On Tuesday night, March 07, 2017, a group of adolescents from the Virgin of Asuncion shelter near Guatemala City, a children’s home for abused children located approximately 3 hours from Hope of Life International, fled from the home. They felt it necessary to escape because of the desperate and dangerous situation they were in. A riot formed right outside of the institution, and 60 of the children, mostly girls, managed to escape.
Their reason for leaving was due to poor, abusive conditions and mistreatment! These adolescents were later captured by police and returned back to the children’s home. The details of the next event are still unraveling as I share this with a heavy heart. Apparently as a form of punishment, they were taken back to their rooms where the administration shut all the doors and windows. They were completely locked inside this room. This room was no bigger than 12 feet square, with no way to get out.
It is believed that the institutions care takers, also known as “monitors,” were trying to prevent the individuals’ continued escape attempts. The next morning a fire rapidly broke out in one of the rooms from underneath a mattress. Firefighters worked fast to quickly put out the blaze. This terrible incident made headline news, and word began to spread of the number of casualties that occurred as a result of the fire.
The devastating death toll, as of this morning, is up to 40 (as of 3/20/2017). There were approximately 30 more injuries, mainly girls, admitted under intensive care throughout various Hospitals in Guatemala. They are being treated for 3rd degree burns, but many are still alive and breathing due to the help of ventilators.
How can something so tragic like this happen? That temporary children’s home was established and funded by the Guatemalan Government to help provide a place of safety where children who are abused and abandoned could live. Unfortunately, these institutions are overcrowded with hundreds of different stories and cases. The capacity of this particular home was built for about 400, but more than 800 children, from ages of 0 – 18, were living in Virgin of Asuncion shelter. The majority of these cases are due to unresolved problems within the family. In many cases Mom or Dad were found guilty of negligence, but many were sent there due to domestic, physical and sexual abuse.
However, the children who have family members who can care for them, like an aunt or grandparent, should not have been institutionalized for more than 30 days. Unfortunately in many cases, they end up living in these institutions for over 5 months because of backed up cases in the court system. There are not enough government resources to conduct family investigations, review cases, and schedule court hearings. In the meantime, the children are suffering and are stuck living in hell at an institution that is understaffed, with little or no supervision. They are far from being kept safe and are being exposed to every kind of evil including sexual abuse, trafficking, drugs, and who knows what else.
What is the Guatemalan Government doing about this? In the case of Virgin of Asuncion shelter, The Supreme Court Justice has begun an extensive investigation. They have begun the process of closing down this institution, and currently over 200 children have been transferred to other orphanages similar to Hope of Life. God willing, there is a good chance that some of the children will be transferred to Hope of Life.
Just yesterday I heard the testimony of one of the young ladies who lives here in the Village of Transformation. This young lady considers herself a survivor of the living hell she endured when she was previously a resident of Virgin of Asuncion shelter. She confirmed every evil I speak about above and expressed how deeply thankful she was the day she was transferred to Hope of Life. Last night, she was mourning the loss of a 14 year old girl that died in this terrible fire accident. She was one of the closer friends she had while living in Virgin of Asuncion.
The reality of this heart-wrenching news has hit very close to home. Now more than ever, I fervently believe that God sent our family to Guatemala during a critical time, for a very important mission. Lately, I have been personally deliberating with whether or not we are making a difference in the lives of these children. Especially the ones that were with us for a short time, but now are gone.
I know without a doubt if we would have hesitated to move to Guatemala almost 3 years ago, Cristian would have been another casualty of the corruption and evil that was taking place at the Virgin of Asuncion shelter. You see, this place also served like a correction facility where very troubled teens were sent. Cristian’s last hope and chance was our family. He was already 14 years old and was haunted daily by thoughts of his past. He was suddenly removed from the custody of his mother at the age of 8 because of negligence. Cristian witnessed his father being shot right in front of his mother. This horrible memory left a deep wound that only the love of Christ could heal. I know that leaving everything and everyone behind in the states to move to Guatemala was God’s divine plan. It was Cristian’s last hope to live and breathe the love of a family in a tangible way never known to him. This short season he would live with us meant life or death for Cristian. This unfortunate tragedy and loss, that has made headline news, feels like God’s sirens going off. These warning bells are telling my anxious heart, “I’ve got you exactly where I need you!”
(Love) always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Cor 13:7
Many of the children that are growing up now with the love of a family share many devastating stories just like Cristian. Our mission is all about believing what your eyes can not yet see. I call it “Faith Care.” Unlike when you rescue an obviously very sick, malnourished child, mend his wounds, give him medicine and food to nourish him back to full health. Then perhaps 6 months later you can actually “see” the transformation before your eyes. Then you are able to look at before and after pictures and feel extremely proud about the remarkable change. Our mission requires us to love, instruct, guide, and patiently endure children that appear physically healthy and have it all together on the outside, but on the inside they are broken and bruised. They may lash out with every form of obscenity from, “I hate you” to, “I’m not a child of God!” Then you have to draw from the only strength and source that says, “Love never gives up, believes all things, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
You continue to wait for the hand of God to slowly, but miraculously heal and remove any scars that have been ‘permanently’ engraved by life’s circumstances.
You continue to wait for the hand of God to slowly, but miraculously heal and remove any scars that have been ‘permanently’ engraved by life’s circumstances. Perhaps several years later the child begins to show progress. Maybe, they will hold your hand and say, “Mommy, I love you” or, “I prayed last night for God to heal your sick body.” Their words are like honey to my soul and I’m reminded why I was called to be their Mommy. I’m called to be their Mommy in good times and bad, short term or long term. Then God reminds me of His mission to save these little ones…
Tanya Rule and her husband John Rule are missionaries caring for children at Safe Haven Village on the campus of Hope of Life International in Zacapa Guatemala.
- Hope of Life International is in the process of taking in many of the children displaced by this tragedy. Please connect at www.HopeofLifeIntl.org for ways to help.
- While in the USA through mid April, missionaries Phil and Patti Monk are collecting needed items to bring back to Guatemala to help care for the children at Hope of Life International (Village of Transformation and Safe Haven Village), including clothes, shoes, medicines. We are also going to need cribs. To connect visit www.SafeHavenVillage.org/connect