This story was written as a supplement to Vacation Bible School curricula for elementary age children to be read aloud in five daily segments to introduce them to the work of Potter’s House Association International in particular and to foreign missions in general. May it bless you!
Day One – Let’s Take a Trip
Let’s imagine we’re going on a trip – a long, long trip, all the way to another country. We’re going to need passports and plane tickets and suitcases, swimsuits and sunscreen, shorts and t-shirts, jeans, a sweatshirt and a jacket. We’ll also need to squash sleeping bags, pillows, soap and shampoo, flashlights, lots of mosquito repellant and mosquito nets into our suitcases. Are you ready?
Oh! But you don’t even know where we’re going! Well, I’ll give you a few clues, and when you think you know where we’re headed, raise your hand.
• This country is south of Mexico
• It’s in Central America
• It’s the home of the ancient Mayans
• Most of the people in this country speak Spanish
• About half of them are descendents of the Mayan people
• The farmers in this country grow corn, beans, squash and tomatoes
• The capital of this country is Guatemala City
So have you guessed where we’re going?
That’s right! We’re travelling to the country of Guatemala, and we’re going to visit a very special place called Potter’s House. Have you ever heard the Bible story of the potter? It’s found in Jeremiah 18:1-6, and this is what it says:
“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’
So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel.
But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”
Now what do you think that story means?
Here’s what I think: The Lord was talking to the prophet Jeremiah, and He told Jeremiah to visit the potter. Do you know what a potter is? In Old Testament times, a potter was always a man (today, women can be potters too), but in Jeremiah’s time, a potter was a man who took an ordinary lump of clay and turned it into something beautiful, like a vase or a bowl, a pitcher or a platter.
Have you ever played with Playdoh or clay? Have you ever shaped it into a vase or a little pot? Well, that’s just what the potter did. He took a lump of clay and formed it into smooth round ball. Then he put the ball on a stone wheel and began to spin the wheel with a foot pedal. As it spun, the potter cupped his hands around the clay ball and slowly, steadily shaped it into a beautiful pot – like a vase or a bowl or a water pitcher.
The story says that when Jeremiah visited the potter, the first pot he saw the potter make had a flaw. Do you know what happens when pottery has a flaw? It cracks or explodes when it’s fired in the kiln, and the potter knew that, so he pounded that pot back into a solid lump of clay, added a little bit of water and started all over. The potter knew his pot had to be perfect or instead of coming out of the kiln beautiful and ready to sell, it would be worthless and all his hard work would have been wasted.
Now what does any of that have to do with our imaginary trip to Guatemala? A lot! Because the special place we’re going to visit, Potter’s House, got its name from this Bible story. Just like the first pot that had a flaw and needed to be remade, every one of God’s children – you, me, our pastor, our President, the soccer coach, our moms and dads, everybody – has flaws. We all need God’s help to become the people He created us to be. Just like the potter shaped and molded that flawed pot into something beautiful and useful, God will shape and mold us into beautiful, useable, useful human beings that bring glory and honor and praise to His Holy name.
Can you even imagine the plans and purposes almighty God has for your life!
Spend a few minutes tonight thinking about how God is at work in your life and the plans He has for your future. Then when you come back tomorrow, we’ll walk through the front doors of Potter’s House and I’ll introduce you to a very special lady with a fascinating story to tell. Till then, grab your imaginary pillow, roll out your imaginary sleeping bag, pull on your imaginary pajamas and take a good long siesta. “¡Buenas noches, amigos!” Good Night, my friends!
Day Two – Guatemala City Dump
“Hola, amigos!” Hello, Friends! I hope you slept well. Did you remember to roll up your imaginary sleeping bags and put away your imaginary pillows when you woke up from your siesta? I did! Today we’re going to meet a very special lady with a special story. Her name is Gladys Acuña.
Yesterday we began our imaginary journey to a country called Guatemala. Who remembers the name of its capitol city? That’s right! Guatemala City. Who remembers the name of the special place we’re visiting? Yup! Right again! Potter’s House. Does anyone remember how Potter’s House got its name? From the story of the potter in Jeremiah 18:1-6, who created a flawed pot, but instead of giving up and throwing the clay away, the potter patiently pounded it back into a lump, rolled it into a ball and started all over, creating something beautiful and useable. In the same way, God will form and shape each of us into beautiful, useable masterpieces with a divine plan and purpose.
