Where has my voice gone? …and, it’s Give to the Max Day!

I ran into an old friend recently who told me he has enjoyed following the Se Luz updates over the years.  He, in fact, said, “I used to get your newsletters, but haven’t seen anything in a while.”  You might be thinking the same thing.

The truth is, my old friend is still on the Se Luz mailing list, and so are you, most likely.  And it’s also true that he and you haven’t heard from me for a while.  That’s not because there are not great things happening in Guatemala with our Se Luz youth.  That’s not because there isn’t news to share.  What’s going on is that I’ve lost my voice.

DISCLAIMER:  As I unpack what I mean by ‘lost my voice’, I’m going to get personal–and for me that inherently means political.  I understand and celebrate that not everyone shares my political ideologies.  Persuading you to come over to ‘my side’ is not my aim, but rather to shed some light on the radio silence you’ve been hearing from me for the past year.  I understand the risk in talking politics from the platform of this blog, and as the face of Se Luz.  These are my personal experiences and views, and should not be projected onto Se Luz.  But these experiences have had an impact on Se Luz, which is why I’ve chosen to share it here, with you.  I am trusting you to suspend judgment with some of the things I share, and hoping that I can count on your empathy.  It is this trust and hope that I hold in my heart which empowers me to tell you my story today–and to take the first step towards reclaiming my voice.

November 9, 2016.  I woke up to the news that the United States of America had elected President Donald J. Trump.  The night before, Election Night, my husband texted me from bed saying, “It’s over.  He won.  Come to bed.”  Experiencing full on shock and denial, I could not look away from the television, let alone sleep.  I was on maternity leave anyway, I told myself, I would stay up late to watch the West Coast results come in that will inevitably turn this thing around.  My dear husband eventually convinced me that it was time to give in and go to bed.  Suddenly his consistent chorus from the previous year and a half pulsed through my mind, tormenting me on repeat, “President Trump.  El Presidente Trump-etas.  El ganara, veras.  He is going to win, you’ll see.”

Felix, like a prophet, knew that Trump would win the presidency long before he won the Republican primary.  He knew it the day Trump announced his candidacy with that unforgettably traumatizing (for us) speech calling Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers.  Throughout the campaign, Felix said over and over that Trump was going to win the election.  I dismissed that thought at every turn.  I understood that lots of Democrats didn’t like the idea of voting for Hillary Clinton (myself included, although I did cast a sacrificially strategic vote for her; my views better align with the Green Party) but told myself, surely everyone can see that Donald Trump is a fraud and will not be elected!  I had convinced myself that Trump’s entire campaign was a hoax and he was just looking for attention, but would never actually win.

Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Testing. Acceptance.  These are the 7 stages of grief.  I confess I had a few fits of anger on Facebook in the aftermath of the election.  I lashed out at Trump voters, blaming them for my pain.  To anyone who I offended during those dark days, I offer a sincere apology.  I’d add regret in those stages somewhere.  Part of my processing this experience was dealing with the heavy cloud of regret for not listening to my husband’s insistence that Trump would win.  He was telling me something, based on his experience and perspective, that I refused to hear.  There was an opportunity to grow in relationship with Felix that I completely dismissed, making me no better than those who’d consistently dismissed him and thus formed his opinion that Trump not only could, but would be elected.  It’s difficult to come to terms with the idea that I contributed to my husband’s pain.  In a word, I have regret.

Now seems an appropriate time to fill in some significant context to this story.  I imagine you wondering why I would be grieving an election result.  Maybe you’re thinking that using words like trauma and grief is an extreme reaction to something that’s pretty inconsequential.

My reality is that the health of our government, who is in charge of it, and the rhetoric coming from it all have a direct impact on my daily life.  My husband, an immigrant from Mexico, and I deal with significant problems in navigating the legal immigration system.  While we desire allyship in the US government as we face these challenges, it’s actually very difficult to find anyone in the current government who is willing to expend political capital on helping us.  Our situation would have improved with hypothetical President Clinton.  Alas, with actual President Trump, the threat of the US government initiating action to break up my family is very real, and a daily concern.  For me, the term trauma is an apt descriptor of my experience since the 2016 election.

