There he was sitting on the ledge, his little legs dangling over the side. He was wearing a light blue buttoned shirt, patterned with stripped fish along with denim shorts that met the tops of his oversized wellington boots. His wellies looked as if they would fall from his dangling feet at any moment as he sat grinning at me. His smile big and bright enough to warm any heart. As I approached, he lifted his arms to me, first wanting a cuddle to say ‘hi’ and then desiring to be swung about in the air.
The joys of being a giant, moving climbing frame.
Of course I don’t mind at all. This one had me form his first smile.
I thoroughly enjoy going down to ‘La Quinta’ and running games with the children who live nearby. It doesn’t exactly feel like work.
However, the last time I was there playing with my friend in his wellington boots, I began to think about his home life. He is one of 12 sibling whose ages range from 8 months to 19 years. Their mother, who is in her late 30’s, recently gave birth to her 13th child; sadly he died when he was only a few days old. As I thought about his family I realised how easy it was to forget where these children live, what their family circumstances are and how challenging their lives must be.
They live in the heart of one of the poorest areas of Guatemala City. The depravity and poverty is so stark; the stench of urine fills the air and there is no escape from the filth of the streets. Women turn to prostitution in desperation as men gather to take their turn. People living on the streets, suffer from addition and mental illness. It is a place saturated with violence, abuse, alcoholism, drugs and immorality. So much brokenness, sin and darkness.
And yet I have had many a joy filled evening playing with the children there, a few hours a week where we can all forget and just play and have fun. For example, when we were there yesterday I was sitting in the street with some of the smaller children whilst watching some of the older children playing with confetti. They were running around with plastic bags full of paper confetti and as they ran, they would reach down into their bags, pull out a handful of the tiny pieces of paper and throw it over the heads of their friends. (Part of Carnival and Easter celebrations). Sounds of laughter and joy filled the street.
At that moment a man who I know, who lives on the streets, turned down our street and walked past. He paused when he saw me and said hello. As he walked away one of the boys followed him calling his name, or street name at least. When he stopped and turned, the boy gave him a handful of confetti. What happened next warmed my heart; with a huge grin he lifted his confetti filled hand above his own head and rubbed it into his hair. He looked completely elated, like for a brief moment he was a child again. He turned and continued to walk away. It was over in seconds but really moved me.
It was sweet that he had stopped to greet me, it was kind that the boy had given him some of his confetti, and his child like reaction to the confetti was magical to see. So often the people you find here living on the streets have returned to many childlike behaviours, or perhaps never developed some adult ones. They often have stunted emotional growth, along with a myriad of mental health problems related to drug abuse and the horrors they have experienced throughout their tough lives.
This diverse mix of work that we do here and the various groups of people we serve and work alongside, makes for very interesting and challenging days. There is rarely a dull moment and I am constantly being humbled and learning new things. From children who capture my heart with a smile to fully grown men who can barely walk straight yet can still enjoy moments of childhood joy, this work and life is filled with blessings. I hope and pray that just through being present, available and willing to love freely people will know more of God’s love, and transformation will come.