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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Responding in Times of Turmoil


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 were effective.

The countrywide lockdown that went into effect in mid-March has gotten stricter. There is now a 4 PM curfew, 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 leave but were unable to do so before the airlines stopped all flights to the country. Those have now ended, and anyone wishing to leave is facing challenges.

I know many missionaries who left for various 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 plenty is available if you want us to send you some. Ha!

The Fear

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 says, “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 promises 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.

Our Hope

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 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 Need

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. However, the population we serve, who mainly take the buses, can’t go to work even if their bosses want them to.

For those who work as maids, cleaning houses, or watching children, they can no longer do that as there are no buses they can take, and if they aren’t home by the 4 PM curfew, they risk hefty fines or jail.

Things are even more difficult for our students now confined to their houses.

The 200-square-foot space with four 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, the poorest, most vulnerable, and those with the fewest resources usually 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.

Our Service

Even though the schools shut down throughout the 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 those with special needs 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. When the world is at its darkest, and people are showing the most fear, 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.

In this country, there is no massive federal government with a big checkbook, no bailouts or stimulus checks, few social services, and no effective safety net when people’s lives fall apart.

For the most part, there are only people who can 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 serve.

Food Distribution

Thanks to generous donors, we purchased food in bulk to give to the families of our students.

In many of Guatemala's more impoverished communities, the local stores quickly ran out of essential items. Even though they have been restocked, excessive price gouging continues, 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 corn flour for tortillas, facemasks, disinfectant, medicine, and hygiene products, we are making a powerful impact right now where it is most needed.

Special Needs Ministry

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.

Orphan Care

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 from having a family and don’t have anyone to turn to when things get hard. We have assured them that we are still there for them.

Humanitarian Aid

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, such as facemasks, gloves, Tylenol, and cough medicine, and deliver them to our partner orphanages.

Providing 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 we have been serving in this challenging time, the most important help has been the spiritual care we have been able to give those we serve.

We don’t just give families a bag of food; we spend 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 to keep their minds focused on God.

Yes, the food bags were a blessing and much appreciated, but it is the reason 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. 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.

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