I earnestly believe that God is working in Guatemala in an amazing way, and I am excited that I get to be part of his work. It’s a joy to nurture families to health, equipping them to be instruments of God grounded in the Bible—to show compassion, love, and protection to vulnerable children.
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If you visit someone’s home, you will most likely be welcomed in with warm hospitality, regardless of your social class. Drinks and food will be offered to you. In Guatemala, we rarely visit with people quickly; instead, we take our time to relationally engage with one another, placing a high value on quality time. Thus, if you go to someone’s home, make yourself comfortable and plan to sip your coffee slowly. …
Averaging 30 teams and 300 people each year, World Orphans sees the value in short-term mission trips. We send teams because we believe healthy relationships can be motivating, empowering, and life-giving.
What happens when you invest in the talents of a widowed mother in Ethiopia? Something beautiful happens. What changes when you teach a group of Guatemalan women a new, profitable skill? Everything changes. Who is impacted when a collection of mothers routinely sit down together to share their struggles, learn how to save money, and challenge each other in their business ventures? Entire families, communities, and towns are impacted.
Tacy: When did you move to Guatemala?
Chris: October 2015.
Tacy: What prompted you and your wife to pursue that in the first place? Where did the heart for Guatemala come from?
Chris: Lauren and I both began attending Colorado State University. I started as a freshman. She was a sophomore when she transferred to CSU. We started dating halfway through my sophomore year.
After we graduated, Lauren and I got married in 2012, and missions had been an ongoing conversation. I remember approaching my pastor shortly after we were married and saying, "I'm really unhappy with my job." He asked us to do a couple StrengthsFinder tests and things like that to get a better idea of who were as a couple and who we were as individuals, and I sat on that for about a year. Lauren and I continued praying about it, continued thinking about it, and we started to have this idea that we didn't want to live on our provision anymore. We weren't really giving back a whole lot, but we were coasting through life, and we felt like we needed to start praying, "How can we live lives that are more dependent on your provision, God?"
We started doing that, and we decided to quit our jobs. Right before we quit, our pastor came up to us and said, "How do you feel about moving to Tanzania?" And we said, "Well, we don't know. I guess we'll think about that." (laughs)
Tacy: (laughs) That's a hard thing to answer on the fly.
Chris: Yes. So, we were like, "Well we don't really know what to do with this. It sounds cool. We'll think about it." And that was probably a few weeks before we decided to take a four month road trip across the United States.
Tacy: Oh, fun. I didn't know you guys did that.
Chris: Yeah. We wanted time to pray, to think . . . both of us really feel God's presence when we're in nature. It's away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. And I think it was a tangible way for us to get the experience of just how well God can provide.
We'd spent the better part of our marriage planning for this trip. We'd saved quite a bit of money. We had our route planned out. We had our vehicles stocked. We had all the gear we thought we could possibly need, but two weeks into the trip, we lost our engine . . . We spent probably half our savings just trying to get back on the road, so I think the Lord really used that moment to kind of put us at a crossroads and say, "Are you really willing to pursue me? Are you really willing to follow me . . . even if it doesn't look like your plans are going to come into fruition?"
And at that point—when we were getting our engine fixed—we were thinking, "It might just be better to turn around and go home. We've lost so much money. We really don't know if it'll be worth it to keep going." After praying and talking with friends and family, we felt like the Lord wanted us to continue. So, we kept going, and about two months into our trip, we were both feeling kind of like, "Wow. This is awful."
Chris: We were tired, hungry, cold all the time. We had still been relying on our own provisions, our own plans, and our own savings to get through. We traveled to Alaska and came back down the West Coast, and we had mechanical problem after mechanical problem. We almost ran out of money. But we got back to the US, and everything just changed. The Lord had let us wander through the wilderness for awhile, and then he said, "Now, for the last two months, I'm going to let you see what it's like to live on my provision." And he started providing money for us from friends and relatives, places to stay, and random people would give us food. We were put up for the night in several places. We were given jobs picking pears for a week, and that earned us a bunch of money to get home. One family put us up in their Airbnb for free, fed us three meals a day, and invited us to their church and small group. It was really just eye opening. We saw what we could accomplish, which was really just depressing. And we saw what God can do if we just let go a little bit. So after that, we came home ready to figure out how we could get into missions, whether Tanzania or another avenue. During our time praying about Tanzania, we realized it wasn't a good fit . . . obviously . . . that's why we're not there.
Tacy: Right. (laughs)
Chris: Scott Vair goes to our church, and right before we left, we had started to have conversations with him and our pastor. When we got back, we continued having more regular meetings with Scott and Pastor Paul, and they really challenged us to start exploring opportunities in our community as well as internationally. We started serving a refugee family from Kurdistan here in Denver, and I think that really opened up our eyes to what it's like to be in a different country. When you're not from that culture, and you don't know the language very well, food is different, the way people drive, the way people talk, the way people interact . . . everything is just bizarre and strange and uncomfortable. I think that really set the stage for us to go to Guatemala in some ways. We knew kind of what to expect, even though you never can totally prepare yourself.
