My last adventure of high school was an adventure to Guatemala. In all honesty, I can’t possibly describe to you every detail as much as I wish I could. I’ve been very blessed with opportunities to travel but this was by far the best trip I’ve ever been on. I can’t pinpoint the exact reason it was so great but I’ll try and give some examples.
If you don’t know anything about Guatemala, it is a tiny little country about the size of Tennessee nestled in between Mexico, Belize and Honduras in that forgotten strip of land called Central America. Guatemala has a democratic form of government and just elected a new present in 2012. Guatemala City is home to around 4 million of the total 12 million people that live in the country. Guatemala City is surrounded by rolling hills and 3 volcanoes so no matter where you go, it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, the majority of the beauty ends with the geography. It’s estimated that over 64% of the country lives in poverty and at least 30% of those people suffer from extreme poverty. Another horrific statistic is the literacy rate of the country. It is difficult to define literacy and track it closely but about 50% of the population of people over 15 cannot read or write. To put it in perspective, let me tell you about Sah-ool.
Saul (Sah-ool) is a 14 year old who lives in La Primavera (Pre-mah-vehr-uh), one of the small towns where the Briggs have a feeding center. I had the pleasure of playing some Guatemalan futbol (fewt-bowl) with Sah-ool and many other older kids during my time there. I really liked Sah-ool because he was the only one of the teenage guys who did not come up to me and say “AYYY RUBIAA! QUE BLANCA!” (eye! Roo-bee-uh! kay blahn-kah!) which translates more or less to WHOAA A BLONDIE! YOU’RE SUPER WHITE! So, he had a new level of respect from me. One day the kids were doing a craft to go along with the bible lesson and the older guys walked in. To my surprise, the older ones were actually really interested in the craft. They grabbed some supplies and made their own little group to work on the craft. I didn’t want to creep them out with my HUGE smile after seeing that happen so I walked around helping the other little kiddos. After a couple minutes I get a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Sah-ool holding his finished craft and a marker. He said hey and handed me the marker. I thought that was the extent of the exchange but then he stepped closer to me, held out his craft, and asked me to write his name on I because he didn’t know how.
He is 14. I kept myself composed but on the inside I was shocked. I think that was the moment that the need of Guatemala was made real in my mind. Sah-ool had never been to school, couldn’t read, couldn’t even write his 4 letter name. If a person does have the chance to go to school the average time he will receive an education is 3.5 years. Some people can’t afford the bus fare to get to a public school, can’t pay for a nearby private school, have to find a job to support their family or in Sah-ool’s case, stay at home to take care of younger siblings, older extended family and simultaneously make money to provide food for them. Luckily, La Primavera has the Briggs who not only planted a feeding center but a building that offers church on Sunday, kid-oriented church time twice a week and even a learning to read program. Also, in process of construction now is the vocational school. This reading program is a class for 3-6 year olds mostly to start their education while they’re young. They will have a head start and hopefully be more successful in the Guatemalan schools that are often not so great. After days of begging, meeting with the teacher and showing sincere want to the Briggs, Sah-ool has been granted permission to go to the Learning to Read program. He’s going to be the oldest, tallest, farthest behind and probably the most excited one to be in that class.
Hopefully he stays in the class and is able to learn the skills he needs to get a good job. Most kids his age are not given an education. When a boy turns 13 he usually gets a machete because he is a man now and must go to work in the banana fields. If a boy is really lucky he will work his way up to having a construction job which is often one of the most highly paying jobs. In construction it’s possible to make about 300 quetzales (keht-zahl-es) for a week of work. Doesn’t sound bad right? Wrong. That’s a 10-12 hour day, 7 days a week and the equivalent of almost 40 US dollars. Another common job is cutting weeds alongside the major roads or at people’s houses in the city. Weeding isn’t anyone’s first choice, not even in the states but at least we have weed-eaters and machinery to help us. A Guatemalan weed eater you ask? The machete. Just like the people in My Big Fat Greek Wedding used Windex for everything, I think Guatemalans believe you can do anything with a machete.
Another important part of what Hearts For Heaven does is provide jobs. For the construction of their facilities, they try to hire locals to do any work they can. When I went to Guatemala I assumed I would get stuck doing some sort of construction work on the vocational school but when I got there, there was already a team of locals going at it. That was a good decision for many reasons, they would be able to help their community, (a desire many of them have) as well as get a little income. Plus, they actually know what they are doing as opposed to me. I just know how to paint. The feeding program itself is run by local people as well. All the cooks in the feeding centers, directors of church programs and any maintenance people are all from that area. The Briggs have also created a true sense of community in La Primavera as well as other places they visit like San Antonio Buena Vista (veesta) and La Estancia (eh-stahn-see-uh). In these other towns there might not be opportunities to employ people but they still give them an important-resource. Hearts for Heaven teamed up with an organization called Wine to Water which provides ways to purify water. Now at all the feeding centers and many of the churches Hearts for Heaven supports, there are large water filtration systems in place. This means that in order for the people in these towns to receive water, they must bring their gallon buckets or plastic containers to the church and fill them up. This makes the church the center of the community and forces everyone to hear about the activities that take place there. For many, it breaks down barriers and makes them feel comfortable about going to church or proves to them that the church is a trustworthy place.
