This has been another amazing year for us in ministry and it is exciting to see all that God has done.
I was recently asked by one of our donors to explain how we measure success in the spiritual part of our ministry. Like anyone who is supporting a cause, they likely wanted to see if the money they were giving was being well used. It’s a valid question and one that think anyone working ministry should grapple with.
For the past 17 years, God has called us to serve the orphaned, vulnerable, and disabled in Guatemala.
The hub of our ministry is the Cadanino community centers. 150 children come for three hours a day three times a week for one hour of Bible class, one hour of computer class, and one of educational reinforcement. We also have English and robotics courses and minister to the parents through Bible studies.
We focus on serving people physically for the same reason that Jesus did, we live in a physical world with physical needs. Jesus fed the hungry he healed the sick, he taught those who followed him. He didn’t just die for our sins so we could be saved for eternity, he did it so we could have a better life here and now through the following of his teachings.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us the parable of the talents. God gives each and every one of us talents, gifts, skills, and abilities that he wants us to use. Helping, teaching, and enabling those we serve to develop their talents and abilities, is part of helping them understand what God expects from them.
Our ministry breaks down into three main pillars. Educational reinforcement, family strengthening, and spiritual formation
Educational progress is easy to gage.
We can see the improvement in our student’s grades. Children who had never touched a computer are doing web design, graphic design and programming after a year or two in our program and several are taking college level courses.
From an academic standpoint, we have seen incredible progress, and the numbers speak for themselves.
24 of the 85 students at the Santa Fe center were in first place in their class. That is %28, an amazingly high number.
Many of the students who enrolled in our programs did so, not because they were the best and brightest. It was because they were struggling in school that they came to us, which is part of what makes the results all the more impressive.
We have met with teachers and principals of schools where our students attend and they are blown away by our student’s accomplishments.
Family strengthening is also possible to measure.
Are the services we provide, enabling families to better care for their children? Yes, by helping the students with their studies and allowing them to succeed in school, we lighten the mental and emotional load of families subsisting on the brink.
Through providing educational supplies and blessing bags of food when teams come to visit, we help meet the physical needs of those we serve.
Through our weekly Bible study groups for the mothers, we provide counsel and prayer, leading them closer to Christ, which in and of itself has the power to impact every aspect of their lives.
However, unlike the first two, measuring and quantifying spiritual growth and progress is often not as easy.
When we look at Jesus, he was perfect, and his ministry was perfect. He preached the good news to thousands but only had 12 disciples, all of whom turned their back on him in his time of greatest need, his most faithful disciple denied him, and another betrayed him.
Adoniram Judson, the famous missionary to Burma, didn’t see a single convert for 7 years. Jeremiah preached God’s warnings to Israel and never saw any fruit from his preaching’s, does that mean he was doing something wrong?
So while spiritual success doesn’t always have clear metrics, here are some of the things we look for.
While numbers can sometimes be misleading, if you are truly working to meet people’s needs where they are at, they will come to you.
Our ministry has grown from 35 kids when we open our first center to 150 today. We generally have a waiting list of kids and who want to enroll. Though it has taken time, parents now see the results of what our programs accomplish, and they want their kids to participate.
Overall we see good attendance from our students. They love to come in for classes.
We have kids who are enrolled three days a week, showing up six days a week because they really enjoy the time they spend with us.
How are people connecting scripture to their daily lives?
We have made service to others one of our core values. When God’s word takes root in your lives, you can’t help but be changed. One of the primary ways we look for proof of spiritual growth is evidenced by how much those we serve are stepping out to serve others.
We see students serving each other, gathering together to collect food for one of their peers, helping plan and prepare each other’s parties.
The youth in our programs assist with classes for younger kids who attend.
We encourage a model of see one, do one, teach one. Not only is it an effective model for reinforcing what they learn, but it puts them in a position to demonstrate service through teaching others what they have learned.
We’ve seen mothers pull food off their shelves to give it to families who have no food.
We’ve seen parents take in kids from the community when no one could care for them.
When there was a natural disaster, our students helped to prepare care packages for those affected by it.
Relationship to scripture.
Studying God’s word. Currently, most of our students get three hours of Bible class a week. On top of that, they get six hours of learning, working with other students, getting help with their studies, and engaging with our staff; all of those things build community.
Knowledge of God’s word. Teaching our students to look things up in the Bible, to learn the books of the Bible, to understand where they are and what each book is about has taken a lot of time. But when you see them compete, racing through their Bible to be the first to look up a Bible verse, you know all those days and weeks and months of teaching is worth it.
Knowing how to find verses in the Bible and read them for one’s self is essential as you will be less likely to be deceived by false teachings and doctrine that may not even come from the Bible.
Scripture memorization. We see students who memorize verse after verse every single week considering that according to one of our surveys, %65 of the families we serve at one of our centers don’t attend church regally, that is pretty amazing.
Fruit in their lives. As we draw closer to God, we should pull away from sin. There should be the fruit of repentance that Galatians 5: 8-9 talks about.
We know students that were troublemakers who had been expelled from school. But since they began participating in our program, their attitudes have changed, they now have good relationships with their teachers and have become kind and helpful to their peers.
This fruit is seen by people when they come to visit. We regularly hear comments on how well behaved, grateful, and cooperative our students are.
Discipleship happens best in the context of community.
To see people’s relationship to scripture, we have to be involved in their lives. It’s not something that can be quantified with a survey or checklist.
Ultimately you have to get to know people, and that takes time. If discipleship happens best in the context of community, then we have to take the time to build community.
We have weekly Bible studies for the mothers where we don’t just teach the Bible, we read, pray, talk, laugh, bake, cakes, and enjoy each other’s company.
It is the time together that our staff and we spend with those we serve that allows us to build the community that leads to discipleship that leads to changed hearts.
We have mothers who say the one thing they look forward to all week is attending the women’s group, and they do everything possible to be there.
We receive calls from the parents asking for prayer and encouragement, they tell us how much it means to them that they know they can reach out to us and that we are available to them.
They invite us to participate in their lives, celebrate birthdays and important milestones with their families.
We have built community with those we serve to the point that they share about their life with us, they open up about the deep, dark, painful, things that they have been through and give us to the opportunity to speak into their lives.
Every month I have at least ½ dozen stories from our teachers about what the power of God’s word is doing in the lives of those we serve. Some I share in my newsletters or with people personally, others are just too heartbreaking even to share, and often times I just weep and pray for them.
Any one of these things on their own might not be a valid indicator of progress or success in ministry, but taken together, they clearly show a pattern of people demonstrating continued growth and spiritual fruit in their lives.
Ultimately, we need to keep in mind what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”
It is God’s work, and he is the one who brings forth the fruit; we may get to see it, we may not, God is the one who decides that.
To perfectly measure success in ministry might be impossible. But to see the fruit of it is inevitable.
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About Tim and Sharie Martiny.
We are missionaries in Guatemala with our six children, Julia-now is college- (19), Audrey (16), Vanessa (14) Jessica (12), Alex (10) and Alison (8). We both come from missionary families and were raised overseas, Timothy in Europe, and Sharie in South East Asia and Mexico.
We work primarily in orphan care and prevention. The Biblical call in James 1:27 to care for the orphaned and vulnerable is our calling. Our ministry works with vulnerable children and their families in their communities through programs we run at two community centers in Colina Santa Fe and San Jose Pinula.