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.
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Our world values the beautiful and brilliant. That’s what we see in advertising, on the news, and on the stage. We are surrounded by their images. We are compelled to admire them and aspire to be like them. I admire the beautiful and the brilliant, too.
Sometimes a new church partnership feels a little like an awkward first date. You’re fearful you’ll laugh too loudly, get spaghetti sauce on your shirt, or accidentally trip over your own big feet.
“My parents aren’t here. I live with my aunt and uncle,” Marlen says with a carefree spirit. No line of worry touches her face and no hint of sorrow can be heard in her voice.
This is the spirit of Church Partnership–a complementary relationship between two churches guided by a common vision and sustained by an equal willingness to learn, to serve, to grow, and to extend grace to one another under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Social science and scripture both speak volumes about the need for a child to be raised in a family. At its best, a loving family nurturing and shepherding the heart of a child is a beautiful display of grace.
“We watched Mercy become orphaned in front of our eyes.” 15-year-old Ella Pearl penned these words upon returning from Kenya with River Oaks Community Church, a church partnered with Fountain of Hope in Kenya through World Orphans.
After being severely injured in a car accident, Francis was the focus of River Oaks Community Church’s prayers, and the group intended to visit and pray with him when they arrived in Kenya. They were not given the opportunity, though. Shortly after their arrival in Kenya, Francis passed away from an infection that he incurred following the accident.
In this blog post from 2015, Kathy Davis, the director of the partnership, unpacked what it is truly like to mourn with those who mourn. Francis left behind a wife, Veronica, and three children: Rachel, Emmanuel, and Mercy.
River Oaks Community Church returned to Kenya this summer, highly anticipating their visit with Veronica and the children. A year can change so much. It can make you stronger or weaker. It can lead to healing or make the wound feel deeper. It can make you find your resilience or fall apart.
Kathy and her team were welcomed into Veronica’s home with open arms, and they spent the next few hours catching up on all that had been missed during the last 12 months. The last year had certainly not been an easy one, as parenting on a single mother’s income is challenging, and the children, who loved their father very much, needed time to grieve. Yet, the transformation specifically in Rachel, the oldest of the children, is truly remarkable.
Rachel is a big-hearted, big-dreaming 17-year-old girl, whose giggles and selfies might lead you to forget the tremendous loss she has already faced in her young life. She is smart, with a head full of business ideas and tangible plans to make her dreams a reality. In partnership with other girls at her school, Rachel has already launched a business selling handmade goods, and is currently in the process of learning about accounting and other business management skills.
With eyes fierce with determination, Rachel explained to Kathy that you cannot simply know how much you need to spend on materials in order to know what to charge people, but you must take into account a variety of other expenses, including what you pay your workers. Kathy could almost hear the gears turning, shifting, and clicking as Rachel explained business entrepreneurship. Through Fountain of Hope Church and a scholarship offered by a local bank, Rachel is able to be in school and participate in the club that allows her to pursue these business dreams. After all that Rachel has lost, she is still determined to give.
“I’ve been so blessed, I want to make enough money to give back,” Rachel says.
Rachel wants to give back to her community. She wants to use her talents, the resources she endeavors to acquire, and the knowledge she’s swiftly gaining, to make her community a better place for everyone. Rachel–despite devastating loss and hardships–is opening up her hands to the community rather than clenching her fists.
On Sunday, Rachel’s voice echoes through the church, as she sings a song of hope. She tells the church that God sustained her during this last year while her family lamented the loss of her father. Despite the challenges, Rachel remains ever-hopeful, resilient, and determined to make a difference. In the face of loss, Rachel has chosen to give. As she gives, we pray Rachel receives “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over” (Luke 6:38).
I’ll never forget my first flight into Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Only months after the 2010 earthquake that stole the lives of over 150,000 people and displaced about 1.5 million others, I zig-zagged my way through the dilapidated airport that had been severed by the earth’s unfathomable movement. The baggage claim area had been relocated to a dark and dusty warehouse just off the runway. Airport employees quickly tossed the luggage into a pile in the middle of the room, where travelers fought for position to grab what belonged to them out of fear that they might lose everything. Once you found what rightly belonged to you, you continued on through a gauntlet of chain-linked fences that kept beggars away and led you straight into a bottleneck of taxi drivers, guides, and more beggars. When you got to the van and were able to secure your luggage safely inside the vehicle, you could finally take a breath.
But only a short breath.
Exiting the airport, you were quickly surrounded by makeshift tent cities, peppered with blue tarps and gray USAID tents. People were everywhere because there was nowhere to go . . . people bathing in the city canals with livestock . . . people using the bathroom in the middle of the streets or on the busy sidewalks. Buildings had been reduced to concrete rubble. Tents were assembled in the front yards of homes that suffered no damage from the earthquake. Why? People were afraid to go inside their homes, fearing aftershocks and collapse.
Believe it or not, I fell in love with that Haiti. Her resilience and relentless determination were breathtaking. Her smells? Not so much. I fell in love with her because of the way she fought to survive, despite overflowing morgues that poured over into mass graves and burial sites. I learned so much about her in the short drive from the airport to our guesthouse, lessons that I build on to this day.
Last month, I traveled to Haiti for the 20th time since the earthquake. She welcomes me much different now. The cracked airport has been seamed, the baggage claim is now on a conveyor belt, and the chain-link gauntlet is gone. Driving away from the airport, it’s easy to see that fewer people live in tents, although many have simply been relocated to an “out of sight, out of mind” location to most likely be forgotten. Fewer people are bathing in the city canals, but unfortunately, I can’t say the same about people using the bathroom in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Hey, what can I say, you can’t have everything!
Change is everywhere.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the resiliency of the local church. It’s hard to describe that level of perseverance in the English language. In Hebrew, they call it “Yiyeh beseder,” which means “although there’s very little good that we see now, in the end, it will all work out for good.” That attitude is foreign to my nature, but true to the Gospel. It helps me wrap my head around why some of the greatest worship services I’ve ever been a part of have taken place in an unfathomably hot, worn down church in the middle of Haiti, where the passion for God far exceeds the desperate circumstances of everyday life.
Habakkuk discovers that level of peace and worship when he says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Oh, to have the eyes of Habakkuk! And I’ve seen these eyes, though not often enough in the mirror. I’ve seen them in Pastor Yvon, who watched his church double in size after the earthquake (to approximately 5,000 members and who run a school for orphaned and vulnerable children), despite being in one of the poorest areas of Port-au-Prince. I’ve seen them in Pastor Ramil, who started a church out of his modest home and watched it grow to over 2,000 members, including a weekly medical clinic for the community and a school for impoverished families. And I’ve seen them in Pastor Thony, who started a church in a gang-torn alleyway that provides a haven for hundreds of people looking to God despite their circumstances. All three of these men are looking for churches willing to partner with their churches to care for orphaned and vulnerable children.
Would you consider partnering with us today? Currently, we are looking for three churches in the US to partner with these three churches in Haiti to provide education, food, medical care, discipleship, and relationship.
Zone 18 in Guatemala City, Guatemala, has the highest population density in the city and maintains one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America. The region is filled with slums and has become a place for criminal organizations and gangs to hide. Fear governs the people and finding a job is greatly hindered because of the zone’s negative reputation.