Azaria Spencer

Residency

There I was sat on a typically uncomfortable plastic chair in the crowded waiting room at the migration offices of Guatemala City. People had been coming and going, usually with a significant waiting period in between, all morning and I had been sat with my friend and colleague Benjamin for several hours. We were fortunate enough to have a lawyer and his co-worker with us doing the hard graft on our behalves. All we needed to do was wait, sign a piece of paper and pose for a photo.
This was the second to final stage in the long road to residency.
We had already obtained the necessary documents in the UK, had them notarised and sent to the foreign office, been to the embassy in Guatemala, had the authenticity of our passports validated, paid for translations and much more, all with the enlisted help of a lawyer.

Now we were handing in our applications at migration.
I have no idea what offices like this are like in other parts of the world, not even in the UK. However, I imagine as with most things Guatemala has its own unique and slightly dishevelled way of running migration offices. But whatever my opinion the system works, you just need to carve out several hours to partake. And of course, there is little to entertain you within the grey walls of a waiting room.
Having said that, people watching in a busy waiting room can be quite entertaining, I like to guess where people are from and what brought them to Guatemala and more specifically the migration office. You get to see such a diverse mix of people. I recall observing more than one nun sat knitting as they waited for their number to be called. I felt for the parents who had to bring small children with them and find creative ways to entertain them. At a guess I saw over 10 different nationalities represented too.

Anyway, after the long wait I was handed a piece of paper that informs the reader that I am legally allowed to remain in Guatemala indefinitely, without a visa and with a view of soon being a resident.
What a strange feeling, to hold a piece of paper in my hand that meant that I can now stay here in Guatemala without leaving every three months for my visa. Technically I never have to leave again if I don’t want to. In a few months I will be issued residency, along with a formal document in my passport and a Guatemalan ID card.
Of course, in England I took my residency for granted, I didn’t even consider it as a thing. Why would I? It is my country of birth and therefore, in theory, a place I will always be able to live.

It makes me think about belonging and home. I will soon have residency in two countries. Countries that could not be more different if they tried. Both and neither are home to me now. My heart divided. When I am here in Guatemala, I miss my family and friends and at times long to be back in England, within a culture I understand and for that reason, among others, feel like I belong to.
At times I yearn to have the same freedom I once had living in the Yorkshire dales. You can take the girl out of Yorkshire, but you can’t take the Yorkshire out of the girl. Yet before I even moved to Guatemala, I knew in my heart that England was not where I would always live, I knew my life would take me someone far away.
When I went back to England after living in Guatemala for a year and a half it was great to see family and friends, however, I found myself missing my life here. I missed my new friends, the people I now call family, I missed the children, the youth, my apartment, my life. However, I do not completely belong here either.

In truth I don’t belong in England or in Guatemala, or anywhere else on this earth. And I don’t want to. I belong to God, and Him alone and my home is where He is. In that sense I can be at home anywhere and nowhere. God is everywhere, He is present. Yet we still must wait until Jesus comes again, until He redeems everything, the whole world back to Himself and there is a new heaven and earth. Redeemed and saturated with God’s glorious presence. Nothing separating us from Him, no more sin. This is the home my heart truly longs for, Eternity. To sit in the courtyards of His mansions. An earth renewed, freedom in it’s truest form. In the presence of The King. In glory.

A place I already have residency for, and I didn’t have to stand in any queues or wait in any crowded rooms. No forms or documents required or stamped for authenticity. No proof of identity.
I am His and as His child I have residency in His Kingdom. What an amazingly beautiful truth.
And it can never be taken away from me, it is mine always.
Surrender and repentance the only requirements. And a life lived for Him, a life far greater and fuller than one lived for myself could ever have been.

John 14:1-2
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”

La Quinta

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There he was sat on the ledge, his little legs dangling over the side. He was wearing a little light blue buttoned shirt, patterned with stripped fish along with denim shorts that met the tops of his oversized welly boots. His wellies looked as if they would fall from his dangling feet at any moment as he sat grinning at me. His smile big enough and bright enough to warm any heart. As I approached, he lifted his arms to me, first wanting a cuddle to say ‘hi’ and then desiring to be swung about in the air. The joys of being a giant, moving climbing frame. 
Of course, I don’t mind at all. This one had me form first smile. 
I thoroughly enjoy going down to ‘la quinta’ and running games with the children who live nearby. It doesn’t exactly feel like work. 

