The Mama Carmen Stories
JBU Learns about Great Faith from a Small Woman
By Tracy Balzer
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Holy Week, 2006, Guatemala City, Guatemala. A small, poor woman, known by many as Mama Carmen, cares for a young boy wracked by seizures. He is one of the many homeless, helpless children cared for by Mama Carmen. No child is ever turned away from her door, not since her son was rescued from narco-terrorists more than twenty years ago. She has no money, only the help of her family, and other resources are scarce. It doesn’t really matter; Mama Carmen has promised God that she will take care of abandoned children, a promise she made more than twenty years ago when her son was returned to her.
On this day, Mama Carmen and her daughter manage to get young Marco Antonio, still shaking with siezures, to the hospital, where they leave him in the doctors’ care. They drive their ailing van back to her home. Hours later Mama Carmen must return to the hospital to check on Marco Antonio — but their brake fluid is leaking.
The whole of Guatemala City is shut down for the Easter holidays; there are no busses or taxis in service, and no one near who can fix the van. Mama Carmen simply prays: “God, this is not my ministry, this is yours, I am just your instrument. You’ve got to get me back to the hospital.” She goes out to her front door....and waits.
• • •
The empty streets of Holy Week make for perfect conditions for Dr. Joe Walenciak, JBU associate proffessor of business, to teach an American visitor how to get around town. It is this American visitor’s first time to Guatemala, and he is there to make preparations for a future mission team. Joe, by contrast, thinks of Guatemala as his second home. He knows this Guatemala City well, having been there many times over the last s years in ministry to the many impoverished children that make the streets their home.
To test his friend’s knowledge of the city, Joe gives him a challenge: “Let’s see if you can find your way to Mama Carmen’s house.” They get in the car and make their way through the deserted streets. Ten minutes later the proper route has been navigated. But it occurs to Joethat Mama Carmen does not know he’s in town--they had better stop in and say hello.
They pull up to Mama Carmen’s run-down house, surprised to discover her calmly sitting in her doorway. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes,” she says to them in an unaffected tone. She seems not the least bit surprised to see them; after all, she had asked God for help. Recognizing their marching orders, Joe and his friend help her into their car and drive through the quiet streets to the hospital and Marco Antonio.
• • •
Joe Walenciak has a vast collection of “Mama Carmen stories” that illustrate the great faith of a small woman in the midst of desperate circumstances. It is now his personal mission to tell her story and to supervise special projects that utilize the heads, hearts and hands of JBU students for the benefit of Guatemala’s needy children. Those projects include raising money for wheelchair for a child named Gerardo, whom Mama Carmen found abandoned and severely brain damaged as an infant. Or helping pay for caskets for the young children who die after living their final days in Mama Carmen’s care.
Sometimes Joe and JBU students simply take meals to Mama Carmen, her family, and the children. “We take them pizza or roasted chicken, and cake for birthdays—we celebrate a whole year’s worth of birthdays at once! And we eat with them.” Whatever the need, Joe and JBU students do what they can to assist Mama Carmen’s ministry of compassion. That ministry has grown in surprising ways.
A few years ago a gentleman arrived on Mama Carmen’s doorstep, seemingly out of the blue… and gave her a coffee farm. And not just any coffee farm, but a rich, beautiful coffee farm (to which Mama Carmen calmly responds, “Of course it’s beautiful. God gives his children good gifts!”). Joe then heard about this generous gift, and after a series of divinely inspired connections in Northwest Arkansas, Mama Carmen’s coffee is now sold with a percentage of proceeds going directly to her ministry to street children. There is also a café in Fayetteville, Ark., managed by New Heights Church, called “Mama Carmen’s” that likewise shares profits with her.
JBU SIFE (Students In Free Enterprise) has lent a hand as well, seeking to make JBU more aware of the needs in Guatemala. Senior business major Estefania Verdin Mendoza describes the year-long project she led as a SIFE member: “We partnered with the Mama Carmen coffee shop, and they helped sponsor awareness events on campus. My team and served Mama Carmen’s coffee and accepted donations [while we would] tell the story and explain the cause. We also offered coffee at the TOMS shoes event at the Berry Performing Arts Center [on campus], and at several business meetings.”
Of course, none of this surprises Mama Carmen. She presents her requests to God and waits in her doorway.
She has no doubt that He will come.