"The joy of the Lord is your strength." Nehemiah 8:10.
If the Bible tells us that joy in God is where we get our strength, then I think it stands to reason it's a pretty important part of our lives.
The dictionary defines Joy as "a feeling of great pleasure and happiness."
Strength is defined as "the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure." Or "the emotional or mental qualities necessary in dealing with situations or events that are distressing or difficult."
It is the feeling of great pleasure and happiness we receive from God that gives us the capacity to withstand the enormous pressures of life. His joy ensures we have the emotional and mental abilities to deal with distressing and difficult situations.
I kind of like that.
Psychologist Allan Schore wrote "No task is more crucial than the pursuit, acquisition, and establishment of joyful, securely attached relationships." It is what helps them to develop well, especially in the early stages in life,
Having joy in our lives is a critical component of our continued development and it is key to our flourishing. It is God's intention for it to be part of our entire lives, from infancy to adulthood.
When children develop joyful relationships through proper care and nurture given by their parents and caregivers, it makes them feel safe. It is the forming of secure attachments which enable their creativity to thrive.
When babies, children, and people feel emotionally, spiritually, and physically safe, they are then free to engage in their surroundings; their curiosity leads to discovery which teaches them about the world around them.
From this, we can see that joy is a hugely important factor in the growth and development of every one of us. It underscores why God tells us that his joy is our strength.
This is why our ministry is so important.
So many of the 150 children who attend our community centers in Guatemala come from difficult places. They live in dangerous communities; they deal with drugs, gangs, and violence daily. They face hunger, and their personal needs are often not well met at home, regardless of how hard their parents try. Some are abused, neglected, and mistreated by the very people who should be caring for them.
In short, many of them don't have a safe place in which to find the joy that they need for their strength to grow.
Several years ago, when we were just getting started with our first community center, one of the mothers thanked me for giving her children a safe place to learn.
It impacted me greatly and confirmed what we were doing. At that moment I really began to understand just why God had called me to Colonia Santa Fe, one of the infamous Red Zones of Guatemala.
It was to provide a safe place for these children to learn, but also to help them understand that their ultimate safety comes from God.
Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
Our centers provide a safe place for these children in their communities. For many of the children it's THE ONLY place their parents let them go in the afternoons outside of the 15x12 foot room where their family of six lives.
But once they come to our center and start to feel safe we can teach them about a God who is always with them, who will always care for them, and who will always love them.
As their faith in God grows, they are able to take that feeling of safety that comes from knowing and trusting in a sovereign God who is always in control. A God who is, as Psalm 46:1 tells us, their "refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble." and apply it to other aspects of their lives.
That is when they start to see the power of the Bible telling us that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
Though they may first feel safe in our center, it doesn't stop there. It becomes the foundation they need to face the challenges of the broken and fractured world they live in and soar above it on eagle's wings.
Over the past years, as our work has grown, not just in numbers but in depth, we have come to a fuller understanding of why having a safe place for kids to learn is so important.
We have seen the progress of students in our program improve year after year, students who had never touched a computer, learning programming and coding. Kids who were failing in math at school come back glowing with pride as they bring their report cards to us showing they are now in first place in class. Best of all, we see children who didn't know about God, learning to read, study, and memorize His Word.
We strive hard to work with excellence in all that we do, putting a lot of time, prayer, and planning into all of our classes trying to make them, fun, exciting and educational. But ultimately I keep coming back to the words that that mother gave when we were starting out.
"You give my children a safe place to learn."
We give children a safe place to be. When children are in a safe place, they open up, step out, and try new things, when they learn new things, their joy of curiosity and discovery grows, and as their joy of discovery grows, they build confidence, and when they feel confident and joyful, they develop inner strength.
This process creates an upward spiral of positive reinforcement that can break the cycle of poverty into which they were born.
Perhaps that is why God tells us that joy in Him is such an essential part of the strength that is needed to survive and thrive in life.
If you, like us, want the privilege and joy of being a part of the work that He is doing here in Guatemala in this time and place in a way that will make a lasting impact for eternity, then click below to partner with us.