our conversation almost inevitably turned to men. How do we show men that their mothers, wives, friends, and simply fellow human beings have inherent worth? All of these problems are nigh impossible to grasp, but there is traction growing to turn the culture around. How do we do it? "Get into groups, and talk together".

"$50 will provide clean water for two years"

Disaster ministry was a short class, but one which stuck with me. I had sat with the speaker, Luis, at lunch, and talked to him shortly about his ministry. I didn't want him to waste all of his potential talking points on me, so I didn't push it, but it was in his presentation that real passion showed. He, like all of the people at CEDEPCA, care about their country. This beautiful country, plagued by earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes is their lifeblood, and they will do anything to save it. The disaster ministry exemplifies this especially, by travelling to affected areas to do anything possible that might save just one life. "$50 will provide clean water for two years".

"Our lives do not have a price"


Our last event of the day was to visit a small youth group in Guatemala city. We were late, due to traffic, and exhausted due to our long day learning at CEDEPCA. But these young women and men looked at us with bright eyes and smiles as we took our seats. They were so happy, and the energy in the room was infectious. In a team building exercise, we built small houses together out of newspaper and tape. The room was filled with joyous laughter, and frantic speaking as teams competed to create the best house. We do not share a language, but the human experience does not care for language. I must say, I was awful at folding newspaper. The team I was with had deft and powerful fingers, folding the paper into strong bars to support our house. Near the end of the building process, I was attempting to communicate with a young man (I later learned his name was Christian). He put a newspaper bar in the center of the current box that is our house, as if it were a triangular struct, and shakes his head at me, smiling. There was no language, and we were looking like we were going to lose the contest, but Christian took the time to make an architecture joke. It was small yes, and nobody saw it but me and him. However, as small of a moment that was, I connected with Christian. I didn't feel that I was teaching him, or that he was teaching me, but that we were just two people. We were one and the same people, sticking newspaper together with tape. We laughed together, and I felt a connection that I hope to never forget. These youth are surrounded by gang violence, and drug trafficking, but I feel that if Christian is any any indication, they have a true chance to make something great of Guatemala. Actually no, scratch that. We have a chance.

P.S. My team actually won, and had the best house. I gave Christian a high-five, and that may be the last I ever saw of a man who has changed my life.

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