Charles Senteio

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Children of Guatemala

Guatemala has a serious human rights issue, through a very nefarious network of lawyers and sanctioned operatives, babies are sold. The US is their most popular destination.

Jim, Ken and I spent most of Saturday visiting Love the Child, Steve and Shyrel Osborne’s orphanage where 26 orphans live along with their 11 year old son Josh. They’re all family.
On the left is Gerson. Gerson is 8 and a wonderful little boy whose mother was too poor to care for him and his sister because his dad took off for the US. The Osborne’s got to know her through her son and hired her as part of the staff that helps run the orphanage.

I spent most of Saturday with Gerson, he spent most of the day with my camera taking of pictures of the kids there. His family. This is he and Brian, a deaf boy about his age who oozes personality. I took this shot just before turning the camera over to Gerson.
For more pics go to my online photo album.

Google Guatemala Adoption and you’ll see the number of agencies who are involved in the baby trade. Stroll through the lobby of the Guatemala City Marriott where we stayed and you’ll see customers picking up their kids. It is a surreal sight. I spent some time with Steve and Shyrel separately to learn a bit more about this issue. They are in the middle of it. They’ve lived there for about 10 years and know this issue up close. Both agreed. Make no mistake, adopting a baby from Guatemala involves all sorts of nefarious characters, the lot of which are shady to say the least. According to a November, 2006 New York Times article (let me know if you’d like a copy) from 1995 to 2005, American families adopted 18,298 Guatemalan babies. It can cost up to $30,000 and given that Guatemala has nationalized health care and a OB/GYN visit costs less than $100, there are obviously many different hands in the supply chain. In most countries adoptive parents are sought out for abandoned kids, in Guatemala children (product) are sought out, and the young girls who can manufacture them, for foreign parents seeking to adopt and given up by baby brokers who pay from a few hundred dollars to $2,000 for a baby. According to Steve these babies are manufactured or acquired’ the following ways. Lawyers and other guys impregnate poor girls with the promise of payment for their babies. Shyrel told me of a lawyer who was busted recently for impregnating 7 girls for this purpose, “He had to be really stupid to get caught” she said. She also shared that he didn’t really get punished. Also a child is brought to a clinic sick. The folks at the clinic say the baby must be kept overnight and when the parents come back in the next day they tell the parents that the baby died. In fact the baby is sold to brokers who then eventually get the kid to the Marriott for shipping (via couriers like American Airlines and Continental) back to the US.
Neither Shyrel or Steve said that they have recovered babies from this network for sure, however what makes their job harder is that this business puts a very intense strain on the ‘normal’ adoption capacity of the orphanages in the area.
I did share with Shyrel that I think that the US parents who adopt this way probably are not aware of these practices and are so far down the path of getting their baby, financially and emotionally, they really don’t know the underground aspects. She agreed.
“So what should people do who want to adopt a baby and can’t seem to get anywhere in the US or other countries?” I asked. “Have them get in touch with us,” she told me.

A bit on Missionaries - Guatemala Day 2

We set out early Friday AM to visit a school but prior had an informal meeting at the hotel with a missionary who helps run the mission visits out of his Baptist organization. Many of these groups stay at the hotel we stayed, Casa Del Rey in Chichicastenango.

(This is one of the many shots of this beautiful country, more can be viewed on my online photo album.)

Long before the trip Jim told (warned?) me we would be traveling with some Baptists who were prospecting on mission opportunities. We’d rapped a bit about missionaries during our trip to Sri Lanka last summer so he wanted to ‘prepare’ me for this unfamiliar territory. I didn’t know Shane and Dan before this trip but I did like them. After all they were Jim’s friends and I dig Jim. Shane is the pastor and Dan is a Deacon of their church in Waxahachie. Isn’t Deacon a cool term? Anyway these guys were coming because they had never really traveled like this. They hadn’t traveled outside of the US, Shane got his passport for this trip, in non-resort-type locations like the ones we were visiting. They were prospecting Guatemala for medical and other types of ‘mission’ opportunities for their congregation. I took advantage of natural opportunities during the trip to share my thinking about missionaries, and my ideas on connecting with people with the hope of creating sustainable change. I’m still learning.

