I wonder how many of you can relate to that feeling after reading a book, other than the Bible, that is truly life changing. A read that just speaks to your soul and actually changes you somehow. I hope it is not just me, but I consider myself fortunate to have read more than one book that has impacted me deeply; whether it be emotionally, educationally or in challenging and even changing worldviews.
It has been over 8 years since I first read Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert’s, ‘When helping hurts.’ And it is the kind of book that did all of the above. It invoked emotions, educated me in numerous ways and it definitely challenged and helped me change some worldviews.
I was especially reminded of this book recently through an experience where I witnessed how simple it can be to love and help restore dignity to others and in some cases help them discover dignity perhaps for some for the first time.
A few weeks ago I visited a street church here in Guatemala city called ‘Sigo Vivo,’ meaning ‘I continue to live’ or ‘I am still alive.’ This ministry was organically born when a pastor and his family choose to say ‘welcome’ and ‘yes’ to a group of people who would normally be asked to leave.
In fact, eventually they were asked to leave but this family chose to go too. The people group I am referring to are the homeless of Guatemala City, those living on the streets, many of whom also battle with drugs and/or alcohol consumption and addictions. It was not the first time that I had spent time with people that live on the streets and I actually knew several of the people already. It was really nice to see some familiar faces and reconnect with them, not least because it was great to see that they were still alive. The reality being that some people whom I have met are sadly no longer alive.
Sigo Vivo has a church on the streets on Sunday mornings and a group activity with games and food on Saturdays, and the team also do visits during the week. I went to one of their Saturday activities and from the moment I arrived I knew that I was in the presence of something special, that I was experiencing first hand people showing the kind of love that Jesus taught us about through His life and example. A love that embraces people exactly as they are with no conditions attached.
I watched and joined in as this unique community shared together, played games, broke bread together and gathered to hear from The Word. More and more people arrived as the humble, rented spaced filled up with over 50 people. Old, young, women, men, families, single mums, all were welcome.
It was humbling to do jigsaws with a lady who must be close to twice my age as she struggled, yet at the same time enjoyed, trying to match the pieces of a puzzle aimed at young children. A lifetime on the streets and consuming drugs displayed on her weathered face and through her challenged comprehension. Her warm smile and joy when we completed the jigsaw together was truly hart-warming. One young man was so high that he could barely walk and need assistance to reach his chair. He sat opposite me and although his speech was incomprehensible, we played a version of noughts and crosses, which he seemed to enjoy. His hand shaking uncontrollably every time he reached out to move one of his coloured bottle tops on the home made grid.
After the games everyone lined up to receive their meals, and those unable to stand in line were served. It was beautiful to see the community dynamic as those serving and being served were all homeless. Once everyone had eaten the pastor gathered everyone together to sing songs and share from The Word. He spoke about forgiveness and allowed others to share their understanding and experiences. In this place, just like at the foot of the cross, the ground is flat, and everyone is equal.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this community and how everyone is welcome, and loved, in such a raw and honest way. And since my visit I was reminded of reading about poverty and dignity in ‘When helping hurts.’ How often we think about poverty in terms of lack of material wealth. However, according to Corbett and Fikkert, when people with a lack of economical wealth were asked about poverty, they often described it in psychological and social terms such as shame, inferiority, powerlessness and lack of dignity. There is so much more I could write around this topic and I definitely have some thoughts around it all that are not yet fully formed.
I feel like what I witnessed at Sigo Vivo was dignity being restored for people who normally get forgotten and ignored. It is being done in such an organic, and in a sense, simple and ordinary way. It is done by being present and welcoming to all and trough meeting people exactly where they are at and joining them there with God’s love. When I asked one of the pastor’s daughters to share a bit more about their story it was clear that God had placed it on their hearts to love every single one of these people and help them discover their value in Christ and that is exactly what they are doing.