The universal language of hugs overcame regional differences
in words when youth from First Baptist Church, Smithfield, embraced children
living on the edges of the municipal dump in Guatemala City.
During spring break last year youth minister Tommy Cook took
a group to help in the Tabitha Ministry,
which provides day care for children whose mothers scour the stifling stench of
the municipal dump, scratching for anything to eat, wear or resell.
These children are too young to scavenge or they would be
kicking around the piles of refuse themselves. With such a difficult existence,
where a rising sun boils the seven square miles of festering garbage; and its
setting extinguishes the opportunity to scour for more sustenance, children are
at risk every hour.
The dump sprouted in a deep valley within the city. Waste of
all kinds is dumped there without regard to hazard, including medical waste.
People have died beneath garbage slides.
Into this setting a Guatemalan Christian woman named Carol
Bercian started the Tabitha Ministry
to help the children and families. Women who cannot scavenge enough from the
garbage piles to live often turn to prostitution. Drugs dull the pain but leave
the adults incapable of providing for their children.
Cook was looking to establish a long-term relationship for
ministry…not just swoop into a different place each year with fresh scrubbed,
eager but naïve teenagers. So he intends to establish that relationship between
his comfortable, middle class teens and some of the most desperately poor
people in the world.
Estuardo Bercian and his wife, Cindy, volunteer at Tabitha,
which was established by Estuardo’s sister in a small rented house.
It is now in a larger house they intend eventually to buy.
Children in daycare there receive two meals and a snack each day.
Additionally, mothers learn practical job skills that may
liberate them from the dump or prostitution.
in Guatemala City helps to support
the ministry. Piney Grove
in Fuquay-Varina also has helped. Another goal is to establish a church in
Initially, children coming to Tabitha
Center did not know or understand
hugs or the love of strangers. When a worker or volunteer approached them with
open arms and a smile, the children thought they were about to be hit.
conducted a Vacation Bible
School for Tabitha children last
spring and will do the same in April. The church also funded renovations in a
private home that needed a wall repaired to keep out rats that had been getting
in and biting the toes of children.
They delivered bags of food that would last about three days
for a family; told Bible stories through a translator and played lots of games.
The children loved bubbles.
At one home in the dump when they delivered food to a mother
with two children, one of the children pulled a piece of candy out of a drawer
for each of the girls.
“I still have my candy,” said Elizabeth Ashley. “They
gave us a gift for coming to help them. It stuck with me that we need to
be more giving here.”
“It didn’t matter that we didn’t know Spanish,” said Mallory
“They were so excited to have people there helping them and
playing with them language was not an issue.”
“We spoke the language of love,” said Cook, who for wedding
gifts when he married Robin last year asked for help for Tabitha.
He said their
wedding gift is a bathroom for the Tabitha
Fronia Knott, herself adopted from Guatemala
as an infant, was overwhelmed to see what she had been rescued from. She said
all the children liked hugs and she remembered one who crawled onto her lap and
slept the whole way back from a zoo visit.
felt like strangers all of “three minutes” Fronia said.
is the first country south of Mexico
in Central America. Guatemala City
has a population of 12 million, half of whom are Christian, according to the
The government is unstable and thievery is common.
The youth felt safe while there because of Estuardo’s
constant attention. For safety, it is also important to know where to take
groups and to be gone by five p.m.
when the men who live in the area return from their labors and when drug
sellers and thieves follow them.
Carol, Tabitha’s director, would stretch the Smithfield
girls as she took them around to meet families. She asked the girls to lead
Bible study and to pray with the ladies, many of whom asked for prayer that
husbands who had abandoned them would find God.
“Who am I to give these women advice?” said Mallory, a
senior. “The part I focused on was that you are a child of God. We’re all
children of God. We’re all beautiful in God’s eyes. We don’t need another human
being to validate us.”
The girls were especially impressed that the abandoned wives
didn’t necessarily ask for prayer that their husbands would return and love
them again, but that they would find God.
“I’ve never heard anyone here pray that way,” said Elizabeth.
“We think, ‘OK let’s find somebody different now.’ The kids were always happy,
no matter their circumstances. That’s one thing that really touched my life.”
“We think as Americans we’re supposed to teach, that we are
it,” Froni said. “You go down there and realize you are absolutely nothing
compared to these women and they teach you so much. It’s so humbling. They are
so grateful. God is the reason they get up in the morning.”
Do American teenagers parachuting into a foreign world for a
week of hugs, Bible lessons and food distribution make a difference to families
dragging one step at a time through life in a dump? The Bercians said the
teenagers make a difference “because of the love they give to the
Cook will take a group of 14 back to Tabitha in April to
share more of that love.