The volcano Fuego was smoldering, but ash wasn’t thick in the air. Doors were open to all the stores. Some looked more like concession stands, gated and window slots, for fear of robbery. Every building was a different color, many were bright yellow, faded red or aqua blue. Stray dogs lay in the middle of the road, but everyone drove around them.
This is Guatemala.
“And where are we going?” I asked.
Brad Johnson pointed up the steep hill to a yellow blob.
“That’s Fernando’s house. We helped build it, and it was hard to carry those materials up the hill,” Brad chuckled. “I don’t want to do that again.”
Windows down we sat patiently, or impatiently, on a single lane road in our truck waiting for a car to back into the alley. It didn’t take long for the driver to give up and keep going ahead of us.
“He’s going to be disappointed when he realizes he’s on a dead end rode and will have to turn around in a smaller area,” Brad shook his head.
Brad and Shawn Johnson, founders of Recycled Lives, first met Fernando in January after bring supplies to a school.
There were no laces in his shoes, and his toes peaked through the front but they were the only ones he owned. He tried, but he couldn’t keep up on the soccer field. To make matters worse, none of the kids wanted him on their soccer team because he couldn’t run fast enough in his shoes.
The Johnson’s returned the next day with a school uniform, new shoes and a message to Fernando: that he is important and loved by Jesus Christ.
They were also able to meet the rest of Fernando’s family. At the time Fernando’s mother, Olga, was 8 ½ months pregnant, and he also had a young brother, Diego. Olga’s husband left because he didn’t want a third child.
Now, it was summer, and we were hiking up a steep hill to throw a surprise birthday party for Fernando. Fernando is turning 11 and had never had a birthday party.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a kid so surprised, and literally have drool dripping down his face over a vanilla and strawberry cake.
But, I also can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a kid so excited to show someone their homework and their bedroom.
Three little boys, their sweet mama, and her sisters and parents gathered together with us to celebrate the life of sweet Fernando. As is custom in Guatemala, Fernando did get his face smashed into the cake.
Little brother Diego wasn’t bothered. He would have eaten the whole cake if it had been spilled in the dirt outside their house.
We sat laughing at the children’s frosting covered face, and red tongues from the Atomic Fireball candies. We clapped as we gave Fernando his own soccer ball and jersey. The language barrier was real, but I think it’s true when they say a smile speaks one thousand words.
Fernando is currently struggling in math and believes he is stupid. Olga has no job. She would like to start her own business, but it’s hard being a single mom and living away from town up on a hill. Olga’s sister is single – her husband left her because she can’t have children.
There is hope in this story. Even though our team of six is back in Cambridge now, Shawn and Brad Johnson are still in Guatemala, making a difference, offering support and encouragement. The even better news is that Jesus Christ has always been there, waiting for His Beloved to come running into His strong, loving and nail-scarred arms.