By Lindsay Allen | Project Manager - Americas I recently read an article stating that a Gallup poll had been conducted to discover the world’s happiest (and saddest) countries. You might be surprised to learn that Guatemala actually ranked 4th in the world for happiest people! In fact, for the first time in Gallup’s 10 year history of doing the poll, all of the top 10 happiest countries are in Latin America. When I read that article, I remember thinking how excited I am to be visiting the world’s 4th happiest country, and what that culture might look like. The US landed at 15th on the list, by the way.
Knowing that Guatemala and other Central American countries suffer from a great deal of poverty, I was curious if maybe there were just pockets of really happy (and wealthy) people in an otherwise impoverished nation skewing the results. Today, my first day in Guatemala, I learned that the results were not skewed at all. This IS a culture of joyous, smiling people, but they are not relegated to the wealthy neighborhoods or the nicest schools. No, theirs is a joy that delights in one another and not in one’s possessions. (Which might partially explain why the US, a far wealthier and healthier country sits at #15.)
Now I have seen beautiful relationships and pure joy in each of the countries and cultures I’ve visited. So in that regard, Guatemala is not unique. But what IS unique (from my perspective) is how quickly and easily these relationships are built. I typically feel like there is a barrier of trust between locals and American visitors (and rightfully so in some cases). It usually takes some time to overcome that hurdle of trust before a relationship even becomes a possibility. From my one day’s worth of visiting in Guatemala, they seem to be a culture much more open to cross-cultural relations. I’ve also loved seeing so many people, of all ages, assist and encourage one another and show humility to one another in everyday, mundane activities.
When you are aware of the hardships many Guatemalans face, their joy becomes even more beautiful. Our first stop this morning was at the city dump. Chad, our ministry partner director here, said that this is the largest dump in Central America and maybe even South America. Thousands upon thousands of people “make a living” from the dump. Whether it’s driving trucks, digging through garbage for recyclables, or panning in raw sewage for valuable items, many people rely on the dump for survival.
It’s difficult seeing (and smelling) this place and imagining what life is like for these people. Chad shared a testimony of one man who used to work in the dump, who said, “When I was working and living there, I felt like I was garbage.” It’s easy to see why. Thousands of families live in a village right next to the dump, many of which have homes perched on a cliffside overlooking it, where they are in danger of mudslides. This is where almost all of the kids in the school we visited (run by our partner, AMG) live, and the majority of their parents work in the dump.
We also learned about the outrageous amount of violence that occurs in Guatemala City. Here, 94% of violent crimes go unprosecuted. And of the remaining 6% that do get investigated and possibly go to trial, many criminals can bribe their way out of jail. That’s how broken the system is. Gangs and organized crime are the main culprits of the violence. Chad said he sees dead bodies almost monthly. That’s a chilling thing to think about. This crime and violence is in large part due to the civil war that tore apart Guatemala for years.
In spite of all we learned this morning about Guatemala’s tumultuous history and the sobering realty of life in the city dump, our afternoon was spent learning about all the GOOD that AMG and World Orphans is doing together in the community, and we even got to spend some time laughing and playing with kids.
I really enjoyed getting to know more about AMG and how they impact the community. They have a wonderful staff that I’m very excited to have the privilege of working alongside. On our team, there are a couple US pastors who are considered partnering with one of our Guatemalan churches. We were able to share a bit with them about what partnership looks like and how it works. Please be in prayer that the Lord leads US churches to partner with our Guatemalan churches!
While we were meeting, the band members on our team (for the two bands Bluetree and the Informants) did a radio interview. Afterwards, the PLAN was for us to grab a quick fast food dinner, then the bus would pick up a few families that were waiting at the AMG headquarters, and we would all meet at Sender De La Cruz, the church where Bluetree would be performing a concert, and also serve pizza to the families.
Well…things never go according to plan on mission trips. Our quick fast food dinner turned into an hour and a half because they struggled to get 33 orders right (and who can blame them?). So we were running late. And then one of the band guys discovered their laptop with their tracks was back at the guesthouse. And Rachel (another AMG worker who was guiding along with Chad) had to leave to pick up pizzas. And some of us still didn’t have our food. And then they overcharged us. And the bus left with the band and their team members, but got lost and the driver wouldn’t answer his phone. And so they couldn’t pick up the families. So we crammed like 15 children into our van that seats 7, along with all the pizzas. And we got to the church about an hour late. And my goodness it was like everything that could go wrong was!
But in spite of all of the craziness and the errors and the messed up plans, God knows what He is doing. We still had a great concert and time of worship. The church was packed. And I loved hearing everyone singing along to the worship songs, each person in their own language. It was beautiful.