On a recent trip to Guatemala, I was reminded of how universal the love of a parent can be. I was visiting Hope of Life, and the ministry took me to the village of El Remolino – a poor community adjacent to a large municipal dump. While touring the village, I met a woman who really touched my heart. Her name was Olga Garcia, and she had two children – Monica, 4, and Jordy, 2.
Olga said she brings in income by gathering recyclables at the nearby dump and by doing other people’s laundry. “I grew up around the dump, so I didn’t have the chance to go to school,” she said. “But I will make sure my children will have a better life than me. Like my daughter, Monica. She is so smart. She was chosen to be flag bearer at the school. She says, ‘Mom, I want to be a teacher.’ She says this at such a young age. I am so proud of her.”
I thought of my own children and of the sacrifices that all parents make. Then I reminded myself that it’s a billion times tougher for parents born into poverty. I thanked Olga for her time, and said a quick prayer on her behalf.
On a recent mission trip to Guatemala, I had one of those experiences that hits you in the gut – the kind that’s so shocking it numbs the mind. While visiting Hope of Life in Zacapa, the ministry took us to the village of El Remolino – a community adjacent to a large municipal dump. Our guides at Hope of Life told us communities like this exist all over Guatemala. There, generations of children experience a life of foraging for garbage. It is the only life they have known, and the same has been true for their parents and grandparents. Unless the cycle of poverty can be broken, our ministry partner explained, it will be the life these children’s children will experience as well.
While walking through the area, I met a young boy digging earnestly in the garbage. He said his name was Roberto. He is 12 years old. He didn’t seem at all bothered by the pungent smell of garbage and smoke. I was, and I had to fight the urge to cover my nose and mouth. Instead, I breathed in the thick, dirty air, hoping I could grow accustomed to it.
I asked Roberto what he was looking for. “Stuff. Anything,” he said. I was amazed how methodical he was at digging through the trash. Roberto told me he had just gotten out of school. I wondered how long he would remain in class. Due to sickness and the hard work, most find it difficult to stay in school. I wondered if Roberto would live The Trash Life or escape it.
I said a quick prayer for the boy and reminded myself that I could play a role in helping him. We all can. That is the mission of Cross – to empower ministry leaders serving in these areas and to help children like Roberto find new hope.
In the Diocese of Zacapa in Guatemala, Father Francisco Murcia dedicated the home of Marina Mendez and her daughters. Before moving into her new home, Marina and her daughters were crammed into a crumbling one-room mud and stick shack with other relatives. Through the kindness of Cross Catholic Outreach supporters and the ministry of the Diocese of Zacapa and local housing provider Esperanza de Vida, Marina and her children moved into the this sturdy concrete home. Their new house has two bedrooms, a living room, a lockable door and windows. As depicted in the photo, each home provided by the diocese is dedicated to the Lord by the parish priest and every family is given a new Bible. These homes represent a fresh start in life and are a tangible reminder of God’s mercy and love.
Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
We’d been traveling from house to house in rural Guatemala, meeting beneficiaries of a community-wide water project, when we met Sebastian Set. This young father, along with his wife and four children, beamed with joy and gratitude as they sat with us in their home and talked about how their lives were changing.
Thanks to Cross Catholic’s partnership with the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, this poor family had received a durable, concrete house along with a sanitary latrine and a home water tap — things that were once unattainable to them. But there was a problem.
Guatemalan water systems typically only run on certain days of the week. When the water is running, the families have to store some for later use. Blue, 55-gallon storage barrels are a ubiquitous presence among the water taps in Sebastian’s farming community. However, when we arrived at his home, there was no such barrel in sight. We learned that Sebastian’s income was so small, he didn’t even have $30 to buy a barrel.
The idea that $30 was getting in the way of this family’s need for clean water was especially distressing since Sebastian had been a village crew leader during the ditch digging phase of the project. Sebastian had encouraged his neighbors to work hard, telling them this opportunity was from God.
As Sebastian spoke, my colleague and I exchanged concerned glances. We agreed, then and there, that we couldn’t leave Sebastian’s house without solving this issue. This was our chance to be Christ’s hands and feet of mercy.
When we broke the news to the family that they would get their storage barrel, they were overjoyed. With this $30 item, they can finally take full advantage of the new water system they worked so hard to help install! To God be the glory for connecting us with Sebastian and his family so that this simple but urgent need could be met!
