The following is a blog report back from Sara’s trip in January 2014 with IJM to Guatemala:
When I received an invitation to go to Guatemala City with IJM, feelings of elation and inadequacy came over me all at the same time. Elation because I have so much respect for IJM and considered it a great privilege to have been invited, but also feelings of inadequacy as I was not sure how I could add value by going on this trip. I was mainly a team of Pastor’s, most of them given a specific sermon project to work on, while I was still seeking to understand by purpose and significance in going. Nevertheless I trusted God had a plan, and I packed my bags.
After arriving in Guatemala City with International Justice Mission, and getting our schedule for our first day, I was so glad I brought my Ipad with me. Our first outing was to take part in a “Day of Joy” with some of IJM’s clients and their families. Day’s of Joy are times when IJM’s clients, who have all suffered from Child Sexual Abuse, get to quite literally experience joy in the midst of recovering from the tragedy of every day violence that is plaguing the words 4 Billion poorest and most vulnerable in our world today, including these little ones that I was saying “Hola” to.
We were encouraged to find a family and visit with them before we took them on a tour of the zoo in Guatemala City. When I sat down, I was introduced to “A”, an 11 year old had recently given birth to the baby that her aunt “R” was holding, and “A” had her 2 brothers with her as well.
This scenario felt all too familiar to me, as I had the opportunity to pre-read a book that was recently released called The Locust Effect written by IJM’s Founder, Gary Haugen. Page 49 of the book tells the story of Gary’s trip to Guatemala City and that page quickly went from black and white to colorful reality as I held the newborn with his 11 yr old mother sitting next to me.
For those of us that did not speak a lot of Spanish, like myself, I used an app on my iPad called Photo Booth. Children in the developing world love to see their faces on camera, but photo booth takes it to another level by allowing them to see themselves in X-ray vision or some distorted way and before I knew it I had these little ones laughing and pointing and laughing some more. So much so the IJM Aftercare director came over to see what was happening.
That day I was overtaken with feelings of great pain and joy at the same time. Pain, because I knew the circumstances that led to the birth of this precious baby I was holding, and his 10 year old mother that sat next to me with her Aunt. Joy, because after I pulled out my Photo Booth App, these kids were laughing like they never have before, and in that moment, they were happy.
As we continued our trip, the reality of the everyday violence that happens to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable smacked me in the face. The statistics are staggering, and the sheer amount of corruption and abuse that takes place in this country alone is enough to discourage the strongest of believers in change, but it did not discourage the IJM Staff there. Out of over 36,000 cases of child sexual abuse between 2008-2012, over 95% of those cases are still waiting for justice after an average wait of 6 years. The locusts of violence that has swept over the country was clear, but so was the plan for its defeat.
The Violence and corruption in Guatemala is real, but the plan to change the landscape of this country and its response to the violence is strategic, prayerful, and it will work.
We may not be able to wipe out violence completely, but I met an army of people that are raised up, and the locust effect of violence will not stop them from trying.
Renee, IJM’s Fellow, laid out a clear strategic plan for educating, equipping and encouraging the once silent Church on how to biblically seek justice on behalf of those who are being abused, including the development of a curriculum that will be instituted and offered at prominent seminary in Guatemala City!
We were encouraged by the dedication the IJM staff has to spending time in daily prayer together as a team. As strategic as any plan can be, they realize that NO battle against injustice can be won unless we are fighting it on our knees in prayer.
We were blessed to hear the sound of laughter coming from several of IJM’s clients that were at the office one day for a pinning ceremony, as these clients have gone through the brave process of testifying against their perpetrator. They were all presenting with a pin that staid “Soy Un Heroe” (You’re a Hero), and I had the privilege of giving one of the pins to a client and encouraging her for what she did, then they all colored pictures of super hero’s! For them and for the IJM Aftercare team, it was a celebration of their bravery, and also a celebration of the face that justice was coming for those kids. At the end of the day I was able to snag one of those pins, as I had a plan to present it to someone that was going to be a different kind of hero to these kids.
Needless to say this was a VERY full trip filled with so many emotions. Our team shared feelings of pain over the sheer corruption in the Government, the amount of violence that is taking place, and the silence of the Church when they should be the ones crying out for justice and protecting the poor. We also shared in great joy with IJM’s clients at the zoo, and also joy when they received their hero pin for their bravery in testifying against their perpetrator. We also shared feelings of hope, knowing that justice was soon coming for them. I felt hopeful for the baby I was holding in my arms the day we arrived, that because of IJM’s strategic determination and commitment to prayer, that he would grow up in an environment of safety from violence. Lastly for me, personally, I was filled with a feeling of determination, as I was tasked with asking my Senator to sign on to a key piece of legislation that would provide Guatemala with a team of investigators to specifically handle cases of sex crimes, a desperate need that was so apparent to us by the end of our trip. I had my marching orders and with a hero pin in hand, I made my way back to the states.
I have been a part of the IJM Advocacy team for about 3 years now, and it has been SO rewarding to be able to advocate for legislation on behalf of those who experience injustice, and I was ready for my next task the minute I hit the ground. I had scheduled a Call-In day for that week, sent emails and facebook messages urging everyone to take a minute and all, and as I emailed Senator Kaine’s office I felt urgency and determination like I never have before. Something was different about this request, as I had a face and a name in mind. I had the baby that I help in my arms at the zoo in mind. This was for his future. And no was not an option. After not hearing back for a few days, I was literally ready to drive to Washington, DC and WAIT outside his door until he was ready to see me because I had something to share. The very next day, I received an email, THE email from IJM’s staff that Senator Kaine had signed the letter to sec. Kerry urging the State Department to provide funding for the special unit in Guatemala City. Tears of joy came to my eyes and I IMMEDIATELY emailed the IJM Guatemala office to share the good news, and messages came back that they were celebrating with me, and I am awaiting my meeting with the Senator to present him with his hero pin.
God is good, He is faithful and He cares about those who are oppressed and He calls His people to do our part in seeking justice for those who are oppressed. I used my voice, and my voice was heard. Your voice matters in this fight against injustice and my prayer is that you will use it. It might not make a difference for all 4 billion people that are outside of the reach of safety, but it could make a difference for one. It will make a difference for the baby I help in my arms at the Guatemala City zoo, so use your voice for him.
“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17