Friday, December 31, 2010

Meet Jorge and Annie

In order to understand the work of Ciudad del Refugio and the reason for our trip to Guatemala City, you need to meet Pastors Jorge and Annie. You need to see them in tireless action: preaching, leading small groups, feeding hungry alcoholics, caring for their children and grandchildren, organizing an always expanding household, praying, and always, always smiling. Here is Jorge, talking with a group of men during one of the parenting classes I taught. And here is Annie, encouraging her group of young women and children during the same parenting class:
You also need to know about their lives before they moved to the slums and started this church. Jorge was pastor of a middle-class Baptist church that didn't want to hear his prophetic message about caring for the poor, so he left. He told us that the biggest problem in Guatemala is that the middle-class is so afraid of the poor people that surround them and they tend to consolidate their newfound power by building gated communities and clustering themselves in middle class enclaves.

Jorge is a wonderful communicator, whether he is preaching or encouraging or making announcements or counseling. He clearly cares deeply about the people in his congregation
as well as the other pastors he connects and mentors. He is extroverted but not overwhelming, energetic but not manic, intense but in an engaging way. Before he began this church, he served a church in this run-down neighborhood but they, too, saw church as a way to avoid the needs of the neighborhood, not to move toward them. He and Annie left there, too.

Annie is a true Proverbs 31 woman--not in the "Christian Martha Stewart" way that is often idealized in evangelical culture--but as a powerful force of feminine love. On the day that this picture was taken, Annie was managing a crisis: four young children had been abandoned by their mother who wanted the church to take care of them while she pursued her own life. Apparently, this had happened before and on this occasion, Annie went to court to ask a judge to give her guardianship over the children. This took several hours out of an already jam-packed day; I honestly don't know how she did it. The judge ruled ambivalently: the children would be returned to the mother but she would only be given one more chance to keep custody of them. Annie was discouraged and disappointed but trusting God.

To really understand this story, you need to know an earlier, mores surprising story. This one takes us to the jungle of El Salvador where Jorge and Annie met, when he was a teenaged guerilla leader and she was part of his security detail. They fell in love and escaped with only their lives after a price was placed on Jorge's head. They went first to Mexico and then to Guatemala with a young daughter and Annie's mother. Somewhere in the middle of those adventures, while they were separated from each other, each came to know Jesus in a personal, life-changing way. They went on to seminary together and continue to be deeply in love, caring for their own children and grandchildren as well as the children and young adults that God brings them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


As I said before, the main reason I went to Guatemala was to continue my search for the answers to the questions "What is a missional community and how do you create one?" I had heard quite a bit about the work that Jorge and Annie were doing in Guatemala City and that it took place in the context of authentic missional community and I wanted to see it for myself.

So, what is a missional community? On the simplest level, we start with a group of people who are deeply committed to each other, to God, and to the world. Then we see that group of people learn to share life together (no lone ranger Christians, after all) and learn to reach purposefully into God's world to bring the light of God into dark places. All those biblical ideals like unity and sacrificial giving and unconditional love and so on are given a place to come to life.

It's easier to look at the world and say what missional community is not. It's harder to find places where it is actually lived out and describe what it is. That's what I wanted to do in Guatemala. I'll write more later this week about the story of Ciudad de Refugio and Jorge and Annie Cerritos.

On the most fundamental level, missional community--and in fact, satisfying life itself--seems to be about hospitality. I don't mean Southern Living, Martha Stewart hospitality, although there's nothing wrong with that if you can pull it off. I can't.

Hospitality is the act of welcoming, the lifestyle of creating space, the commitment to draw others in rather than shut them out. At it's core, missional living is no more complicated than this. Here are some stories of hospitality:

This is Won, aka Juan, who has come all the way from the Pacific Northwest to love Guatemalan children. He lives in the large house next to the Cerritos' home and cares for the children who live there and who pass through. While we were visiting, a mother abandoned her four children at the church. It was this young American man who stopped everything he was doing to care for those frightened children until things could be resolved.

This woman lives across from the church and is likely in her eighties. She took in four abandoned children and is raising them in the loving community of Ciudad del Refguio. She feeds and clothes them on her limited resources and loves them well. The children are bright and talented and go to school. More about them later. Without the love of this woman, though, they would live on the streets like so many children do.

