I walked in the rain and mist today – through cornfields; amidst destitute poverty – to meet a woman named Maria. She makes and sells jewelry to the tourists who visit Lake Atitlan, traveling miles by foot or a fortunate car ride with her cute toddler daughter. Maria lives in the home that once was her mother’s. The clay brick walls and dirt floor of the one-room house blend into a seamless palette of deep terracotta. She is proud of the wood-burning cook stove in the corner – it is a new gift from a team of missionaries. She and her daughter share a twin bed covered with wool blankets, which also serves as her sofa when guests come to visit.
Because there were several in our group, Maria transforms buckets into makeshift chairs. She then reaches behind a clothesline filled with shirts, skirts and pants, and brings out a bag and a baby’s bathtub. The bathtub serve as a display area for her work. She shows us beautiful handiwork
– necklaces and bracelets and earrings, while she shares her story.
Shunned by her family after having a child out of wedlock, Maria feels all alone in her small community. The gentleman next door is abusive, threatening not only his own family but she and her daughter as well. There is no bathroom in her home; her only option is to pay rental for the use of a public bathroom high on a hill. Because she has little money, she opts to bathe in the dark of night in a sink located in the courtyard of her neighborhood. She fears for her safety. Her story is shared in hushed tones so those nearby won’t hear.
Maria has the same dream we all do – she longs to live a life as bright as the beads and stones she uses to create her jewelry.
My heart is pierced as I walk away from Maria’s home, looking across the cornfield at the other clay brick buildings dotting the hilly landscape. The mournful song of someone in the community adds a heart-wrenching soundtrack to the afternoon. The children playing outside in the mud are the same children who laughed and sang with our team as they ate the lunch sponsored by a roofing company in the United States. I’ve been to this country so many times. Yet this time truly is new. Poverty has become personal. It has a face, a name. I have held it, spoken to it, walked alongside it.
Isaiah 1:17 resonates loudly in my soul.
As I lie here tonight, the ache in my heart so strong, I ask, “What now?” I feel the stirring. I await the whispered answer.