Our mission started out as a small operation focused on supporting an inner-city children’s feeding program and an annual Christmas celebration.
Finances and a growing family kept us small even as we felt God calling us to do more.
In 2017, we received a pledge of support that allowed us to pursue our dreams of devoting more time to the children and women of our community and elsewhere.
We merged our US-based and Guatemalan organizations and created the social media presence of “MCUGuatemala.org” which reflects our plans for growth and inclusion than the “Couple of Christians” moniker.
The growth continues in 2019. Our mission now includes a growing children’s ministry centered around a feeding program, a thriving women’s ministry, support to the teachers and students of a rural school in the Guatemalan highlands, and a growing youth church in Cocales.
For the past seven months, we also ministered to survivors of the Volcano Fuego disaster. We distributed 2700 Bibles, along with boxes of food, clothing, and other supplies and equipment.
Here are some details on where we work and what we do.
La Cuchilla, Guatemala City
La Cuchilla is sometimes referred to as the “neighborhood nobody wants.” It is situated just inside the border of Guatemala City unless you ask the government of Guatemala City. They will tell you it is part of Villa Hermosa. As a result, there is no school, security, and little attention paid to the area.
This is a neighborhood produced by the Civil War. Most of the families here were squatters escaping the genocide in the mountains.
Over the years, temporary shelters of tin and wood have been steadily replaced by cinderblock homes and businesses. But too many of our kids still live within tin walls with limited water and electricity.
We now manage the Ciudad de Refugio feeding program in La Cuchilla. Twice a week, we provide a hot, healthy meal for 150 children and some of their families.
For some, it is the only hot food they get all week. For many, it is the only vegetables and vitamins they’ll see. For all of the kids, it is a place to gather and feel safe for a while.
But it is not enough to feed the kids. We need to nourish their lives, too. The feeding program provides us with the draw to our Children’s Ministry.
The children receive a weekly Bible lesson at the program. When we can, the lesson is tied into a health, social, or environmental lesson for the children.
Hygiene, bullying, social media issues, littering, and authority, are examples of topics covered in the past year.
We recently purchased books that will provide the outline of continuing Faith-related conversations and activities through 2019.
The Children’s Ministry hosts celebrations for Children’s Day, Independence Day, and Christmas. Special visitors and other events pepper the schedule.
Why it’s important:
Yesenia and I try to provide an atmosphere of security and love at the program. However, real life occasionally crashes into us.
This week, one of our recent graduates (and the brother of two of our current program family) became the fourth victim of gun violence in the few years since I arrived.
It prompted a serious conversation about life choices and listening to parents (the victim associated with gang members). The children were given a chance to talk about how they felt and what they saw with gangs in the neighborhood.
It serves to remind us how important the feeding program and ministry are to some of these kids.
La Cuchilla also serves as the base of our Women’s Ministry. Yesenia leads a group of women from the church and mothers of the feeding program children. They meet regularly to listen to a speaker and share news and concerns about life.
We affiliated the program with Mothers of Pre-Schoolers (MOPS), an organization of Christian women in the United States with a strong presence in Guatemala. They provide materials and events for the mothers to attend.
The group has evolved from a social outlet to a true spiritual presence in the community. Recently, the group visited families affected by illness, violence, and other matters. They prayed with the families and bring a small amount of food to share.
La Isla, Santa Fe- a suburb of Guatemala City
La Isla in Santa Fe was formed by the 1976 earthquake and a series of subsequent sinkholes and mudslides. Surrounded by sheer cliffs, it is accessible only by a one-lane bridge behind an industrial section of Santa Fe.
When I first came here, it consisted of dirt roads and houses precariously close to the edges of the island. One of the mothers showed us how lifting a small piece of wood in the corner of her home revealed a 100-foot drop to the neighborhood below.
Since then, the city has paved their roads and a Canadian mission rebuilt many of the houses. But the people are still among the poorest of the city. A public school placed on the site closed because the parents couldn’t afford books, uniforms, or even shoes for the kids.
What we do here:
La Isla is an extension of our La Cuchilla ministries. There is a family of seven sisters who administer the program for us but rely on us for assistance.
We cook two more meals per week and deliver them to another 150 children on La Isla. The sisters use the same books and provide the same lessons we give in La Cuchilla.
Yesenia has another Women’s Ministry group at the La Isla site, also affiliated with MOPS. When we have special events, we always include the children of this area.
Pamamus, Comalapa- in the highlands of Guatemala
Pamamus is a small farming village just outside the city of Comalapa. Comalapa is known as the “Florence of Guatemala” because it is home to many artists and writers. It is a colorful and vibrant city surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscapes the country offers. It’s dirt poor.
When I say Pamamus is small, I am referring to population. It is quite large in area, encompassing many farms across miles of lands. Their primary school offers six grades of one class each.
