Shrouded by a cloud of fear and disgust, Taty made her way toward the group of youth with an act of penance in hand. As she gingerly handed a cup of coffee to the first young man she came across, he looked at her with a warm and disarming smile of gratitude and acceptance. Taty described that moment as the smile that changed her life.
Befriended and invited by a seminary student who had taken a class on Urban Mission facilitated by a Resonate missionary, a half dozen or so homeless and drugged up street kids had started coming to weekly services at Taty’s church when she was 17. She was terrified. And angry. Every week had become a torturous exercise of sneaking around to avoid the ragtag group as she wrestled with feelings of fear and bitterness toward the intruders. And she wasn’t the only one. Each Sunday, the church served coffee and cookies to all who came for worship, but few were willing to approach the street "rubble".
Even in the midst of Taty’s fear of the “other,” the Spirit was at work. The weekly scenario began to slowly soften her heart until one Sunday she felt an undeniable tug to bring one of the youth a cup of coffee. This simple, seemingly insignificant act of humanity changed everything.
Three years have passed and now she and her family nurture a ministry to the youth living on the streets of Guatemala City called Sigo Vivo (I’m still alive). They do so, however, on the sidewalk of their neighborhood as opposed to the protective confines of the church building they no longer occupy. The growing Sigo Vivo ministry became a source of contention within the church which eventually voted out the pastor, Taty's father. Now, each Sunday morning on their way to “church,” members of the old congregation drive past their former pastor and his family on the sidewalk with the 20-30 young people who have become their parishioners and extended family.
The risk Taty took in the movement towards the feared other has resulted today in a relationship of “kinship” with those who had previously been only objects of scorn. In his book, Tattoos of the Heart, Father Gregory Boyle describes this sense of kinship by writing, "....its truest measure lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them."
Taty has learned to embrace a kinship with the disenfranchised youth of her neighborhood that illustrates an epiphany that Thomas Merton once had on a street corner in Lexington, Kentucky, “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs.” Taty and her family live with the daily realization of an inexplicable but pervasive love for the young people living in the streets of their city — a love that today is manifested in disarming, reciprocated smiles of gratitude and acceptance that paint a portrait of grace.
How is God’s smile of scandalous grace inviting you to risk kinship with those your culture, faith, and tradition have taught you to resist?