From the time we got back from our trip to the time we left for Guatemala, that was about two years. During that time, Scott invited us to go to Ethiopia to check out the World Orphans model. What we saw in Ethiopia just blew our minds wide open . . . that you could do orphan care like that. I mean it just makes sense when you think about the role the church has in the biblical sense and globally how they should be caring for kids and families. It just made sense. We took a little trip to Guatemala in January 2015 to check it out . . . three days on the ground I think. We met some of the people we would be working with, and then we got back home and started fundraising. We left for Guatemala nine months later.
Tacy: Can you tell me a little bit about the work that World Orphans is doing in Guatemala from a program overview standpoint?
Chris: Lauren and I hold different, yet overlapping roles. When there's a team on the ground, we're both functioning somewhat as team leaders. She's the church partnership director for Guatemala. On a daily basis, she is communicating with churches in the US and churches in Guatemala to coordinate details and communication. She handles family profiles, ensuring that those are translated. She works a lot with Jenny, the psychologist, to actually delve into the family situations. And then she's also involved in pre-trip planning. She follows up with the teams after they've left—finances, discipleship training, debriefing. She's got a very multifaceted job in that sense. And when a team is on the ground, I join forces with her so that we're able to coordinate teams well, whether that's her going off to do something with some of the ladies from the church and I do stuff with the guys or just coordinating debriefings . . . it works better when we can work together.
When I'm not doing that, I work day in and day out with Pedro who is our new sub-coordinator for economic empowerment. He's my right hand man, and basically our objectives have been to start savings groups, to start a youth savings match program in 2018, and to do this sewing cooperative that's been going on for two months now, whereby we teach ladies from the community to sew, to run a business, and basic things like hygiene and childcare, education . . . the importance of things like that. All of this we do through an organization called Women's Partnership Market. We oversee the project, but Stephanie from Women's Partnership Market has been doing a fantastic job of handling it.
Tacy: So, are these savings groups being run through churches there in Guatemala?
Chris: Yes. That's the plan. We may be tweaking things going into the next year, but the idea was to start savings groups in each of our four churches in Zone 7. And then after we had those established, we would start a new cycle in Zone 7 and a new cycle in Zone 18, but we may be tweaking that a little bit. Right now, we have one savings group of seven people, and it's a combination of two churches in Zone 7.
Tacy: I know we rely heavily on local leadership to speak into our work regardless of the country we're working in. How does that play out for you? How do you benefit from working alongside local leadership that's already established?
Chris: When considering working alongside AMG, I think it's provided us with an incredibly varied and diverse network of individuals and organizations within Guatemala that we would not have access to otherwise. From a programmatic basis, that has been incredibly helpful.
Working with the churches—the Guatemalan churches—their expertise within their own communities has been invaluable. I mean, these are areas that we wouldn't be able to go into at all because if you're not a known member of the community you may be targeted either as a resource for extortion or something worse. So having those relationships and connections allows us to actually do work. Even the different departments within our team offer different skill sets and advantages. Our psychologists—their resources, their abilities, their training in Guatemala, their community experience, and the AMG team of psychologists that they're plugged into—has just been an incredible resource for us . . . probably the best resource that we have.
Tacy: That's awesome. So, in what ways does that come into play? What are the psychologists doing?
Chris: They work with all of our families. Jenny and Auri are the two psychologists that are directly associated with World Orphans, and each of them handles cases with children and families. So, this could include mom and dad or the entire family. They work with them to help them process things in the past and things that they are going through day-to-day. Some is trauma, but a lot of it is simply dealing with waking up every day in these situations. Maybe last night you heard a lot of gunfire; how do you process that type of thing? Having that resource has been huge. I don't have the rapport with them or the respect in this area to do that, but—going through Jenny or Auri–I can get a feel for what's best for the community and even say, "Can you ask these community members what would be best for them?" This allows us to structure our programs to best fit the needs of the families. That's their role—to support those families in that way, but they've also provided me with the means to get these programs launched. They've connected me to the participants. All the ladies from the sewing program that are working with Stephanie right now are ladies from the local community that were referred to us by the psychologists—ladies that they handpicked and said, "I think this woman would really benefit from this based on the work we've done with her." So with their help, we're really able to cater our programs to what the community needs.
Tacy: So, what's it been like to live in Guatemala? Is living in Guatemala different from what you anticipated or is it kind of what you expected?
Chris: Ummm . . . it's not as different as I thought it was going to be in some respect. There is so much "Americanization" that's gone on. If you were to visit, you'd see Starbucks, KFC, Pizza Hut, Papa John's . . . lots of name-brand clothing from the US. Cars from Germany, the US, Japan . . . it doesn't look that different in some respects, depending on what area of the city you are in.
