We don’t know whether this is now “the new normal” but once again we are writing after what feels like a period of transition for us here in Guatemala.
Tomorrow we fly to Spain and then, a week later, on to the UK where we will be visiting family, returning to Guatemala on 13 December. Just a couple of days ago our first grandson was born – Theodore (Theo) Bear Balfour – and we can’t wait to meet him. We know, too, that we are very much in need of a rest after a rollercoaster of a year and are looking forward to time out with family for the next month. At the time of writing Theo is in the special care baby unit as he has fluid on his lungs and sepsis, and our hearts go out to Sam and Lois as new parents facing this situation. Probably the toughest thing for us about being here is that we are so far away from our family; we are sure we are called to be here, but it’s not always easy (as you know).
It’s been an interesting, varied and quite busy couple of months since we moved to Guatemala City. We have been gradually building up relationships with the children and young people at the centre and also with the Mi Arca team. Rosalie has really enjoyed doing crafts with the children and teaching them to cook. One Friday afternoon we took 34 children swimming at a local pool which is owned by the Girl Guides who very generously allow us to borrow it.
We also had great fun one evening when a group of the younger boys were having a sleepover at the centre: we ran an hour of British games such as stick in the mud, captain’s orders and rats and rabbits (or “ratons y ranas” as it became known – “rats and frogs” in Spanish). Whatever the activity, the children just enjoy having adults taking an interest in them and giving them time, something that, for many, rarely happens outside the centre.
We have also been out with the street team, visiting groups of mainly young adults who live on the streets as well as seeing families who have left the streets and to whom we are giving ongoing support. It is quite usual to have the whole family (often three generations or more) living in one tiny room not much bigger than a double bed, and yet they are generally so welcoming and so hospitable. We love getting to meet them and being able to talk with them and pray with them.
When Duncan Dyason first came out to Guatemala 25 years ago, it was estimated that there were 5,000 street children in the capital. Now, there are hardly any children living independently on the streets so it is no longer really accurate to speak of work with “street children” here in Guatemala City (although some organisations continue to use that language). Rather, the role of Mi Arca is more properly described as one of prevention. Because of poverty and violence and abuse, there will always be children who drift towards street life so Mi Arca works hard to identify those who are becoming more and more “street-connected” and, through the mentoring programme and work with their families, to prevent them from making that choice.
And the mentoring programme does yield results! It has been wonderful, for example, to see the extraordinary effect that being part of the programme has on many of the children’s progress at school.
One of the most heartbreaking things we have experienced is that a very vulnerable 11-year-old girl, who we met when we were in Guatemala three years ago, is now herself (at 14) running a child prostitution ring in the Terminal. We know that she is targeting some of the young girls associated with the centre but as yet do not have enough evidence to go to the authorities. Please pray about this situation. It is hard to communicate the vulnerability of children here and the sheer lack of security that is part of their daily lives.
Through this period of time we have been discerning more about our specific role here. From January we will have two distinct but complementary roles with Street Kids Direct (SKD): one that covers a wider geographical and missional context, and one that is focused more specifically on one particular area. We have given each role a name, as that helps us and others to understand what we are doing!
Firstly, the wider role. We will be the SKD pastoral support team, providing care and pastoral support for SKD-partnered ministries in Central America and for SKD staff and volunteers. This will involve some travel outside of Guatemala, particularly to Honduras; we have always felt that the Lord had some role for us to play in that country too.
Here in Guatemala City we will be community outreach workers in La Terminal, working in partnership with Mi Arca (and other agencies as appropriate) to reach out to children and young people at risk and their families. In time, the hope is to develop a church community with people who live and work in the Terminal – a church that will itself include and serve those children and families.
With respect to that role, Rosalie is keen to explore the possibility of helping women to start small businesses so that they can provide a sustainable income for their families. As many of you know she spent nearly 10 years volunteering with a fair trade organisation (Traidcraft) in the UK and she firmly believes in empowering people through business, helping them to have more control over their lives.
Thank you for all your prayers concerning Rosalie’s health. She has continued to suffer from problems with her gut after all those strong antibiotics. However, it does seem to be getting better bit by bit as she follows quite a strict diet.
When we return to Guatemala in December, we will be straight into Christmas activities at the Mi Arca centre. Radio Christmas, a major, annual fundraising initiative for SKD, is broadcasting live from the centre in Guatemala from 12–24 December and we will be hosting some shows during that time: an ’80s show on Thursday 14 and 21 December, 8pm– 10pm UK time, and The Name Game (with Duncan Dyason), Saturdays 16 and 23 December, 6pm–8pm. Not only can you listen in through the internet, but you can also phone in (a UK number) or email/text/message and get involved with the shows. Visit www.radiochristmas.co.uk to find out more. It would be great to have your participation!
We will also be running a Christmas Eve party for the children at the centre, with Christingles. Small children, sharp sticks and fire – what could possibly go wrong? We may also be providing a traditional English Christmas meal for them that day – if we can find ovens big enough for the turkeys. (Christmas is very much celebrated on December 24 here.)
On Sundays most often we go to Vida Real church here in the city. This morning the talk and worship were particularly focused on the Holy Spirit and it was a very timely reminder for us of the need continually to be filled with his presence and to try to do nothing without him. As always, please pray that we keep close to Jesus in everything.
Thank you for all your prayers and support; it is hard to convey what it means to us to know that we are in partnership with you all and do not do this alone.
With our love – and hope that you have a wonderful Christmas,
Mark and Rosalie
PS: if you would like more regular updates you can follow our blog – balfoursguatemala.wordpress.com or our Facebook page “Balfours in Guatemala”.
If you would like to receive regular prayer updates by email (usually every two-three weeks), please email Mark at revmbalfour@ btinternet.com