Wednesday, February 18, 2015

About Paradise

JamesandEllie
Community soccer field in Paradise neighborhood of Guatemala City, Guatemala
Last month, James and I had the opportunity to venture to Paradise together while a team from Texas was working with Engadi Ministries.  Usually James will go to Paradise while I stay at home to watch Riley (because of the dangerous area of the city, mixed with the uncleanliness of the environment there, we have been cautioned against, and chosen not to, bring Riley into Paradise until she is older).  It always seems difficult for me to put into words the emotions that accompany a trip to Paradise, but I owe it to those of you who have never been here, to try to paint a picture of this neighborhood and its people that have stolen our hearts in the slums of Guatemala City.

In order to understand a little bit about the children in Paradise, you must first understand the history of the neighborhood.  Until 1995, Guatemala was involved in a Civil War in which people from all over the nation migrated to Guatemala's capital, Guatemala City seeking shelter from the warfare that destroyed villages nationwide.  People flocked to the city with just the clothes on their backs in search of a place where they could begin a new life.  During the night, people would move in and construct shacks made of wood, tin, and other debris on empty areas of land in the city.  The communities that would often appear "overnight" are known as squatter communities.  Paradise is one of these squatter communities.


Part of the neighborhood of Paradise
Paradise, however, is unique in the area of the city in which it was built.  It stands today as one of the poorest squatter communities in the city, and was built on one of the cities landfills.  Shacks cascade down the valleys of the landfill which end in open streams of sewage at the bottom.  Trash can easily be seen erupting through the ground as you weave your way through the narrow alleys between homes.  There is little motivation to keep streets and alleyways clean when the streets and alleyways continually produce layer after layer of trash themselves.


Houses like the one pictured are built upon decades of trash.
Paradise is also unique in that it is located in one of the most dangerous zones (or district) of Guatemala City which is Zone 18.  Internationally known, "Barrio 18" is the gang that has taken this neighborhood to be their territory.  Murders, extortion, rape, theft, and vandalism occur daily in Paradise, and the majority of crimes go unsolved.  I have yet to meet a family in Paradise not affected by gang activity.  Families are desperate for justice and safety, but often left hopeless in their own brokenness and poverty.

As a rule, children are bound to grow up in a broken household.  Boys are likely to join gangs before they are teenagers in search of love and acceptance that they never received from their absent fathers.  Over half of these boys will die before their twenty-fourth birthday.  Girls are likely to have their first child before their sixteenth birthday, forcing them to drop out of school.  I'm certain that you can see now why the average family in Paradise is made up of one mother, six children (from several different men), and no father.  It is a toxic cycle.

I have only described to you the tip of the iceberg.  I can not even begin to touch on how the faults in the education system, government, and lack of healthcare further affect the lives of people there.  Perhaps I will little by little in future posts.  More importantly, however, is the solution.  Is there one?

I feel strongly that there is a solution, but it must be a holistic approach that addresses and meets each of these issues where they are.  We have joined Engadi Ministries Intl. because they seek to minister to the community as a whole, partnering with the local schools, churches, healthcare facilities, and families that make up Paradise, and strengthening them where they are.  More importantly, however, is the intensive focus that Engadi Ministries places on the boys growing up in Paradise.  Engadi seeks to mentor these boys to be true disciples of Christ, while giving them opportunities to live, study and grow apart from the influences of gangs and poverty in which they are surrounded.

Only with Godly men will the community of Paradise be able to turn itself around.  Children will be able to grow up in homes with BOTH loving parents teaching them right from wrong.  Godly men will demonstrate how to love their WIVES putting an end to rape and teenage pregnancies.  Women will have a Godly leader who they can respect, and who will LOVE them as Christ loves the church.  Gangs will decrease in size, strength and appeal as boys receive love and ACCEPTANCE from their fathers.

With help, Paradise can become a thriving community.  They don't need a handout, they need a STEP UP.  They don't need empty promises, they need GOD'S FULFILLING, REFRESHING AND LIVING WORD.  Most of all they need CHRIST'S ABOUNDING AND UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.


