On February 11, 2015 I arrived in Guatemala at around 2:30 p.m. greeted by our passionate team and precious friends. We traveled to a local church in Guatemala City where we received 5 new water purification systems. The following day we drove about an hour to Palin to evaluate a potential new Hope Movement church-based feeding/ education center. You enter into this town with rundown cement buildings and unpaved roads and there you find a church like a lighthouse in troubled waters. We entered the church greeted by the Pastor and over 70 children who were reciting Bible scriptures. The children were well behaved and attentive to the Pastor’s words. While Pastor Neri shared a story about building your life on the rock and not the sand, the Pastor of this church came to me. He shared with me that these children come from a section of the city that is hidden, a mini city of houses made of rusted metal, nylon and cardboard. No electricity, no water, and no sanitation. He said that this feeding center will often be the only nutritious meal they will have all week. He shared from his heart how he is burdened for this community but has felt abandoned; he has felt alone in carrying this weight on his shoulders, until today when The Hope Movement family walked through the doors. I told him you are not alone, you were never abandoned and a new day has arrived for we are forever united. We then shared the vision with the children and their families, sang songs, prayed and had a simple but delicious lunch with the children. After the activities concluded I asked the Pastor if we can visit the community where these children live. We walked down a narrow alley and behind the cement building were a mini city of metal houses and mud filled streets. Rows of these houses on each side an impactful sight to behold and all of these children live here along with over 500 families. These are the people this feeding/ education center will impact; these are the ones whose lives will be transformed by the awesome power and love of Jesus Christ.
On the same day we traveled another hour to Villa Lobos on the outskirts of Guatemala City, a red zone where we have another church-based feeding/ education center. This community has deep issues of poverty, poor housing on the side of the mountain that is prone to mudslides, gangs and domestic violence. As we entered the street where the church is located I noticed written on the wall MS13, a sign for one of the most notorious gangs in the world, but as you pull up to the church you hear a beautiful sound, children laughing and singing worship songs to God. He walked into the church greeted by my dear friend Pastor William; a young pastor in his 30’s who oversees the church and outreach center. Over 60 children filled the church. We sang songs, learned Bible verses, listened to a story with a powerful message by Pastor Neri and some friends who run another ministry united with us this day and did a wonderful job teaching the children about how lying binds us but truth sets us free. It is also possible that this ministry will help us security donated food packs which have rice, beans and vitamins which would allow us to offer more days of feeding and open additional centers. We feed all of the children a wonderful lunch of chow mien and at the end Pastor William asked me to share a word with the people. I didn’t know what I was going to say but it entered my heart to ask the people if they have prayer requests. I sat down in front of the children to get at their level and said we are here because we love you and God has a purpose for your life, but I would like to do something different, I would like to know if anyone has a prayer request because we don’t want to only feed your stomachs but also your soul. They looked at me puzzled as if no one has ever asked them this question, a little boy raised his hand and I knelt down with the microphone and he said please pray that God helps me to tell the truth because I want to make him proud of me. I said God has a great purpose for your life and if you follow Jesus he will make you into a courageous man, a man of integrity. He smiled and Pastor William brought a little boy to me who looked no more than 3 years old. Pastor William said this is Luis and he has been asking for prayer. He said today is his birthday he will be five years old, he looks younger because he doesn’t get enough food as his mother just died and his father works all day. Only an elderly grandmother cares for him and he has started to come here each week because here is where he feels safe and loved. We prayed for the children, sang happy birthday to Luis and each child came up and gave Luis and myself a hug. This is why we are opening these types of programs in churches; we are empowering the church to fulfill the purpose of the church and reach out to those longing for safely and love.