I’ve never been around missionaries. They have always been odd to me, at times I’ve distained the whole premise. This trip caused me to think more about them, their motivations, and the work they do. I still don’t like them, I don’t like the hypocrisy. Why do they take these trips. No really why do they go?? Why do people travel to far away lands, primarily lands inhabited by brown and black people, to ‘help’ people they appear to have no connection to? Do they even like these people? Do they like themselves?

Nothing I say now is hypothetical
These are the facts, a little metaphysical
We are one, every heart every lung
So why then was the black man hung?
He was hung by the so-called Christians
that went to church, and did not listen
See Jesus couldn't stand politics
so they nailed him to a crucifix…
If the Christians really heard Christ
the black man never would've lived this life
- Edutainment, Boogie Down Productions

It is very difficult for me to separate race and religion in America. Awhile back Jim gave me a wonderful book by a couple of professors from Rice and The University of North Carolina Divided by Faith, Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America.

The book does an excellent job of examining the history of race and religion in America and examining the hypocrisy of it. How could Christian leaders stand by, and in some cases endorse, the political, social, and economic destructive racial policies in this country for so long?

Currently I am reading The Accomodation, The Politics of Race in an American City by Jim Schutze, who writes for the Dallas Observer.

The book does an excellent job of painting a historical account of the development of Dallas and the context of race. I’ll blog it when I’m done in a bit. Anyway, as I was processing my baggage and what I was seeing and hearing I recalled reading about the Baptists and their points of view on race as Dallas developed. W.A. Criswell was a major figure in Dallas for many years. For many years he was Pastor of the First Baptist Church downtown and gave the invocation at the Republican National Convention in Dallas in 1984. In 1956 Criswell delivered two speeches in South Carolina at the annual Baptist Conference on Evangelism.

Schutze writes:
In the speech he told the audience that racial segregation wasn’t enough. He wanted religious segregation too…. He urged people of different religious persuasions to “stick to their own kind.”… He suggested strongly that black people did not posses the same kind of soul before God that white people owned…He suggested that the best thing white people could do for black people was force isolation on them: “It is a kindness and goodness to them that they go to a colored church, while we seek to develop our own people in our own church.”… “Any man who says he is altogether integrated is soft in the head. Let them integrate. Let them sit up there in their dirty shirts and make all their fine speeches. But they’re all a bunch of infidels, dying from the neck up.”

I know it was a long time ago and all I guess people can change. In fairness, response to the speeches from Baptist leadership was mainly negative. But this dude felt comfortable enough to say this stuff.
Do the Baptists feel guilty? Is so, why don’t they say so? Perhaps they are, I don’t hang much with them, I don’t care to.

For clarity I am segmenting missionaries that go with the express purpose, sometimes under cover of producing clean water and such, of ‘converting’ the ‘natives’ to their god and way of worship (intentional lowercase ‘g’). First of all, anybody who has not made the effort to connect with me on a human level cannot influence me about innocuous topics, let alone such an important one like changing what I call my God, how I worship, and what him/her/it and I conversate on. Secondly I have to give you access to this part of me, learning my language and taking a plane trip just ain’t enough. Finally my real issue is with the arrogance and ignorance that must exist in a person who thinks he can pull this off. Let me get this straight, I may have rich belief and tradition around how I worship, passed down for generations, and I’m supposed to ditch all that because you show up, live in a tent like I do for 10 months, and dig me a well? Amazing. That ain’t faith. It’s paternalistic. It’s imperialistic. It’s arrogant. It’s Wrong.