Fathers who are present in their children's lives are few and far between in Paradise
If you feel led to partner with us in this goal, you can click the link at the upper-right side of this page.  You can also partner by praying for us in these specific ways:
- Pray for us as we continue to acquire the language and learn the culture here.
- Pray for us as we continue to meet and build relationships with boys living in Paradise.
- Pray for us as we consider moving to a more secure location better suited for our needs.
- Pray for us as we continue learning how to parent Riley; that beyond cultural differences, we could parent her in a way that glorifies God.
- Pray for Engadi Ministries as it prepares to enter a whole new season of growth this year.

Thank you again for all of your love and support so far.  Please feel free to email us with any questions or updates in your life.  We can't tell you how much it means to stay connected to those we miss in the States.

Blessings,
James, Ellie, and Riley

Romans 15:13
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Erupting Volcanoes and Crashing Waves

JamesandEllie
Hello Friends and Family,

The past few weeks have been quite interesting for us down here in Guatemala.  James and I have been continuing language studies five days a week at a nearby language school.  I attend school in the mornings while James watches Riley, and over our lunch break we swap so James can attend school in the afternoons.  Learning a language definitely seems to be a never-ending process, but at least speaking and finding patterns that aid in learning are coming easier to us.

Normal activity of Fuego (far left) that
can be seen from our church parking lot.
This past weekend, however, was quite an interesting one.  Saturday, we went to the local market and did our grocery shopping, which we usually do on the weekends.  When we got home, we noticed that it was quickly starting to get cloudy outside, which was odd for such a clear dry day here.  We didn't think much of it, however, until later when we received news that one of the volcanoes surrounding the town we live in had become unusually active.  The volcano, called "Fuego," can be seen venting smoke on most ordinary days, and occasionally produces tremors that can be felt in the city we live in.  Saturday, however, it decided to act a little more crazy than usual.

Fuego's activity last Saturday.
Photo credit
: https://twitter.com/juanflores18/status/564518503110438912/photo/1
 When we went outside to our roof to see what was going on, we found a hazy smokiness all around us.  The volcano which is usually visible from our rooftop could not be seen nor the hills and other volcanoes that surround us.  We could feel tiny bits of ash and rubble falling from the sky, and could hear it hitting the ground around us almost like snow.  We were not in any danger, but had to stay indoors as the ash irritated our throats to breathe, and we did not want Riley to breathe it in.  The city in which we live remained safe, but one pueblo much closer to Fuego had to evacuate about one hundred residents.  The main airport in Guatemala City was also reportedly shut down until the next day, when the ash could be removed from the runways and such.


The amount of ash that covered the windshield of our car
the first few hours after the volcanic activity.
We learned that the ash would probably fall over Antigua, where we live for the next several days, so Sunday, we decided to go for a drive to get out of our house and get some fresh air.  We decided to drive to the Pacific Coast which is about two hours from where we lived.  Due to the amount of volcanoes and volcanic activity in Guatemala, the beaches that make up Guatemala's Pacific Coast are largely black-sand beaches.  This was Riley's first trip to the beach, and James' first trip to the the Pacific, so it was a lot of fun.  Riley did not enjoy getting her feet wet one bit, but she loved watching the waves crash onto the beach.  When she gets older, we definitely look forward to making more trips to the coast.

Riley's first trip to the beach

Back in Antigua this week, the air is still dusty and smoky, as business owners continue to wash the sidewalks in front of "tiendas" and other businesses.  Cars are still covered in a thin layer of ash, but life is back to what we are coming to know is normal.  Through all these experiences, we are also learning about many local customs, and why things are the way they are here in Guatemala.  We still have a lot of learning to do.

We are still working towards getting our residencies (which is like a more permanent visa) as a family here in Guatemala, which is a slow, slow process, as are most things down here, comparatively speaking.  We are also preparing for the next team that will come down and work with Engadi next month.  We hope all is well back in the states.  We would love to hear from our family and friends via email (jandecarr@gmail.com) or Skype (jandecarr).  We like keeping in touch with you and what is going on in your lives.  Let us know if there's something we can be praying for you as well.

Until next time,
The Carrs

Brilliant unfiltered sunset over Monterrico's black-sand beach and the Pacific Ocean
"From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be praised!"
Psalm 133:3

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