Friday, March 16, 2012

Not Safe

So far I have shown you photos of the meaningful work and described many of our experiences here, but I would be remiss not to address the safety issues that we have encountered here in Guatemala.

We knew coming here that it was worthy of consideration, but I am not one to generally worry or dwell on the negative possibilities of life. I have long said if something deadly were to happen to our family I would just as soon it be to all of us as a unit--let's go to glory together! I knew the roads here were known for being treacherous and that there were some areas where gun violence was a threat, but knowing our friends have lived here with their six children for three years gave me peace.

Up in the community of Chitipey in Coban--with the indigenous Guatemalan people--I never felt threatened. The last 24 hours, however, have offered reminders that this place is not safe. It is difficult to reconcile, really, because Coban was wild and undeveloped--full of impoverished people. The city is developed, advanced and on the surface FAR LESS needy. The human condition, however, remains.

On our 6 hour bus trip yesterday we traversed some truly treacherous roads. I cannot adequately describe the aggressive, reckless driving style that the Guatemalans have despite the hairpin turns over the mountains. Just outside Guatemala City we came precariously close to a high speed multi-car collision. So much so that even our Guatemala-residing missionary friends were visibly shaken.

As we entered Guatemala City I was struck by the number of vehicles (dozens) who had men riding in the front seat with a large gun clearly visible across their lap. Security jobs seem to be the most prevalent profession.

Once we arrived in the gorgeous city of Antigua I was struck by how every building is surrounded by large 2-3 story walls and huge, solid locked gates. As if that were not enough there are gun toting guards. It is in stark contrast to the quaint cobblestone streets, gorgeous blue skies and the amazing architecture. Our hosts had cautioned us not to bring our cameras and to remove all jewelry--just so we wouldn't invite the attention of criminals. Frankly, it seemed overkill to me.

And then at high noon, while standing on a public street in front of one of the nicest hotels in Antigua we heard the woman's screams. Security all scrambled as she and her companion took off chasing the criminal who had just taken her camera, her cash, necklace, rings and the earrings she was wearing at gunpoint, in a crowd in broad daylight.

We are not in small town north Georgia anymore!

The greatest threat, however, remains to be seen. It is the impact this trip will have on the safety of my comfort zone. Leaving my daily life has caused me to take stock of the things that can often consume me--and where they rank in terms of the other circumstances of this world.

This afternoon we enjoyed a couple of hours by the pool and I couldn't help but praise God as I reflected on this experience--scary parts and all. God has placed it on both my husband and my hearts to protect our children, but not from the real world. Instead we feel called to protect them from the dangers of not seeing the world--the illusion of safety, the comfort of our ignorance, the absence of real-world experience. The things we should really be afraid of are complacency, ignorance and a self centered world view that believes it is all about us.

And I am reminded of my favorite C.S. Lewis passage, when Lucy asks about Aslan.

“Ooh!” said Susan, “...Is he--quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and that’s no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you”
~C.S. Lewis from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I don't want a safe life. I want a real life, a full life. A life that sees the world through God's eyes. As I wrote last night, this includes life in my zip code. And the scariest part of this whole trip is thinking about what that looks like when I get home.

Updated to Add: In terms of full disclosure, I woke up this morning (Saturday) amused by the fact that I wrote such a passionate post on safety, while my own children aren't allowed to have a trampoline and still ride in five-point harness car seats at almost 8 years old. We all have our safety 'buttons.'


The Niemeyer Nest said...

That does sound scary! I think you are so brave to want this for your family. I'd like to be more like you but am always so fearful of taking risks. Safe travels to you and your family. I have loved reading about your trip and feel sure it has been a life-changing trip for your kids.

Peter and Nancy said...

I've loved reading your posts from Guatemala! When we've visited developing countries, or during our church's local outreach to women who work in the s*x industry, I've had safety concerns too. Until I remember that the people we're serving don't have the luxury of going to a safe place afterward, like I do. I do shield my kids from TV news, movies, etc., but I also want them to know that we have so many blessings and circumstances to be thankful for -- and those things give us the freedom, ability and responsibility to serve others.