Rumblings of Deep Change in Guatemala

Last Thursday night, an 8.1 magnitude earthquake sent shockwaves from the ocean floor off Mexico’s southern coast. Harm was significant in southern Mexico. Even in Guatemala City where I was, tall buildings swayed like trees in a storm. But a very different kind of rumbling came the next two days, with potential to leave an even more lasting impact…for good.

On Friday and Saturday, Christians from across Guatemala and other Latin American countries gathered for the “Cumbre” (Summit) of the Alianza Cristiana para los Huerfanos (ACH). The purpose? To call the local church to be God’s answer for the orphans in their midst.

Certainly, countless conferences pass with little effect. But when more than 1,000 Christians – many of them influential leaders – join together to seriously consider powerful, counter-cultural commitments … well, that’s the very stuff that great changes often spring from.

This is the stuff that great changes often spring from.

As in so many countries, orphans are often given little thought in Guatemala. Adoption is widely shunned, except as a (often-hidden) way to address infertility. Government-funded efforts to expand foster care have yielded little response thus far. Kind-hearted people may visit orphanages once or twice a year to host piñata parties. And dramatic tragedies, like the horrific fire in a government orphanage that claimed forty-one young lives earlier this year, draw a brief squall of media attention. All too soon, however, the thoughts of most people return to other matters.

But a dedicated – and steadily growing – band of leaders is working to change this. It includes Christian business people and pastors, government officials, nonprofit leaders and ordinary families. They want to see a commitment to orphans take deep root in churches across their nation and beyond. They seek to inspire not just a few more piñata parties, but a true change in culture – including loving service to help preserve struggling families, foster care and mentoring, and even the deeply counter-cultural idea of adoption for the purpose of giving family to children who need it.

The motivation feeding these leaders is not guilt or duty or idealism. As my friend Aixa de Lopez shared with me, “For us, it’s about God’s love. It’s about the Gospel. God welcomed us into His family. When you’ve experienced that kind of love, it’s only natural to want to reflect it to others.”

“For us, it’s about God’s love. It’s about the Gospel.”

Aixa and her husband Alex (a widely known and respected pastor) are among a small but growing number who’ve adopted not out of necessity, but to welcome children who needed a family. In doing so, they’ve violated a host of unspoken cultural rules – including adoption across racial lines. One young businessman said to me, “What they’ve done is shocking to a lot of people. It’d be hard to overstate the impact of their example. It has helped a lot of people start thinking differently about orphans and adoption, and even about our faith.”

That kind of culture change is just what ACH is after. Such transformations rarely come quickly. They tend to be slow and hard fought. But the truly surprising response to the Cumbre – both the number attending and the vibrant energy one could feel in all that happened – suggests that something powerful is in motion. Guatemala rumbled last Friday and Saturday, and I suspect the aftershocks will be even stronger.