On February 13, 2015 we went to our main center in Escuintla called the Haven of Hope where I was greeted with children shouting Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, come out and play. I went outside and children hung on me like Christmas ornaments on a tree. See I have known these children since they were very little, we have a special bond. We played in the street together, I visited an elderly neighbor who always lights up when I visit and loves to share interesting stories. I then walked into the home of Sandra who is 17, her year old baby, the baby’s father, Grace her mother, Salome her grandmother, and her three sisters who attend our Haven of Hope programs. The house is made of pieces of rusted metal, muddy floors, filthy beds and has no electricity, water or sanitation. I asked Sandra if the Haven of Hope did not exist would the children eat, and she said without the Haven of Hope we would have no hope. She took me into a small room and began to cry. She said I love you as a father for I have no father, I can’t handle living in poverty in these conditions any more. I hugged her and said you know we are here to help but you have to do your part as well. See we have been trying to lift this family out of poverty but they need a heart transformation for they often bite the hand that feeds them, Sandra is now a young lady who lost her childhood and we will never give up hope on this family. I said let me pray for you, we prayed together as her tears soaked my shirt.
I then went inside of the Haven of Hope where we were preparing lunch for over 70 children. We set up the tables and chairs and prayed with one another. The children entered and found a seat, at the same time a family from Canada where vacationing and decided to visit the Haven of Hope while I was there. David an American missionary who lives in Guatemala came too with sister Dorcas a retired missionary. He shared a story with a lesion to teach the children. The group from Canada assisted in serving the children a delicious meal and afterwards we moved the tables. Some of the children from the Haven of Hope have been practicing choreography to Christian songs that teach a lesion. The group of children got up and did a wonderful job with their choreography and the children were attentive as they performed. Pastor Neri shared a lesion with the children along with a video and after the classes concluded the group from Canada distributed bags of hygiene products and beautiful clothing for the children. Later after the group from Canada left a mother of two children who are in our center came to show her daughters in the new dresses that were donated to them. She sat down with us and began opening up about some family problems they are having including financial problems. She shared as tears flowed down her face. Pastor Neri, myself, Betty and Ivett offered some words of wisdom and I let her know don’t feel bad about sharing your problems, that is why are here, this is why the Haven of Hope exists. Betty packaged some food and gave it to her to feed her family. We prayed with her and she left encouraged.
An interesting thing happened this day as well. There are two boys in the Haven of Hope named Daniel and Jonathan, they are 11 and 9 years old and they have never attended school. Their father abandoned them and their mother works all day trying to survive. Pastor Neri and Ivett went to the local school to find a solution for them. The director of the school said he would accept them but they need paperwork and identification, but the problem is there’s no documentation of their birth. Pastor Neri told the mother we need to go through the process to obtain the documentation for Daniel and Jonathan for they need to go school if they want any hope for a brighter future. The mother was being stubborn and was not cooperating. I could not let this go, if something is not done Daniel and Jonathan could easily fall into the trap of gangs, violence, addiction and hopelessness. I told Pastor Neri to tell the mother when I am in town I want to meet with her regarding her children. Pastor Neri informed their mother that I was in town and I am very interested in this case. The following day without having to meet with her, the mother brought Pastor Neri a copy of the paperwork needed. I didn’t realize that I had that type of influence but thank God Daniel and Jonathan will now be able to attend school.
The Haven of Hope has grown and we had a meeting that evening to discuss the vision of The Hope Movement and develop new creative programs for the Haven of Hope and our church-based feeding/ education centers, programs which can be a model and replicated not only in Guatemala but in other nations.
On Saturday, February 14, 2015 we traveled about an hour to Zone 21 known as Nuevo Amanecer in Guatemala City where we have a feeding/ education center. The center is currently located in garage which is being donated by a church member. Church members volunteer their time to operate this center, a sign that the church is stepping outside of their comfort zone to be the hands and feet of Jesus. The little boy who had a cleft lip was there with his mother. He was underweight and the hospital we found to perform the surgery informed us that he would have to gain weight in order to receive the surgery. With the help of his mother, food from our center and all involved in setting up this surgery this little boy’s life has been transformed. His lip is healing, he will never have medical issues regarding his lip, and he has a better chance of employment in the future and will never have to fear rejection because of a deformity. We also met with a small baby who has two toes merged together who is another candidate for a life-transforming surgery. The volunteers informed us that we currently have over 70 children in the center, but there are many more in need who want to participate but because of lack of space they have to select those who are in greater need such as those who have lost at least one parent do to violence, incarnation or abandonment. Majority of the children have lost a parent and are being raised in a single parent home, or by family members and some older children are raising their younger brothers and sisters. We found that at least 13 children have no mother or father. We feel that once our home for children opens many of the children will come from this area because of the great need.
