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  • Writer's picturetimothy martiny

Things I’m Thankful For in 2020


Last week, we conducted our eighth round of food distribution. As always, we prayed beforehand about what message we would share with the families when they came to receive their food bags.


We strive to take advantage of every opportunity to plant God's Word in the hearts and lives of those we serve. We endeavor to share hope and help the children and families enrolled in our programs gain a greater understanding of who God is.


For many people, this year probably stands out as something they would wrap up in a box, chuck in the back of their minds, 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, lockdowns, schools closed, businesses shut down, driving restrictions, supermarket rationing, masks required at all times, and more.


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.


Reevaluate Ministry

When the quarantine took effect in March, we had to cancel in-person classes in our centers the Cadaniño ministry we 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 broken, 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, being forced to suspend in-person classes presented us with a dilemma. Should we wait, hope, and pray for things to return 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 to continue serving, and the results were terrific.


Discipleship

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, which included scripture reading, Bible studies, and crafts.


Our teachers then followed up with phone calls, video chats, or text messages. 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; 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.


Education

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, getting them back on it is challenging. 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.


This resulted in students staying focused on learning so they will be ready when they return to school next year.


Technology

Computer classes are an essential part of our work to break the cycle of poverty for those we serve. All our students learn typing, computer skills, and coding, and many are moving on to more advanced IT courses.


We adapted our programs to work offline and sent all our laptops to students to help them continue developing their skills.


Reading

We also implemented a reading program, which is incredibly important to children's educational development. To date, our students have read over 1,000 books from our library.


It Showed our Commitment

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.


Provided Opportunities for Service

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.


Our limited staff could not accomplish the tasks of sourcing, transporting, packing, and making the distributions.


This provided us with the perfect opportunity to invite the youth in our program to step up and serve alongside us.


The youth in our programs stepped up and assisted not just with the packing and preparation of the food, but every month, they 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, which has incredible value.


The Gospel Took 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 that 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 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.


We spent time together, from one-on-one conversations and prayer to group worship and Bible reading, and the Word of God began to have a powerful effect on 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 want to minimize that for one minute. 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.


As Christians, we know that "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)


In some ways, Covid-19 is nothing new.


The world has always had and will always have trouble, turmoil, and tribulation.


As believers, we are called to place our faith, hope, and trust in a God who works above the brokenness we see around us.


Proverbs 10:11 says, "The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life."


In Colossians 3:15, Paul reminds us, "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."


And Jesus himself said, in John 11:25-26, "Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?"


We wrapped these truths into a message titled "Faith or Fear, What Are You Spreading? A virus is contagious, but so is Faith and Hope. Speak Life!


During our talk with the parents, we shared how the pandemic has changed the way we interact with others.


Everywhere we go, we are bombarded with a message of fear through the news, TV, and social media.


Fear of this pandemic, catching the virus, and fear of death.

Latin cultures are known for being warm and welcoming. Yet now, many people are afraid to engage with those around them.


They don't greet people, shake their hands, or give hugs and kisses. To avoid this virus, physical contact is removed, people interact less, and everyone is filled with fear and insecurity.


We wanted to impart the message that everyone is spreading something whether you have the virus or not.


We posed the question, "What are you spreading to those around you?" to the parents.


We asked everyone to greet the person next to them and speak words of blessing, encouragement, and hope, even if they did not know each other.

Our teachers led by example, and then we went around with everyone taking a turn.


It ended up being a special time for everyone!


Not only did the parents speak words of hope, faith, love, and encouragement to each other, but they also surprised us by thanking our teachers and staff for the help, support, and encouragement we had given them during this time.


Besides the regular food bags that enabled them to feed their children, they truly appreciated the regular devotionals our staff prepares for the parents. Many of them commented on how much it means to them that our team takes time to talk and pray with them when they come in to pick up their children's educational material.


It was very touching to hear the words of comfort, encouragement, motivation, concern, and blessings to each other.


Things like, "I wish you the best!" "Stay in God's word!" "Keep your eyes on God!" or "May your home be filled with peace!"


These words filled a void. Since the start of this pandemic, people have been growing empty from a lack of interaction with others.


Now, we were giving them a chance to both give and receive words of life and blessings, feel that others care, and show others that they care. It had an almost magical, supernatural effect on everyone, and everyone's spirits were visibly lifted.


We followed this exercise with a message encouraging them to continue to spread faith, hope, and encouragement to others as they go about their day.


It was amazing to see that when we asked how many people had experienced moments of fear during this pandemic, almost everyone would raise their hands.


Fear is a normal, natural reaction when faced with challenging situations, but we are not to be controlled or live our lives beset by a spirit of fear.


Just because we must wear a mask and maintain our distance from people, it doesn't mean we can't greet people, say hi to our neighbors, or talk to those we meet. We can and should be spreaders of life, hope, and encouragement to the many people going through tough times of loneliness, despair, or darkness.


The truth is, while we might wear masks and take necessary safety precautions, we don't place our faith, hope, and confidence in any of those things. We place our hope in a God who saves.


And that message of hope is what we need to live out and share with others, looking for opportunities to speak words of life to them.


Before closing and giving everyone their food bags, we had them open their Bible and read a scripture for themselves to personalize God's promises to them.


They left knowing:

  • That God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and they can take comfort in the fact that we belong to Him, that He loves us, and nothing will happen to us that is not for our good.

  • That His perfect love casts out fear.

  • That they can be an instrument God uses to spread life, speak truth, and bring hope to those around them.


In the end, the room was filled with peace and joy. Everyone left with smiles on their faces, thankful not only for the food received but also for the word that was shared and the encouragement that filled their hearts.



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