Children who have experienced trauma are forced to grow up early. Childhood naivety and playful wonder are replaced by the need to simply survive and cope with daily life. Children—who most need to be cared for and protected—are suddenly protecting and taking care of themselves.
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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.
Flashback to early June 1995—I had just graduated from high school and hopped on a plane to spend the summer in Zimbabwe. As a 17-year-old boy with little to offer in terms of medical care, counseling advice, or theology, I knew that finding my role would be key to understanding my purpose on that missions team.
"D is for Duck", the teacher says with a smile on her face as she points to the board. Children excitedly engage in their lesson as they sit in a circle on the classroom floor. After they finish this class, they line up and make their way to another classroom, where they each energetically work on a craft. As I watch the children work, learn, and play, I'm overwhelmed by the joy, knowing that life has not stopped for these refugee children. This is a gift.
Bombs going off. Families running for their lives. Cars packed with as many people as possible and whatever items can be grabbed at a moment’s notice. This was the reality for many of the refugees we serve. It didn't matter if they were Yazidi, Shabak Kurd, or Syrian . . . ISIS was after them all.
Out of this desperate situation, The Refuge Initiative was born, and the years we had spent there previously established the foundation for everything now needed to care for these families.
We started by setting up tents, which eventually were replaced with single room homes, and we have since expanded to building villages, with two-bedroom homes. As we were looking to care for people over the long haul, we realized that putting a roof over their heads was not enough.
People need shelter and food. But then what? What happens when years go by and the children have not had any education during that time? These are the questions we eagerly asked and with the help of our partners, we sought to provide tangible, brick-and-mortar answers.
A school would be one of the primary answers and would become a staple of caring for these families well. Through an incredible partnership with Love Does, we were able to open the doors of Love Does School in 2016. In this school, we are able to educate more than 600 children and use the building to provide English classes for women. We are also able to bus the children to and from their villages, and the school now employs over 20 local staff members.
The numbers are impressive. We count the children, and look at the statistics of how many jobs are provided. It all matters. But nothing is quite as moving as seeing the face of a child once haunted by the horrors of ISIS, now filled with joy as he learns English, having real hope for a bright future. Here's to building communities of hope . . . until they all have homes.