My job on these blog trips is leader guy. I’m not here to blog, so I let the real bloggers write all the good stories. Except one.
At every child development center we visit I make a point to spend time with the pastor and ask one question: What can I pray for you?
There’s always a good story or twenty in his answer. Yesterday was no exception.
This is Carlos and his wife Janet, pastors of the church based development center we visited. (And our translator, Daniel in black).
Carlos didn’t ask me to pray for him. He wants me – and you – to pray for the children entrusted to him, against two of their enemies.
The gangs in Carlos’ neighborhood start recruiting children around age seven or eight. They’re used as “mules” to transport drugs, stolen goods, or money.
Carlos told me a few stories of children affected by gang violence – parents killed, boys giving up their education to carry a gun. And there was the story of a fifteen year old girl in Carlos’ Compassion child development center. The gang tried to force her to stop attending and to join them instead. She refused. And they shot her in front of her little sister.
The sister was told not to go back to the Compassion development center or she would be killed. She hasn’t returned yet. But Carlos is working on that.
Carlos knows these children. He visits them in their homes. He teaches them cooking and sewing as alternatives to criminal income. He encourages them and teaches them about “wisdom” and “the fool” in the book of Proverbs, he says. A fool says no to God but a wise man trusts in the Lord. A wise man’s life and death honor God.
Carlos’ biblically based anti-gang message is so effective that now the gangs are targeting Compassion families and Carlos with violence and threats.
I asked Carlos if he’s scared of the gangs. “No,” he said with a wink, “I trust in the Lord.”
Guatemala is a developing country, which means this is not the most severe physical poverty I’ve seen. Wages are still very low and living conditions are still often inhumane, but there are also many people here who can afford drugs and alcohol. And these vices lead some parents in Carlos’ neighborhood to be violent toward their children.
Janet’s job as a teacher at the development center is to not only educate but to encourage – to tell a child who shuffles into the church after being told they are nothing by a parent that they are actually treasures, loved by God Himself, and by her.
Carlos says some children are beaten (and worse) regularly. Often, drugs or alcohol play a part. But Carlos has developed an unusually good relationship with Guatemala’s equivalent of Child Protective Services. They trust him when he says a child needs to be pulled out of a home and placed in temporary care. Then, Carlos’ church works with the parents to rehabilitate them. Compassion’s counseling services minister to the child. And when the time is right the family can be reunited.
He pointed out one little boy who’s parents once abused him. He was laughing and coloring, singing “Hallelujahs” alongside the other children. His mom doesn’t drink anymore and that’s something to sing about.
I realize not everyone is drawn to sponsor a child through Compassion right now. Truth is there are a million ways we can faithfully love God by loving people so I understand if child sponsorship isn’t one of those ways God has planned for you today.
But God tells us all to bear one another’s burdens, to pray for one another. Could you give Compassion a few minutes on your knees today?
Carlos and Janet need it. So do the 275 kids they serve.