Part of what hospitality means in the Cerritos household is the constant making of meals, cleaning up after meals, planning for meals, shopping for meals, and thankfully, eating meals! There are about 15 people who eat at the Cerritos table regularly (three meals a day, 7 days a week) as well as visitors like us and others who show up from time to time. As you can imagine, the work is constant and unromantic and hard. Abuelita (Grandmother) on the left and Sandra are making pupusas here on a griddle on a portable propane stove.

This is Norma, with one of the many children she loves and cares for on her shoulders. Norma is the oldest daughter of Jorge and Annie, educated in the United States and now sharing a room with Abuelita in her parents' home. She works all day in a children's home in another part of the city and then returns home to take her part in the ministry of Ciudad del Refugio.
While we were there, Norma ran a large VBS at the church, cared for the children who were always at the center of life at the Cerritos' home, translated for us, encouraged her parents and still went to work every day. One of our team told me about a conversation she had with Norma in which she asked Norma, "Don't you ever get tired of not having your own space? Don't you get tired of not having your own time, time for yourself?" Norma responded with genuine confusion: "Who owns time? Who owns space? I don't own time. I don't own space. Time and space belong to God." I don't believe that this conversation was just a breakdown in translation. I believe that Norma understands on a level I never will what it means to live a life of hospitality. Her relaxed openness to whatever life brings, her posture of welcoming and accepting is what hospitality is all about. I become more and more convinced that hospitality is what the gospel is all about.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I used to be the "Christmas Queen" around here (ho, ho, ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls . . . ) but that seems to be a thing of the past. These days, "good enough" has to be good enough.

This year, the best part of the season has been having all of us together for the first time in six months. In one week, Mowgli came home from India/China and Boo got her official acceptance letter to UMHB. It was an exciting week!

I have to think that was a cherished part of Mary's first Christmas as well. There was no real reason for her to accompany Joseph to Bethlehem except that maybe she just wanted to be with him, to be together in whatever adventure God had planned for them.

Of course, it turned out to be so much bigger than just Mary and her beloved husband and their new baby. This poem has captured my attention this year and it illustrates all that Christmas represents for us on a larger scale, reminding us that Jesus did not just come into the world so that I and my family could go to heaven when we die but so that the world might be reconciled to God and to itself. This prayer/poem is my Christmas gift for you:

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss. This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction. This is true: I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word. This is true: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world. This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can be peacemakers. This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young shall see visions and your old shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity, of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history. This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

So let us move from Advent to Christmas with hope,
even hope against hope,
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ, the Life of the world.

~by poet, peacemaker and Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize many times.

Peace on earth and merry Christmas~

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The first thing people ask is, "So why did you go?" The truth is, I'm not sure exactly why I went to Guatemala. The simple answer is, "Because JTH asked me to." A little more complicated answer is, "I'd been thinking and praying for awhile about adventure and I thought maybe the invitation to go to Guatemala was related to that. A more profound and truthful answer is, "I went to Guatemala to learn."

The next thing people ask is, "What did you do there?" Well, I met some really amazing people, spent a lot of time waiting for the next thing, taught three parenting classes (sort of), spent some quality time with some other amazing people including my friend PB, washed quite a few dishes and experienced the wonderful hospitality of the Cerritos family and Ciudad de Refugio church. And yes, I learned. More about that later.

Eventually, people ask, "Have you posted any pictures online yet?" There are more on Facebook but here are a few:

This is the church--Ciudad de Refugio (City of Refuge). It meets in the garage of a family whose lives were transformed by the power of the gospel. The man with the microphone is Jorgito Cerritos, the son of the pastor and our host for four nights.

This is PB and Ryan and Juli, along with Abuelita (Grandmother) and Flori. Abuelita and Flori work nonstop to feed all the members of the household (upward of 10 and always changing). Here, Abuelita is making puposas for a special supper.

This is one shot of the view from our roof. The natural beauty of Guatemala is wonderful.

This is Annie and Jorge Cerritos who pastor Ciudad de Refugio. I'll tell their story later. This photo was taken at Pizza Hut.