Many students don’t finish those years because they help in the fields or because their families are crop workers who move around the country to harvest other fields when Pamamus is between yields.
When we held our first Christmas event there, we learned children walked over 5 kilometers to participate. Then we learned some walk that distance every day to get to the school.
What we do in Pamamus:
We use the primary school as our base. Although it is a public school, prayer and Christianity guide most activities. We can not “give” the school anything, but we assist the teachers when we can.
Our mission in Pamamus is to provide some relief from a hard life, encourage kids to stay in school, and spread the Word. We get there once or twice a quarter. Every visit includes a talk to the kids about something they can relate to in their lives and that we can relate to the Gospel.
We try to reward the children for continuing with their school lessons. Over the years, we provided supplies like water containers, planners, and general school supplies.
The school gives us a list of names and sizes of each child in the school. This allowed us to provide new boots and sneakers over the past two years. We surprised the teachers with sneakers, too.
At Christmas, the students received towels and blankets wrapped over new toys. This year, the students will receive sweatshirts.
The children of Pamamus are awesome. They are attentive and receptive to what we preach and are among the most respectful children I’ve seen in Guatemala. They know God loves them.
Their parents have been supportive, as well. Last year, they provided simple food for our Christmas celebration. It is not unusual for them to present gifts of fruit or poultry to us on our visits.
Las Cocales, Cocales-
Los Cocales is a small section of the city of Cocales. While we bring Jesus into every event and conversation we participate in, Los Cocales is probably our most evangelical mission.
Pastor Feliciano, a mechanic by trade, started out preaching to his own children. Other children started showing up to listen. He started spending more time planning lessons than he did repairing cars.
Now he has what I like to call a youth church, attended by about 40 children and teenagers each week. The children formed a worship team, using an old keyboard and drum set, and supplementing it with an array of homemade instruments.
There are 600 children within the boundaries of what the pastor calls “the neighborhood”, although, in the oppressive heat of the area, it is difficult for us to walk the entire area in one try.
Our role here is twofold. First, the pastor and his wife offer us a mutually beneficial source of Bible study and discussion. He asks us for faith and emotional support. We find the more we give, the more we get from this amazing couple.
Second, we all have a dream of 600 children and their children eventually joining the church. This is a rare under-served area of the country. A small Catholic church and one other evangelical group are all we found in this big residential community of day laborers and farmers.
It is a financially depressed area, too. As such, we provide the pastor’s family with some food support, along with Bibles and study materials for the children.
Disaster Relief- Volcano Fuego eruption
Guatemala is located along the Ring of Fire and between two oceans. As such, it is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. Throw in generally non-existent building standards, and you can understand why we made sure to include disaster response as a recognized role in our government certifications.
Because of that, we were among the first groups recognized and permitted to access shelters and emergency zones after the Volcano Fuego eruption on June 3, 2018.
We maintain a small account for emergency responses to events like Fuego. Our local presence allows us to bypass permissions and import tax issues. We are a small and nimble operation, able to purchase items each night and deliver them directly to the point of need the next morning.
Faith support was paramount from the beginning, but once the initial wave of assistance crested, we made faith our focus. We added Bibles to our stock of relief supplies, distributing over 2500 so far.
Thanks to continuing donations from our friends in the USA, we still provide food and assistance to Fuego survivors. But for the most part, prayer and hope are our main cargo.
Christmas and Spreading the Good News
Most of December is spent spreading the Good News of Jesus’ birth, focusing on why He came here and how He saved us. We use special events and lots of wrapping paper to grab an audience to preach to.
Typically, a Christmas event consists of a special meal or snack, a gift of need and a toy for kids, an opening prayer from a local pastor, a film for the kids about Christmas, followed by our discussion or sermon about Christmas and salvation.
These events take place in each of our regular mission sites (La Cuchilla, La Isla, Pamamus, and Cocales). We try to spread the Word to other areas, too.
This season, we were able to bless two Volcano Fuego shelters and a children’s orphanage, as well as our own children.
As part of our effort to help the neighborhoods as much as possible, we hired local women to prepare traditional Christmas tamales, ponche, and bread at each site.
Hundreds of new sweatshirts, soccer shirts, umbrellas, and baseball caps were handed out, along with over 1,000 new toys and untold numbers of candy canes.
Best of all, over 1,000 children and plenty of adults heard about how much Jesus loves them and came to save not only the world… but each of them, too.
Our mission is much more than just Yesenia and me.
We have the support of a team of about 15 volunteers and several supporting organizations.
We maintain working relationships with local businesses who provide us with their best prices and logistical support for our operations.
Several churches in Guatemala offer prayer support and occasional financial assistance.
Most of what we provide is manufactured or distributed by Guatemalan businesses. When possible, we use vendors from the immediate neighborhoods.
We need more help if we are going to continue at this pace or grow.