Day three in Guatemala.
The gift of reading was something I didn’t appreciate when I was young. I suppose I never truly appreciated it until today. We had the unique opportunity to meet with education administrators from all over Guatemala at a small pubic school, not far from the village of Chuluc. Thirty four principals sat waiting in a classroom for a group teachers from Huntsville, Alabama. I was with them as a pastoral representative from our church. The conversation was incredibly informative and overwhelming to say the least.
Out of thirty four school represented, only three of them had clean water. The three schools with clean water all had their filtration systems installed by Mission Firefly (check them out here). Every school struggled to have support, fight dropout rates, and provide adequate attention for students with special needs. They struggle to get kids past the 6th grade, most start working in the cities or fields by that age. They struggle with teaching to read. Ask a young child in a rural village or one of the slums of Guatemala what they want to be when they grow up and they will not answer you. A blank stare of confusion will be their only response. They have no concept of being anything other than what they know.
All of those things were heavy. Each group presented prioritized lists of their needs. But one need broke me in a way that took me completely by surprise. Early in the sharing process, the first group said they needed a library. This is the short conversation that took place.
“We need books for a library.” – Guatemalan Principal
“Do you have a library?” – American Teacher
“Do any of your schools have a library?”
“Ok,” said the American teacher, “No Libraries.” She wrote it on the list.
My heart shattered. I couldn’t control myself. I slipped out of the classroom into the courtyard just in time to avoid weeping in front of everyone. Tears welled up and a lump overtook my throat and I took a deep breathe. “No libraries,” she said. I’ll admit, I didn’t expect to break down over that phrase; but I did.
Reading teaches us to dream. We learn how to be heroes and we learn that evil looses. Knights, warriors, princesses, doctors, and saviors make up the eternal character that is a hero. How does one live in a world without heroes? How does a child grow up without fantasy, without dreams? No libraries, so no books. Never getting lost in the words of a grand adventure, never falling into the detailed world of an epic story, what does life look like without these things?
I wanted to be an astronaut, and a detective, and a native american warrior, and an explorer because of the stories that I read. The old worlds of Narnia, Middle Earth, and, of course, Hank the Cowdog have rocked my world. So when I came face to face with the reality of a child that had no option to read a good book of fiction, God broke my heart.
Before leaving for Guatemala the greatest packing decision I had to make was which books to bring. (I chose, if you care at all, Now and Then by Frederick Buechner, Simply Christian by N.T. Wright, and The Pastor by Eugene Peterson. No Hank the Cowdog on this trip.) Because what I read still shapes my life. It still affects who I am and who I want to be in this world, and the next.
The meeting went great. There was training and encouragement all around. A partnership could very well be on the horizon. There were so many needs listed beyond libraries. But I confess now, I wept at night on the roof of our hotel because every kid needs to know that evil can be beaten. Every child deserves the chance to imagine a better future. Because I know that reading, in it’s own way, did it’s part to save my life. And I know it can still save others.
Obviously I pray that we can feed the children, give them clean water, give them a chance to rise up economically. Our water team installed a brand new water filtration system in a remote village that very day. But we should not underestimate the power of story aid in such endeavors.
A good story can alter the direction of one’s life. Just ask everyone person that has found themselves basking in the grace of God after encountering the parable of two sons. So I pray that the power story might break forth.
“Jesus said all these things to the crowds in parables, and he spoke to them only in parables.” Matthew 13:34