There are two things that have been very difficult for us. Finding community—I think that's partially because missionaries are often so busy with their work that it's hard to connect, and other times, those missionaries . . . the only thing you have in common with them is that they're missionaries, so all you end up doing is talking about your work and ministries, and it never feels like you get to build a real relationship. And then there is the language barrier. While we speak Spanish well, to go deep with somebody . . . or even to have this conversation where I can be sort of frank and vulnerable . . . to have this conversation with someone in Spanish right now is not attainable for me, or it's very difficult. So, that's hampered some of our relationship building. It's not stopped us, but it makes the relationships feel a little less deep in some respects.
The other thing that's been difficult . . . and this is just cultural . . . When you talk to Guatemalans, they're a very non-confrontational society, and I wouldn't say that most people in the US love confrontation, but we tend to value more direct responses. So, when you ask a question, you tend to get a direct answer unless it's personal, and then they may beat around the bush. In Guatemala, you never really know what the person is thinking. I'll ask a question like, "Would this be good for you?" and the assumption is, "If you're asking, you must think it's good for me, so I think it's good for me."
Tacy: And that's hard when you're planning out programs and processes.
Chris: Exactly. So, you plan out your program based on their response because you think you got a direct answer . . . (laughs) . . . and they're thinking, "I'm not going to show up for this because it's not really what I want, but I think that's what he wants." So, then you get everything set up and nobody comes. (laughs)
Chris: There's just a difference there.
Tacy: Earlier you mentioned going to Ethiopia with World Orphans. It sounds like when you went to Ethiopia, your perception of caring for orphans and vulnerable families was really turned on it's head. How has your perception of orphan care and partnering with vulnerable families changed since living in Guatemala? Does it look different than you thought it would? Do you feel like you value things that perhaps you didn't before?
Chris: Ethiopia really transformed the way I viewed church care—the way we are to care for families, and I think Guatemala has taken that to a whole new level. The churches here have been so effective in caring for their communities. And because of AMG's many years of experience with these churches, there's been this recognition that dignity is of the utmost importance when dealing with these families, and I think that's something I've really internalized. I think I believed it before, but now I've seen just how powerful maintaining their dignity can be and how detrimental it can be when that dignity is removed. I really love the way our psychologist, AMG, and our team protects the families. We've been really overprotective of our families, and I think it's helped me check my ego. Everything is done through the church to the point where I have very little involvement with the actual families. We want to show them that they have value to Jesus, and we're not going to parade them around or show them off like some prized animal.
Tacy: We talked a little bit about the challenges that you've faced while working in Guatemala—the cultural differences, the obstacles that you've had to overcome. What would you say you've enjoyed the most about working in Guatemala?
Chris: There's been a lot. I think, as difficult as relationships have been on a personal level, . . . we're really blessed to work with nine different churches in Guatemala, which means that we have connections with different pastors around the city, different committee members, different families, different kids. It provides this plethora of relationships and really has enriched us. There have been a few churches that we've really connected deeply with—their committee members, pastors, families.
When I was leaving Guatemala to go back to the states temporarily, I felt this weight. Even though it was temporary . . . just the outpouring of love on behalf of the church blew me away. In our context, we didn't realize how close these people were to us. We didn't realize that they had grown to consider us part of their family . . . the things they did for us, the prayers they sent our way . . . it was just mind-blowing. I realized we have become part of these families, and they've become part of ours. That's why I felt so sad leaving, knowing I was going home to family, but I was also leaving part of my family, too.
This may sound like a cliché answer, but the people of Guatemala have really stolen my heart, and I think they've stolen Lauren's, too. The battles they fight every day are things that I'll never ever experience. For example, Pedro. He comes from a small farming village in the mountains of Guatemala—the things that he's had to overcome in his life to get to where he's at . . . it's built such strength of character and perseverance and this rock-solid faith in God. You know, I get shaken pretty easily when things aren't going my way or I feel like I'm out of control, but Pedro pushes through it. I know he gets upset, too, but the reality is that his faith has really strengthened mine.
Tacy: I think for me—as someone who works behind my desk most days—this really shows me that the World Orphans vision comes into fruition. We talk a lot about how it's all about relationships, but at the end of the day, it's one thing to say that, and it's another thing for that to be the reality. It's very affirming to me to hear that it is the reality. It really is all about relationships.
Chris: And I think we have such an advantage in some ways. When churches come down from the US, they get this mountain-high experience, but they don't even understand the kind of encouragement they've left behind with the church here in Guatemala. They leave on a high note thinking, "We've done good for them, and we feel encouraged by them." But, we feel it even more because on our end we get the constant feedback from the pastor. We have ladies in the community saying, "When are they coming back? I can't wait to reconnect with them. When are they coming back? Are they bringing their kids? Are their kids going to be married?" They just become so welded together.
Tacy: How neat to see the ripple effects of Church Partnership.
Tacy: How do you see World Orphans efforts growing, changing, and expanding in Guatemala in the coming years?
