Guatemala’s poverty is daunting, and you look it directly in the face in Guatemala City, where the largest Central American garbage dump is one of the main sources of income and economic sustainability for a major portion of the city. Additionally, a deep spiritual and emotional poverty is also present within communities and churches, as they deal with generations of broken families caused by harsh realities. The nation’s 36-year civil war ended in 1996. Violence by gangs is still rampant, and the country has a history of continual corruption within the government. In addition to these struggles, social discrimination exists between the rich and poor as well as between the Mayans and Ladinos.
Ideally, the light and hope of the Gospel would be seeping into every corner of this brokenness, but a general lack of spiritual health exists in much of the country, where years of legalism and attention to outward appearances has distracted the church from a focus on our identities as adopted sons and daughters. Unfortunately, some of this has resulted from years of legalistic missions within Guatemala.
Hope and the grace of the Gospel is an alternative to these harsh realities. World Orphans is currently serving and equipping ten churches located in two red zones of Guatemala City—areas of exceptionally high crime. Over 100 children in struggling families (mainly parented by single mothers, grandmas, or dads) are being cared for through the local church in partnership with global church partners. It is breathtaking to witness US churches learning with and coming alongside Guatemalan churches to bring healing and hope to hurting families.
These Guatemalan churches see the many needs within their communities and are serving in very difficult places with hearts to bring God’s hope and healing to the hurting around them.
The average Guatemalan orphanage cares for 25-50 children, many of whom have living parents that are unable to provide for them due to life circumstance. As local churches care for 100 children through family-based care, they have eliminated the need for between two to four orphanages to exist, and they have instead equipped families to stay together. This is cycle-breaking, generation-impacting work. Children are growing in families where they will know their parents and have grandparents for their own children someday. Having lived in an orphanage during my first few years here, I know that this bond between a child and his biological family is nearly impossible when a child has been raised within an institution, even a loving institution. In addition to enabling families to stay together, this Home Based Care in partnership with the local church is leading both children and their families to find their place within the family of God.
But vulnerable families are not the only one in Guatemala that find themselves in need of spiritual care. Pastors and lay leaders within these churches often feel alone and fatigued. They desire a place to both be heard and authentically known. For them to continue serving in hard places, they need prayer and a support network to continually encourage them as they patiently endure and offer wisdom in very complicated situations. Our team has found that when the spiritual leaders have the care they need, they are able to persevere and offer the spiritual care needed within their communities and churches. Without continual prayer and support, the church committees who are preserving at-risk families struggle to sustain themselves.
Recently, a local couple was struggling due to infidelity. Both the husband and wife served in leadership positions within one of our local churches. Many families, including their own, would have left the church if the couple had not received intense counseling through an addiction program offered by another church in Guatemala City. Through the encouragement of the World Orphans team, and by offering the couple counseling and resources, their family has been preserved.
On another occasion, a sweet mother within the community was spiritually disillusioned. A widow of six years, she was continuing to live with the trauma that her husband had been murdered. Her children struggle with the loss of their father, too, as her oldest son sniffs glue to numb his pain, and her nine-year-old is very troubled. She stopped going to church, but with regular home visits by the church’s Home Based Care committee, she is now reaching out to others, requesting prayers of encouragement and Scripture to be read allowed to her. Her youngest son has been invited to attend the kids’ program and her oldest son is routinely covered in prayer. She has returned to the church, seeking life-giving support for her family.
Despite the darkness we see in Guatemala, we choose hope, and we know that it is alive. Though we recognize the hard realities so many face here, our prayer is still the same: “Good Father, please open the doors of the government, open the hearts of your people, and open the windows of heaven to receive more into your kingdom because we, as your church, have reached out. May we serve struggling families through your church in confident humility that every work is not by our might nor by our power, but by your Spirit.”