Sunday, June 18, 2017

Lessons Learned in the Importance of Families

James and Ellie Carr
The mission field is truly a humbling place.  One thing we've learned over and over is that there is always room to learn more.  Before moving to Guatemala, we studied Spanish using Rosetta Stone.  I would have said that I had a good knowledge of the Spanish language.  Then we moved to Guatemala, where I couldn't understand even the clearest of Spanish speakers.  It took nine months of intensive one-on-one classes for me to begin to feel comfortable with basic conversations.  Although we have both reached points where we feel comfortable teaching, explaining, and carrying conversations in Spanish, we both realize that it is something we will always be learning.
"Finishing" language school in September 2015
"Finishing" language school in September 2015

Another facet that we have really been faced with lately is the theme of reunifying families.  Since the tragedy at the Hogar Seguro in March (you can read more about that here), Guatemala has had a major push to reunite families, rather than leaving children in institutionalized care.  My feelings about this change were initially mixed, but the more I research, pray, and observe, the more I understand the benefits of children being with their parents, even in cases of pretty severe poverty.

When we were preparing to move to Guatemala, we met with a church in Georgia seeking their support.  We explained that we were preparing to work with an organization in an impoverished area of Guatemala City, where it was common for people to live on the equivalent of only a couple of dollars per day.  We told the church's missions committee that we would be house parents to adolescent boys from the area who would come to live with our family and receive a better education,  nutritious meals, and overall more hope and greater opportunities for their future.

The committee seemed incredulous.

"Do you understand how it may harm these boys to take them away from their families?" they asked us.  "We think you have a very nice idea, but think it is dangerous and unwise to remove boys from their families."

I continued to explain how most of the mothers of the boys worked long hours for the little money that they earned, leaving the boys to roam their dangerous neighborhood.  I explained how the fathers were largely absent from the lives of the boys.  That didn't seem to matter to the committee.

"These people just don't understand the amount of poverty these boys live in," I reasoned to myself.  "They don't understand the dangers these boys live in each and every day."

But they did. They had travelled to third-world countries. They knew the statistics. They were aware of the dangers that pervaded slum neighborhoods.

They also understood the importance of family in the lives of these boys.  The valued what family the boys had, even though it may be far from ideal and broken by sin.

I was blind to their ideas that day.  In fact, it's been years since that unforgotten conversation, and I am just now beginning to understand their viewpoint.

We no longer work for that organization, but instead work for a children's home.  It is a home for orphaned, neglected, and abused children who have been court-appointed to live here.  While we do not pick what children come here nor are we offering children an alternative lifestyle to poverty as our initial organization offered, the end result is the similar in this way- children are living outside of their original families.
Riley with several of the kids here at Fundaniños


As I mentioned earlier, there has been a large shift in recent months of appointing children to go back to live with what family they have.  Last month alone we saw three sets of siblings, and also a boy and a girl reunited with family members- parents, adult siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.  It has been fulfilling to say the least, although some come with mixed feelings, such as the boy returning to live with his mom who has little resources, several other children, and a long history of prostitution.

What I am learning in spite of my feelings, though, is the importance of family over institutional care.  Families can offer something that we can't, no matter how impoverished they are.  While we love each and every one of the children here and they will always have a special place in our hearts, we cannot replace their families and we will never be able to love them in the same way as a nuclear family can.  Families were created to do a job that organizations and institutions just can't.  While we provide a safe place away from situations of abuse and neglect, we cannot stop there.  We must continue to work with families to seek solutions to the problems they face.  Simply taking children away from the problem is not a solution to the problem itself.  I am learning how important the role of social services is in providing resources, encouragement, and direction to families that lead them to restoration and reunification.  While we play a part in the process of taking care of the abused, neglected, and orphaned children, we cannot settle for being the end of that process.  Work needs to be done to bring families to a healthier state to allow children to be reinstated, and it would not be justifiable for me to downplay the role of adoptive families when that restoration is not possible.

I am still learning more.  Leaning about what is truly in the best interest of families and children.  Learning to be a better parent myself. Learning not to discredit the ideas of others even though they may sound foreign to me.  Learning to listen.  Learning to seek more than one possible solution.  Learning to admit being wrong.  Leaning that being wrong isn't the end, but rather the beginning.  And even more, I am still learning to learn.

James and Ellie Carr / Author & Editor

James and Ellie Carr have been missionaries in Gautemala since 2014 and write to share their feelings and how they have experienced God's goodness and mercy on the mission field.

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