I used to be somewhat self-actualized.  I have found that in a healthy mental and emotional state is where my creativity thrives.  Since Trump was elected, I have become hyper focused and anxious about keeping my family safe and in tact.  I have been obsessed with following the news–where are the ICE raids happening, what new policies are coming from Washington DC, who is Trump putting in charge of CBP, DHS, ICE and USCIS, what is the actual likelihood of impeachment or some similar end to this nightmare…  Not only has my creativity suffered in this state of being, my voice has been choked out.  It only took me 850 words to get here, but now you know why I’ve been silent.



Se Luz, as an organization stateside, has suffered because of this.  My leadership has waned, as my ability to ‘be present’ with the organization is basically non-existent.  I haven’t been actively fundraising.  I haven’t been communicating.  Ultimately, because of what I laid out above, but also for other factors, I made the heartbreaking decision to retire from leadership of Se Luz.  It pains me to step away from my official role with this organization that I founded and have championed for the last 11 years, but I’ve become convinced that this decision was a necessary step in order to usher in a new phase of growth for Se Luz’ ministry in Guatemala.  I have loved serving this ministry, and look forward to continuing to support it in its next phase.  Today, I invite you to join me in lending support, which will be significant in helping guarantee a smooth transition in the new year to Se Luz’ new infrastructure (news on this will be forthcoming).

Here’s a link to make a Give to the Max donation, for which we have a $3000 matching grant (that means all donations are doubled up to $3000! ~Your $25 gift becomes $50 with matching dollars~): https://givemn.org/organization/Se-Luz

I’ll leave you with a list of dreams I’ve had for Se Luz that I am leaving on the table.  I invite you to pray for these ideas, but more importantly for Romeo Sactic in Guatemala and all Se Luz youth–past, present, and future.

Se Luz Apprenticeship Program–Establish partnerships with trade schools near Santiago (Antigua, Guatemala City, Chimaltenango) that will award credits to students for participating in Se Luz service projects.  Our projects teach youth skills in masonry first and foremost, but also in welding, carpentry, and some mechanics.

Se Luz Widows’ Cooperative–In recent years, our projects have become heavily focused on serving individual families, almost always consisting of a widowed matriarch and several children.  I envision a community made up of these families and others; a cooperative of resource sharing (child care), community garden (for consumption and revenue creation), school help for kids, and social support through positive inter-generational relationships.

Se Luz Business spin offs–Not a creative name, but having a vision to create small businesses that would be owned by Se Luz or Se Luz youth.  Example Se Luz Painters–They would contract with local businesses or churches to paint exterior/interior, either being gifted or having the use of Se Luz tools/supplies/materials to start, but becoming independent as it becomes more established.


Thank you for your grace in allowing me to share from the heart today.  It is not an easy thing to do (for both of us, maybe).  Please know that, regardless of politics, I love you.  I am grateful for you and the role you’ve played in my life and the life of Se Luz.  Peace.

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Spreading Light by Inspiring Generosity

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I follow a Facebook page called I Like Giving.  It was created to support a movement that began when Brad Formsma published a book by the same name.  I am a fan of this movement because it touches on the heart of what Se Luz is working towards–living generously.  The memes and stories posted on this page are meant to inspire others to act and live in ways that embody the fruit of the Spirit (that’s my claim, not the page admin’s).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Galatians 5:22-23

Living up to these qualities is no easy task.  Just ask ANYONE who has been on social media during this past election season (yes, I went there).  It takes grace to act with love towards your neighbor who advocates for policies that, when carried out, would have a negative impact on you or your loved ones.  It requires forbearance, gentleness, and self-control to engage with that person in meaningful conversation to shed light on a different perspective (and to learn about theirs).  Choosing joy and peace when so much of the future is uncertain is a spiritual discipline.  If we take the fruit of the Spirit as a package of traits that we Christ followers aspire to, the net result is generous living.

