Nancy Charles-Parker / 05 JAN 2015 – The day before my visit to Living Stones Ministry in Guatemala, my shuttle driver told me that a group of Christian ex-gang members had visited gang leaders in jail to minister to them and persuade them to give up their violent lifestyle. Upon leaving the prison, the evangelists were ambushed and murdered.
Incidents like these are the reason why Guatemala’s poverty level is worse now than 10 years ago.
I’ve been a Christian Aid Mission supporter for 15 years, and during this time have had the opportunity to give to many different ministries throughout the world. Certain ministries, however, have captured my heart—and compelled me to visit.
As a former career counselor, you’ll understand why I was drawn to Living Stones Ministry. Since it opened, over 1,000 children have completed the program. To date, none have joined the dangerous teen gangs that cripple Guatemala’s security and economy. And none have fallen victim to the lure of the “coyote” human traffickers who require thousands of dollars in exchange for transportation to the U.S./Mexico border.
The eight hours I spent with the ministry on October 31 have left a permanent imprint on my life. At around 3 p.m., the children began to arrive. I watched as they threw their arms around Humberto Chavez*, founder of Living Stones. Some were only as tall as his knee. He reciprocated like an affectionate grandfather. His energy and affection, along with that of his wife Martha, was infectious.
That evening, 88 kids were in attendance. After songs, the younger children broke into small groups for Bible stories, and I got to sit down with the teens.
An English teacher and Guatemalan government worker, who travels two hours one way to help with the children’s ministry, assisted me, with my broken Spanish, in finding words and identifying the teens’ skills. Some speak indigenous languages as well as Spanish. As we talked about their plans for next week…next summer…adulthood, eventually several teens volunteered their career aspirations: to become a doctor, a fireman, a tour guide, an environmental engineer, an accountant.
This is what hope looks like.
Not surprisingly many of the kids who expressed career goals appear to have a role model in their profession of choice. Many showed an interest in my postcards from Colorado, which featured a variety of animals. I’ll bet there’s a veterinarian in that group as well.
I wanted to challenge those kids to study hard, stay in school, and reach for the moon…to change their world. I shared two true stories with them. The first was that of a fatherless doctor, whose illiterate mother unplugged the TV and encouraged him and his brother to read when they had free time. He has become a world-renowned neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. The second was a story of an impoverished farm girl who became a diplomat. At age 12, she started selling garden vegetables because her mom told her, “you will go to college, but you’ve gotta find or earn the money without our help.”
After the structured program, everyone ate, including the mothers—many of whom came early to walk their children home after dark. The meal, including nutritious chicken sandwiches, a beverage, and chocolate cake, was an atypical feast, thanks to a one-time American gift.
I later learned, during the two hours in traffic I spent with Humberto and Martha on my way back to my lodging, that they’d been up until midnight cooking the chicken in their modest kitchen. I’d seen that kitchen. Prior to my visiting the ministry, they’d invited me to their cozy apartment to rest. How they cooked chicken for 100 in that modest space defies my imagination.
I was exhausted after three hours with the 88 children and a dozen parents, but this couple, with grown grandkids of their own, shows no sign of slowing down. In fact they declared that retirement is not an option for them, and shared their dream of adding medical care and a youth center in the future.
They trust the Lord for His provision. All of the ministry’s expenses are met through the generosity of contributions. New donors are always appreciated as the families of the children are very poor and have many needs which are never published.
Living Stones meets at least three times a week after school to provide Christian education and encouragement for families in a poverty-stricken barrio. Most importantly, the ministry provides hope and a future to each child present.
If Living Stones didn’t exist, those children wouldn’t be anticipating bright futures or rewarding careers. They’d most likely end up at the Arizona, Texas, or California border—that is, if they survived the journey there.
I encouraged those children, who timidly shared their dreams with me, to change their worlds. Humberto and Martha are real-life examples of people who’ve changed theirs. They’ve shown those children what hope looks like.