Editor’s Note: Missioner Amanda Ceraldi reflects on the painful reality of child abuse experienced by her students at Valley of the Angels and other children in Guatemala.
After two years on mission, I have come to the harsh realization that one of the most difficult things I face is the abuse of children. When I first arrived in Guatemala, I began reading a lot of newspaper articles with my Spanish teacher so that I could expand my vocabulary, practice my pronunciation, and learn more about Guatemala. During one of my newspaper readings, I came across a statistic that would drastically change my perspective of my time on mission, my time at Valley, and ultimately my life.
I was reading an article about sexual abuse among children in Guatemala. The article stated that 84% of girls in Guatemala under the age of 14 have experienced some form of sexual abuse—and that was only the reported cases. If you were to include the statistics among indigenous girls who never reported their abuse, that number would likely rise. I had to go back and read that line of the article repeatedly. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. How could it be that 4 in every 5 girls in Guatemala has been or will be sexually abused?
That article was in the forefront of my mind for the coming weeks. As I arrived at Valley and was met by the 185 beautiful girls I couldn’t shake the thought of that statistic. I was afraid that the girls I had just met would fall under that statistic. And I wasn’t wrong. In the days, weeks, months, and years that followed my arrival at Valley, I’ve learned more and more about the stories, lives, and abuses of the girls at Valley. It’s a scary fact, knowing that so many young girls that I love have experienced such hardship.
I was overwhelmed, and often still am, with this information; it’s a lot to carry. When I first arrived at Valley, I often questioned God’s presence. Was He there for these girls during their abuse? Is He there as they try to heal? As many of the girls began to open up to me about the abuses they faced, I began to realize that God is here, and God has called me to be here. My call to be present, my ability to hear my students’ stories, and my opportunity to share in their lives has allowed me to take away a little bit of their hurt; I am able to carry some of their pain, to lighten the load.
Christ’s suffering is not unknown to the girls I work with at Valley, but we all have been able to take some comfort in the fact that He was and always is there.
Reflection Question: Is there suffering you have witnessed that makes you question God’s presence? How can you be present for others to share the truth that He is always there?