The reality for children growing up in the “red zone” of La Limonada—a term given by the Guatemalan government to indicate danger to the rest of the city—is not very hopeful. From their earliest moments of life, most of these children have known hunger and trauma, as well as some form of abuse, neglect, and marginalization.
We have seen children unprepared to say no to predators or equipped to make good decisions for their lives, unaware of their rights as a child to nutrition, health, education, protection from harm, and freedom to make their own decisions.
So, how do we step into these cycles of poverty? How do we change the trajectory of these lives? How do we embody the compassion and justice of our loving Father?
There is a grand paradox when we step into the paths that weave down into the ravine of La Limonada. We pass people whose eyes convey stories of pain, violence, and lack of power. We feel the weight of their marginalization immediately, and are welcomed into homes where we learn more about each individual and family. These stories of sickness, loss, abuse, fear, prejudice, and poverty overwhelm you.
But as the pain feels like it will swallow you whole, you realize there are other emotions simultaneously welling up—peace, joy, and the very tangible presence of God feel like electricity going straight for your heart.
As Henri Nouwen eloquently said:
This is the good news of God’s taking on human flesh. By calling him Immanuel or ‘God-with-us,’ we recognize that he has committed himself to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, and to suffer all of life with us. The God-with-us is a close God, a God whom we call our refuge, our stronghold, our wisdom, and even, more intimately, our helper, our shepherd, our love.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, “hope” emerges as a central theme: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:19-25). In Christ, we have received the “first fruits” of the Spirit, which then allows us to live confidently in the midst of suffering, longing with all of creation for redemption, but the certainty that this redemption has, in Christ, already begun.
A crucial question becomes, “What is our hope?” NT Wright, in his book Surprised by Hope, suggests that the early Christians “believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter” (93). Our hope, then, of a renewed creation is grounded in the historical fact of the resurrection, and reinforced by the present experience of the Spirit.
This is our hope, and our hope is not a mere wish, something that may or may not happen. Our hope is rooted in what God has already done in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and in what God continues to do in and through His people by the Spirit. This is our hope.