Maria watches over everyone in the neighborhood only accessible by rough and rutted dirt roads. Her shoulders are strong and straight, though she carries the burdens of the other single mothers who struggle to feed their families. The community, a patchwork quilt of corrugated metal and cinder block homes, huddles like a scared child under harsh sun and blinding rain.
Vultures circle nearby to remind each resident of the life they dig out of waste at the nearby dump. Gangs lurk, ready to rob innocence and dignity. Dogs scavenge for scraps and rats in this place that’s mocked and shunned by those who consider themselves proper and decent. Raw sewage streams near homes illuminated at night by single, exposed light bulbs.
And yet, life lives here. Women give birth and the young care for the old. Children play with sticks and well-worn soccer balls. Careful hands embroider blouses with designs that nod to heritage and hope. And Maria watches over them all.
Today, she watches us. The ones who have given her bags of groceries, the ones who have held her close and prayed for her in the midst of the dust and stench and the fires of the Ravine, the ones who have taught the children she loves. She was the one who begged for people to come and help the ones Guatemala had forgotten. She had seen that prayer answered when the gates of the Ravine swung open to strangers who had heard people needed food. She was the one who cried because the children had no place to learn. She had witnessed a miracle when the doors of a school opened wide for the first time. Today is the day of the new miracle, of yet another answered prayer – but she didn’t know it would be us who would walk past the scorched fields and graffitied outbuildings to deliver it. And we didn’t know it would be Maria and her community of women at the end of the dirt road.
It takes eleven cinder blocks to answer a prayer. We know that now.
Maria’s miracle is the last of the day. She has walked to each home to see all the miracles before hers and gently touched the smooth surface of the Plancha stoves as the women learned to cook on them for the first time. She’s watched as children gathered to see water from a stream become pure for drinking. She’s not hidden the tears as they’ve poured like spring rain on a most thirsty world around her.
She’s counted the cinder blocks. Then the smooth cement pieces. The firebox. The pumice. The planchas. And the chimney.
It takes eleven cinder blocks to answer a prayer. Maria knows that now.
With the miracle transforming a tiny metal-roofed room into a cocinar, Maria stands outside preparing the last meal on the open fire pit she’s used for decades to feed those hungry for a meal and for family. Soot clings to the walls and to her skin, and a grandchild’s constant cough reminds her of why she prayed. The stove brings more days to the days given Maria and her community. The gangs still lurk. The dogs still scavenge. Life is still hard. But Maria knows the women she loves will be safer now, the little ones healthier now.
She looks at the finished stove, and the tears fall again. Carefully she carries a flame from the fire pit to bless the gift she has been given. And she looks again at us, those now bound more tightly than ever to this woman who carries the pain of her people and tends to it with such grace. She’s prayed for them so often – and God has answered every prayer.
She wipes her face as we gather around her to bless Maria and the families of the miracle. “I have prayed for a stove for so very long. God has heard me today.”
It takes eleven cinder blocks to answer a prayer. I know that now. Being part of the Orphan Outreach/HELPS team that installed six clean stoves and water filtration systems in a community near Chimaltenango, Guatemala, still brings me to tears. The wonder on the women’s faces as they lit the fire for the first time…oh, how I long for us to all find moments as wonderFULL as that.
Have you ever been part of an answered prayer? I’d love to know your story! Share it below!