Like Mahatma Ghandi, I believe generosity has more to do with one’s attitude than with the capacity of their giving.  Too many people are hindered from generosity because they think they have nothing to give.  Yes, donating money is generosity.  But so is serving others, volunteering, making connections, using your special gifts to benefit others, listening, forgiving someone who’s hurt you, being considerate of others’ needs… I could go on all day.  Generosity is being in tune with what advantages you possess (time, talent, treasure, status), the needs of others, and how God is calling you to connect the two.  

The Bible’s New Testament (the OT does, too) provides many examples of what it looks like to live generously.  The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the poor widow (Mark 12:42), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9), Jesus’ entire life (Gospels), the early church (Acts 2:45-47)… Furthermore, the book of James teaches us that it is not enough to simply believe in these principles, but that we must allow our faith to propel us toward action (James 2:14-26).

 Our Se Luz group in Guatemala have a special opportunity, right now, to inspire generosity in the Santiago community.  We recently learned about a family of orphaned (to AIDS) siblings (age 4-24), who’s home burned to the ground.  In response to a local radio station’s appeal for donations, several community members came together to raise $670 (Q5,000) to help this family.  That’s a pretty strong community response, considering the economic level of families in Santiago.  As an organization, we have a plan to leverage our position to encourage the community to give even more.  Publicly, Se Luz is committed to providing the manual labor needed to build a new home for this family, plus 50% of the material cost (total budget is $4,000).  Our hope is that this commitment will inspire more families and businesses to give what they can to help these siblings with their urgent need for a home.  Privately, we are willing and able to fund 100% of the project (and will do so if necessary), but we highly value and desire community collaboration.

Se Luz’ mission is to Bring the Light of Christ to Guatemala through Discipleship and Service.  Traditionally, the mission has been focused on our youth and their good works in the community via service projects.  In light of inspiring generosity (pun intended), our mission becomes a challenge to the broader community to shine the light of Christ through generous living.  For many reasons (cultural and historical contexts), this type of generosity is pretty radical for Guatemalans.  While hospitality is a clear strength in generosity for our Guatemalan friends, charity is an opportunity area for growth.  For ten years now, Se Luz youth have been modeling generous living; the time has come for us to invite others to do the same.


Today is #GivingTuesday.  We are inviting you to join us in our mission to shine Christ’s light in Guatemala–through discipleship, service, and also generosity.  In order to achieve our mission, we depend on YOU, our generous community to take action.  Please consider making a donation today, and spread the word about our important work!
Link for online donations: http://www.razoo.com/story/se-luz

STORM (Service to Others in Relational Ministry) camp and Pastor Dave Brown deserve credit for the formation of my thoughts on servanthood and generosity.  Bethel Seminary Master of Arts program in Community Ministry Leadership, and the ministry of Greg Meyer and Jacob’s Well have also helped me flesh this out.  Many thanks!

Babies

Reposting to test an email blast with mailchimo

seluzbelight

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”–Chinese Philosopher Laozi

Se Luz is 10 years old this year.  It’s a milestone worth celebrating.  It’s also a moment worthy of reflection.  I first read the quote above after having made the ‘single step’ on this thousand mile journey.  I think the intent of the quote’s author was to inspire and empower people to take action, albeit small action (a single step), towards a dream.  For me, the quote wasn’t so much inspiring, as it was affirming.  ‘Yeah,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can relate’.

In 2005 I moved to Guatemala to chase a dream.  The move was one step, but before that was the first step–fundraising.  By sending friends and family letters laying out my vision and action plan, I was committing to the dream in a very tangible way.  I also set myself up for accountability with…

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Babies

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”–Chinese Philosopher Laozi

Se Luz is 10 years old this year.  It’s a milestone worth celebrating.  It’s also a moment worthy of reflection.  I first read the quote above after having made the ‘single step’ on this thousand mile journey.  I think the intent of the quote’s author was to inspire and empower people to take action, albeit small action (a single step), towards a dream.  For me, the quote wasn’t so much inspiring, as it was affirming.  ‘Yeah,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can relate’.

