“My kids were hungry. I couldn’t go to work because of the quarantine, and I didn’t know how I was going to feed them.”
“My husband lost his job. I can’t go clean houses, and there is no public transportation to go look for work. We were praying for God to please supply our needs.”
“I broke my leg and have been on crutches for two years. It was difficult to provide for my family before, and almost impossible now.”
“Your help makes me see that God really does care for us.”
These are just a few of the things parents told us when we started delivering emergency food bags to the families of our students.
The Coronavirus crisis has shown me the importance of the Cadanino Community centers we have established in the past few years.
While there are many types of ministry and many ways to serve people, I have found that if you want to have a long-lasting, profound, meaningful impact in people’s lives, a few things are necessary to succeed.
You have to be accessible to them.
We have located our centers in the heart of the communities we serve, enabling most of the students who attend our afterschool programs to walk to us.
Doing so is incredibly important when you are working with vulnerable children, families, and people struggling to survive; you have to make it easy to help them.
Most of those we serve don’t have vehicles. They rely on public transportation to get around and go to work. For the most part, their lives revolve around what is within walking distance of where they live.
If they can’t walk to it, they usually can’t get to it. So if we want to serve these people, we have to be where they can reach us.
You have to meet them where they are at in life.
If you’ve never lived in poverty, I don’t think you can understand it. The pressure that comes from not having money for food or knowing how you are going to scrape together the rent money is incredibly stressful.
Daily tasks that other people take for granted take twice as long. You have no financial liquidity, and one mistake or difficulty can push you over the edge.
Many of the families we serve live in what could be called shacks or hovels. Some rent rooms where they share a communal bathroom and kitchen. Water comes in sporadically, making staying clean a challenge.
Walking to the market or taking your children to school can consume large amounts of time.
One bad cough or cold can spiral out of control, and a trip to the doctor can wipe out all the money you earned that month.
Being sensitive to the challenges people face is necessary if you are going to help them.
One example is that we have a rule for the students in our programs about missing class. Two unexplained absences mean they can be removed from the program. We do this because we want the people we are serving to value what we are offering and not take it for granted.
But we have a private rule amongst the teachers that students who come and explain why they weren’t able to attend is to be shown grace.
Yes, we need rules, so those we are trying to help respect what we are doing, and we don’t create entitlement, but we need to balance that with “walking a mile in their shoes” and understanding what participating in our program costs them.
You have to be realistic about how many people you can serve.
Many organizations pride themselves on how many people they can serve. But I have found that there is a big difference between how many people you can serve, and how many people you can serve well.
Just because you have an empty chair in a classroom or an empty bed in an orphanage, doesn’t mean you have the ability to help the person you put in it.
Discipleship happens best through relationships, and relationships require personal interaction to flourish.
We realized that the functional capacity for our classes was a maximum of 25 students to one teacher, though we strive to stay below that.
Yes, we can sometimes fit more people into the room, but our goal is to teach people not to preach at them. Teaching requires interaction, discussion, and engagement, all of which become harder to do when you increase in numbers.
There will always be more people to help than we have the resources to help. You have to make peace with that at some point and trust that God will take care of the rest.
You have to take time to build relationships.
This is a time-consuming yet straightforward fact. Often, when it comes to building relationships, we think of doing so with our peers, which is more natural.
When we work to build relationships with those we are serving, it can be difficult because we have to do so in a way that is convenient for them.
Having our centers located near them and living close by helps with this. But we have found that when we take the time to go out and visit people, spend time with them in their homes and get to know them, their involvement in the programs we are offering, especially the Bible classes, increase dramatically.
More than anything, it just takes time.
Time spent celebrating birthdays and holidays. Time spent talking to them on the street or buying whatever they happen to be selling—time spent making them feel comfortable around you.
All so that when you offer them the opportunity to come in for a Bible class or send their kids to your afterschool programs, there is a personal connection that they can draw on.
This doesn’t happen in a day, a week, or a month. But with sincere effort, you can lay the groundwork for relationships that matter.
You have to point them to God.
The goal of our work isn’t just to help people physically. If it were, then we would be social workers or humanitarian aid workers.
We are missionaries. That means that our job is to share the Gospel, which is the good news of salvation through Christ’s death on the cross.
No matter how much we help them, we won’t always be there for them. We don’t have the resources to fix all their problems, nor is it our job.
But if we are faithful to help them study the truth of God’s word, encourage them to take on a Godly conscience, and live their lives according to God’s word, then they will have what they need to face any hardship.
You have to step up in their time of need.
We have found that by being faithful to serve in all these things, we are now well-positioned to have the needed impact when disaster strikes.
This is possible because:
We know the children and their families
We have spent time building personal relationships with parents.
We hire teachers who live in the community
We already know what many of the needs are in advance.
We don’t need to go out looking for people to help and spend time vetting them to see if they need assistance.
We already have the information and connections to reach out and provide immediate assistance.
All of these things enable us to act in a timely fashion in times of crisis.
Within one week of the Coronavirus shutdown in Guatemala, we knew that the families of our students were going hungry.
We immediately freed up some funds to make a bulk purchase and our staff prepared emergency food bags that provided all the students in our programs, and their families with the staples they needed.
Before it seems evident to many that anyone would need help, we had launched an online fundraiser and had donations coming in. We had determined to assist with emergency food bags every ten days for two months.
We were able to get care packages to the elderly and infirm in our communities by asking our staff, teachers, and the families we serve to help us locate and deliver food to them; this prevented those most at risk from having to venture out of their homes.
Could we replicate this on a massive scale as big humanitarian organizations do? Probably not, but that’s not the point.
When we truly know the people whom God has called us to serve, we are well prepared to do so when disaster strikes.
Lots of people want to help and make an impact when disaster strikes, and that’s a good thing, but knowing how to be effective in the moment, can be a challenge. If you want to maximize your impact then try and partner with organizations that have taken the time to build deep relationships within the communities they serve. If you do that, then the potential impact is limitless.
Will you partner with us to serve vulnerable families during the Covid-19 crisis?
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More Articles by Tim and Sharie Martiny
Where some see darkness, we see light. Yes, evil and suffering exist in the world, but we serve a God who is all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise, and eternal.
Providing food, hope, prayer and the Gospel during the Coronavirus crisis.
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.