I’m writing from San Lucas Toliman, a town on the shore of Lake Attitlan in Guatemala. I was here last year with a team from our church building houses as part of our 5 year partnership with Habitat for Humanity in Guatemala. A group of about twenty return to this town twice a year to help construct houses and build smokeless stoves in this community. This is our fourth trip, and by now, the relationships are beginning to cement. We are not just here for occasional help, we are serious about making long-term investments in this town. The Habitat staff are our friends. We care about what is happening in various neighborhoods around town because we have invested heavy labor and broken Spanish conversation in those places. It is not perfect as no project like this is, but we continue to try our best to build bridges, forge mutuality and foster warm camaraderie.
This week, I am here with a film crew who is making a short film about our relationship with the town of San Lucas Toliman and the work that Habitat Guatemala is doing. They are reaching out beyond their traditional work of building homes (though that remains an anchor of their work) to help families living in deep poverty who cannot afford a home. They are providing opportunities for sanitary latrines, filtered drinking water and smokeless stoves among other initiatives.
Today we visited a site where a stove will be built on Thursday. Juana was there cooking lunch for her family as her two boys, ages 9 and 3, looked on. The smoke billowed up in delicate white tendrils against blackened tin walls as we entered. She continued to stoke the fire and the flames rose to cook tortillas and warm sauce. It was a beautiful, deadly scene. The smoke from that fire is constantly filling the lungs of her five children, causing respiratory issues and her children are at risk of burning themselves in the fire. The stove that a group from our church will build on Thursday will have a flume that takes the smoke out of her house. Their lungs will begin to clear and their future will be brighter.
As we filmed Juana, her boys and their home, a line from King Lear kept ringing in my head, “Thy life’s a miracle.” I wanted to say to her, “Your life is a miracle, Juana.”
We are filming to encourage people to come to Guatemala and to support Habitat Guatemala, but we are also documenting stories and lives that are beautifully miraculous. I think this is why we take photographs and shoot movies. It is an honor to witness the hidden miracle of life. And sometimes it takes a camera lens to help us see it.
Your life, my life, are no less miraculous that Hanna’s. Can we catch just a glimpse of the miracle of each moment? What would the film pick up in your life today? The tender moment with a loved one, cutting fresh produce for your dinner, a glimpse outside the window, the quiet prayer of help that is whispered and answered with new strength and courage. Thy life’s a miracle.