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With 25 years under their belt, Potter’s House has a lot to show for their work. More than sixty staff members—many from the Guatemala dump community—care for hundreds of children in their education program, serve tens of thousands of lunches per year, encourage budding entrepreneurs with small enterprise loans and more. Their stats speak for themselves.
But as I’ve learned from so many of the people and organizations promoting justice around the world, there’s always some spark that started it all. I love to sit with staff and founders and hear about that moment when they just knew this was God’s call for them.
I imagined the Potter’s House co-founders, Gladys Guitz and Lisbeth Piedrasanta, divinely created for this very purpose, marching into the Guatemala City dump 25 years ago with confidence and intention, prepared to take on whatever ills awaited them.
“Laura, it was too much for me. I thought to myself, ‘I will never come back to this place,’” Gladys told me.
“I wanted to work in a nice place; I wanted to look like a professional—when people asked me, ‘Gladys, where do you work?’ I wanted to say, ‘I’m a psychologist in that place…’ I didn’t want to say, ‘well, I’m working in the garbage dump.’”
Obviously, things have changed.
Gladys and Lisbeth first entered the dump as a favor to some friends from the United States who wanted to donate blankets to the dump scavengers on Christmas. Gladys was not immediately won over by the dump.
“When I got back to my house, I cleaned up, put on my new dress, cooked, and I tried to forget what I saw. I couldn’t handle what I saw.”
Despite her efforts, Gladys’ experience on Christmas stayed with her. What started with the simple act of handing out blankets soon evolved to Bible studies, medical support and feeding programs.
But Gladys admits she took every step with hesitance. Even when the opportunity to buy land for Potter’s House presented itself, Gladys questioned her choice to work in the dump. The encouragement of volunteers and friends came alongside skepticism.
“One woman even told me, ‘Gladys, you are never going to find a husband. No man will follow you to that place,’” she told me with a laugh.
How fortunate she continued anyway. Despite dozens of frustrations and setbacks, she continued. Despite a national civil war that left people afraid to help the poor because it was considered “communist,” the organization grew.
And now, 25 years later, Potter’s House works for personal development, health, micro-enterprise, community support and education for children. All of this is accomplished through the faithfulness of staff, volunteers and donors who signed on with varying levels of uncertainty.
What a reminder that we really are floundering sheep. We can be so hesitant to follow. Or sometimes, we follow with the idea we’re making some sort of sacrifice in this life to save up points for the future, when beautiful things are in front of us on earth. I’m thankful our Shepherd is patient with us.
And let’s face it, there’s bound to be a moment, caught between the values of this world and the values of the Kingdom, when we think, “Really, God? The garbage dump?” It’s not the most logical place to invest our time, talents and money.
But as I watch co-directors Gladys and Edgar (her husband—debunking the prophecy of eternal singleness!) visit with the women’s group, lead Bible studies for the youth and kick a soccer ball around with the kids from the education program, I don’t think they regret this path.
Yes, my lost little sheep. The garbage dump. Trust me on this one.
Discomfort of any sort may not seem inviting, but I think it’s the most precious invitation we receive. We must go there—even if with hesitant steps. Beautiful things are waiting.
- Learn more about Potter’s House from their website.
- Do you know a Gladys? Talk to one of your friends, coworkers, mentors, etc. who you feel is really pursuing God’s call to promote justice in the world. How did she or he end up there? What setbacks and joys happened along the way?
- Think about the ways God has called you to use your talents, time and finances. Which of these is easy for you? Which isn’t? Why?
- Pray for the work of Potter’s House in Guatemala. Pray for the staff members who have chosen to follow this path that isn’t necessarily “popular.”
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.