“You do not know what hope is, until you have lost it. You only know what it is not to hope.” T.S. Eliot, Family Reunion
I know what it is not to hope.
|The Guatemala City garbage dump, where hundreds work
each day to support their families.
Six years ago I came to Guatemala at the end of my semester abroad in Central America. After three months of visiting garbage dumps, hearing rants on U.S. involvement in dictatorial coups throughout Central America, and basically having my entire Christian belief system come crashing down, I was numb and tired. Tired of hearing of injustice. Tired of trying to care.
From the airport in Guatemala City we drove to Seteca, the theological seminary where we would be staying until we separated out again into different groups for a week long work project. We’d barely had time so to set our bags down and sit down before our professor began yet another belligerent, and yet no longer shocking, tirade about U.S. involvement in Guatemala.
In a rare act of encouragement, one of our leaders played a song in which the singer confidently declared that in God’s hands her “pain and hurt looked less like scars and more like character.” We’d been through a lot that semester, but we were developing character, my study abroad program implied. Character shmaracter, I thought. What if you no longer believe that God has hands for you to be in? Or feet? Or a heart? Anything? Had I gone Nietzche on myself? Could I really believe that God was dead?
Yep, dead as a doornail. Or a least in a coma.
Our professor, Don Mike, continued to rant and rave, we heard from different people involved in myriad types of government positions, toured the city, went to the dump, talked about justice and Jesus and liberation theology
Is it so awful to say that after awhile all third world countries start to look the same? The littered highways, the graffiti-covered concrete buildings, the bars and spikes and security guards with guns. I wish I could say that I instantly connected with Guatemalans, that it mattered to me that they had been in a civil war for decades. But I didn’t care about the indigenous, specifically Mayan, influence on the culture or that hundreds of thousands of women had mysteriously lost their husbands and sons, fathers and brothers to midnight kidnappings and mass murders during the war. I feared there was nothing in me that cared anymore.
I had lost my hope.
Throughout the last six years, I have experienced a Love that saves, a Joy that saves, a Hope that saves. My friends and family and church and coworkers have shown me that my anger doesn’t help the suffering, my hopelessness does not prove my compassion. They have shown me, and God continues to teach me, that Hope brings change, that Joy alleviates suffering, that Love drives out fear.
This time around in Guatemala, although I’ve already heard countless stories of war and violence and injustice, although I’ve already visited the wasteland of the Guatemala City garbage dump, although there are plenty of reasons to shut down and tune out, I will cling to hope. I will look for the bright spots.
I will remember the words of AnnVoskamp
in One Thousand Gifts
“Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”
This time around I will not be paralyzed. I will not reject joy. I will listen and I will move and I will act. I will engage.
I will not disregard the suffering. I will not turn a complacent eye to their pain. But amidst the pain and horror, I will look for hope. I pray I will be brave enough to “focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true.”
So far I’ve seen some incredibly hopeful, transformative work being done in Guatemala. There are so many ways for me to get involved in bringing Hope and Life and Joy to the people around me. But I don’t know quite where to spend my time yet. Despite my commitment to move, I feel a call to be patient, to wait on God’s timing and leading. I pray for wisdom in how to spend my time here. I ask for an open heart to accompany my open schedule.
|Kids playing with bubbles in the park in Antigua
As I wait and look for ways to engage, I will share the bright spots that I have seen. Throughout the week, and I imagine beyond this week as well, I will share the stories of hope and redemption and transformation that I have glimpsed. I will write of the miracle of kids being able to be kids in the midst of gang violence and extreme poverty, of women speaking out against injustice and sharing their stories of pain for the first time, of brave individuals seeking alternatives to violence, of people daring to hope and try and move in a place where the problems seem copiously complex and insurmountable.
I know what it is not to hope; this time around I will fix my eyes on the Hope that saves.