When I pulled up to the parking lot of Engedi Church last night, I was surprised to see how many cars were there. Certainly more than I had expected for a Monday night — nearly as many as I find for a proper Sunday morning service. We had shown up at the abandoned strip mall-turned church building-turned temporary movie theater for a screening of Reparando, a documentary film about Guatemalans who are “embracing the pain of their past to repair the next generation.”
After watching the trailer, I had planned on seeing a powerful film. What I hadn’t planned on was seeing such a moving testimony about the power of the gospel to transform lives. The documentary follows the stories of Tita and Shorty, two Christian leaders who work passionately to improve their community, La Limonada (‘lemonade’). La Limonada is an asentamiento, an urban slum community that, if I remember correctly, is home to some 60,000 people. It’s the largest slum in Central America. This is a story that needs to be heard.
As much as I liked the film itself, though, I especially liked the Q&A that followed with the folks from Athentikos, who were very straightforward about the incarnational theology that motivates Tita, Shorty, and others like them. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” as John put it, so these people do the same: dwell among the destitution of La Limonada.
Here’s a synopsis of the film:
On the morning of June 18. 1954, the US CIA dropped leaflets in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of the president. Guatemala was ravaged by Civil War for the next 36 years. But hope is rising. In the midst of incredible odds, victims have been transformed into champions who willfully embrace the pain of their past to help repair the next generation. This is their story. Shorty – a former gang member who is now a pastor, and Tita – a woman who started a school in Guatemala’s most notorious slum have joined forces to repair La Limonada.
I’ll share a few more thoughts about the film in a moment, but first, the trailer:
There’s always a risk that people will watch these movies and feel guilty. Guilty about having too much or having a disposable income or having a standard of living that quite frankly looks like gaudy opulence when compared to a guy who has spent the past 35 years digging through raw sewage for scraps of metal to sell for a few bucks. But the point isn’t to feel guilty, and I don’t. I feel other things instead.
First, I feel blessed. Right now, as I type, Becca is laying the couch watching a popular show TV show that we recorded earlier on the DVR. It’s warm and cozy within these four walls. Jack is sleeping in the next room, safe from poverty and gangs and drugs. He’ll have three square meals tomorrow. We have two cars in the driveway. Our house is, to be completely honest, filled with things that we don’t need. They’re nice things, but rather than feeling guilty that I have them I feel immeasurably blessed. I don’t deserve my happy little life, but it’s mine and it’s good and I thank God for it every day. I shouldn’t have to trade it for poverty so I can feel good about myself.
Second, I feel responsible. I don’t feel responsible for the conditions in Guatemala (although the U.S. government had a big hand in creating the problems), but I do feel responsible to the people who live there, to those who live in similar conditions around the world, and (to a lesser extreme) to the needy in my own community. Because I have been blessed, I have the responsibility to use my resources to bless others.
I’m not very good at this. Or, in any case, I could certainly do better. The day before I watched Reparando, Brian preached about compassion, and one of his more painful statements — the one that made me look at Becca and wince — was, “If your giving does not cut into your lifestyle, you need to give more.” While I don’t feel guilty about my lifestyle, I also acknowledge that I can definitely do a better job with the gifts that I’ve been given.
It seems to me that this is the only appropriate response when faced with the injustices of this world: First, thankfulness that God is good, and second, action. It is, after all, the goodness of God that motivates people like Tito and Shorty to live and move and have their being in La Limonada; it is the goodness of God that should motivate each of us to bless others where and how we can.