Chris: I think that World Orphans is going in many directions right now in Guatemala, and I think all of them are good. I think . . . with the international team members we've added recently . . . we have the increased capacity to be able to handle it. We've got a lot of change coming down our pipeline. We added four new churches in May, and Sam is really excited about adding a bunch more in 2018, which is good. That growth is positive, and it's a natural consequence of doing things well. I think a lot of our growth right now is happening in Zone 18 because things are going so well. We've learned so much from Zone 7, that we started off on such a good foot in Zone 18. The pastors are very connected and they're talking to each other. The ones in the program are talking to others, telling them how great it is that they're able to work with these families now. So, you have additional pastors saying, "I want to do that, too." The economic empowerment—there's still a lot of things that need to happen; it's still very much a fledgling program. There have definitely been growing pains with that.
Tacy: So, for people that want to get involved through prayer . . . Can you give them some prayer points?
Chris: I touched on some of the programs we're trying to get launched in the next year. One that we're very passionate about is this youth savings match program. It's going to kind of partner with AMG in a way that allows kids—as they're learning about savings, investing, small business, etc.—to have a practical means of applying this to their lives . . . through a savings program that will be operated through AMG and a match program that will match dollar-for-dollar what they've saved to allow them to further their education, start a business, etc. That will start hopefully in 2018. It's been a slow process to get this going, and we need the Lord's guidance in this. That's something people could pray for for sure.
The savings groups—we really need to rely on the Lord for progress in these, for his timing. We really do feel like this goes alongside wholistic care and is—in many ways—the last step for families to start achieving independence financially and to begin transitioning families in order to help others. This program still needs some tweaking, and I need prayer for wisdom as I help guide this process. Pedro and I could both use prayer for encouragement, and reliance on the Lord.
A praise would be the way that this cooperative has been going with this sewing group. People can definitely see God's hand at work in this. Even though it's being run by a secular business development group out of Denver, they very much have principles in line with ours, though they are missing the spiritual piece. It's been amazing to see that even in the absence of that part of their curriculum, the women have started their own Bible study, and God is blessing them. I hope that God continues to bless them. The hunger that they have to learn how to sew and to start their own businesses . . . it's captivating. To see how so far they have been so committed, continuing to come back every single week . . . that's provided a spark of hope for us.
I would ask the people also pray for Lauren, as she'll be managing her responsibilities while also caring for our newborn baby. She's already been such a good mother. I'm just praying for wisdom for her as she navigates this new season.
By Scott Vair | President Last month I traveled to Guatemala, along with the rest of the World Orphans Board of Directors, to visit our projects and ministry partners. Over the last several years, we have developed an amazing partnership with AMG Guatemala, a Gospel and child-focused ministry located in Guatemala City with whom we have many shared values.
While at the main AMG Guatemala campus, we spent some time with their President, Brian Dennett. For the sake of our board members who hadn’t met Brian or heard the vision of AMG, he shared a bit about their decades of ministry in Guatemala, where they have largely focused on education and medical care.
Brian explained that he and his staff are not the founders of AMG Guatemala, (nor am I and my staff the founders of World Orphans), but we both have, as Brian stated, the privilege and responsibility to steward the ministries well.
During my nine years at World Orphans, I have seen families pack up their belongings and move to foreign countries to help facilitate our ministry. I’ve seen incredibly talented people faithfully raise personal support from family and friends in order to lend their expertise to this ministry. I’ve seen thousands of donors sacrificially give, from change collected by children to tens of thousands of dollars donated by foundations, churches, and individuals who believe in what we are doing. As a result, thousands of orphaned children, vulnerable families, and refugees have received love and care from the local church.
What a privilege to be part of this.
What a responsibility to steward.
We have worked hard to do just that - to steward well, in a way that honors God and those who have sacrificed much to give, go, and pray for World Orphans.
It is one of the reasons we obtained and maintain our accreditation with the Evangelical Counsel for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
“ECFA enhances trust in Christ-centered churches and ministries by establishing and applying Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™ to accredited organizations.
Founded in 1979, ECFA provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising, and board governance.
ECFA’s Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, drawn from Scripture, are fundamental to operating with integrity.
The ECFA standards are infrequently changed, providing members a steady baseline for consistent application of the standards to members. The standards have been described as simple, but not simplistic. The brief statements included in the standards have significant implications for organizations that pledge to follow these standards. They are not standards that allow for grading on the curve. Rather, they are pass-fail standards. ECFA members must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”
We take these standards seriously, and we are committed to following them. We trust that in doing so, we give confidence to our supporters that their gifts are being used well, and that we are an organization worthy of their time, talents, and treasures.
"For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men." 2 Corinthians 8:21
It is a privilege to serve at World Orphans. We pray that our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our plans bring honor and glory to the Lord.
By Kathy Davis | Director of Wholistic Care I just returned home from Wholistic Care Training for our church partners in Guatemala City. Following a full day of travel, I found myself pondering the tender moments in our week together. During my short drive home from the airport, I was reconnected with a friend who was in significant emotional pain. Attempting to see the road through my tears, I wept with her and breathed prayers that Jesus would be her hope and help.