Now, let me tell you a little bit about Gladys Acuña. She grew up in a Christian home, where her parents were a wonderful example of how to follow Jesus. When Gladys was just fifteen, her mother died and suddenly Gladys was in charge of caring not only for herself, but also for her family of seven, including her Dad, cooking, cleaning, and raising her two brothers and a younger sister.
In school, Gladys was a good student and she loved playing basketball. She also had a good friend named Lisbeth Piedrasanta.
In 1986, nearly twenty-five years ago — when Ronald Reagan was president and the New York Mets won the World Series and the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl, good friends from America visited Guatemala, and asked Gladys and Lisbeth to take them to visit the Guatemala City Dump, not a place many people want to visit on their vacation!
And the Guatemala City Dump isn’t just an ordinary, everyday, city dump. It’s GIGANTIC! iT Covers more than 40 acres, more space than you’d need for 20 regulation-sized soccer fields! That’s a LOT of garbage!!
Now think for a minute of the garbage cans at your house and all the stuff you throw away in one week. Would you ever want to open up those cans and dig through them to find something you’d lost? No? Me either. Now imagine that on garbage day in your neighborhood all your neighbors – every single person in your neighborhood – loaded their garbage cans into their cars and trucks and vans and drove them to your house, dumping their trash on your front lawn. That would be awful! But what if all your neighbors did that not just for one week for a whole year? Can you imagine how much garbage would be heaped up on your front lawn? And what about the smell? Ewwww! I don’t even want to think about that!
You’d never want to dig through all that trash to find something to eat, would you? Me either! Can you imagine pulling a shirt or a pair of socks out of that trash heap and putting it on? No way! What if you had to dig through those heaping piles of garbage to find a blanket to snuggle up in at night? That’d be awful!
But that’s exactly what some kids have to do. They dig through the garbage in the Guatemala City Dump every day, looking for a little bit of food to eat or a shirt to wear or a blanket to keep them warm. And that’s why Gladys’ friends wanted to visit the dump. They wanted to help, but Gladys didn’t want to go, because she was afraid. Dumps aren’t very safe places. They’re filled with all sorts of dangers – jagged glass, rusty metal, old knives, broken plates, rotting food, dogs, rats, vultures, snakes, roaches,ants, lice, germs and even disease. Sometimes the garbage is piled so high it crashes in “garbage avalanches” that hurt or bury the people digging through the garbage. No wonder Gladys was afraid. I’d be afraid too!
But Gladys’ friends were determined, so they packed up some food and headed to the Guatemala City Dump all by themselves to share the love of Jesus as they handed out food to the people they met.
And do you know what happened to Gladys’ friends?
Oh, I can’t tell you that! You’ll have to wait until tomorrow to find out. Now it’s time to roll out your imaginary sleeping bags and climb in under your mosquito nets for a good night’s sleep. Then meet me back here to find out what happened to Gladys’ friends. Until then, “¡Buenas noches, amigos!” Good Night, friends!
Day Three – The Favor
“Hola, amigos!” Did you sleep well under your mosquito nets last night? I sure did! Now, who remembers where Gladys’ and Lisbeth’s friends wanted to go? That’s right! The Guatemala City Dump. And why didn’t Gladys and Lisbeth want to take them there? Right again! Because dumps are dangerous places and Gladys aand Lisbeth were afraid.
So what did happen to the American friends when they visited the Guatemala City Dump all alone with their arms full of food?
Absolutely nothing bad. Mostly, the people went on with their scavenging, looking for scraps of food, clothing, useable items for their homes, things to clean up and sell, and larger pieces of cardboard and bricks to use for their homes. Gladys’ and Lisbeth’s friends handed out food in the name of Jesus, and while that was good, their hearts ached for the hard, hard lives those people lived. They left the dump that day wanting to do so much more, but their vacation was over. It was time for them to fly home to the United States.
A few weeks later, Gladys’ and Lisbeth’s American Friends asked them for a favor – a big favor – to deliver 350 warm blankets to the precious people in the Guatemala City Dump on Christmas Day. Gladys had heard her friends’ story of their day at the dump, and she knew nothing bad had happened to them, but she still didn’t want to go. Yet she also loved her friends and didn’t want to let them down, so Gladys reluctantly agreed to help, but not on Christmas Day.