In January, my family achieved a life goal. We bought our first house.
After months of web searches and house-of-horror viewings, the century-old, brick house seemed to descend out of the mists of paradise. Sized right and priced right for raising our four children, it felt like a miracle.Two weeks after moving into this dream home, I flew to Guatemala to meet other families who were moving into dream homes of their own – and it was a reality check to be sure. My journey from renter to homeowner hadn’t been half as revolutionary as the transition these families’ were experiencing by moving from dirt-floor shacks to permanent cement-block houses with durable walls and solid foundations. I had admired the well-maintained hardwood floors of our new house.
These families were grateful to have a floor at all. I had geeked out over my keyless entry locks. They took comfort in owning a lockable door for the first time in their lives. I had celebrated the convenience of three full bathrooms. They were content to receive a detached latrine as an alternative to relieving themselves in the bush. While it gave me peace-of-mind to hear my roof had recently been redone, they were thrilled to be able to sleep through rainstorms without waking up soaked to the bone. It was humbling to watch as they rejoiced over the miracle of having a water tap at their homes — a blessing they thought they’d never see in their lifetimes. It was also inspiring to hear them talk joyfully about community spirit, better relationships with neighbors, the power of prayer, and a profound sense of gratitude for the work of our ministry partner, the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.
When you walk among the people the diocese has touched, you feel their renewed energy — the sense that positive changes are just beginning.Yes, God has answered the prayers of these precious people — and you and I got to be a part of it! Thanks to everyone who made this life-changing work possible by supporting our “Restoring Hope” campaign. Your gift has made a profound difference in the lives of the poor.
When we dropped in on the children eating lunch at the Misioneros del Camino orphanage in Guatemala, we captured a precious moment: a 1-and-half year old in a highchair reaching for the hand of the child in the highchair beside her.
The child on the left is Azucena, a girl who was brought to the home after her mother disappeared. The other is Katherine, a child with a rare genetic disorder called Hunter syndrome. Though Katherine looked about the same size as Azucena, she was actually 4 years old.
Katherine’s disability, which included being born with her vertebrae fused together, had been intensified by severe neglect. At Misioneros del Camino, which receives nutritional support from Cross Catholic Outreach, she is getting lots of love…especially from her best friend, Azucena. We were told that the girls are their own best therapy. And from the look of it, they certainly seemed inseparable. The smiling Azucena just kept reaching for Katherine, while Katherine, who had previously appeared morose, now glowed with delight at the attention.
It’s the little moments such as this that reveal the true health of a program. Children are mirror images of what is really going on behind closed doors. When you see joy, kindness and contentment in the faces of children rescued from situations of terrible brokenness, you know they have found a good home.
Christ is present at Misioneros Del Camino, and every touch, every hug, every twinkling eye radiates his mercy.
Majestic mountains lined our views on the bumpy trek back to the mission grounds after a long day in the field. The sky created a peach-blue haze around the peaks, like a watercolor painting hanging over the isolated villages in Zacapa.
I suppose there’s a juxtaposition there. I was taken aback by the beauty of the landscape after hours in the dense Guatemalan heat rescuing malnourished babies, transporting them to Esperanza de Vida’s nutrition center for care and saving them from the ill fate that awaited them had we not made it in time.
God’s creation had a restored significance under the emotional burden of child rescues. Suddenly, overlooked scenery became art to be appreciated — and the mountains against the sun were breathtaking. They were the backdrop while listening to Carlos Vargas, Director of Esperanza de Vida, recount his first rescue 25 years ago. The rescue that launched this life-changing ministry.
“I was looking for an old man when I heard a baby crying and we went to see,” Carlos said. “The mother had killed her oldest son and left Jose to die. She had mental problems. Jose was a year and a half old, eating rotten beans from a bowl and sitting on the floor. The beans had a layer of foam over them and smelled horrible,” Carlos described. “He cried all the way to the hospital, and in his eyes, God spoke to me. I’m not an emotional fanatic, but I believe that is how God speaks to me – through children. Little babies. I believe that’s the way God talks to me.”
Carlos has a very matter-of-fact personality. He tells it like it is and stands by his convictions, “I can’t tell you I’ve had a dream and God told me this and that. No. I’ve always had my feet on the ground. I think it would scare me to death to hear a voice from heaven.” Yet, Carlos had the faith to recognize Christ’s voice in Jose’s cries.
