Bezaleel – How can I help?

Bezaleel means “under the shadow of God” and is the name of a school in Guatemala where Galen Lehman did volunteer work in July, 2008. #5 in a series of posts on what he learned there.

Most of the time in Guatemala, we were deep in the countryside. We painted and poured concrete by day and slept on a board or strip of foam at night. But, we found time for some fun, too! On one of those fun days, we visited the town of Coban.

As we strolled through the town square, I met an old woman wearing a ragged but clean dress. Her body was bent by years of hard work. She begged me for help in soft Spanish, with obvious emotion in her eyes. I wanted to help. But, my emotional response was held back by everything I’ve been told.

I’ve heard over and over that if you give money to beggars, they’ll spend it on the wrong things. In some places, teams of panhandlers are even “run” by organized crime. Our hosts had cautioned us during orientation not to give money to strangers, because doing so creates reliance on handouts.

So, I told her I was sorry, but I couldn’t help her. She reached out to put her hand on my arm, but I turned resolutely away.

Later that day, we ordered ice cream on a street corner. We’d had nothing sweet or cold for days, and the taste of ice cream should have been pure pleasure. It was good, no question about it. But, remembering the old woman and wondering how long it had been since she’d eaten ruined it for me.

As we left Guatemala, our hosts gave us a few final words.

“Ask yourself every day how you can make a difference, ” they told us. “You can live a life of service no matter where you are.”

Ten hours later we were going through customs in Atlanta. The crowd was herded through a confusing maze of twisting corridors and stair steps. I passed a woman struggling with her bag, a stoller and a small, crying child. I thought about making a difference, and turned back to help carry her bag.

It was a small thing. Ridiculously small, really. But, hopefully it meant something to her.

I am still bothered by not having helped the old woman in Coban.  Did I do the right thing? What do you think?

All I know for sure is that I made a small difference for a young mother in Atlanta.

The whole experience made me think of something my daughter often says:

You can’t make a difference for the whole world, but you can make a world of difference for one person.

Next Week: Read about having a guarantee of satisfaction.

Click here for more information on Bezaleel.

Learn more about Mennonite Central Committee, a non-profit relief organization.

Learn about Guatemala.

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