Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Violence Hits Closer to Home!

Guatemala is a beautiful country filled with lovely and friendly people.  It is also considered one of the most Christian countries in Latin America boasting an evangelical population of around 30-50% who attend one of the almost 20,000 churches present here. At the same time it is also one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world with anywhere from 17-20 murder per day. Gangs and drug cartels have overtaken large parts of the country and neighborhoods. There are parts of Guatemala City where even the police can not go into.  To make matters worse often the police and other government authorities can not be trusted and many have links to criminal organizations.  The slogan is more or less "if you can't fight them, join them".  The ones that can be trusted and want to make a difference often have their hands tied because of human rights laws protecting civilians and in a way criminals. To cap all of this off, the decades of civil war has created huge slums and settlements filled with people who are full of resentment. Resentment because of what happened to them during the civil war (being misplaced, losing their possessions and land, and seeing family members get killed or disappear) and resentment because of the lack of opportunities and services available to people living in slums. For many people their future appears bleak.  They do not have a vision for the future, because they can not see past their needs for today. This lack of vision and hopelessness become the arteries that feed the criminal organizations since they offer "opportunities" and short term solutions and hope to the desperate. Stories of extortion, gang violence, drug turf wars, murder, rape, femicide, etc are what fills the newspapers and airwaves each and every day. And while much of the violence is targeted innocent people often become victims. Missionaries also are not exempt because of the work we are doing here. It is not that God always spares us from the violence. Yesterday this became alarmingly clear as we heard of the shooting of a fellow missionary who lives in our neighborhood. While this missionary is in critical condition and we are praying that God will spare his life, we were all reminded again of the fact that this could happen to anyone of us. It hit very close to home and many of us felt a certain sense of fear. It is one of the realities of living in this country. Death constantly stares us in the face. All of us have seen more murders than we would care to recount. Some might ask, "why don't you leave?  Go back to North America where it is relatively safe"! The reason why we do not leave is because we feel we have the unique answer to many of the problems and that what we are doing is making a difference. Thankfully the answer and the making a difference is not from us since we are all failures in our own way. The answers lies in Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. This means that we must willing to give our life so that others may live. For this reason the Apostle Paul referring to striving to reach the lost and broken writes......
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" 
(2 Corinthian 4:16-18).

This is of course not an easy thing to do, and it is something we often struggle with. God created us to live and as human beings we cling to life. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to give our life so that others may live. Please pray for the safety of the missionaries in Guatemala and for them to be bold and courageous and not live in fear. Also pray for this missionary that God will not only spare his life, but heal him completely.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday morning at around 10:35 the ground shook all over the country of Guatemala and parts of Mexico as an earthquake with a magnitude 7.5 was triggered off the coast of Guatemala. While we were sitting in the AMG conference room having a meeting with the city school directors, the building started to sway from side to side. It started gently, but soon you could feel and see the building moving under our feet.  It last for over 30 seconds although it felt to last much longer.  Initially, we all stayed sitting thinking that it was just a powerful tremor, but as the intensity increased we got up and left the office. When the quake stopped all of us were on our phones calling home and then the projects to see if everyone was okay. We received word back from most of the projects that all was well except for some damage to things that fell off shelves and desks.  However, as we left the office yesterday, Orfa who is the AMG director of our camp Canaan in Chimaltenango said that her daughter in law lost several family members as the house they were in collapsed. Please pray for them during this time of grief and for those who were injured!
In the city there was some damage in some of the squatter settlements where houses are built in ravines and the quality of construction is not good.  West of the city, which was closer to the epicenter there was a lot more damage reported. So far the death toll is at around 50 and over 20 people are unaccounted for.  150 people were injured and 17,000-20,000 people have been affected. Although this is minor compared to the major quake of 1976 in which around 20,000 people lost their lives, many people (especially the ones who experienced the 1976 quake) have been affected not only materially but also psychologically. There were many incidents of people fainting and needing medical attention due to stress as the quake jolted back terrible memories. Pray for Guatemala and those affected! 
As I may have mentioned in a previous blog Guatemala is one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. The country is lined with fault lines and quakes are very common; there are numerous active volcanoes and dormant ones that dot the country; hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc each year causing widespread damage to homes and infrastructure because of flooding and mudslides. Also conditions in the country vary from lush, tropical coastal plains prone to flooding, to the cold highlands prone to mudslides, to hot, semi-arid prone to drought.   
Living in a country prone to natural disasters remind us that this earth is not our home and that we need to be prepared to meet the Lord at any moment. Please pray that during times like this people will turn to the Lord and look to Him for help and comfort and that the church will be ready to receive and disciple those who come seeking for answers and support. 

For pictures check out this link.