Where some see darkness, we see light.
The crisis going on in the world right now because the Coronavirus is affecting us all. Some more than others. I have yet to talk to someone who, in some way, has not felt the impact of measures taken to try and prevent its spread.
Here in Guatemala, we are completing three months of full to partial lockdown, quarantine, restricted movement, rationing of food, and homeschooling with our five kids.
We have had to make significant adjustments as to how to accomplish the mission God has given us.
Our calling is to serve orphans, vulnerable children, and those with special needs. Our two community centers typically provide after school programs to almost 200 children and their families. We hire Guatemalan staff and teachers to teach Bible classes, disciple the youth, tutor the students and provide an opportunity to learn STEM skills through computer programming and coding classes.
Yet all that came to a halt when the country shut down. We could no longer carry on with ministry to these families in the way that we had.
After years of working in orphanages, we had determined that the best way to have an impact on helping children in orphanages was to keep them from ending up there in the first place.
For the past seven years, we have been working on refining a model of community-based services to vulnerable families through centers that serve their children.
Year after year, we had been improving our model. We were constantly evaluating and refining what we were doing to serve our students better. Last year was a breakout year for us, with 1/3 of the Santa Fe center students ending up in first place in their classes at school and the implementation of our full program at our second center in San Jose Pinula.
We had spent time building, training, and equipping our staff, and they were doing an excellent job.
Everything was in place for this to be a fantastic year, then COVID-19 hit, and all of our carefully laid plans went up in smoke.
Students who were making such progress could no longer come in for classes, and we had to rethink how to serve them.
One of the main reasons for opening our community centers was to find better ways to serve vulnerable children and families, providing educational assistance to the children while bringing the hope and truth of the Gospel to the families.
During our 17 years in Guatemala and after years upon years working in orphanages, we had seen an endless flow of children being removed from their families and placed in institutions. Often because of abuse, negligence, or poverty.
We believed that if we could find ways to effectively serve those families, at home, and in their communities, fewer children would grow up in orphanages.
Over the years, our programs had continued to grow, from 35 to 65 to 100 to 200 children and their families. We saw extraordinary changes in the lives of the children we were serving. Yet, the area that was hardest to impact was connecting with the parents and building deeper relationships with them.
We did home visitations, held mother's day activities, weekly Bible classes, and had meetings with the parents. Still, given their chaotic world, the effort it takes just trying to survive, and the full-time job we had on our hands serving their children, we weren't able to make the progress we wanted with the parents.
In March of this year, the Coronavirus hit Guatemala, and everyone's world turned upside down.
It wasn't long until we began to hear from the parents of our students that many of them were struggling to feed their children.
After serious consideration, we raised the funds and purchased supplies for emergency food bags and committed to helping these families make it through this crisis.
As we progressed with round after round of distribution, I began to see God's hand in what was happening.
In the past, we had struggled to get face time with the parents of our students. Now they were coming to us. We were able to spend time with them in our center, and it was giving us the chance to get to know them.
Early on, we had decided that we were not going to feed people's bodies without feeding their souls.
We took the time to talk, listen, and pray for every person who came in.
It had a profound impact. Parents opened up and shared about the intense challenges and hardships they were facing. Many broke down in tears as they told us what they were dealing with. This gave us an opportunity to share with them the hope of the Gospel.
Week after week, people were giving their lives to Christ.
We found ourselves spending as much as seven hours praying for people when they came to pick up their food.
At last, we have the chance to build deep relationships with the families we are here to serve.
I don't just see a silver lining in the Covid-19 crisis; I see God at work completing His plan, His work, His will for His glory.
Yes, people are suffering. Yes, the world, especially here in Guatemala, is in chaos. But when we stack up temporary trial and suffering against the souls that are being saved for eternity through people coming to know Christ as their Lord and Savior, does it even compare?
Romans 8:18 says, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
We have also seen that our staff has been profoundly impacted by serving in this crisis. No matter how much or how little you have, there is something about serving others, people who have an even greater need than you, which changes how you see things.
Here is a message written by Karen, one of our teachers.
"Today, I had the opportunity to give emergency food bags to the families who attend the Cadaniño community centers where I work, and it impacted me.
I saw that there was nothing more satisfying than being able to bring help and hope amid this crisis.
It moved me greatly to hear from the people we were helping about just how great their need was.
One of the mothers told me that her husband lost his job. There is no public transportation, so he cannot get any work. All they could do was stay home and pray for God to supply for them.
The faith they have, the courage and confidence they have, despite how difficult it is for them, is something that I admire. That they can keep a smile on their faces throughout this time is amazing.
I found it surprising how, despite everything they are going through and the significant needs they have, they keep a smile on their faces. It made me realize just how much I have to be thankful for.
The thankfulness they expressed and the gratitude I saw on the faces of the people we are helping is one of the most beautiful things I have seen, and it is changing me."
Another one of our staff shared the following story with us.
"Joel's family lives over one hour away from the town where the Cadanino Community Center is located. This has made life very difficult for them as there is no public transportation in Guatemala because of the government shutdown for Covid-19. The mother is the only one who leaves the house to walk and buy food with what little money they have left. During this time, she has seen that her son has benefitted from all he has learned being in our program. It is helping him through this crisis. Every day he goes and climbs into a tree outside with his Bible and reads. She sees the strength and motivation this gives him and the change in his life as he never used to read the Bible before he came to our center."
These are just a few of the many ways in which we have personally people’s lives impacted in a spiritual way in this crisis.
Yes, people are suffering, and we grieve for them and pray for them as we serve them, but at the same time, people are turning their hearts to a God who loves and cares for them and desires for them to be redeemed, restored and reunited with him.
I do not mean to minimize the hardship that the Covid-19 crisis is causing people all over the world. We are on the front lines, and we see every single day the suffering it is causing.
Yes, evil and suffering exist in the world, but we serve a God who is all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise, and eternal.
When you truly understand that you can place your hope in a heavenly Father who loves us and will allow nothing to happen to us, that is not for our good and His glory, I honestly believe that whatever the sufferings, whatever the hardship, whatever the pain, if it leads people at long last into the arms of their heavenly Father, I will give thanks.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
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