When does our ministry end?
Throughout our time serving orphans and vulnerable in Guatemala we have run a variety of programs such as woodworking, computer classes, cooking, English classes, Bible classes, youth groups, and discipleship; yet, all of them have had one thing in common, they serve as a means to build meaningful relationships with the children. Yes, the vocational training and spiritual formation is important; but, always, always, it is our time investing in them as people and building community that has a bigger impact in the long run.
It’s not just the relationships we build with the kids in our classes, but our ongoing commitment to them once they leave, that has been instrumental in the lives of so many of them.
Last week during the “Semana Santa” or the Holy Week holiday leading up to Easter, we held a reunion for youth that had been in orphanages we have worked in during our 15 years here. It is the biggest vacation in many Latin American countries and a time typically spent with family. In Guatemala, the tradition is to go to the beach.
Churches are often surprisingly empty during Easter Sunday as people are returning from a long holiday week or weekend. It’s common to hear pastors remind and encourage people to come back on Saturday to celebrate the Easter service.
It was during one such message that we got to thinking, “What about all the kids who have left the orphanage and don’t have family to spend time with?” We often have former students come by for holidays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays etc, but we hadn’t done anything for the Easter holiday.
Sharie is the one who keeps up with most of the “kids” on a regular basis, whether it’s through phone calls, text messages, facebook, messenger, Instagram, Whatsapp, or whatever happens to be the latest, newest communications method, or she is there figuring out how to use it so she will have a way to reach them. Through a flurry of communications she was able to get out the invitation to come for a reunion at a park.
The response was incredible! Students we hadn’t seen in over 10 years confirmed that they would be there. Given that many had moved over the years, it took some of them hours to make it by bus, but they came. Others brought their kids, boyfriends, fiancés or siblings along with them. Sharie and I cooked, grilled and barbecued while they joked laughed and reconnected with each other.
We had horse riding, soccer games, hay rides and good food for them, and they had a blast. In some ways they were happier to see each other than to see us. While we keep in contact with many on a regular basis, they sometimes lose touch with each other, making this an opportunity for them to reconnect with the people they had grown up with. It was a family reunion of a sorts.
Much of the work in orphan care is focused on serving and caring for kids as they are raised, yet, from what I have seen, there is often little thought or effort given to serving them once they leave.
It’s almost like being kicked out of a family. One day you are told you are loved and cared for, the next day you are forgotten. But if we, as Christians, are truly going to serve orphans, and serve them well, our commitment has to be something more.
When we read in Luke 15 the story of the Lost Sheep, we see an example, bodied in Christ himself, of how we are to love and serve the orphaned and fatherless. Our commitment to them doesn’t end when they “leave our fold”. Our commitment to them doesn’t end when they get kicked out of the orphanage. Our commitment to them doesn’t end when they make poor decisions, when they make poor choices, get into trouble or stop attending church.
Sometimes we must “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my (God’s) house may be filled.” Luke 14:23. We did that, and it was so worth it.
One of the girls, who could be described as doing well, spent the evening visiting with us at our house after the event. She is one of the few that still has some connection to the orphanage she lived in most of her life as she still has a sibling there. She said that everyone likes to talk about how well she is doing, the job she has and the money she is making, but no one has showed any concern about her spiritual life, her prayer time, if she is attending church, being spiritually fed and walking with Jesus.
In truth, she isn’t doing so well spiritually. She works Sundays so she hasn’t been to church in a while. She talked about how she really feels the need to reconnect and start to grow spiritually again as she knows that the only reason she is where she is today is because of the glory of God, but was struggling to figure out how. After talking, we worked out a plan where Sharie would start sending her podcasts of sermons she liked and to follow up with her until she started building her own spiritual habits. She wants to see how she can find time to start volunteering and serving others, possibly in the community centers we run serving vulnerable kids.
It was both encouraging and disheartening to hear this. Encouraging to know that she valued the effort we put into checking up on her, and discouraging to hear that out of all the people who were involved in her life over the years at the orphanage, everyone who talked about how dedicated they were to serving the orphaned and fatherless, that now that she had left, none of them seemed to give her a second thought.
It confirmed in so many ways the importance of the work we have dedicated our lives to: the importance of our orphan prevention programs, the value of our work in the orphanages building relationships with those kids, and the significance of committing to them for the long haul, to being the listening ear, the place to crash at night when they have nowhere to go, someone they can turn to for help, the prayer warrior who intercedes for them, the champion who draws a line in the sand and says “No, Satan, this is a child of God, you will not have them.”
Josh Shipp, a youth empowerment expert, said “Every child is just one caring person away from being a success story.”
That is our commitment to these kids, to be that one caring adult involved in their lives. Hopefully along the way, we can encourage and inspire others to do the same. There is a world full of broken and hurting children out there, who become broken and hurting adults. Yet we know that their hurt and pain can only be healed through the power of the Gospel.
Romans 10: 13-15 “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”
We would like to start a “Beyond Orphanages” fund for events like this. It takes resources to pull this off, to pay for the food, rent the space and help kids with bus money so they can make the trip, but it is money well spent to provide them with family and community in God’s greater family. Will you partner with us to make this a reality?