Thursday, February 16, 2012

GUATEMALA 2012: (4) A Chinchillas Tale

Luis, Brayan, Ana Lucia, Norma
 -August, 2010-
Larry turned to him and said, "Luis, you have heard me tell stories, now why don't you tell me a story?" Luis looked away and paused thoughtfully. He turned his eyes up toward Larry and with a sad expression said, "I do not have any stories to tell."

I remember those first few days in Guatemala with snapshot clarity. I was so far outside of what I knew that I was more than a little stunned. I had no idea what I was doing. I was convinced that I was more of a hinderence than a help. I was sure that every action I took would probably cause someone else more work to correct it. The sunlight seemed to punish me as the sweat ran down my face in a non-stop itch-fest. My boots were heavy with caked earth, my jeans were wet with dampness from laying on my head to tie rebar in the foundation trench. And those fierce little biting ants were constantly in my pants.

If I could have walked away... I may have. Tenacity was being learned by the simple reality that I had no way off of that mountain except by completing that house. And so... I just kept on lifting block. One at a time. Mud it, lay it, level it, correct it, repeat. To my wonder, the walls slowly began to rise. And as our progress became manifest, my spirit began to climb above my own selfish view, and I began to weep as I became aware.

Of all the people at this edge on the mountain, I was the one in need of the most. I had a moment that became the inspiration for one of my first blogs as I sat collapsed in the dirt in the back corner of the site and looked up at the machete-hewn, 3 meter high dirt wall.

It was like a cross section of time... with bits of metal, plastic, refuse, and whatever had been discarded and slowly covered by years of erosion and deposited soil. I pried a toothbrush loose from the wall and I sat there and considered the depressing, wasteful nature of time passing without meaning. And then I considered the incredible contrast with what we were raising right beside it. Concrete walls of purpose... a home for a family. This same space that had occupied the unwanted toothbrush, now was transforming from rejected waste to a cherished space of hope.

And I fell down against the wall and silently wept as I realized my own life had the same capacity... I could be a timeline of waste, or I could be a shelter of hope to my wife and kids. At the end of my time, what would be the remnants in the wall of my days?

Something happened in me that day, and I began to notice the lives that surrounded me on that mountain. So let me now tell you the story of Luis Chinchilla.

Pictured left to right: Larry, Ramero, Luis, Brayan, Roaming Shepherd
There were 5 of us: Larry, Margaret, Callie, Kellie, and me. Between us we spoke a total of nada spanish. Our job foreman, Ramero spoke a total of zero English. Between the two languages stood a single teenager. This house would be his own, along with his little brother, sister, and mother. Luis not only worked alongside us the entire week, but he also translated every sentence of communication between us and Ramero 
And so, we began to learn about Luis... a very small piece of information at a time. At first, he simply listened to us as we took turns telling him stories of our lives, our travels, our families, and answered his questions. When Larry asked him to tell us a story, and he replied that he had no story to tell... it was a sobering moment for us all. 

Much of the remainder of that day was spent in silence as we worked into the evening. We were beginning to feel the toll of manual labor with concrete and cement on our 9-5 office job bodies. By this time gloves were destroyed and fingers bled. We continued to work in silence as we contemplated our physical pain as well as the greater emotional strain of the realities that surrounded us. We realized that we could not possibly make any meaningful difference. We knew that the week would soon end, we would go home, the dust would settle... and the needs here far outweighed any help we could give.

On the drive home that night, our driver and host Edgar... began to open our eyes. He told us the story of Luis.
Luis & his brother, Brayan - the day we started.
Luis' father had abandoned his family. They had nothing left. His father had worked, but his money was never made it home. Addiction and repeated bad choices had robbed him of the man he could have been. The situation had deteriorated to the point that family had to intervene. He had become abusive, nearly ending the lives of his expecting wife and unborn child. He now had another family and left his three children and their mother with nothing but fear, pain, and bad memories. We learned that this is a very typical story of how men behave in the culture.

And so, this young man was left fatherless at this critical time in his life. When he thought about his father, he felt only resentment, anger, and abandonment. Statistically, Luis would be soon repeating this cycle. This poverty is generational. It is endless.
But, this is a story of provision and convergence. And this is a story of beating the odds. Edgar was more than our driver... he was also a part of Catalyst Resources International, an agency committed to breaking this cycle of hopelessness. And... most importantly, Edgar was the uncle of Luis, and Edgar was pouring his own life into Luis. Edgar had stepped into the gap and as we listened to Edgar tell of Luis, we realized that Edgar was teaching Luis how to be a man.

Our team with Luis, Brayan, Ana Lucia, & Norma.
Ramero, Edgar, and Luis completed the house after we left.
That summer was nearly two years ago. Since that time, Luis has worked alongside his uncle as part of Catalyst Resources International. Luis has worked with many groups of Americans who go to Guatemala on short term missions work and he has now helped to build homes for several families. Luis is breaking the generational cycle of poverty and hopelessness. As he works beside his uncle, he now becomes the second generation of rising beyond circumstance and beating the odds.

When I returned the summer of 2011, I was able to see Luis
in his home that bore evidence of the change in his life.

Luis and his brother now had a quiet place to study. His little sister had a safe place to sleep at night. His mother now had a reason to hope that her children would live to be adults. Luis was a very good student even before he had a home, but now he is able to reach his full potential. Early into 2012, Luis learned that he had achieved his dream... he has been accepted to a university in the United States. He is on a full scholarship that includes room, board, and books.

Luis has done what hundreds of thousands of Guatemalan children can not... he has broken the cycle of poverty. He has done this through a perfect collision of his own tenacity, the love of his uncle, the vehicle of Catalyst Resources International, the support of friends, and the provision of God.

Every time I look at the picture of me collapsed in the mud, fighting ants, and having my own personal crisis/breakthrough...

...I realize how amazing it is that I have a small part in this story. Somehow, I was given this incredible opportunity to simply be an inadequate, ill-tempered, perspective-lacking, guy... who was able to lay the foundation on a piece of land, turning it from a dumping ground to a place that is now set apart, and made holy by the God of new beginnings. 

Thank you Luis. You were once a boy without a story. Now you are a man who possesses a story with no equal. You are my inspiration.

The Machete-Hewn Wall

The stone the builders rejected
   has become the cornerstone;
the LORD has done this,
   and it is marvelous in our eyes.
The LORD has done it this very day;
   let us rejoice today and be glad.
 LORD, save us!
   LORD, grant us success!
 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
   From the house of the LORD we bless you.[b]
The LORD is God,
   and he has made his light shine on us. 

Psalm 118

New International Version (NIV)


  1. Gracias por compartir esta historia de Luis, el joven que está construyendo su historia con humildad y dedicación, que siga inspirando a otros para seguir caminando aún cuando las cosas se vuelvan difíciles....

  2. Tears of emotion come to my eyes... as I´m too a very small part in Luis´life, in his journey to become a man: a strong, loving, caring, hard working man! Thank you!

  3. I never get tired of reading this. Especially when I'm feeling depressed. This reminds me of how GREAT is our GOD and the people who let HIM work through them!

  4. Luis, you now possess a powerful story that I share wherever I go. You amazed me this past Christmas when I heard you tell that the week you spent with us building was the only week you had off between two separate school years. Our stories collided on that ordained week and it is most certainly true that we both were changed forever. You are taking steps of obedience that will certainly lead you to the promises of God. Never quit. Never stop. Your story will inspire thousands and blaze a trail for many to come.