Living on the mission field, you get used to certain things. You have to, or you may go crazy. You learn to ignore the street kids trying to sell things on the side of the road. The woman with scars all over her face, most likely from an abusive husband, selling from her basket of candies, gum. When I first moved down, I thought I would never get used to this stuff. It’s everywhere, though, and there is really nothing I can do about it.
Every once in a while I will buy some things I don’t need from the kids or a couple of candy bars from the lady with the basket and not take any change. It is hard to figure out the level to be involved. Do I stop and talk to the lady with the basket? But, I am from the wrong culture and have the wrong skin color to do much. Me trying to help in my broken Spanish may seem like a threat. There are still people here in Guatemala who have misconceptions of gringos, one of which is that we will eat their children. And, since many Guatemalans have a big belief in dispensing immediate justice, sometimes by lighting people on fire, it is best not to make too many waves.
It is even harder to not help with the kids. On the main street of town, kids are always begging or selling products or cleaning windshields. These days, I almost never give to these children. This may sound heartless, but I do so for two reasons: 1. You could go broke giving to all the kids begging (this is minor compared to the second reason). 2. Many international aid groups have documented what happens to kids who beg. If they get money, the likelihood of them going to school goes down because their parents see them as a potential way to make money instead of focusing on their education. Many of the kids are also forced and abused into working/begging. Giving to them reinforces that. (See here, here, here, here,and here for a few articles about this.)
So, I have gotten used to seeing but not processing. How to give here and there but not do more. This is one of the reason I love the Bible School. Since the people are coming to us, it gives us an opportunity to help them more substantially and removes many of the risks and uncertainties of helping people on the streets.
But, every once in awhile something gets through the shell I have created. Today it was a girl, most likely in her early twenties, who was passed out on the sidewalk. She had no pants on and was wearing only a dirty, stained pair of underwear, combat boots with no laces hanging off her feet, a ripped shirt, and a dirt-caked sweater. Her face and hair were filthy and around her mouth there were stains, most likely from huffing to get high. She was not there when I went into the store, but there she laid when I came out. As I waited for my passenger, I watched person after person just walk around or step over her, like a crack in the sidewalk.
I wanted to pick her up (she couldn't have weighed more than a hundred pounds) and take her home. Help her get cleaned up. Tell her how she has a Father who loves her and wants her to have a better life.
But I can’t. It's not that easy. A foreigner placing a young girl in his van is going to raise suspicion at best, imprisonment at worst. The police don’t care about things like this, so I can’t call them. There is nowhere I know of where I could even take her to get her help.
So, I looked out the window, shedding a tear and saying a prayer for a woman I couldn't help. When my passenger got in, we headed back to the Bible School. Six hours later, in my warm house, I wondered where she is at. Is she selling her body to get enough money to buy more glue? Did she head to her home where she is getting something to eat before huffing again? Is she dead? I’ll never know. All I do know is her life on earth is hell and I do not seem to have the tools or skills to help her.
One of the worst things is that this young girl's situation isn’t even unique. Here in Guatemala, it is just more visible than the United States, but there are women and men and girls and boys like this in every country in the entire world.
Sometimes it is good to have your heart broken, though. It is a reminder of the need, and especially how people really need Jesus and to be reconciled to the Father. If that young woman knew the love of her Father, she most likely would not do those things to herself or let other people do those things to her. So, we train people at the Bible School to know Jesus and be reconciled to the Father and to teach others to do the same. Hopefully, one of them will get something in their heart to do something, and they know the systems of their country so they could be effective in ways I cannot.
Tonight, though, the only thing I can do is be willing to feel the pain, and pray earnestly for her and that she can know her Father and His comfort.