My drive home was followed by a couple of hours with my oldest daughter, eating out of the same bowl of banana pudding and diving into anything I missed while I was away. Catch-up time with my precious adult daughters typically begins something like this … “So, my girl, how is your heart”? We processed through some of her struggles; shared some tears and then she paused and asked me, “So, Momma, how is YOUR heart, and what was the highlight of your time in Guatemala?” As I shared, she entered into the stories, landing both of us in another bucket of tears. As we considered the harsh reality of suffering against the sheer beauty of Christ’s redemptive work in hearts all over the world, how could we not weep?
World Orphans and AMG Guatemala Partner Together
I invite you to journey with me through an impactful few days in Guatemala City. World Orphans is honored to serve alongside the ministry of AMG Guatemala (Advancing the Mission of the Gospel). Together, we have the blessing of seeing the global church engage and care for the most needful families and children in their communities. The tireless pursuit and love of God, who came to us in our sin, is what moves us out of our comfort zones and into the lives of others. I often hear it said ‘the church has enough needs of its own’ but the Guatemalan church is busting through this paradigm.
The Reality in Guatemala
The sobering and tragic reality is that resources are limited and the need is great in that two thirds of the Guatemalan population live in poverty. Violence, drug trafficking, and sexual abuse are common and “In nine out of ten cases, the culprits are family members, and in eight out of ten cases, the abuse is committed in the minor’s house,” (IPS News Agency).
Adoption Is An Act of God
From the onset of our combined training, World Orphans President, Scott Vair, had all of the attendees roped in as he addressed the biblical view of spiritual adoption, saying, “Adoption is not an idea of man, but originally an act of God” (Eph. 1:4-5). The intentionality of God to reach mankind who is born into sin, provide forgiveness through His son, and adopt us into his family compels us to love those who are marginalized.
Scott passionately reminded us that ‘rightly motivated love is not based on how we feel.’ Rather, it is focused on Christ who suffered, willingly laying down His life, shedding His blood for our sins, and pouring His love into our hearts! Sacrificial love that is focused on the Gospel compels us to love because He first loved us (1John 4:19). Ministry that is motivated out of love is not an obligation. It is a privilege. It is a calling. It is an honor.
Every Story Matters
I have trained alongside Scott for years now. As an adoptive father and one who understands the significance of caring for vulnerable children, there is a specific and personal message he brings every time. It goes something like this:
Every time you hug a child, it matters. Every time you spend time with a child, it matters. Every time you tell a child you love him, it matters. What you are doing matters because children matter to God.
The simplicity, yet significance, of these words get me every time!
“But Jesus called them to Him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:16).
As I sat with my daughter, recounting the extravagant love of the church to engage suffering families with insurmountable needs, I kept coming back to the significance of what it requires to ‘enter in’ to the hardship of another. The struggles are real. The need is great. Time is short.
Whether rich or poor, young or old, every heart has a story to tell. World Orphans ministry partners generously donated 50 Jesus Storybook Bibles in Spanish, which we brought to Guatemala. Scott Vair had the privilege of communicating that every child’s story finds his/her identity and purpose in the greatest story ever told; God’s story.
Practical Tools-Real Hope
Hearing some of the painful situations that children walk through is utterly heart breaking. Children who live in the effects of abuse learn to bottle up their pain. They fade into the background. They suffer in silence. They hide. Taking time with children aids in unlocking a child’s story and helps to bring it into the light where genuine hope and help can be found.
I introduced a booklet entitled ‘My Hope’ in an effort to help children cultivate trust through verbal and non-verbal expression with their caregivers. In the context of loving relationship, trust is built and healing is likely to begin.
Saying NO to Sexual Abuse
I loved meeting and learning from AMG’s Psychologist, Jenny Barrios. Jenny had us all engaged as we were each given a red hand that says ‘NO’ and participated in learning a portion of what is masterfully being taught in AMG schools. AMG’s Child Protection and Restoration Program is teaching children to say NO, which is imperative because sexual abuse generally begins in children who are too young to understand appropriate versus inappropriate touch. With the use of a piece of yarn, children are taught that they have their own personal space that is not to be violated without permission. Educating children about the anatomy of their bodies and regions that are private is helping them to understand what is off limits. Teaching children to say NO is empowering them to obtain and use their voice.
Relationship Over Resources
You may ask, “How does one measure the developmental progress in the lives of children who come from extreme poverty, abuse, and neglect? How much is the church really able to do? What we do know is that care for the vulnerable will require relational engagement and specific attention.
The provision of wholistic care through global church partnership provides for some of the tangible needs of food, education, and spiritual discipleship. However, the measure of these tangibles may not result in their attending college or obtaining a lucrative career. Measurement is important and we must do everything we can, but I believe the heart of the matter is best expressed in the following way.
“The measure of success for children who have come from hard places is for a child to know that he is precious and loved” (Dr. Karyn Purvis).
I become more and more aware of the impact that is being evidenced in the context of family and loving relationship, one precious life at a time.
Wholistic Care Training in the countries we serve is rooted in ‘heart transformation’ made available through the death and life of Jesus Christ, which is continually empowered by the Holy Spirit.