In 2005 I moved to Guatemala to chase a dream.  The move was one step, but before that was the first step–fundraising.  By sending friends and family letters laying out my vision and action plan, I was committing to the dream in a very tangible way.  I also set myself up for accountability with those people.  As money and pledges started coming in, I realized, ‘now I have to do this’.  I had sworn myself to the thousand mile journey of Se Luz.

December 2006 is the official ‘birthdate’ of Se Luz.  For one week we had 25 youth staying in a hotel in Patzun, Chimaltenango, doing daily service projects at schools and churches.  Each night we had devotional time together.  Here we are, wearing shirts that proclaim ‘I Am a Light’:1918443_174663645364_1343188_n

In the 10 years that have followed, Se Luz has been my baby.  I love this ministry with my whole heart.  My love for Se Luz (the programs, community and leadership development initiatives, internal board practices, etc.) is only compounded when I realize how profoundly I love the people involved.  Like the very people smiling at you in this photo.

I don’t know about you, but when I love something or someone, I become it’s advocate.  I will defend it and strive to protect it’s most basic inherent value.  I make personal sacrifices to ensure it reaches it’s ultimate health and potential.  This is what I understand is the Jesus way to love.

Running parallel, though not entirely separate, with my Se Luz journey is my marriage to Felix.  We had been dating for a year when I made the move to Guatemala, and decided to have a long distance relationship during the 15 months I lived there.  I hope you can read between the lines and see the level of sacrifice we made for each other and for Se Luz in that decision.  Just 4 short months after moving home, Felix and I were married.  See:image

This month, we celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.  We are expecting our first child together in August.  It’s been a long wait for a (human) baby.  Everyone’s perspective is different on this subject, but to me it felt extra long because we waited not due to biological issues, but because of personal and relationship ones.  For a long time, I wondered if I hadn’t ultimately sacrificed the chance at having a human baby by choosing Se Luz as my baby.

I thank God that that was not the case.  We made the single step towards parenthood when we decided to try getting pregnant in September 2015, and by November 2015 our baby was conceived.  When I found out I was pregnant in December, I had a deja vu moment of ‘now I have to do this’.  I realized that I was finally on the thousand mile journey of being a mother to a human baby.

My first maternal sacrifice came shortly after that when I was presented with the problem of Zika virus carrying mosquitos being confirmed to have reached in Guatemala.  Pregnant women infected with the Zika virus run the risk of delivering babies with microcephaly, or underdeveloped brains/heads.  With our annual board trip planned, and my ticket purchased, I made the decision to bow out of the trip this year.

In the sense of making this decision to protect my human baby, it was an easy thing to do.  But from the ‘Se Luz is my baby’ perspective, it was a lot harder.  I have always had such an integral role on these trips (as the driver, schedule maker, interpreter, cultural liaison, and leader) that it was and is still hard to imagine staying home.

Processing the decision with my mom and other trusted friends, I came to the realization that stepping back and letting the show go on without myself being such a principle character would allow for others to step up and into different roles of leadership.  This is ultimately what is best for Se Luz.  Didn’t I say this already–making personal sacrifice to ensure the health and potential of the thing you love… It’s how we ought to love our babies.

So, yesterday I saw our team off at the airport.  Before leaving the house, my dad and I ran through the list of must-not-forget items.  ‘Show me your passport,’ I said.  He did.  ‘Show me your cash’.  He did.  ‘Show me your drivers license’.  He did, and replied, ‘This is like going to my first day of school’.  Haha.image1

Well, actually, yes.  In a sense, I am a doting mother sending my loved one off on his own into the world for the first time.  While the team is in Guatemala this week, I am home in MN.  I am not detached from what they are doing–I could never be–but I am also not the nucleus.  I am learning to let go, and trust in God that the plans that have been made, and the preparations put in place will result in stronger, healthier, more empowered ministry.  Praise God for the lesson!

