It was a Friday night youth service and all of the children of Casa Shalom had gathered in the orphanage chapel to sing songs about Jesus and hear the Word of God preached to them. However, on this particular Friday in 2013, the children and staff of the orphanage would experience a particular blessing as a young girl, 15 years of age, made her way to the front of the room to share the Bible verse of the evening. With her Bible in hand, she begins to read her scripture to the entire Casa Shalom audience who is captive to every word that she speaks. What makes this moment special is the fact that Maria is a believer in Jesus Christ, and the Word of God that she is speaking has been evidenced in her own life and carries more gravity in her personal journey than one could possibly imagine.
Maria Meija Lux was 12 years old when she came to Casa Shalom. She is the oldest of 8 siblings who have all shared a very cruel childhood up until they came to the orphanage. Maria has three younger brothers, Jose’, Miguel, and Santiago, and four younger sisters, Catarina, Viviana, and twins Magdalena and Candelaria. This family now share a very normal childhood; the boys love to play soccer and get dirty and the girls do each other’s hair and love putting on dresses.
However, before coming to Casa Shalom these children’s lives were anything but normal. Maria’s parents had abandoned them in the winter of 2010. Though this is not uncommon for parents to do in Guatemala, it is unimaginable the terror that must have filled this little family when they woke up one morning to find that their mother and father had abandoned them, leaving their home and family behind to fend for themselves. With no resources and no provision, Maria and her siblings were forced to figure out life on their own.
This little family had no income so Maria’s younger brothers, Jose’, Miguel and Santiago, who were eleven, eight and seven years old at the time, were forced to find work on a nearby coffee farm in order to provide income for the family. The boys labored extremely hard in the the coffee fields amidst frequent rain and cold temperatures, and only made a dollar a day for wages. Meanwhile, Maria stayed at home and tried her best to take care of her younger sisters and the twins who were only two at the time. Maria remembers that it had been several months and all that they had to eat during that time was cold raw tortilla dough and coffee. They didn’t even have the resources to start a fire to cook or stay warm. They were on the brink of starvation and there seemed to be no hope for rescue in sight.
In January of 2011, Guatemalan Social Services arrived at the Meija Lux’s home to find the two year old twins playing in the front yard unattended. The babies had not worn diapers for months. All of the children were filthy. Unsurprisingly, they were all malnourished, since all they had eaten for several months was uncooked tortilla dough and cold coffee. That evening the children were taken out of their home by Social Services and brought to Casa Shalom.
That night in January is one that Jessica Hanson and her husband, the Casa Shalom orphanage directors, have never forgotten. She remembers the fear that flooded the children as they were brought into unfamiliar surroundings. “Jose, Miguel and Santiago were trying to escape and were screaming because they were terrified of being taken from their home, and the girls were crying… but our caregivers and orphan boys stepped up and calmed the boys down and assured the family that they were in safe hands.” Jessica recalls that the moment was overwhelmingly emotional. Yet, she remembers the pride that she felt towards her Casa Shalom boys in that moment. In the midst of the chaos, they showed enormous love and presence of mind. Eventually, the family of eight children were fed and bathed. That night they were given a safe, clean place to sleep for the first time in their lives.
Since arriving at Casa Shalom in January of 2011, the Meija Lux family has grown into the larger family of 105 Casa Shalom brothers and sisters. What’s more is that they now know life as children that are loved and accepted by a family of caregivers who will never leave them. Jose’, Miguel and Santiago are very active boys that love to play sports and climb trees and occasionally get into mischief. While, Caterina and Viviana are very prim and proper little Guatemalan ladies that love to dress up and enjoy being frilly little girls.
Maria, the older sister just celebrated her 15th birthday, which is a very special day in the Guatemalan culture. It’s equivalent to a sweet sixteen. Maria is a wonderful teenager who overflows with a sweet and loving personality. It is said that when a new orphan arrives at Casa Shalom, Maria is the first one to step up and introduce herself, and she always shows warmth and compassion. No doubt she remembers her own first overwhelming night at Casa Shalom and reaches out to new orphans to show them the love and comfort that she received when she arrived at the orphanage 3 years ago. She is an extremely tenderhearted hearted young lady, whose life has been forever touched by the love and compassion shown to her and her siblings at Casa Shalom. At the end of last year Maria and her brother Jose received Jesus as their Lord and Savior and were baptized as Christians. It was at that moment that their story really began. What was once a horrific and dark chapter in Maria and her family’s lives has turned into a testimony of God’s goodness and love.
So it’s easy to see what a sweet moment it is when Maria stands up and reads the Scripture of the evening to the rest of the children at Casa Shalom during Friday night youth service. The words from her Bible that she reads aloud are words that echo the redemptive story of her past three years. The story that God has been and continues to write in her and her family’s lives. For Casa Shalom, moments like these are what makes all of the hard work worth it. Where light shines in darkness and when beauty evolves from horrific ugliness is where all of our efforts find value. May God continue to bless Casa Shalom and the children of Guatemala who see the light of Christ through this orphanage’s compassion.
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” -Psalm 68:5