Instead, Gladys and Lisbeth ordered the blankets to be delivered on December 23rd. That way they could help their friends and do something good for the poor, yet still be home for Christmas. God, however, had other plans, and the truck delivering the blankets was delayed. It didn’t arrive in Guatemala City until December 24th, Christmas Eve, so Gladys and Lisbeth had no choice but to deliver the blankets on Christmas Day exactly as her friends had asked.
But a delayed delivery truck was only the first of their problems. Gladys and Lisbeth soon realized they needed a van to carry all those blankets to the dump, because their cars were much too small. But what was a problem for Gladys and Lisbeth was no trouble at all for God. He not only provided a truck, but also a driver, Eleasar Gonzalez, willing to help load, drive, and deliver all those blankets on Christmas Day. Eleazar made room for Gladys, Lisbeth, and a big box of tamales, and off they went to bring a little bit of Christmas joy to people who almost never receive any gifts at all, much less something brand new, warm, and meant just especially for them.
As Gladys, Lisbeth, and Eleazar approached the dump, an overpowering smell seeped through the van windows, and Gladys wanted to go home. She wasn’t sure she could stand the smell of 40 acres of rotting garbage. Then she noticed the children – little children, just boys and girls – playing together, running and chasing and playing in the garbage, and she couldn’t believe it. These little children had no grassy fields to play in, no swings or slides or jump ropes, no bikes or scooters or balls, no clean water for baths, nowhere to swim – just garbage, piles and mounds and mountains of garbage everywhere they looked, for as far as they could see. It was awful, and it broke Gladys’ heart. She closed her eyes, thinking, “I’ll never be here again. I’m just doing this as a favor to my friends.” It was all more than Gladys could take, but she’d told her friends she would hand out the blankets. She’d made a commitment, and she was determined to see it through. Then she’d go home, clean up and never again return to the dump.
Gladys and Lisbeth handed out all 350 blankets on that overwhelming, exhausting, shocking, surprising Christmas Day, but once home, Gladys chose to forget all she’d seen and heard and smelled and experienced. It had all been too much.
Lisbeth, however ached for the people she’d seen, for the way they lived, for their desperate situation. How, she wondered, could God allow people to live like that? Why didn’t He do something? Where was He? Yet while Lisbeth’s heart ached with questions, God had a plan, and Gladys and Lisbeth were going to be an important part of it. They just didn’t know it yet.
Then in the dark hours of that silent Christmas night, God showed Lisbeth that He hadn’t forgotten the people of the Guatemala City Dump. He loved them with all His heart, for He’d created them. They were His children, precious in His sight, and He was right there with them in the midst of all that garbage, preparing a small, powerful group of volunteers to show those precious people just how very, very much He loves them.
The next morning, Lisbeth eagerly shared her dream with Gladys, and a brand new ministry was born. Over the next few weeks, the two friends planned and dreamed and prayed together about where God was leading them. They knew He had a plan, but they had no idea just how big it was.
I’d love to tell you all about God’s big plan, but it’s getting late and soon the mosquitoes will be buzzing around our ears. So roll out your imaginary sleeping bags and snuggle down under your mosquito nets, and maybe, just maybe, in the dark hours of this night, God will whisper the beginnings of His big plan for you. Till tomorrow, my friends, “¡Buenas noches!”
Day Four – Big Plans
Welcome back, my travelling friends! I’m so glad you’re here! Did you sleep well? Do you know how much God loves you? Did He tell you so last night? Oh, Your Heavenly Father loves you more – so much more – than you can possibly begin to imagine, more than you’ll ever understand, more than I would ever be able to tell you. He loves you more than all the grains of sand on the seashore, more than all the stars in the sky, more than anything! He loves you so much He sent His one and only Son to die on the cross in your place, so your sins can be forgiven and so you’ll one day live with Him forever in Heaven. Now that’s amazing love! And that’s just the kind of love God showed Gladys and Lisbeth He has for all those people in the Guatemala City Dump. Wow!
Now if you wanted to do something big for those precious people, what would you do? That’s the same question Gladys and Lisbeth were asking themselves. What could they do? They were just two ordinary people. How could they make a difference in the lives of more than 30,000 people? And what could they do to let all those people know how very, very much God loves them?