Thanks for reading.  🙂
If you have a desire to send a baby gift, I want to encourage you to make a donation to Se Luz.  We will have enough stuff for the human baby (probably too much), and this would be a meaningful way to support both of my babies!  Here’s where you can give:
ONLINE: http://www.givemn.org/organization/se-luz
MAIL:  Se Luz Ministries, Inc. 4325 Zachary Ln N, Plymouth, MN 55442

Guatemala–land of Contrast and Irony

My hope for this blog entry is that the photos resonate with you more deeply than any words I could write.  They do need a bit of explanation, though, which you can find below.  I encourage you to look at the photos and meditate on them.  Ask yourself what story they are telling you.  Then ask God what your role is in this story–bystander, consumer, justice seeker, peacemaker, partner, problem solver, listener, (fill in the blank).

Photos 1 and 2:  The first is a picture of an actual dessert served to me at Antigua Guatemala’s fanciest restaurant.  (I could only afford dessert!)  While some Guatemalans’ food budget includes extravagant dessert, the reality for most is that they need help feeding their families.  The second is a picture of Se Luz youth Juan Culajay (whose own family has economic struggles) delivering a one-month’s supply of food staples to a grateful mother.  This was one of 30+ food baskets that Se Luz youth distributed in February of this year.

Photos 3 and 4:  Before and after (in reverse order) of a retaining wall and storage room project Se Luz built to serve this public school several years ago.  Unfortunately, the (then) mayor of Santiago tore the school down and promised to rebuild a better school on the site in an attempt to win votes in this years’ election (he lost).  Only the retaining wall, photos, and our youths’ memories remain of this project.  Whether or not the mayor chose this school to tear down to spite Se Luz is up for debate…But we do know that rather than celebrate our youths’ positive contribution to society, he resented Se Luz for the LIGHT that was shone on his corruption through the various projects we did that served public buildings/infrastructure.

Photo 5:  Gang graffiti over a sign that literally says ‘Welcome’.

Photo 6:  In contrast to the gang issue, this picture shows many young men working together to raise a wall of a home they built for a family that previously were squatters.

Photo 7:  Contrast in one photograph.  Despite the humble conditions of this woman’s home, the picture shows her big heart and hospitality as she cooks a meal for her guests.

Photo 8:  The great ruins of Tikal.  Probably the most iconic of Guatemala’s many beautiful landmarks (Antigua Guatemala and Lake Atitlan are also at the top of the list).  The contrast here is more aptly described as irony–because the park is so remote (it requires flight from Guatemala City), very few Guatemalan people have the opportunity to see these ruins in person.  It’s like a Minnesotan never seeing Lake Superior.

Photos 9 and 10:  Photo 9 shows a water line hooked up to the city water supply.  Se Luz youth dug a 400 meter trench and installed water access to benefit the 20+ families who live along the road.  Photo 10 shows the pila (sink) at the end of the water line, that the youth painted “Ministry Be Light”.  Again, maybe more irony than contrast, but Jesus is called both the Light of the World and also Living Water.  Here we have a juxtaposition of water and light–both giving testimony to the goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Photo 11:  This one is metaphor.  The beginning phase of every construction project is to level the ground.  The region of Sacatepequez (Santiago) is hilly (it’s in the mountains).  Sometimes there are large rocks that need to be removed from the construction area, sometimes there are trees that need to be dug up and hauled away.  It is always the case that the land needs to be prepared.  As I was selecting photos for this blog, I was going through all of our projects and it hit me that there’s a picture just like this one for every project.  Aren’t our hearts exactly the same?  By God’s grace, God enters our heart and levels the ground before laying the foundation and building God’s house in there.  God shows us the rocks and trees that need to go.  I guess Methodists called this phenomenon prevenient grace, since it shows God working on us before the foundation is laid.  Taking the metaphor back to the families we serve–the ones who ultimately live in the houses we build–please join me in prayer that Se Luz’ effort and service to them is representative of God preparing their hearts for a new foundation, and also that our youth would be inspired to reflect on this Truth as they work the ground on each project.