So, to answer my daughter’s question, what was the highlight of this trip and how is my heart? My personal highlight was the tender blessing of holding a Guatemalan sister, who is serving children in her community, in my arms as she wept through a deep place of personal grief. It was an honor to ‘enter in’ to her pain. It was a privilege to weep with her. It was a blessing to tenderly remind her that God loves her, that He is good, and that He is binding up her broken heart … even now.
How is my heart? My heart is stirred by the vast opportunity that is right in front of me; wherever I am. Disappointment, struggle, sin, and hardship place every tongue and tribe on the same playing field. My heart is most present when the Spirit of God moves me to ‘enter in’ to the story of another as an adopted child of God, whether here or there.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor” (Isaiah 61).
Though all is not well in this world, there is the bright Hope who is ever present. His name is Jesus. Families are being visited. Children at risk are being educated; but most significantly, hearts are being healed as the global church ‘moves out’ and ‘enters in’ to human suffering.
Jesus, Healer – be lifted up!
A couple of ministry friends who we were blessed to spend time with last week, say it well:
“World Orphans, and their partnership with AMG, has reinforced the principal of Biblical relational ministry. Seeing first hand the work and fruit of this model of mission in Guatemala City broke my heart and filled it, both at the same time. How spot on ... to come alongside, support, encourage, and build relationships through Church-to- Church partnerships that help local churches be Christ's hands and feet, a light in darkness to those in their communities with whom they will have a lasting relationship.” - Mike Yount
“Your wholistic care model works … is unique … scales … and is so full of humble and infectious servant leadership!” - Jared Faellaci
Questions to ponder:
- How is your heart?
- How might God be compelling you to ‘enter in’ to the heart of another and the ministry of World Orphans?
By Lindsay Allen | Project Manager - Americas I recently read an article stating that a Gallup poll had been conducted to discover the world’s happiest (and saddest) countries. You might be surprised to learn that Guatemala actually ranked 4th in the world for happiest people! In fact, for the first time in Gallup’s 10 year history of doing the poll, all of the top 10 happiest countries are in Latin America. When I read that article, I remember thinking how excited I am to be visiting the world’s 4th happiest country, and what that culture might look like. The US landed at 15th on the list, by the way.
Knowing that Guatemala and other Central American countries suffer from a great deal of poverty, I was curious if maybe there were just pockets of really happy (and wealthy) people in an otherwise impoverished nation skewing the results. Today, my first day in Guatemala, I learned that the results were not skewed at all. This IS a culture of joyous, smiling people, but they are not relegated to the wealthy neighborhoods or the nicest schools. No, theirs is a joy that delights in one another and not in one’s possessions. (Which might partially explain why the US, a far wealthier and healthier country sits at #15.)
Now I have seen beautiful relationships and pure joy in each of the countries and cultures I’ve visited. So in that regard, Guatemala is not unique. But what IS unique (from my perspective) is how quickly and easily these relationships are built. I typically feel like there is a barrier of trust between locals and American visitors (and rightfully so in some cases). It usually takes some time to overcome that hurdle of trust before a relationship even becomes a possibility. From my one day’s worth of visiting in Guatemala, they seem to be a culture much more open to cross-cultural relations. I’ve also loved seeing so many people, of all ages, assist and encourage one another and show humility to one another in everyday, mundane activities.
When you are aware of the hardships many Guatemalans face, their joy becomes even more beautiful. Our first stop this morning was at the city dump. Chad, our ministry partner director here, said that this is the largest dump in Central America and maybe even South America. Thousands upon thousands of people “make a living” from the dump. Whether it’s driving trucks, digging through garbage for recyclables, or panning in raw sewage for valuable items, many people rely on the dump for survival.
It’s difficult seeing (and smelling) this place and imagining what life is like for these people. Chad shared a testimony of one man who used to work in the dump, who said, “When I was working and living there, I felt like I was garbage.” It’s easy to see why. Thousands of families live in a village right next to the dump, many of which have homes perched on a cliffside overlooking it, where they are in danger of mudslides. This is where almost all of the kids in the school we visited (run by our partner, AMG) live, and the majority of their parents work in the dump.
We also learned about the outrageous amount of violence that occurs in Guatemala City. Here, 94% of violent crimes go unprosecuted. And of the remaining 6% that do get investigated and possibly go to trial, many criminals can bribe their way out of jail. That’s how broken the system is. Gangs and organized crime are the main culprits of the violence. Chad said he sees dead bodies almost monthly. That’s a chilling thing to think about. This crime and violence is in large part due to the civil war that tore apart Guatemala for years.
In spite of all we learned this morning about Guatemala’s tumultuous history and the sobering realty of life in the city dump, our afternoon was spent learning about all the GOOD that AMG and World Orphans is doing together in the community, and we even got to spend some time laughing and playing with kids.
I really enjoyed getting to know more about AMG and how they impact the community. They have a wonderful staff that I’m very excited to have the privilege of working alongside. On our team, there are a couple US pastors who are considered partnering with one of our Guatemalan churches. We were able to share a bit with them about what partnership looks like and how it works. Please be in prayer that the Lord leads US churches to partner with our Guatemalan churches!