Another thing that is so incredible about Hearts for Heaven is that the ministries they do have no limits. Their work does not just take place at the feeding centers or just in buildings or even just in Guatemala. The organization provides Sunday school materials for about 75 churches in Guatemala as well as Mexico, leads conferences to teach people how to effectively teach others about the word of God and also takes the time to serve people on a personal level. One of the first things I did when I arrived in the town of La Primavera was go on a home visit with a family from Ohio. To get to the home we had to hike up a mountain on a tiny little dirt road with potholes and sewage running down the middle. The little tin house we went to was the home of a grandmother and 7 grandchildren, 2 of which the family sponsors. As soon as we arrived the grandmother sent all the kids to find chairs for us. They managed to scrounge up 3 little plastic stools that we had to sit on outside on a little rocky path to the door because there’s no way that we would all fit inside. The family from Ohio did not know any Spanish past “Hola!” so it was my job to translate. The father of the Ohio family, Brad had been to Guatemala many times and had even been there earlier this year so he had many follow-up questions. Right away Brad told me to ask about a wall. I of course had no idea what he was talking about but thank goodness the family did. After talking a bit I finally got some further explanation on this wall. It was a big stone wall that was behind their house on the steep hill. Before the wall was in existence, the heavy rains during summer would wash away their house, making all their belongings slide down the hill into another person’s house and the chain would continue and continue until the last person’s house was pushed to the very bottom of the valley. In order to stop the horrible destruction or at minimum slow it down, the family saved every cent it could to construct this wall. When it was originally built it was about 10 feet long and 4 feet high and sat right behind the house. Now, after half of the rainy season, the wall is closer to 8 feet long and at least 7 feet below the house on the hill. Brad asked if it was sliding more and the grandmother replied with a content “no”. It hasn’t moved since April when he was last there. The grandmother says the prayers of the USA folk stopped it from sliding.
I believe her. I bet Brad and his family prayed nonstop for that family and the new wall after the first one came down. A couple years ago one of the family members built a wall by himself. It seemed sturdy enough but later when he was making it taller, the stones came down on him and ended his life. After that wall crumbled down, they were desperate for help. This is when Hearts for Heaven stepped in and this is why a new wall is there, intact, standing strong today. The second big topic Brad brought up was the children’s hands. Again, having no clue what he was talking about I asked how the kids were doing and if I could see their hands. Immediately I had 14 little hands right in my face, all covered in warts. Yeah it was kind of gross but that wasn’t my first thought. My initial thought was how simple it is to get rid of warts in the states. You just drive over to the CVS and get a little box of stuff to freeze them off or worst case you go to the doctor. These people have neither of those options. They didn’t even know there was a solution besides sitting and watching, hoping they’d go away. Brad just replied, “That’s what I thought” and proceeded to pull out 7 boxes of wart removal packs from his bag. He brought one for each kid and handed them to the grandmother. We spent the next 10 minutes or so explaining the packs to the family like how it actually works, how to do it, how often do use it. Etc.
That was one of at least 40 home visits I went on that week. The other 12 people from Ohio were divided up in groups as well that went out to visit homes so I can’t even imagine how many families received a personal visit that week. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that we went to over 90 homes, laid our hands on and prayed for over 200 people and passed out over 100 bags of rice and beans on these home visits. That’s what Corazones para el Cielo (Core-uh-sohn-es Par-uh el See-eh-low) better known to us as Hearts for Heaven does. It doesn’t just do work in Guatemala. It doesn’t just feed children a couple times a week. It doesn’t just aim for children’s ministry. It is an avenue to Christian outreach in Guatemala and Mexico with side streets in the making that will bring opportunities and the hope of Christ to all of Central America.
I am so impressed by the amount of projects going on within Hearts for Heaven and the immense success of all of them. In the 10 days I was there, I saw the giving of bible lessons, prayer, food, water, clothes, education, jobs, toys, child sponsorships and glory to God for all of those things. I also saw a youth group program begin in La Primavera. I saw the unemployed learning new trades to get back in the work force. I saw poverty, starvation, sickness, broken families, broken hearts, mothers younger than me, houses built from 4 pieces of corrugated tin, kids my age being internally torn by the threats of gangs, beggars, the debris of the houses that had been pushed down to the bottom of the hill, happy tears, sad tears, nonbelievers invite Christ into their hearts, adults renew their faith, and people clinging to their faith amidst their severe hardships.
I saw God working in every part of the ministry there. Without Him, how did I not get sick from drinking the tap water? Without His presence how did any of us sleep at night after seeing such desperate, hurting people? Without His hand controlling it all how did the Briggs find these little towns hidden in between mountains and a road to get there? Hearts for Heaven is such a special ministry. It provides help on a big scale, to many people as well as gives on a smaller scale with prayers in the street and home visits. It doesn’t limit itself to one project or one town. Hearts for Heaven is full of people who want their hearts and the hearts of everyone else to focus on things above. Hearts for Heaven’s most important employee is God and because of that, it is able to accomplish things that are God sized. Hearts for Heaven is not limited to earthly capabilities and stateside funding because it is backed in full by the Lord on High.
I always thought the Briggs were lovely people and their ministry did great things but now I really understand what true serving looks like. If any of you are looking to be involved in a ministry in any capacity, Hearts for Heaven is my recommendation. If you have spare change that is weighing your pocket down, I would encourage you to give it to Hearts for Heaven. I would also request that you pray for this ministry- that it would continue to do God’s work, in His way, to fill the hearts of these people with His love so that no matter what happens in their earthly lives, they would be able to join us in Heaven where there is no hurt, suffering, hunger, poverty, injustice or language barriers.
Thank you so much for listening and if you ever want to hear more, I have endless stories. You can email me; call me, anything. I so wish I could be there with you all, telling you all about it but God probably planned it this way since I’m a girl and would talk to fast from excitement or end up getting emotional. HE really does know best. Also, thank you for praying for these people, I cannot express to you the great need of our Central American neighbors.
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