However, last time I was there as I played with my friend in welly boots, I began to think about his homelife. He is one of 12, their ages range from 19 years old-8 months old. Their mother, who is in her late 30’s, recently gave birth to her 13th child, sadly he died at less than a week old. As I thought about his family I realised how easy it was to forget where these children live, what their family circumstances are and how challenging and difficult their lives must be. They live in the heart of one of the poorest areas of Guatemala City. The depravity and poverty so stark in such a place, the stench of urine, the filth of the streets, women who in desperation have turned to prostitution, men gathering to take their turn. People living on the streets, suffering from addition and mental health issues. A place saturated with violence, abuse, alcoholism, drugs and immorality. So much sin and darkness.

And yet I have had many a joy filled evening playing with the children there, a few hours a week where we can all forget and just play and have fun. For example, when we were there yesterday I was sat in the street with some of the smaller children whilst watching some of the older children playing with confetti. They were running around with plastic bags full of paper confetti and as they ran, they would reach down into their bags, pull out a handful of the tiny pieces of paper and throw it over the heads of their friends. (Part of Carnival and Easter celebrations). Sounds of laughter and joy filled the street.
At that moment a man who I know, that lives on the streets, turned down our street and walked past. He paused when he saw me and said hello. As he walked away one of the boys followed him calling his name, or street name at least, when he stopped and turned, the boy gave him a handful of confetti. What happened next warmed my heart, with a huge grin on his face he lifted his confetti filled hand above his own head and rubbed it into his hair. He looked delighted and elated. He turned and continued to walk away. It was such a brief moment but it really moved me.

It was sweet that he had stopped to greet me, it was kind that the boy had given him some of his confetti, and his child like reaction to the confetti was magical to see. So often the people you find here living on the streets have returned to many childlike behaviours, or perhaps never developed some adult behaviours. They often have stunted emotional growth, along with a myriad of mental health problems related to drug abuse and the horrors they have been through in their tough lives.
This diverse mix of work that we do here and the various groups of people we serve and work alongside, makes for very interesting and challenging days and weeks. There is rarely a dull moment and I am constantly being humbled and learning new things. From children who capture my heart with a smile to fully grown men who can barely walk straight yet can still enjoy moments of childhood joy, this work and life is filled with blessings. I hope and pray that just through being present, being there, being willing to love freely people will know more of God’s love and transformation will come.

My own extraordinary kind of ordinary

This morning I sat in my usual comfy spot by my bedroom window. The sun was still breaking through the clouds, grey and blue divided with rays of beaming yellow and white light. The mountains beginning to reveal their lush green beauty.
Starting my day with prayer, a devotional, and journaling.
I asked God to help me find joy in both the ordinary and extraordinary, having come to realise that it is somewhere in-between where I find myself and the life I lead.
It was only last week that I found myself sat playing a perfectly ordinary game of ‘uno,’ yet in rather extraordinary circumstances.

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I was sat on a pavement of a street in Guatemala City playing uno with a group of young people who call the streets their home. Playing a game of uno I will not quickly forget.
It was last Tuesday morning, the sky was a piercing clear blue, the air still had a slight chill to it, but the sun was bright and strong. When I arrived with Ben, the coordinator of the street team, Emma and Hector (members of the street team) were already sat talking with the small group. As we approached, I noticed one young man, Panda, lying on a mattress. He seemed to be half asleep however, in actuality he was under the influence of the dulling effects of solvents. We greeted the group members and sat with them. Ben got out a game of ‘uno’ and the excitement of the game brought even Panda, partly, out of his drug induced state of sluggish slumber.

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It was in that moment, as we played laughing and enjoying each other’s company, that I realised how sometimes I will be caught off guard in a seemingly ordinary moment and suddenly realise how my life is more extraordinary than I ever could have hoped or wished it to become. In these moments I am reminded of what a privilege it is to live where I live and do what I do.
When people ask me, ‘what do you do?’ it can be difficult to fully explain because of the nature of my job and the flexibility my role allows. This somewhat ‘ordinary’ game of uno last week is only one example of an ordinary moment reminding me of the extraordinariness that exists in my life.
I’m not sure that if you had asked me ten years ago, ‘where do you see yourself in ten years?’ that I would have said. “In ten years, I see myself sat in the street in Guatemala City playing uno with a group of young adults who live on the streets and suffer from solvent addictions.”
I am not sure what answer I would have given, but I highly doubt that this would have been it.
Yet here I am, living my own extraordinary kind of ordinary, that involves joining our street team on some of their visits and serving people the rest of society chooses to ignore.
And I truly would not have it any other way. The lessons learned through a life like this are invaluable. I get to spend time with a street team who dedicate themselves to working alongside people living on the streets of Guatemala City, with a desire to see their lives transformed and free from addiction and the streets.
And I get to visit and spend time with people who yes, live on the streets and suffer with addictions, but who have taught me about grace, mercy, compassion, love, joy and so much more.

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