For many people, this year probably stands out as something that they would instead wrap up in a box, chuck it in the back of their mind, and forget it ever happened.
I understand that.
For some reason, the start of a new decade, especially one as numerically auspicious as 2020, should have heralded great things, yet as we are nearing the end, the Covid-19 crisis has rendered that possibility moot in most people’s minds.
Here in Guatemala, we have had to deal with most of the things that people have found frustrating. We have had quarantines, lock-downs, schools closed, businesses shut down, driving restrictions, rationing at supermarkets, masks required at all times, and more.
I definitely can say that none of those things have been easy.
Yet, when I look at all the positive things that have come out of it and all that God has done, I can’t help but be thankful.
So here is a list of ways in which I give thanks for Covid-19.
It caused us to reevaluate everything about our ministry.
When the quarantine came into effect in March, we had to cancel in-person classes in our centers. The Cadaniño ministry that we have built up over the past few years to serve vulnerable children and families is heavily focused on afterschool programs for the 200 students enrolled with us.
When things operate as they usually do, it’s easy for all of us, people, ministries, churches, everyone, to fall into a rut of doing things the way we usually do them. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Over the years, we have developed excellent programs that effectively serve vulnerable children by focusing on spiritual formation, educational reinforcement, and family strengthening.
We regularly evaluate our programs, make improvements, and continue to see great results.
However, by being forced to suspend in-person classes, we faced a dilemma. Should we wait, hope, and pray for things to get back to normal, or was there some way for us to continue to have a meaningful impact in this new context?
All around us, churches were closed, ministries had stopped functioning, and missionaries were going home. Yet the needs of the poor, vulnerable, and disabled were greater than ever.
Early on, we took time with our team to pray, discuss, and brainstorm how we could continue to serve, and the results were terrific.
So we couldn’t do in-person Bible classes, but people’s souls continue to need spiritual nourishment. We developed distance learning programs for our students. Every week, parents would pick up specially prepared Bible classes for their children with scripture reading, Bible studies, and crafts.
Our teachers would then follow up with phone calls or video chats or text messages with them. The result was that Bible study moved from being something they learned outside the home to something they did themselves.
This impacted the entire family as younger siblings, and even parents looked forward to participating in the classes.
We eventually expanded our discipleship program to the parents and provided Bible classes and devotionals for them.
When in-person classes shut down, most of our students had limited options. Some public schools attempted to continue educating the students, but few were successful.
The result was hundreds of thousands of impoverished families having their children inside their shack of a home for the better part of six months, with nothing to do.
When poor children get off the educational track, it’s tough to get them back on it. When they lose interest in learning, or their parents can’t afford the school supplies and stop sending them to school, many, especially girls, never return to complete their education.
Our teachers, many of whom have years of experience in teaching, worked to help students continue developing their reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.
We prepared weekly educational packs for students based on their academic level. Our teachers took the time to grade all the material and communicate to the parents how they were doing, which helped the students stay engaged and learning.
The result of this was that students stayed focused on education, and when they go back to school next year, they will be ready.
Computer classes are an essential part of how we work to break the cycle of poverty for those we serve. All our students learn typing, computer skills, and coding, while many are moving on to more advanced IT courses.
We adapted our programs to work offline and sent all our laptops out to students to continue developing their skills.
We also implemented a reading program, something that is incredibly important to the educational development of children, and to date, our students have read over 1000 books from our library.
It showed those we serve that we are serious about our commitment to them.
When the crisis started and Guatemala shut down, many of the families we serve started suffering immensely. Most of them depend on the money they earn that day to feed them the next.
When businesses shut down, there was no transportation, and many couldn’t work. We immediately saw that they were starting to suffer.
Thanks to generous donors, we raised funds to supply families with food every month for the past six months.
It gave those we serve an opportunity to serve.
Service is the heart of the Christian faith. What God has done for us, we now do for others. We focus on service to others as one of the core values that we want our students to develop.
Covid-19 was the perfect opportunity.
The job of sourcing, transporting, packing, and doing the distributions was more than our limited staff could accomplish.
This provided us the perfect opportunity to invite the youth in our program to step up beside us and serve.
The youth in our programs stepped up, assisted not just with the packing and preparation of the food, but every month went out into the community and sought out the elderly, infirm, and destitute who needed help.
They brought not just food but shared a message of hope, truth, and scripture with everyone they served.
They learned how to live out the Gospel in their own lives, and that has incredible value.
It caused the Gospel to take root.
Family strengthening is one of our ministry’s key pillars, yet face time with the parents of our students has always been one of the biggest challenges for us.
We have several meetings throughout the year they are required to attend and weekly Bible studies to which they are all invited, yet we have always known that we needed to see them more for us to minister to them more.
Also, we serve a diverse group of people; Christians, Catholics, and non-believers, some of whom might not get along or socialize with each other in most circumstances.
From the beginning, we made an effort to ensure that when we gave food bags to the family, we also took the time to minister to them personally.
Through one on one conversations and prayer, to group worship and Bible reading, we spent time together, and the Word of God began to have a powerful effect in their lives.
We had face time with the parents every week when they came to pick up and drop off the educational and Bible worksheets. This laid the foundation for us to truly get to know them and build the relationships that enable us to lead them to Christ.
The Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:18 “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Yes, Covid-19 caused incredible hardship in so many people’s lives, and I don’t for one minute want to minimize that. But when compared with the eternal glory of being redeemed and restored to our heavenly Father for eternity, I can truly say that I am thankful for it.
Will you partner with us in the work that God has called us to do here in Guatemala during Covid-19?
Give now in a way that lasts for eternity
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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.