While we were meeting, the band members on our team (for the two bands Bluetree and the Informants) did a radio interview. Afterwards, the PLAN was for us to grab a quick fast food dinner, then the bus would pick up a few families that were waiting at the AMG headquarters, and we would all meet at Sender De La Cruz, the church where Bluetree would be performing a concert, and also serve pizza to the families.
Well…things never go according to plan on mission trips. Our quick fast food dinner turned into an hour and a half because they struggled to get 33 orders right (and who can blame them?). So we were running late. And then one of the band guys discovered their laptop with their tracks was back at the guesthouse. And Rachel (another AMG worker who was guiding along with Chad) had to leave to pick up pizzas. And some of us still didn’t have our food. And then they overcharged us. And the bus left with the band and their team members, but got lost and the driver wouldn’t answer his phone. And so they couldn’t pick up the families. So we crammed like 15 children into our van that seats 7, along with all the pizzas. And we got to the church about an hour late. And my goodness it was like everything that could go wrong was!
But in spite of all of the craziness and the errors and the messed up plans, God knows what He is doing. We still had a great concert and time of worship. The church was packed. And I loved hearing everyone singing along to the worship songs, each person in their own language. It was beautiful.
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects
If you pay close attention, you’ll see poverty everywhere you look. If you don’t, it could be that you’re only viewing poverty through an economic lens. While material poverty is only part of the story, it seems to be the most observable and difficult to hide (especially in developing countries). It’s a leading cause of family breakdown that often results in separation of family members and placement of children in orphanages, among other issues.
When we carefully consider the best interests of a child, there is no greater need than to be in a loving family. Truly, a loving family is more important than shelter, food, education, medical care, and so on. Yet these things are also needed, and children trust family - usually mom and dad - to provide these basic financial resources in order to experience shelter, adequate food, clothing, medical care, and attend school.
There are a lot of organizations involved in various forms of family preservation. Some are doing incredible work and making a real impact. It’s unbelievable how big our hearts are to give financially and to go and serve. To be sure, we must continue and do more. But it’s time that we utilize our brains as much as our hearts.
While I believe real transformation comes through Jesus Christ, we need to bring more than Bibles and fish to our brothers and sisters in need. We must bring fishing poles too. You see, the church (individuals and collectively) is responsible for meeting the spiritual and, at times, physical needs of its people. The church has a critical role to play in family preservation.
To preserve is to exist. To empower is to advance. And until we develop and implement local solutions that go from preserving and stabilizing families to empowering and strengthening families, we will continue to bang our heads against the wall trying to reduce poverty and, ultimately, keep families together. If the root cause of our problems is sin, then poverty is one of its most effective weapons. In the same way that we can’t take on sin without Jesus Christ, we can’t take on economic poverty without relationship. Through relationships with local leaders and the people themselves, we create conversation. Through conversation, we include the very people who understand the problems and, more importantly, the solutions. As our relationships deepen and trust builds, we begin imagining a better world and casting vision together. Until we can imagine a world we desire to see, we will never be able to develop a plan to get there.
Here’s where I’m going with this. Now is the time for individuals, churches, NGOs, and governments to put aside our agendas for the greater good. We talk about it but it seldom happens. Every single one of us has unique personalities, skills, knowledge, and resources, but none of us can do everything. Instead, we do a little bit on our own when, in reality, we can be far better and accomplish much more by working together.
World Orphans strength is to partner international churches with US churches to encourage each other and work together to serve vulnerable families. In addition, we are effective at equipping and mobilizing churches to care for orphaned and abandoned children. We hope both churches inspire each other and serve their communities around them more effectively and compassionately as a result of that partnership. We play a role in family preservation, whereas other organizations excel in the areas of vocational education, business training, apprenticeships, and microloans. Every day we work with the MOST vulnerable families in the communities where we work. We do our best to encourage them, pray for them, share scripture, and meet physical needs, but without fishing poles we can’t teach them to fish.
What’s encouraging is there are many individuals and organizations out there with fishing poles that could teach marketable trades to single mothers and youth so they can provide for themselves and their families without becoming vulnerable to prostitution, drugs, labor exploitation, and all sorts of other dangerous activities. Yes, helping to pay for school fees, medical expenses, food, clothing, and housing, when appropriate and led by local leaders is essential, but family empowerment initiatives that improve the economic outcomes of parents and children including skills training, leadership development, financial stewardship, business training accompanied by access to credit, and apprenticeships are equally important. It’s not an either/or but a both/and. Can you imagine the impact we could realize if we put aside our own biases and agendas and actually witnessed NGOs working with other NGOs working with churches working with governments?
This dream is happening! Two organizations World Orphans is currently partnering with are AMG Guatemala and Bethany Christian Services in Haiti. Next week’s blog is dedicated to sharing about our new partnership with BCS. Through these partnerships, children are restored and communities transformed by the Gospel. Won’t you join us?
