When I first heard about Lemonade International two or three years ago, it caught my attention when I learned it supports Guatemalan-initiated community development work in a marginalized part of Guatemala City, just miles from where I was born and grew up. As I got to know the people behind the organization, it quickly became apparent just how committed the organization is to being highly relational in all they do. On top of that, I was drawn to the organization’s hyper-local geographic focus – a slum community of 60,000 situated in a ravine a mile long and less than half a mile wide.
At that time I was working for a behemoth of an NGO (a good behemoth, generally speaking), and while I certainly recognized the potential impact of a multi-billion dollar budget allocated for relief, development, and advocacy among the world’s poor, I was becoming more and more interested in organizations small enough to be relational and focused enough to have a tangible impact in a specific community over time.
After a day of walking the steep, narrow streets of La Limonada and crowding into tin, wood, and concrete feats of architecture with Tita Evertsz, the unassuming hero of the story, that commitment to deep, ongoing relationships in a particular place has only been reinforced.
On Sunday night, after telling us a bit about her work in the context of an urban slum among gang members – including more untimely funerals than she’d care to count – someone asked Tita what these experiences have taught her about God. She paused, with tears in her eyes, and responded, “True religion is simple, but we have made it complicated.”
As someone who reads a lot, thinks a lot, writes a lot (often on this blog), and talks a lot – all related, one way or another, to my faith – it struck me that complicating religion is too often precisely what I do. Meanwhile, Tita and 40 or 50 others in La Limonada are practicing true religion. They’re visiting actual orphans and widows in their distress, whose names they know, with loved ones’ blood stains still wet on the street outside. And they’re doing this while keeping themselves unstained from the ways of the world – the violent, selfish world crying out for redemption.
That’s not to say they’re keeping their distance. Precisely the opposite is true. They’re in the midst of their world, bearing the burdens of their brothers and sisters, sharing in their impossible, indomitable joy, and bearing witness to the certain hope that one day all things will be made new.
It’s an honor to be here, and it’s an honor to tell their stories. And it’s good to be reminded just how simple true religion really is.
[Photos by Scott Bennett. In the photo at the top, the Ministry of Justice's highrise building towers above La Limonada. The second photo is of Tita Evertsz.]