They didn’t have all the answers, but they did have an idea. They decided to host a great big party – a Christmas celebration for 1000 people! Now I wouldn’t even know where to begin to plan a party for 1000 people, but Gladys and Lisbeth did. They started at the very same place they’d first begun – with blankets. They decided to give each of their special guests a special gift – something they needed, something practical and warm, something to wrap around them on cold winter nights, something they hoped would begin to show those precious people how very much God loves them.
One thousand people came to Gladys’ and Lisbeth’s first Christmas celebration. Two thousand came to the second, and 3000 to the third! And do you know what? Every year, Gladys and Lisbeth trusted God to provide all the blankets and all the love they would need for those great big celebrations, and every single year God did!
Yet the more Gladys and Lisbeth got to know the poor people in the dump, the more they realized those people needed. Christmas celebrations and warm blankets were nice, but the people needed more, so much more. They needed to be able to see a doctor when they were hurt or sick. They needed to be able to get the proper medication to fight infections. The children needed the opportunity to go to school, so they could learn to read and write. Adults needed a way to earn enough money to feed their families, and everyone needed fresh, clean water. The needs were big, but God’s was bigger, and Gladys and Lisbeth were willing.
So the two friends asked for a favor — a big favor, just as their American friends had done, and almost immediately Gladys’ and Lisbeth’s friends said, “Yes!”
Soon Drs. Steve Hammer and Lucrecia Hernandez were treating the poor people of the dump when they were sick or hurt and making sure they got the medication they needed. And that was great, but still the people needed more. They needed to know about Jesus.
So Gladys and Lisbeth began gathering some of the mothers and their children for Bible classes, and do you know what? The women were so excited about what they were learning that they asked Gladys and Lisbeth to come back and teach them more. As the weeks went by, Gladys began to wonder if it was enough to work in the dump only on weekends. She wondered if God really wanted her to work there full time.
Yet Gladys didn’t really want to work full time at the dump. She liked her job and her nice, clean office in the city. She liked fresh air and green grass and pretty dresses and high-heeled shoes. But God had a plan for her future – a big plan — Gladys just didn’t know it yet.
Then one afternoon, a man offered to donate some land — land Gladys and Lisbeth could use to help meet the needs of those who scavenged through the garbage to survive. And where do you think that land was? One hundred and fifty feet outside the gates of the Guatemala City Dump! An easy walk, about half a football field away from the people Gladys worked with every weekend, and she knew immediately that God wanted her to work full time with people of the Guatemala City Dump. So that’s exactly what she and Lisbeth did, and even though not everyone understood their decision, Gladys and Lisbeth trusted God. If He wanted them to work full time at the dump, then that is where they’d work!
A year later, Potter’s House officially opened its doors to the public. God’s plans were bigger than Gladys or Lisbeth could ever have imagined, bigger than a favor and 350 blankets, bigger than a Christmas party for 1000 or 2000, or even 3000 people, bigger than doctors and medical help and Bible classes, bigger than anything Gladys and Lisbeth could ever have dreamed.
Come on back tomorrow and we’ll find out a little bit more about Potter’s House and the precious people it serves. Till then, my travelling friends, sleep well and “¡Buenas noches!”
Day Five – Potter’s House
Welcome back, my friends! What a journey we’ve had this week! Quite an adventure and I’ve enjoyed sharing every moment of it with you. But before we pack up our suitcases for the long flight home, I want you to meet one more person. Her name is Lorena and she’s a mom who works in the dump every single day searching for food for her family and collecting discarded glass and aluminum to sell for a few dollars to a recycling company.
In her own words, this is what Lorena’s day looks like:
“It’s six in the morning. Darkness fills our tin shack. Time to wake up the three oldest kids. I didn’t make very much yesterday, so it will just be tortillas and salt for breakfast today. My children are helpful. They splash water on their faces, brush their hair and walk off to school together. Sometimes, when the money is short, I long for my children to work with me, but they are smart. They should go to school. Maybe they will have a better life than I.”
“7 am – time to get water. The line is long – ten other families. My two youngest kids are still sleeping. Hopefully they will stay asleep a little longer. I have six buckets to fill for the day’s washing. The line is long.
“9 am – I am finally done carrying water. The youngest have been up for awhile. Cynthia is only five, but she can take care of her little brother. It is time for me to go to work. I put on my handkerchief and my hat. It is hot.
“I say a prayer: ‘God help me to make enough for food today.’ The stench is strong – probably from yesterday’s rain. The trucks are already coming.
