The Celebration of Liberation started last January. It was the idea of Jorge Cerritos, the pastor of “Ciudad de Refugio”. That’s the name of the church, but also, the concept. A place of safety in the middle of chaos. So, Jorge decides to invite the men who can be found early every Saturday morning at the small cantinas near the bus depot … either recuperating from a hard alcohol filled night, or starting the day by numbing their brains …to breakfast.
The men of the small church in the squatter village in the Guatemala City suburb of Villa Nueva gather the tipsy and muddle headed flock, and bring them into the small garage that serves as the church’s assembly room. They serve up a hearty soup, or eggs, and tortillas. They also share their stories. It seems the majority of the men in the “church” are former drunks. Jorge gives a very passionate, very love laden, very biblical talk about a better answer to the challenges of life than that found in a bottle.
Daniel came for a number of weeks, always pretty soused, and always sullen. He obviously needed the food, but practically covered his ears when the “preaching” started. His face was swollen from many years of alcohol abuse. The majority of his teeth were missing. Week after week, he came, spoke with no one, and ate his breakfast.
A guest speaker came to the garage/refuge. He spoke of the roots of anger. He said that often, we do not know how to handle the pain we have experienced. He said we need to grieve. We need to realize that we are hurt, wounded by life. This had a visible effect on most there. Eyes turned inward, and reflected painful memories coming to minds. He explained that we do not have to grieve alone. Jesus offers to be with us in our grief, and to give us healing. Jesus died to prove the Love of God for us. Not because we are worthy of his love, but precisely because we are not worthy. He invited the men to take hold of the love of God, and the presence of Jesus, to find solace.
Daniel seemed to wake up bit by bit as the pastor spoke. By the end, he came up to the visitor, and thanked him profusely. I do not know if the pastor understood the transformation in front of him. He had not witnessed the weeks of sullen rejection of hope. Could he sense that his words were good, fitly spoken, in due time?
The next time I saw Daniel, he was in the streets, and waved at me. I thought he probably wanted money. Many of the men who come on Saturday hope to leverage our friendship to get enough for “just one more” as they say when they ask for a few Quetzales. I started to say I didn’t have any money, but Daniel asked me to pray for him. He said he needed to change his mind. The next time, maybe a week later, he again waved at me. He asked something in such a low voice, and with timidity, that I again thought he was asking for money. But when I again responded that I had no money, he said: “no…I don’t want money. I need a bible. I wondered if you might have a bible I could use. I need to fill my head with good.”
Pastor Jorge then took advantage of an offer to rent a large building in the neighborhood, to make it into a refuge for abused women and their children. It was basically a nice building, but needed a lot of repairs to the roof, and electoral wiring, and plumbing. It needed a coat of paint badly. I looked through my calendar to see what teams from the states might be available to help renovate the building. Jorge invited the “Borrachitos” [dear little drunks] as we called the men from the Celebration of Liberation, to help clean and renovate the building.
The next few times I saw Daniel, he was working hard, either painting, or constructing scaffolding to reach the high ceilings. He was intent, and quiet as ever. But there was a serene smile on his brightening face. He was one of the most consistent of the workers during about 3 weeks of labor. The whole community remarked on the good work the town drunks were doing. They often gave things to the work, sending food for the workers, and talking about how “we” are going to help the women in need.
The next time I saw Daniel, he was in the weekly prayer meeting. The leaders of the Ciudad de Refugio meet Thursday nights, to pray and talk. There was Daniel. Fervent. At peace. Desiring to help in the work of this small fellowship that is bringing the love of God in tangible ways to the marginalized people of this squatter village. He is the man in the Blue and red jacket.
Jesus wants to transform Guatemala, one heart at a time.