Like you, we are dealing with the effects of the coronavirus here in Guatemala. Not so much the disease itself, but more the results of the safety measures implemented to try and contain it.
Guatemala took extreme measures early on that seem to have been effective.
The countrywide lockdown that went into effect at the middle of March has gotten stricter. There is now a 4 PM curfew in effect; schools, malls, and all non-essential businesses have been told to shut down and the borders are closed. Only Guatemalans and permanent residents are permitted to enter the country.
The US embassy chartered flights for Americans who wanted to get out but were unable to do so before the airlines stopped all flights to the country. Those have now ended, and anyone wishing to leave are facing challenges in doing do.
I know of many missionaries who left for a variety of reasons, and I don’t fault them for going home. Although, in our case, after 17 years, Guatemala has become our home, so there isn’t a “home” to go back to.
Initially, there was some panic buying in the stores, which caused many people to worry that food would run out. That has since subsided, and supermarkets are well stocked for the moment.
For some reason, no one here got the “toilet paper memo” that the world was going to run out of this necessary product, so there is plenty available if you want us to send you some. Ha!
I know that Guatemala is only a microcosm of what is happening in most of the world right now. Like us, you are probably grappling with these things in your own way.
It seems like one common denominator regardless of race, class, religion, or country is that many people are afraid.
Surprisingly, from what I have seen, it’s not the resources they have or the security of their situation that is determining their fear. I have seen people of means more worried about the future than people who struggle to feed their kids every day.
We know that fear is often a natural reaction that many people have in response to frightening situations, and that is understandable. But it is important to remember that as Christians, God does not intend for us to be dominated by the spirit of fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 tells us, “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
When we feel fear in our lives, we can remember that it is God himself who tells us not to fear because he is the one caring for us. Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Not only does he tell us not to be afraid, but he promised to strengthen, help, and hold us in his hand.
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The same God who was caring and providing for us before the coronavirus hit is the same God who watches over us during the virus and the same God who will care for us when it has passed.
We find our hope in the assurances God has given us in his word.
No matter the hardship, pain, difficulties, or suffering we endure here in this world, we rest our hope in the gift of eternal life we have through salvation in Jesus Christ.
Whatever we are facing now, is but for a moment, and it too shall pass. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
So what are we to do with that hope? Beyond being comforted ourselves, we can take the beautiful hope we find in Christ, let it fill our hearts, souls, and minds, and allow it to drive us towards service to others.
Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
The families of the children we serve in our afterschool programs struggle to get by in the best of times. Three meals a day are unheard of for numerous children. Many of the parents, a significant number of which are single mothers, rely on the money they earn each day to provide for their family. Now suddenly, many have no income.
Public transportation has been shut down to slow the spread of the virus, so people with a vehicle can still get around, but for the population we serve, who mainly take the buses, they can’t go to work even if their bosses wanted them to.
For those that work as maids, cleaning houses, or watching children, they can no longer do that. For the families who rent small plots of land outside the city to grow beans and corn to survive, they can’t tend to them. Even if they were to walk, they probably wouldn’t make it back in time by the 4 PM curfew and risk hefty fines or jail if caught.
For our students, now confined to their houses, things are even more difficult.
The 200 square foot space of 4 walls and a tin roof where many of them live is not conducive to spending large amounts of time, so you can only imagine the madness that takes place after a short time.
As with any disaster, it is usually the poorest, most vulnerable, and those with the fewest resources who suffer the most.
While people of means complain about going stir crazy with their kids at home and gaining too much weight from all the food they are eating, the families we serve are worried about how they are going to feed their children or pay the rent for their shack when they have no income.
The situation is truly dire for many of them.
Even though the schools shut down in the entire country, and the afterschool programs we run for the 170 students enrolled at our community centers had to pause for the moment, our service to the orphaned, vulnerable and disabled has continued.
It is during times like this that the hope of the Gospel, that is the motivation for all we do, can shine brightest.
Now more than ever, people need The Church. It’s when the world is at its darkest, and people are showing the most fear that they need to see the power of hope in Christ.
That has been our response in Guatemala. Instead of leaving, we have doubled down in our service to those who need it most.
Here in this country, there is no massive federal government with a big checkbook; there are no bailouts or stimulus checks, there are few social services and no effective safety net when people’s lives fall apart.
For the most part, there are only people to help other people.
Now is the time, regardless of our situation, to set up, step out, give, and serve.
And that is what we are doing.
Santa Fe Community Center.
At the Santa Fe community center, we have taken advantage of the shutdown to remodel, build a kitchen for our upcoming feeding program, lay the floor in the library, fix electrical issues, plaster the walls, and paint.
Our teachers have been working on planning classes for the rest of the year, organizing the library, cataloging the books, and getting ready for a reading push we are making with the students.
Some of our staff have continued to come in to work, while the rest have worked from home.
San Jose Pinula Community Center.
At the San Jose Pinula center, our staff has been making significant progress in planning the Bible curriculum and preparing the Bible studies we teach. Though we draw on existing material from the Lifeway and Assemblies of God Sunday school plans, years of ministry in Guatemala have shown us the importance of tailoring what we teach, so it is understandable in the context of the population we are serving.
Thanks to generous donors, we purchased food in bulk to give to the families of our students.
In many of the more impoverished communities in Guatemala, the local stores quickly ran out of essential items. Even though they have been restocked, there is excessive price gouging, which is exasperating an already stressful situation.
While we can’t meet all the needs of the families of our students, by providing staples such as beans, rice, and cornflour for tortillas, facemasks, disinfectant, medicine and hygiene products, we are making a powerful impact right now where it is most needed.
In our ministry to the disabled, our special educators and physical therapists continued to work at the government home for those with special needs until the facility was put on full quarantine. On days when many government workers didn’t show up, our staff was there serving a population of children with profound multiple learning disabilities and making sure their needs were met.
Caring for Orphans.
Sharie has been messaging, texting, and communicating with many of the girls we know who have left the orphanage where we’ve worked—taking the time to check if they are ok, see if they have any needs, or require assistance.
Many children who grow up in institutions lack the safety net that comes from having a family and don’t have anyone to turn to when things get hard. We have been able to assure them that we are still there for them.
Thanks to the relationships we have built with other ministries over our 17 years in Guatemala, Tim was able to source much needed medical supplies, facemasks, gloves, Tylenol, cough medicine, and deliver it to our partner orphanages.
Being able to provide these supplies to the government orphanage we partner with was vital. Many of those children have complicated health problems, which placed them in a high-risk category if they contract the virus, and the employees caring for them did not have facemasks or the funds with which to purchase them.
Sharing the Hope of the Gospel.
Despite the many ways in which we have been serving in this challenging time, I believe that the most potent help has been the spiritual care we have been able to give those we serve.
We don’t just give a bag of food to families; we take time with them to talk, listen, encourage, and pray.
We prayed for them and with them.
We prayed for their families.
We prayed for the country.
We prayed for the president.
We prayed for the elderly, those who are sick, and those who have the virus.
And they even prayed for us.
Each family was given a monthly calendar of verses of encouragement as well to keep their minds focused on God.
Yes, the food bags were a blessing and much appreciated, but it is the reason that we are giving them away that makes the real difference. It’s the “why” we serve that sets us apart. We love others because God loved us. We do so in faith, standing on the promises of God’s word and resting on the hope of the Gospel to carry us through this time, and if people can understand where that hope comes from and place their faith in God, then that is what will carry them through this difficult time.
Will you partner with us to raise up the young boys in our ministry to be the fathers that their future children need them to be?
Give now in a way that lasts for eternity
More Articles by Tim and Sharie Martiny
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If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.
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.