Where being on high alert is the norm

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In 2016 we brought you the story of the Revd Mark Balfour, the former Vicar of St Peter’s and St Mark’s in Maidenhead, and his wife Rosalie who were planning to head to Guatemala to support difficult urban ministries. Now, three years later, Mark and Rosalie describe their work providing pastoral support for the staff of Street Kids Direct and partner projects in Central America and supporting others engaged in difficult urban ministries.

Eugene Peterson once wrote that disciples of Jesus are called to “practise a life of resurrection in a world in which death gets the biggest headlines”. That seems good to recall as we write this.

The Revd Mark and Rosalie Balfour. Photo: CMS

Not too long ago we invited some friends round to our apartment in Guatemala City for a Sunday roast. They are a Guatemalan family from our church, part of our home group, and live in one of the “red zones” in the capital.

…a grenade exploded on a bus only a few metres from their home

A couple of weeks previously, a grenade exploded on a bus only a few metres from their home, which shook with the impact. They live next door to major drug dealers so they won’t leave their house at certain times of the day in case they are suspected of witnessing the deals, which would put them in certain danger. The Wednesday prior to the Sunday roast, we spent time as usual volunteering with Tamar’s Hope, a project that reaches out to women working in prostitution on the infamous La Linea (a red-light district).

While Rosalie taught some of them a craft, a few others of us played Uno while eating pizza and laughing together. We also took turns to hold a two-week-old baby, fully aware that we may not see that mother – or indeed any of them – again once they had walked out the door. I think we will always remember the conversation with our friends who run the project in which they were trying to recall how many of the women they knew had been murdered in the past few years. For the women on La Linea, being killed by a customer or the gangs is an ever-present possibility.

being killed by a customer or the gangs is an ever-present possibility.

The reality is that violence and death are never far away from the everyday lives of most of the people we know in Central America. As we write, we are back in the UK – spending time with family, visiting link churches, debriefing with the Church Mission Society and taking some holiday. Since moving to Guatemala, we have been back to the UK twice on short family visits, but during this longer visit, we have felt more disorientated than before.

One thing we have realised is that when we are in Central America, there is a part of us which is on almost constant alert – watching out for signs of danger, especially when walking or driving anywhere.
We count it an enormous privilege to serve in Guatemala, but working in the midst of such violence and death carries an emotional and mental cost, one that we have seen borne out in the lives of others. Which is why, increasingly, with the encouragement of Street Kids Direct and CMS, we believe Jesus is calling us to a pastoral ministry that supports and encourages others working in difficult urban contexts within Central America. Do pray for us as we ourselves pray and prepare for that ministry on our return to Guatemala.

Reproduced from an article orginally printed in CMS’ The Call magazine. Dunc Dyason set up Street Kids Direct in Guatemala. Read his powerful story here.