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Holes in the Window

Luke Dove is a CMF missionary working with Cada Niño, a ministry which serves at-risk children in the slums of Guatemala City — areas that are continually plagued by violence, gangs, extortion, and murders. As the youth pastor, Luke works with the team to create long-term change in the lives of children and their families. Here he shares a story of love and loss in their community.

There’s a hole in the window of the room where I preach. I didn’t see what made the hole. In fact, it’s been there since before I arrived in Guatemala. Some of the teachers say it’s a bullet hole. Others say it was just a rock. It’s in the window that’s in the back left of the classroom, right in my eye line as I stand in the front. And I often find my eyes drawn to it when I’m teaching, or when I’m standing in that back area of the room while assisting another teacher. Sometimes I’ll just walk over and look at it. There is a piece of window missing that was supposed to be there. That was designed to be there. And if you look through it you can see the city from a different perspective. It’s the same slum to be sure, but with the edges of the jagged and broken glass around it.

And then I’ll turn around, and I see the class. And I see the same holes. Lots of times I didn’t see what made the holes. Many of them have been around since before I arrived in Guatemala. Sometimes the hole in their life was made by a bullet hole. Sometimes what made the hole was sickness. Sometimes the hole was made because someone made a decision to leave and ripped out that part of the window with them. But most of the kids we serve are missing a part of their life that was supposed to be there. That was designed to be there. And they see the world from a different perspective because of it.

I think of two of our girls, who we will call Lily and Rosa (all names and some details have been changed to ensure privacy). Lily is about 14 and Rosa is 11. They come from a family that has both mom and dad in the picture, a rarity, and both of their parents are very nice to us and participate in activities and events. They are confident young women who are very sharp and intelligent, they pay attention and do their work, well-liked by all and incredibly friendly. They might not be the type to volunteer an answer to a question in class but if you call on them, they will know the correct response. They are competitive and good board game players, quick to serve lunch or help clean up, just two really solid students with good manners and better hearts.

We went to visit them a few months back, just a normal routine home visit. We confirmed with the family the night before and then showed up that Thursday morning to their door. We knocked a few times, and nobody came to answer. We peered through the holes in the rusted sheet metal fence/wall and didn’t see any movement. Knocked again, no response, and we turned away, confused.

As we walked back to where the bus would pick us up, we saw one of our family’s houses with the door open, and there we found a grandma who took care of her grandchildren by herself, two of whom are our students, and we found them there as well. And so, we sat, visited, shared a message, and drank some Pepsi out of a glass, reusable, two-liter bottle.

It was one of those God coincidences, where He puts the right people in our path at just the right moment. She clearly was struggling, and desperately needed to share with somebody. They were hungry and didn’t have the necessary food or funds to scrape something together. And so, we happily gave them the bag of groceries which we had planned to give to the family of Lily and Rosa. She shared about her struggle as a grandmother taking care of grandchildren almost completely by herself, and how her eyesight was failing quickly, and she didn’t have any way to get the help she needed. It was a difficult conversation but so needed and liberating. Part of it was emotional to the point where she felt kind of ashamed and so I took the 12-year-old grandson outside, and we walked out to get the Pepsi.

A couple of things really struck me from the conversation that we had with her and the time that we spent in their home. The first were the flies. They were everywhere, worse than any home I can remember being in, all over the boy’s oatmeal, everywhere. The second, and the thing that has been in my head ever since we left that house that day, were the pictures on the wall. There were a couple of portraits of some young men, maybe early 20’s. We asked about them. They were her sons, all of whom had passed away. And as she told us what had happened to them one by one, she didn’t say that they were killed by the gangs, which is what happened, but she didn’t even say that they “died,” or were “murdered,” she didn’t use any of those phrases. She said the phrase, “me lo quitó,” which translates to “He was taken from me.” And we don’t have to ask what she means, or who did the taking, we just understand. We don’t have to ask more questions; we just sit there with her as she points to the holes in her window and tells us their names.

We arrived back to the center around 11:30, pleased that we were able to still salvage the morning and spend quality time with a family we had on our list to see in the future that we could go ahead and scratch off the list.

About 11:45 four ambulances came screaming down the hill, one after another with maybe 30 seconds or a minute in between them. They’re headed down to La Isla, where we had just come from. We stopped what we were doing and began to pray.

That afternoon as the kids filtered into Cadaniño we learned what happened. Lily and Rosa have a couple of older brothers who I had never really met, they are about my age; I guess I remember them dropping the girls off a few times, but not in a long time. I guess a while back they were accused of stealing a motorcycle and a couple of other things, and it was made known that if they were ever seen in Santa Fe again that they would be killed, that revenge would be taken. I don’t know if they did it, but it seemed like they probably had. And so, they left, hiding in some village or a faraway part of the country where they couldn’t be found.

But one of them had come back. And when he walked outside to go to a tienda (open-windowed store), he was shot and killed there on the corner. That’s why the ambulances came flying down that hill. And presumably that’s why they didn’t open the door when we came to visit.

The funeral happened the next day, with only immediate family.

There is now a bullet hole in the windows and the lives of Lily and Rosa. The window is still intact, the girls have taken their loss to Jesus and laid their emotions and pain at the foot of the cross, but they see the world outside from a different perspective now. I’m so grateful to God for the way that they have both responded to what happened. I’ve had many long and tear-filled talks with both of them, and their faith inspires me and encourages me in my own faith. They are so filled with love and the peace that surpasses understanding as they model walking with God through hard times that those around them have been deeply impacted by their example and testimony. And as their pastor and their friend, I am so proud of them.

When I think of these awesome young women of God, who radiate love and joy, kindness and goodness, and yet who have been so affected by the world around them and the loss they’ve experienced, an image and some questions fill my mind and my heart.

Could a stained-glass window still be beautiful despite the bullet holes?

Could it be more beautiful because of them?

Could the hole in their stained-glass lives let the light that is inside them shine out more clearly?

Guatemala, Luke Dove, underserved, youth pastor

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