What reflections have these photos provoked in you?  Would you be willing to share your thoughts in the comments?

Culajay

Think back to January of 2013.  Can you remember things you did, or what your life was like just 34 months ago?  For most of us, especially us adults who work and have never-ending responsibilities that are not broken into season by school year or something similar, it is difficult to think of one vivid memory from January 2013.

That is not the case for Juan Culajay.

Juan is one member of a family of 9 orphaned siblings (to alcoholism), with an additional 3 (maybe more now) children of Juan’s older sisters.  In January 2013, there were 12 Culajay children living in one room, behind the family’s tortilleria (shop that sells hot fresh tortillas at meal times).  As if that were not shocking enough, there are two other details about the Culajay living situation that build upon the direness of their need for help.

  1.  Sure, the family was crammed into just one room, but add to that the fact that the wall shared with neighbors was two stories tall.  Elder Culajay siblings can remember a time when they had a second room upstairs.  Unfortunately, their parents’ alcoholism took priority over living space and they sold the second-story wood floorboards to fuel their vice.  Not only did this act take away a whole extra room, but created very unsafe conditions for living in the room that was left.  If you struggle to understand the problem, try to imagine a 20-foot cinderblock wall over not great footings, and with no support besides the floor and the roof.  Then add the fact that this house is in an earthquake zone.  Just a little rumbling could have made that wall come tumbling down.  I shudder at the thought of what could have been, and thank God that it never was.
  2. The Culajay family is visible.  Or, at least, they should have been.  Their home is near downtown Santiago.  There are businesses and other families on their street.  Across the street is a church.  Around the corner is City Hall.  During election cycles, political parties used the front wall of the Culajay’s home to promote themselves, without even a knock on the door to ask permission.  How could so many Santiago residents be blind to this family and their needs?  How?

Juan Culajay remembers January 2013 because that’s the month that Se Luz youth showed up at his home with building materials and lots of young volunteer workers.  He remembers January 2013 because that is when his life was transformed.

With a simple home remodel, The Culajay home became safer and larger by the addition of the second floor bedroom and porch.  Through the kind gesture of a friend to Se Luz, the family became better-equipped to provide for itself with the gift of a new tortilla stove/comal.  But the most transformational aspect of this January 2013 service project was that Juan and his brother Jose joined Se Luz as youth participants.

Before long, both Juan and Jose became Romeo’s right (and left?) hand.  Juan was also integrated into Romeo’s work crew.  Since January 2013, these two boys have had almost 100% attendance at Se Luz weekly meetings and monthly service projects.

This past summer, Juan was in an accident.  He was hit by a car while crossing the street, and broke his leg pretty badly.  It has been 5 months since the accident, and Juan is still homebound, his leg in a cast.  He’s getting restless.  He’s questioning God and why this accident happened to him.  He misses Se Luz meetings, and laments not being able to participate in the service projects.

Just last week, Juan told me how upset he was that he missed out on going with the group to Playa Grande, El Quiche.  I told him not to worry, because God willing Se Luz will continue to do service projects until there is no more need.  That could be a while.  **understatement**

This is a young man who loves being a part of Se Luz.  He is eager to get better so that he can re-engage in serving his neighbors.  He is counting down the days anticipating the return of the Board of Directors in April 2016.  He even asked me to teach him English so that he can interact with us more easily when we come.  **my heart swells**

I love Juan’s story.  I love it that I’ve had the privilege to see his transformation over an actually short period of time into a mature young man and Christian.  I love it that it’s not only me who is excited to see this change, but Romeo, the rest of the youth, all of you… and most importantly, God.

Guys, the work we’re doing with your help in Guatemala is really. good. work.  I hope you get that.  We are actually changing lives–and not just anonymous lives.. The people who’s lives Se Luz is changing have names and stories and bright futures.  We all are so grateful that you’ve chosen to partner with us to make these stories possible.  May God bless us all.

Reflections on being LIGHT in darkness