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.

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