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Azaria Spencer link letter no.4 October 2017

Dear lovely family and friends,

Hola from Guatemala!

I hope this finds you well. I thought that I would begin with a quote from Timothy Keller for us all to ponder: “It is not so much your regard and love for God, but rather His regard and love for you that makes you a Christian.” Very thought provoking! I have been reading about how we all need to return to the gospel message in our lives and remember that even as Christians, we can become enslaved. We can even become enslaved to things that we don’t expect, such as attending church, reading the Bible, serving others, doing ministry and being in mission – things that are not in and of themselves bad or wrong. In fact, these things are all great for spiritual growth and for our relationship with God and others, but even these things can become “works for salvation” and take our focus away from God.

The whole point is that God already loves us and that he loved us first! A fact I think we all need reminding of from time to time. As Oswald Chambers once asked: “Are we more devoted to service than we are to Jesus Christ himself?” Something to think about!

Now that I actually live in Guatemala, I can’t quite believe that I am here. This is my home, and what a beautiful home it is! The photos in this letter barely do it justice, but I can vouch for the beauty of this part of the world.


One of the many beautiful views I have seen, this time with volcanoes

The people here are warm, welcoming and friendly. Relationships are an important part of all our lives, and here people really value time – time spent building friendships and time spent with others. I am enjoying the beginnings of new friendships with lots of people and I am thankful for the team at Mi Arca, where I will soon be based full time. I am definitely learning more patience as the pace of life here is a bit slower, things take that little bit longer and sometimes even simple tasks take a length of time that you would not think possible.


My amazing welcome when I arrived at the airport!

Having said that, I am from Yorkshire where the pace of life is that bit slower too and so in many ways I feel very much at home! However, Latin American culture is very different from any culture I have experienced before and I am really enjoying getting to know how life here works. I have particularly enjoyed some of the cultural music, dancing, performances and festivals. I knew that the salsa classes I took with friends at college would pay off one day!

It is a privilege to be studying Spanish in Antigua (the town in Guatemala not the island in the Caribbean). I can sit and do my homework while looking at three volcanoes, one of which – Fuego – smokes and rumbles from time to time. Once I even saw some larva! I am slowly learning Spanish, “poco o poco” as we say here; it is a fantastic language but not without its difficulties. However, I passed my first exam which was really encouraging and helped me grow in confidence. Again, I am learning patience, this time to be patient with myself and my brain. It’s quite frustrating when your brain stops working in English as well as Spanish and you simply can’t think of any words although my teachers are really great. The best teachers are the children at Mi Arca, who love to teach me new words when I visit.


A game in Spanish class

When I am in the capital at Mi Arca, I have been able to visit families, go out with the street team and spend time at the centre. Building friendships with the children has been great and there are so many stories I could tell you about their lives. Some are fun, some exciting, some more difficult and some simply heart-breaking. That is the nature of life here; it is unpredictable and sometimes very sad. However, I am finding that there is always some joy and hope to be found. Let me tell you a short story about a little girl whom I have gotten to know.


Some of the children playing on a day trip in Antigua

It was a typical, warm, Guatemalan evening and we – some of the other volunteers and I – were about to put on a film to relax after a hard day’s work when the phone rang. An emergency was unfolding with the mother of one of the families we support suddenly leaving the father after he had come home and beaten her. Two of my co-workers rushed off into the night to aid the mother with legal action. I stayed home and awaited the arrival of two of their five children, both boys. They arrived and were put to bed where they slept, probably not aware that their world would change overnight. Two of the girls were already at a sleepover at Mi Arca and the baby girl had remained with the mother.

That night was long for us all and by midday the following day the whole family were with us. Over the next few days we housed and looked after the mother and her children, while things were being arranged for them to return to their home. Abi is the fourth child in the family and only eight years old, but she has already experienced so much hurt and sadness in her short life. Her father was often abusive towards her mother and although we don’t think he abused Abi and her siblings, we know that he stood by and allowed some of his friends to do so. I must ask what kind of father doesn’t protect his children?

It is easy to love Abi and children like her – it is the simplest thing in the world to love a vulnerable child. But it is hard to find love for those who are mistreating children, parents who are abusive, people who are taking advantage and those who make children such as Abi vulnerable in the first place. I have had to ask God for help with this!


With Abi (name changed and her face obscured for security reasons)

After getting to know Abi and her family, the following week when I was at Mi Arca she followed me around all afternoon. She copied what I did and basically became my shadow. She just wanted to be picked up, held, carried and loved! Who doesn’t? We are still working with this family, supporting them in whatever way we can and making sure that these children have a safe place to come and be after school. A place where they can interact with other children, where they can play and have fun, and simply be children.

The struggle is not over for Abi and her family but at least with the help of Mi Arca, Abi’s future is looking brighter all the time. It is exciting and a joy to be involved in Abi’s life, in even the smallest way.

During my time in the capital, I have also been able to talk more with my supervisor about my role at Mi Arca and what kind of things I will be getting involved in long term. We recently had a great conversation, which was really encouraging and exciting, and we had time to pray together too. Keep your eyes peeled for future link letters when there will be more to say about this!


The Central American team on a work retreat (Me, Emma, Mark, Rosalie and Steve)

These past few months have been the best and yet most difficult months of my life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you again for your constant support, prayers and encouragement. I am so humbled to finally be here.

Many blessings,

Azaria

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