U gotta understand this has all been conspired,
to put a strain on our brain so that the strong grow tired.
It even exists when you go to church,
because up on the wall a white Jesus lurks.
They use the subconscious to control your will,
they’ve done it for awhile and developed the skill.
To make you wanna kill even your own brother man…
Black against Black you see it’s part of the plan.
- Conspiracy, Gangstarr

Back to our well meaning missionaries, I use the term Well Meaning White Folk (WMWF), like the ones we met. On Friday AM we met with Matt, a dude that has been in Guatemala for about 2 years. He was a very nice guy, most of these religious folks are.

Religious people scare me, spiritual people inspire me.

If your church wants to go to Guatemala to do some project he’s the guy you contact. I’m guessing they’d prefer Baptist based on his ‘except Catholic’ comment. As he shared with us what he did I found myself asking, “why would this guy move with his wife from the States to this distant place to do God’s work?” He arranges logistics and the actual projects. As he talked about various projects I didn’t hear the type of love and affinity for the Guatemalans and this wonderful land I assume would be prerequisite to actually move there. He talked about building water towers, basketball courts and of course spreading the Word.
One guy had been to Guatemala 18 times (standing with camera). I wondered when I heard this did he ever stay with a Guatemalan family? Eat with them? Would they even have him?

I wondered, “What about the Guatemalans? Did they want a water tower? Did they want him to help build it?” Matt opened his talk saying he didn’t mind controversy and welcomed our feedback on what he did. I couldn’t resist. I asked, “Did the Guatemalans want a basketball court?”
It seemed odd to me that a country that had on the surface so many other needs would actually want that. I know the NBA is going global and all but jeez….
Matt was very gracious and did tell us that at times he has to accommodate the desires of the particular church group that comes down. So it is really about them?? I equate it to Terry, who runs the food pantry at Central Dallas Ministries, who told me he sometimes accepts donations he knows folks can’t use because turning away donors in the short term proves to be foolish for the long term. That’s cool. But why do these groups come?
Matt told me that poor people tend to accept whatever you offer them in his response to the basketball court question. I don’t agree with this premise, but I held my tongue for the purposes of this informal chat. I don’t believe that the poor are like the drowning man who would accept any flotation device you tossed his way. I shared with our crew later that just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they’ll accept anything you might give them in the name of ‘help’ or even ‘faith’. I discussed what Jim and I are learning in our work. You can’t just ‘change’ people or even influence them without authenticity around why you’re there and a clear understanding of reciprocity. While speaking to a class of Public Health graduate students a few months ago I was asked how does one affect change in poor communities. I thought the question was odd, I said the real work must be done before you leave the house. Look in the mirror and ask your heart and mind why you’re doing it. We must not just understand reciprocity, that ‘those’ people have as much to offer us as we do them, we must believe it. We must feeeel it.
What if some stranger with resources came into your community, with no real connection or desire for one, and told you and your family what foods you should eat?

Also, let’s not confuse beaten down with lack of pride. Jim and I see very poor people with tremendous pride. We’ve been followed out of a very poor woman’s apartment who was insisting on giving us a co-pay. I know more than a few poor people who won’t accept a damn penny from me if I don’t come at them correct. You can’t measure someone’s pride by looking at their crib and what they have materially. Give it too much weight and you’ll turn into an even bigger fool.

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is tied up with mine, then let us work together.
-- Lill Watson, aboriginal activist

I asked Matt about the Guatemalans. How do they feel about this ‘help’? He shared with me a story of a woman he had worked with over a reasonably long period of time. Matt and his crews had helped this woman. She seems to be better off, I guess. There just weren’t enough stories, anecdotes or passion around the land and the people. Yes, I’m probably being a bit harsh here. As Shane and to a lesser degree Jim discussed with me later perhaps this void is just a function of where he is in his journey. Perhaps his wife was the real driver of the move.

We prolly in hell already our dumb asses not knowing,
everybody kissing ass to go to heaven ain’t going.
Blasphemy - Tupac


Hypocrisy bothers me, always has. I think some of these ‘missionaries’ need more help than the folks they profess to help. What I take away from my many trips is not so much the scenery or the food, but the people. I am blessed to have had a myriad of impromptu conversations with the ‘natives’, even in my very basic Spanish on this and other trips, that help me analyze, think, and reassess where my own heart is. They also help with my head. These ‘missionaries’ that don’t even think to engage, who clearly don’t understand reciprocity and authenticity, never get to experience this. I hope the church in Waxahachie doesn’t fall into this trap. There is too much healing needed…. in Waxahachie and beyond.