By Jeremy Resmer | Senior Director of Projects
I’ve heard it said by leaders and members in the church, “Our church focuses on evangelism and discipleship.” Or swap out evangelism and discipleship with other words like ministry, outreach, fellowship, worship, prayer, fasting, community, relationship, service, and teaching to name a few.
My position at World Orphans allows me to travel to several Majority countries and meet with pastors and leaders about orphan care and the church. As a result, I have tremendous appreciation for the gifts, passions, resourcefulness, creativity, and diversity within the church globally. Of course, like when reading a thought-provoking book, I get excited when I hear stories of monumental faith, supernatural healing, and intervention by the Holy Spirit. Each time I return home, like clockwork, I begin to pray for God to show up in my own life just like in Uganda, or Haiti, or Nicaragua, or like he did for my friend down the street. In fact, God is with us always during the miracles and monotony. And in my prayer for God to show up, I am constantly reminded of the early church.
The Early Church Teaches Us In Acts 2:42-47 we read that believers were committed to evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry. All of these characteristics defined the early church, not simply one or two. Of course it was and still should be defined by all of these because it is a living, breathing organism made up of people from all walks of life with unique experiences and perspectives fused with diverse strengths, passions, and resources.
And yet, many times our churches are strong in one, two, or maybe even three areas. Without a system and structure to be intentional and balance the five purposes, as Rick Warren states, your church will tend to overemphasize the purpose that best expresses the gifts and passions of its pastor. This is all too common at churches everywhere. It’s not limited by geography or denomination.
For me, this is where my faith collides with my livelihood. James 1:27 can only happen when faith meets works. To care for orphans and widows requires action. The Word is alive and inspires, no it compels us to get up from the bench and insert ourselves into the game, to serve others and be compassionate. I’ve often asked myself, “How is it that pure, undefiled religion goes hand-in-hand with orphans and widows?” and “Does what I do really matter?”
Without God, we are all orphans - each without a parent. Without Jesus, we are all widows - each without a leader. We were created to be in fellowship with God, to glorify him and be his ambassadors. And only the church, through the power of the gospel, has the ability and the mandate to connect both spiritual and physical orphans and widows to God.
What Can We Do? So how do we do it? How does the church engage in fellowship, worship, evangelism, discipleship, and ministry concurrently while caring for the spiritual and physical needs of orphans and widows?
One way is through a church-led visitation ministry that supports and strengthens fragile families, single mothers, and orphaned and abandoned children. It is a family-based outreach that provides wholistic care for children in a home environment. After the earthquake in Haiti and several meetings with pastors, church leaders, and caregivers, World Orphans, in conjunction with the local churches, developed Home Based Care (HBC) to address the unique needs of orphaned and vulnerable children living with extended family and neighbors. Since then, HBC has been contextualized and embraced by churches in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala.
Here’s how it works:
- The pastor casts the vision and selects a committee of 4-5 volunteer members
- The committee receives training and creates a strategy and plan to minister to the most vulnerable families in the community
- The committee meets with the families, learns more about them and their current situation; additional research is conducted, and families are invited to participate in the program
- The Home Based Care committee visits each family twice per month, builds relationships and provides ongoing encouragement, support, and prayer
Included in the program is access to food, education, counseling, and home visitation by HBC committee members and discipleship by the local church.
The feedback by the church, the children, and the community has been nothing short of amazing!
“Home Based Care helps marginalized people find their identity.” – Ethiopia
“I didn’t know why the church was helping us. Surely, they must have made a mistake. We didn’t deserve to be helped. We didn’t even attend church. But I am so thankful and I give praise to God because he has saved me and my family and for the first time, we have hope for a better future.” – Haiti
Home Based Care Works! Here are some tangible ways HBC combines evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, worship, and ministry.
- Family-based care preserves and stabilizes existing families.
- Children and families are selected based on the greatest need. 80% of beneficiaries are outside the church (Muslim, Orthodox and unbelievers) and 20% are from inside the church. We are reaching children and caregivers with the gospel.
- Visits are based on relationship and partnership with struggling families.
- Home visits are done by volunteers from the local church and utilize resources inside the community. The program can be cost-effective and scalable.
- Treats orphaned children, widows, and other marginalized people with dignity and respect.
- Strengthens the capacity of existing immediate and extended families. Transformation of the families is observable and often includes a renewed identity in Christ.
- Elevates the role of the local church and empowers believers.
- Provides encouragement, sharing of the gospel and prayer for one another.
- Connects the family to the local church to be part of community events, children’s activities, worship, Sunday school, and ongoing discipleship.
- Builds confidence and inspires more people in the church to get involved and provide leadership in the community.
- Establishes a network of churches and church plants that share information, resources, and best practices.
In all my travels, I have yet to learn of another ministry within the church that is more effective at simultaneously building relationships, sharing the gospel, and inspiring people to get involved in meeting the needs of the community. I’m totally convinced Home Based Care plays an important role in the livelihood and growth of our church partners.
“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” May it be so.
After reading more about home based care, what thoughts do you have?