Carlos adopted Jose. Now, at 25, Jose the first rescue in Zacapa is a rescuer alongside his father, saving starving children from the same mountains he was pulled out of. A full-circle miracle.
I was so moved by this story for various reasons. Mainly, the detail in Christ’s call. We serve a God that not only knows who we are enough to tailor his voice to the ways in which we would hear him, but a God who knows what we can be and addresses us accordingly.
God’s unique call sprung Carlos into action and into a commitment to serve the poor in his country. It was a checkpoint for my personal walk with Christ and my purpose as a believer. What is he saying? How is he saying it? And am I listening?
I make sure to look for him, to listen for him, in the small things. In the lyrics of a song, the fog right before the rain, the gentle smile on a stranger’s face or the open opportunities to be a light in the darkness of someone’s life. The details are so important that I find myself in awe of his presence everywhere.
I’m still new to South Florida, and the ocean is my favorite poem authored by him. Grandeur and simplicity wrapped in one element; he’s so creative. My amazement turns into praise and it continually shapes and molds my faithfulness.
I guess it’s easy to feel compelled after facing the life or death of an innocent infant in a poverty-stricken, forgotten society in the mountains of a developing country. But purpose can get lost in the shuffle when we come back to the office, back to our routines and the return to first world problems.
“I believe many times we get to a place where we can’t find or see a solution. We need someone to take us by the hand and help us,” Carlos said. “That’s how we hear God’s voice, through people saying ‘help me’.”
I remember this and know that God is always talking; I just have to keep listening.
Last month, Fr. Raúl Monterroso and Bishop Bernabé Sagastume of Santa Rosa, Guatemala came to visit us at the Cross Catholic offices. It was more than a “thank you” for our support of their ministry. It was a cordial and fraternal gathering intended to encourage unity. The highlight was when Bishop Sagastume gave a morning devotion to the entire Cross staff. He presented it in his native Spanish, with an English translator.
The devotion, “God Loves Cheerful Giver”, was powerful in any language, but it was particularly moving to our Spanish-speaking staff members. Some were brought to tears. Not being fluent in Spanish, I asked a Hispanic friend to explain why the reaction had been so strong. She said, “I heard the devotion in both languages, but it meant so much more to me in Spanish. I felt it all the way in my gut.”
I thought back to the translated words of Bishop Sagastume, and I remember how he spoke so eloquently of the power of charity and of how it is truly the essence of the Church. I also remembered that my Hispanic friend pointed out that the word “charity” in Spanish – caridad – also means “mercy” or “grace”. Caridad is a very active word in Spanish, she said. It is a beautiful word – a Christian word.
Suddenly I understood why there were so many glistening eyes in the room when Bishop Sagastume spoke of how beautiful it is to be a Christian. “It is not a burden,” he said. No es una carga. “It is like having wings.” Sino que son alas.
That image is beautiful and inspiring in any language. It speaks of how what we do as Christians – devoting ourselves to acts of charity – is never limiting. Rather, it sets us free.
Cross Catholic Outreach’s Vitafood shipments can’t come too soon for Sr. Irma Davila. She and her fellow Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption are being stretched to feed 1,000 poor people per day, six days a week, in Mixco, Guatemala. She’s already distributed a supply of dried fruits received from Cross, and now she’s looking forward to receiving the nutrient-enriched rice packets.
Here’s why this outreach is so important…
Last week on Tuesday, droves of hungry children lined up to be fed, but there was nothing to give them but donated cake and some pastries – a terrible choice in terms of nutritional value, but necessary to fill empty stomachs. The humble program relies mostly on donations of surplus or expiring food from local restaurants and businesses, and as beggars, they can’t be choosers.
While the kids didn’t seem to mind eating dessert for lunch, Sr. Irma is concerned by the shortage of more nutritional foods. As a parent, I can’t imagine not knowing from one day to the next whether there will be anything nutritious to feed my children.
God willing, our Vitafood meals will be on their way to Sr. Irma very soon, and she will be able to give the children in her care the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Please remember her the next time you grocery shop for your family – and use the moment to pray on her behalf. Pray too for Cross as we strive to help dedicated missionaries like the Sisters of the Little Apostles of Redemption be a force for positive change in their struggling communities.