Backstory: The Crossing Church took their first Church Partnership trip to visit Iglesia Evangelica Central Monte Alto of Guatemala in 2016. 

Marlen leans in close with the other girls, her voice nearly giddy and her eyes wide with the anticipation of secrets. Her red and black dress contrasts the roughly cut concrete stairs they’ve all piled on to listen intently to Becky, their newfound friend. Like popcorn, questions bounce out of each little mouth–

“What’s your family like?”

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Does your boyfriend love Jesus?”

As Becky answers their questions, the girls begin to share their own stories. They tell her about their hobbies, friends, and dreams before taking turns pointing to the various adults positioned throughout the blue-tiled sanctuary of the church. 

“Those are my parents!” one girl exclaims, pointing to a couple seated next to each other in the sanctuary.

“There’s my mom,” another girl states, as she points to a middle-aged woman conversing with Pastor Hector.

“My parents aren’t here. I live with my aunt and uncle,” Marlen says with a carefree spirit. No line of worry touches her face and no hint of sorrow can be heard in her voice.

Marlen is made of sugar, spice, steel, and stone. With a patience that far exceeds her years, she helps Becky–who is nearly 20 years her senior–with Spanish. Marlen loves to read books and proudly proclaims her dreams of being a businesswoman. She giggles loudly, yet bears scars of deep loss and profound rejection.

She was young when her father died. After his death, Marlen’s mother remarried, but her new husband didn’t want Marlen to be part of their lives. Marlen was abandoned by her mother and left with her grandparents, but after a short period of time, both of Marlen’s grandparents passed away. Thus, at 9 years old, Marlen has suffered the loss of three primary caregivers and survived the trauma of being abandoned by her own mother.

But, brokenness does not conclude this story and suffering is not the victor. 

A couple at Pastor Hector’s church–now affectionately deemed “aunt and uncle”–learned of Marlen’s history of loss and rejection, and they made the life-altering decision to change Marlen’s story. Though she was orphaned, Marlen is now part of a loving family. Though she was rejected, she is now part of a community that embraces her.

Marlen is one of the 20 children being cared for through families at Iglesia Evangelica Central Monte Alto. The bright blue and yellow church building sits near the top of a hill with a wallpaper of tiny cement houses behind it. A tall fence surrounds the building and dirt courtyard area. Though the windows aren’t stained glass and the yard has no landscaping, this place of sanctuary and peace sits as a diamond in the rough.

Across the street, a small fire burns as a woman performs witchcraft, declaring curses on the church. When the noise of the day hums too quietly, the sound of gunfire may be heard in the distance–a reminder that the gangs intend to control the soil beneath your feet. The six-year-old boy down the road hopes to one day kill more people than his father–a gang member who has killed thirteen people. The darkness and the pain of Guatemala is thick here. 

But against the darkness of Zone 18, the light of the church shines brightly. Amid the violence of the gangs, the peaceful nature of the church community offers an alternative. A refuge for the oppressed and safe harbor for the broken, the simple concrete building provides a shelter in this deafening storm. Hope is in tiny churches, on soccer fields, in the cool air of the mountains, and along the lake. Sweet-tasting hope seeps into all the tiny crevices of the broken places, and it cannot be extinguished. It is brighter than the darkness, stronger than the pain, and louder than the chaos. 

Tomorrow will be a new day and one that will certainly hold trouble, but tomorrow kites will dot a blue sky and children will play silly games that end in belly-aching laughter. Children like Marlen will come home from school and be greeted by a loving family. Iglesia Evangelica Central Monte Alto will once again open its doors and its arms to embrace its community. Hope will remain in Guatemala, and seemingly unconventional families like Marlen’s will grow stronger.