The simple fact in itself, that 3 million slaves exist in a land where there are more than 2 million Evangelical Christians, ought to be sufficient to show that Christianity, that Evangelical religion, is not what it ought to be.

Frederick Douglass said that in his speech "Slavery in the Pulpit of the Evangelical Alliance”, delivered in London on September 14, 1846.

It still isn’t.

Friday, January 19, 2007

ChiChi Guatemala - Day 1

Jim and I arrived in Guatemala with the crew late Wednesday nite. We’re here to do some prospecting on ‘mission’ opportunities with some of his Baptist colleagues. We spent Wednesday nite in Guatemala City and headed out early today (Thursday) to meet up with Steve Osborn, Jim's boy who runs an orphanage down here, and start the 4 hour journey to Chichicastenago ("Chichi"). The trip was great, as you can see it was a very clear day which provided the opportunity for some great shots. Along the way we visited some Mayan ruins (pics at bottom of post), my first time seeing any in person, in Ixime Tecpan. In Chichi we had the opportunity to visit the only hospital in the city of approximately 60,000. The place wasn’t very busy because it is a private hospital that has to charge, therefore many of the residents cannot/do not take advantage of the services they could provide with additional funding.

I guess I view this as yet another example of how the economics of providing health care, especially preventative health care, can be so screwed up. Nobody seems to makes money in the short term or medium term when folks stay well. Plenty of folks in the value chain make money though when folks are sick, assuming of course that the sick have access to the money or coverage. I am still processing and will see a lot more in the next few days. I’ll revisit then….

I have posted only a few pics here and have set up a photo album online.
Below are some shots.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Reflecting on His Legacy

I am about as old as Dr. King was when he was murdered. He was a relatively young man. What strikes me most about him was his combination of spiritual understanding and courage.

His Letter from the Birmingham Jail is a very special example of this unicque convergence of intellect and courage of conviction. His courage manifested itself in doing what is Right.
One of the key takeaways of this letter, which I’ve shared many times with incarcerated men, is the notion of connectivity we all share. This is the notion I’ll reflect upon today.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

This quote, ironically enough written while Dr. King was locked up, is a key reason I go visit these men, and try to help in general. If I care about myself I have to care about them, after all we’re connected. Lost men who are and have been destructive to themselves and others hurt a lot of people. Among them their victims, society in general, taxpayers who pay to keep them locked up, etc. But more importantly wasted talent, passion and energy also hurts me…

What also strikes me is the audience of his letter. He was writing to liberal church ‘leaders’. These church leaders were actually questioning why he was going to Birmingham. Don’t stir up too much trouble... He was in Birmingham because injustice was there, injustice that obviously these leaders didn’t recognize or think was important. Have we anointed leaders like this today?? I think of Al Pachino's commentary on leadership in "Scent of a Woman":
Be careful of what kind of leaders you're creating.

I'll reflect upon how Dr. King rolled. As a young preacher he was taking a big risk, he took alot of risks. In his Letter he was publicly criticizing leaders of organizations he was a part of. He didn't mind pissing people off, any group of people, if it meant addressing injustice. Yes he was non-violent but he was NOT nonconfrontational. I apply the old baseball adage, "if you ain't cheating then you're not trying hard enough." Well I think if we’re not pissing people off we’re not trying hard enough either. Let’s try to gain some inspiration from him to go to injustice, and work side by side with those afflicted to eliminate it. Let’s also keep in mind that no matter our socio-economic status and education level we are also victims of injustice wherever it exists.
Addressing injustice is self-serving.
We’ll have flaming arrows shot at us along the way, however Righteousness is a powerful shield. It certainly was for Dr. King, his legacy and spirit transcends his physical time with us here on earth.