When we were building the clinic and computer center, I remember walking out onto the roof, and realizing for the first time, that the views were INSANE. We just had no idea. If you’ve ever visited us, you know that it feels like you’re in a tree house. It’s crazy.
Fast forward to February of this year. I remember getting home as the sun was setting and I noticed a family building a small home just below us. When I say home, what I really mean is, a metal shed that’s probably smaller than the metal shed you keep your lawnmower in. And of course, as a good missionary, my first thought was, “SERIOUSLY? There go the views!” I know. I’m sorry. It’s embarrassing.
About a month later, Karlie called me to the clinic so we could talk to a girl whose son was in the nutrition program. Sarah (name changed) is 19 years old and her 2-year-old son Isaac was malnourished and covered in scabies. Sarah herself was sick, coughing and skinny. She didn’t look good.
“Sarah is wondering if we can help her. Her husband is threatening her and she doesn’t feel safe at home.”
“What do you mean, ‘threatening’ her?”
“Her husband drinks and when he gets drunk, he gets angry. This morning he said he was going to cut her up into pieces and throw her into a well. She left with Isaac and went to her mother-in-laws who turned her away. She said, “You can’t come here” and didn’t let her into the house.
I looked at Sarah and asked, “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
She said, “I hid under a car with Isaac and then I came here.”
I looked at her and told her, “Sarah, you can’t go back. You can stay here with us until we find a safe place for you, but you can’t go back.”
She quietly answered, “Ok.”
Sarah was a deer in headlights. Her eyes were emotionless and scared. As I look back I’m sure she was in shock.
So Karlie and I started making phone calls and Vonda called one of her best friends who’s a missionary at a safe house in Guatemala City.
A few hours later, Vonda confirmed that “The Refuge” had a room open for Sarah. “It’s a safe house for women escaping abuse. She’ll get medical care, legal help, counseling and discipleship.” It was perfect.
We met with Sarah later that afternoon and told her what we’d found. That she could live at a home in the city, have her own bedroom with Isaac, she would have food and she would be safe.
“I don’t have money to pay for that?!”
“You don’t have to pay ANYTHING.”
“When would we go?”
“Right now. Tonight.”
“But, he’s never hit me. He just threatens.”
Karlie said, “Sarah, when I worked in the Emergency room in the United States, I heard other women say what you’re saying. And then I would see them come BACK to the emergency room, beat up or dead.”
She thought about it and said, “I’m going to give him ONE more chance. And if he threatens me again…I’ll go.”
ALL THE AIR IN THE ROOM VANISHED. Karlie and I knew what those words meant. And so we prayed for her. We prayed for protection and we prayed that she would change her mind.
As night fell, I looked outside my office window to the flickering light of the little tin shack below, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for Sarah and Isaac. “God, keep her safe. Change her heart Lord. Save her.”
Jeff and Karlie left for the States the next day to be with her mom who had cancer. That night I got a call from Mara. Mara is this sweet lady who lives next door who works with us at the academy. She reminds me of a Guatemalan Mrs. Doubtfire.
“Sarah’s here and wants to talk to you. Can you come over?”
It was dark. I put my shoes on and walked next door. Mara looked concerned.
“Cuentame, que esta pasando?” Tell me, what’s going on?
Neither one spoke. And then Mara finally said, (long pause) “She wants to…kill herself. And Isaac too.”
Sarah just stared at the ground as tears puddled on the floor.
“Sarah. I’m so sorry.” I touched her shoulder, and she looked up.
“We love you and we’re not going to let anyone hurt you.”
“Is it too late to go to the shelter?”
“NO. Of course not.”
“I want to stay with my mom for a few days. Can we go on Monday?”
“Are you sure??? I can take you now and we can visit your mom on the way.”
“Monday is better.”
I was fine with Monday but that was two days away and that would give her time to change her mind. That would be enough time for him to find her. For HIM to change her mind. Time for him to beg. Or worse.
Mara and I drove in the dark to her mom’s who lived with her grandmother. Her mom was a quiet woman who seemed angry. Not necessarily at the situation, more like she had a chip on her shoulder, like she was fighting to survive herself and she was tired. And she didn’t need to be bothered.
We sat on dilapidated plastic benches and the first thing she told Sarah was, “There’s no room for you here.” And there wasn’t. Sarah would have to sleep on the dirt floor with Isaac until Monday morning.
Gramma interjected and told me about Sarah’s husband and how he drinks and that he’s not a good man.
Mara explained the current situation and told them that Sarah wanted to take her own life.
Sarah’s aunt who was sweeping and had been listening in the distance, in a low, disgusted voice said, “Sarah should just kill herself and leave Isaac with me.”
All I could think was, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE?!!!
Everyone had something to say and Sarah just stared at the next person talking.
I whispered, “Sarah, we can go right now. You can stay with my family until Monday.”
“I’m ok.” LIKE THIS WAS NORMAL!
As we were leaving, I told Sarah that she could call me. “The second you’re ready to go. Call me. No importa la hora.” It doesn’t matter the hour.
I prayed for Sarah on the drive home…and when I went to bed…and when I woke up…and when I looked out my office window.
I didn’t think Monday would ever come.
But Monday DID come. Sarah called me at 6am, “Can we leave early? I’m ready?”
That was 8 months ago and Sarah left the shelter on Wednesday. She is strong and confident and courageous. Her uncle is giving her a room where she and Isaac can live.
Yes, we run an academy and teach boys the Bible. We help people with medical needs who can’t otherwise afford it. We give a water filter to every single person we meet who’s drinking contaminated water. We build homes for single moms and families in crisis.
And when I say “we” I mean “WE”. You. And us. Together. THIS is what Jesus had in mind when He established the church. THIS is the book of Acts. Jeff and Karlie, Vonda and I, the missionaries at The Refuge, Mara and her husband Rolando, and you. Working together. Bringing glory to our Savior.
This is your ministry too.
Photo by Volkan Olmez