“The garbage truck from the supermarket is here. I run to get in line. ‘Thank You, Lord!’ There is left-over chicken and meat from the butcher. The fruits and vegetables have only a little mold. We have food.
“The trucks are coming fast. Today is a good day. I have four bags of glass already and two bags of aluminum. No time for lunch. I hope my oldest kids will save some of their lunch from Potter’s House for the two still at home. I wonder what they are doing right now. I love them so much!
“6pm – the trucks have stopped coming. I am tired. My hand is bleeding from the broken glass. I am glad it didn’t rain. Last week a truck tipped over in the mud. It fell on a woman. I prayed for her. I hope she is OK. My two oldest come down to the dump to help me carry my findings. We sell it to men at the entrance. He will sell it to a company. Today is a good day. We made four dollars. We will eat tomorrow.”
Every day, Lorena and thousands of people just like her dig through the garbage of the Guatemala City Dump just to survive. Can you imagine how hard that would be? I can’t. There is always food in my refrigerator and clean water every time I turn on the faucet. I have my own washing machine and a safe, warm home. I don’t live in a tin shack and I don’t have to dig through garbage to find the food I eat.
Can you imagine being only five years old and trying to take care of your younger brother or sister all day, every day? I can’t, and yet that is just what Lorena’s daughter Cynthia has to do every day. Instead of running and playing and being a child, Cynthia has to take care of a toddler while her mother scavenges in the dump.
But Lorena is also one of the God’s Treasures. He loves her more than she can imagine, and He cares that she has to work so hard, that food and money are scarce, because Lorena is a Treasure, a precious, priceless woman created by the Hand of God and He has a very special plan for her life, just like He had for Gladys and Lisbeth, just like He has for you.
But it isn’t just money that Lorena and her children need. Like all the other poor people around the world, Lorena needs good medical care, friends and neighbors, a good education and lots of love. Lorena needs to know who God is and how much He loves her. She needs to feel valuable and know she has something to give back to others, ways to help them and be a blessing in their lives.
Being poor like Lorena and the other scavengers in the Guatemala City Dump – is so much bigger than not having enough money.
What God showed to the Potter’s House team is that there are actually eight forms of poverty:
1. Spiritual Poverty – lack of a relationship with God
2. Intellectual Poverty – lack a lack of schooling and opportunities to learn
3. Poverty of Affection – not enough love
4. Poverty of Will – lack of self-control
5. Physical Poverty – poor health
6. Poverty of Support Network – lack of close family and community support
7. Poverty of Civic Involvement – lack of community cooperation
8. Economic Poverty – not enough money or resources
These Eight Forms of Poverty are what Potter’s House strives tirelessly to overcome in the lives of those they work with every day, because there is so much more to life than garbage. God’s hope for His precious people scavenging in the Guatemala City Dump is life beyond the garbage, the same hope Gladys and Lisbeth and all the volunteers (national and international), and all the short-term mission teams have for God’s precious Treasures.
This year, Potter’s House celebrates its 25th anniversary – 25 years of helping God’s Treasures overcome poverty in all its forms. What began with just two women and one program has grown into a team of 60 staff members and hundreds of national and international volunteers, working with five programs touching the lives of so many people.
God has blessed Gladys in so many ways throughout her life and work with the Treasures of the Guatemala City Dump, and He blessed her in one more life-changing way. Gladys met her husband Edgar Güitz through the work of Potter’s House, where together they have been serving as directors for 15 years.
May God continue to bless the ministry of Potter’s House, filling the lives of His beautiful Treasures with hope, promise, purpose, joy, and a bright new future.
Well, my friends, we’re at the end of our story and the end of our imaginary journey. It’s been a wonderful week, and I’ve enjoyed travelling with you. Remember that God has BIG plans for your life, just like he had for Gladys and Lisbeth. Trust Him, talk with Him often, read His Word and hide it in your hearts, be still and listen for His still small voice. He loves you more than you can imagine, more than will ever know, for you too are a Treasure, infinitely precious in God’s sight.
Adios, mi amigos! Safe travels, God speed, and God bless!
*Lorena’s story on Day Five written by Potter’s House staff.
For more information about Potter’s House Association International, visit their website:Potter’s House
To use this story, please contact Cindee Snider Re at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Cindee Snider Re, July, 2011