Patty is the center of the story for this family. She lives with her father, sister, and two nieces in a house not too far from where we live. We had heard a lot about this family before we moved to Guatemala from Jon. In the beginning, she didn’t want to even hear the word “God” let alone have a discussion about Him. She was stricken with polio which has left her with very limited use of her legs. She uses braces and at times a walker or wheelchair to get around. When this happened, she felt as though everyone abandoned her. While we don’t know the extent of why she feels this way, she doesn’t even feel like she can trust “the church.” Raised Catholic, they used to attend the church not too far down the road from them but with Patty’s limited mobility and feelings of abandonment, we aren’t too sure how often they go anymore, if at all.
When Jon first took us to meet Patty and her family, we didn’t know what to expect. As it happened, Patty wasn’t even home! But her father, Rafael, kindly invited us in and chatted for a little bit. Rafael loves to talk and he is very knowledgable about the ways of Christ. In our very limited Spanish at the time (we were only 3 months into language school), we had conversations about Guatemalan politics, the state of the church, and where we were from in the United States. As we left it was only then I realized…hey, Patty has a job! One of her struggles was the ability to find, gain, and maintain employment due to her condition. Jon was spending time with her teaching her how to use the computer and basic programs and she obtained (and still has) a job with the local municipality as a data entry specialist.
The next time we went to meet Patty we got to meet her and the whole family. Rafael was absent, but we had a good time chatting with the family, checking out the state of their land, and watching their pets drink soda out of a frying pan and running around nuts (it’s amazing what happens when there is a language and culture barrier, yet everyone is trying to find some common ground). Sarah, Patty’s niece, took us around the land behind their house to show us their living conditions. While the front two rooms were made of block and cement, the rest was dirt floors with decomposing sheet metal and wood for a roof.
As Jon and I toured their land and asked Sarah questions, I continued to think, “wow, we could get a team of construction workers down here and have this place remodeled in a week!” I tried to contain my excitement. Not too long afterwards, the family told us that as much as they would appreciate our help with their home, they would prefer that we didn’t help because they have received extortion letters from the gangs in the neighborhood before. Their fear was if they make too many improvements at once, it might appear that they have money and therefore the gangs will threaten them. We learned that they once were running a small store in the front of their house and they got extorted, so they decided to close the shop.
Over time, Patty has opened up a bit about God and her frustration with Him for letting her get polio. It’s hard to imagine to be inflicted with something that stops you dead in your tracks and changes your life completely…for the worse. She no longer refuses hearing about God and even joins us in prayer before we leave. Rafael has also expressed his frustration with the church. It seems all churches he has tried to become associated with have only been followers of Christ on the outside. His frustration is with people who pretend to be Christians but don’t act like it. I connected with him quickly on this point. He also expressed his frustration with people who only teach about heaven and the future but ignore the societal problems we face now. “Jesus didn’t just talk about heaven, He did what He could for the people suffering around Him,” Rafael told us one afternoon.
The last time we visited this family was just before our September team came down. We were visiting families to see what types of construction projects we could do. We discovered that they had “remodeled” their kitchen by replacing all of the bad roofing and rotting wood. They redid their bathroom area and even created an extra room for some family members to sleep in. It was inspiring to see that despite their hardships, this family continues to press onward and do what they can to improve their own lives. It also made us feel more confident about this family to know that they don’t expect handouts. As Rafael said, “we understand and appreciate your heart to serve, but please don’t feel obligated to do anything for us. We would be grateful for anything you could offer us, but surely there are other families in more need than we are.” He said this as we stood in his house that most Americans would rather burn down than attempt to live in.
In When Helping Hurts, a book we recommend anyone to read if trying to minister to the poor, they discuss different elements of poverty. Usually we look at the physical poverty: ramshack house, constant illness, quick aging, etc. to be poverty, but the truth is that these are usually the outward result of a deeper kind of poverty. What the DeLeon family needs most is recovery from spiritual and emotional poverty. Their church ignored them and their friends abandoned them when they needed it most. Thankfully, through the love of one of Patty’s best friends, Jon’s persistence in teaching them about the God of love who loves more than anyone can imagine, and the opportunity that we have had to share just a few hours with them, they are slowly understanding that they are not alone.
What we would like to ask some of you for is to write some letters of encouragement. Let them know they are not alone. Maybe through your own testimony, you could shed some hope on Patty’s depressing situation to help her know that while God allows us to endure hardship, pain, and heartbreak, that it is so we can know Him more and that one day, all physical ailments will be wiped away! You can mail letters to Patty at the address below. Be sure to add a note that says, “for Patty” and we will have our January team bring them down, translate them, and deliver the notes!
Dylan & Missy Brobst
268 W. Beaver St.
Hellam, PA 17406
Writing me this post reminded me of an awesome song by Jeremy Camp. Click the video below to hear it!