The last several weeks – the last few months, actually – have been a whirlwind of planning, packing, saying goodbye, and making arrangements for our move to Guatemala. Each member of our family of four has lived their entire life in the Seattle area (with the exception of Kelly’s college years in Spokane). We have roots: history, memories, family and friends, possessions. As we have been preparing for our move, it has felt as though we have slowly been pulling those roots out getting ready for our new chapter. Certainly, we will carry a great deal of ourselves – the intangible things – with us. And we are planning on being in Guatemala for only a year – a relatively short season of our lives. But we have never uprooted before and it is hard. Hard alone, and hard with kids.
As we boarded the plane on Tuesday, I (Brian) couldn’t help but recognize the privilege we have to be taking this journey. We had safe and, thankfully, reliable transportation; food and activities to keep the kids occupied; we had a driver waiting for us on the ground in Guatemala; and we knew exactly where we were going and where we would be living once we arrived. We had favorite toys and books for the kids, our clothes, and important items packed in bags coming along with us. As challenging as it was to determine what to bring with us, what to get rid of, and what to store for our return, we had the luxury of deciding.
We did all of this as thousands make the journey the other direction, oftentimes with absolutely no certainties, no plans, and nothing but the clothes on their back and the hope of a future. Just over two weeks ago, this mother from Guatemala, after traveling some 1,500 miles with her six-year-old son, stood at the border of the United States and Mexico weeping as a Mexican National Guard soldier stood in her way. “Let me pass, I beg of you. Don’t let them send me back. I just want to give my son a better life.” Is that too much to ask? I, too, want to give my kids opportunity and support. And our move to Guatemala, particularly in the midst of the migration coming the other way, made it abundantly that we have immense privilege; that we already have the “better life” so many in our world seek. So, what do we do with that? Is it all futile?
In 1960, a young black man named John Perkins moved from California to Mississippi. But that wasn’t his first time in the South. Just 13 years earlier he had fled Mississippi for a new, more prosperous, and safer life out West after his older brother was murdered by a police officer. Life was good in California – he was earning more money than he ever thought possible and had purchased a home for his young family with his wife Vera Mae. But then something unexpected happened. Through the witness of his son, Spencer, Jesus and John Perkins found one another.
Driven by a belief that the Christian faith has everything to do with justice, community, and wholeness, John (now Dr. Perkins after receiving several honorary doctorates) returned to the place he had once left and vowed never to return in order to live out his commitment to Christ and witness to the liberating and empowering power of the gospel in Mississippi. God was calling him back, not to encourage fellow blacks who still lived under an oppressive system of racial discrimination to leave and find new opportunities elsewhere, but to help them break the cycle of despair and change the structures that dehumanized them. As he said, “I was back in Mississippi, not because Mississippi had changed, but because God had changed me and called me back.”
Back in Mississippi, Dr. Perkins advocator ed for educational equality, organized voting registration drives, and led a ministry that, among other things, reminded young blacks that they are worth something and empowered them through leadership development. Because of his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Perkins was arrested on several occasions, once being beaten and tortured to the brink of death. God had called him into dangerous work.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week with Dr. Perkins in Jackson, MS to join in his work of community development. As our group visited with him, we explored issues of privilege in our world. Speaking to an almost exclusively white, wealthy audience, he said, “You have privilege and you can use it. Don’t get rid of your privilege; harness it to benefit others.”
I am not yet sure how we can or will use our privilege for good in Guatemala, but that is our hope. It would have been much easier to stay at home in Seattle and continue on with our lives, but we have been called into the work being done in Guatemala to bring wholeness and justice where it is often lacking. There have already been challenges in our first few days here getting settled, but nothing remotely similar to the challenges those making the journey the other direction.
We’ve been spending this week getting settled before I begin work at Safe Passage next week after the kids start school on Tuesday. We’re looking forward to finding a routine and joining in the work here in Guatemala.