Just when I think fear is making me exaggerate the dangers of this place, something happens to change my mind.
Two weeks ago, two friends of ours, another missionary couple, were working in their offices across the city when they heard a series of explosions outside. Fireworks, they thought. It happens all the time. But when they were ready to leave, they learned that three women had been shot down in the street just outside the gates of the church building where their offices are located. Gang violence, the police said. Somehow gang violence seems to involve women a lot more in Guatemala than it usually does where we live in the United States.
I haven’t written in my blog for a while. I think I have been avoiding it, because every time I tried to think of something to write about, this came to mind. I didn’t want to write about it. I try to keep things uplifting in my posts. But maybe there is a lesson to be learned in confronting my feelings.
There is no denying that Guatemala is a dangerous place. Statistics, we have been told, show that Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala are the most dangerous countries in the world for violent crime. Killings are frequent, cruel, and malicious, often blatantly sending a message to someone. Drug gangs seem to have no fear of the police. Robbery is a fact of life in many areas, and robbers don’t hesitate to hurt or kill victims who resist. And the traffic here still amazes me and raises my blood pressure every day because of its dangers. I shudder when I see father, mother, and one or two children on a motorcycle weaving through traffic. I fear driving at night, hoping not to run onto someone—literally—on a motorcycle without headlights.
It takes conscious effort not to let fear rule your actions here.
Sometimes it helps to step back and change my point of view. I am a news junkie, because news was my career, and so I check the headlines from home every day. In tonight’s headlines there are stories about two men charged with murdering another over a drug debt, another armed robbery at a credit union, a woman killed while trying to run through freeway traffic, a family seeking justice because of a loved one killed in a hit-and-run accident, four women forced into prostitution. It’s not that we are completely safe at home in the United States either. Our neighborhood has changed over the 29 years we have had a home there, and now we sometimes hear of gang crime nibbling around the edges of it.
It helps also to be grateful for what we have here. Last spring the local municipality staged a concert in the street in front of our apartment building. The government wanted to demonstrate that there was indeed a zone in the city where it could safely be done. Sister S. and I go walking every morning in the embassy district a couple of blocks east of here. It is a gated community with guards at the entrance and in front of many of the houses. People come from all over the surrounding areas to walk, jog, or ride. (One biker comes with his companion/guard pacing him on a motorcycle.)
We have the opportunity to enjoy many wonderful things here. Last night we saw a performance of The Nutcracker in the beautiful, comfortable, and architecturally intriguing national theater. Hundreds of people came to watch a skilled ballet corps and enjoy Tchaikovsky’s music. I haven’t seen a better job anywhere else—and the tickets cost us about $2.75 apiece. It was a very enjoyable experience, one that could not be had for that price at home. We have seen so many beautiful places in Guatemala. The drive from Quetzaltenango, up in the mountains, down to Retalhuleu, on the coastal plain, reminds me of the road to Hana on Maui.
Today I was discussing my feelings about the dangers here with someone I respect who reminded me that we cannot live as prisoners; we must simply trust in the Lord and be careful. He is right.
Sister S. and I never go to work the same way twice. We try not to look wealthy or conspicuous. (That isn’t easy when we are obviously North American and a high percentage of the men are about the same height as her.) We keep alert to what is going on around us. We never follow closely in traffic, and if we have to brake suddenly, we hope the driver behind has also been paying attention so we won’t get rear-ended—again.
We’ve found prayer essential to this aspect of daily life. We pray for protection every day before going out. We know it helps—we have seen it—and we are grateful. We are grateful enough that we are also getting good at thankful prayers when we come home safely once again.