The children enjoyed a nutritious meal and later we sang worship songs and shared a message of hope. Pastor Neri followed the word from God we received in Villa Lobos and asked the children if they had prayer requests. A little girl came up to Pastor Neri and whispered in his ear, I watched Pastor Neri’s face fill with sorrow and tears began to flow down his face as he began to pray with her. See she said that she needs strength, her mom is in jail, father abandoned her and she is raising all of her brothers and sisters. One after one children came to me, Pastor Neri and Pastor David asking for prayer with similar stories. I see that praying with the children and hearing their hearts cry every time they are with us is so important, a vulnerable moment allowed us to connect with them opening the doors for God to heal their inner wounds. We later walked throughout the community to visit some of the homes of the children. Nuevo Amanecer is a place where homes are built on the side of the mountain. The streets are narrow and difficult to climb. We arrived to one of the children’s homes constructed of metal and walked down broken wooden steps into a darken room with dirt floors and a small kitchen and bedroom. The mother said thank you for helping us as the food received from the feeding center is a great blessing. We than climbed up the hill and walked into the home of two children who attend our center and were greeted by the elderly grandparents who take care of the children and are even raising a 10 month old baby because of the mother is in prison. The grandmother wanted to show me her room where the baby sleeps. She shared her story and said may God bless your efforts in trying to bring hope to these little ones and our families. These precious people are the reason why we have this center; this is why we need to continue to work in this community so that hope can flood the streets like a mighty river. We visited a property in this community which they are renting, we are praying to see if it’s God’s will to use it for our center and a new church we will be planting. It will cost about $80 monthly to rent which will give us more space to help more people.
Later that day we went to Pastor David’s church where we have opened a new Bible Institute. This day was the inauguration of the Bible Institute. It was beautiful to see a large banner with my design for the Bible Institute hanging on the wall. Students pay a small fee to help sustain the institute and we have weekly classes to train new and current ministers. We will also teach about mission work and creative ideas to teach members of community to sow, computer programming and much more to help lift communities out of poverty. We had a large group of students this day and had a great lunch together. I had written a message about our belief system and not watering down our Christian walk, before I shared the teacher Pastor Mario Roberto a well known pastor who has been planting churches in Latin America for over 30 years shared a powerful message about not watering down the doctrine, to take action and taught the profile of a true Christian. It was an inspirational message that was exactly what I felt we needed to teach in this new Bible Institute. The leaders of the institute got up and shared from their heart and I had an opportunity to share about the current state of Christianity and the vision of God to bring transformation. We prayed together and formally inaugurated the Seeds of Hope Bible Institute.
Claudia Hurtarte a member of The Hope Movement family who helped receive a donation of water purification systems from her church assisted us in presenting the water purification systems to the Pastors who oversee various Hope Movement feeding/ education centers. We trained the pastors how to use the water purification system and also provided training on new paperwork we are requiring them to submit to us each month which evaluates the attendance in our programs, information on each child and adult for our database and outcomes (Successes and Areas for Improvement). Claudia had felt in her heart to start a non-profit so she could open a new feeding/ education center in a church where she attends. I told her that we should unite as The Hope Movement is already a registered non-profit in the United States but is in the process of registering as a Guatemalan non-profit which will open doors for funding in Guatemala and also allow us to plant churches. I asked her to share her vision with The Hope Movement team as I felt that this could be potential program for The Hope Movement and Claudia is a great candidate to be part of the leadership of The Hope Movement. Claudia presented a great vision and we are praying together and waiting on God’s timing to open this center and allow Claudia to help manage some of these programs. After the presentation we had a meeting about registering The Hope Movement as a Guatemalan non-profit and future plans to help The Hope Movement grow under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and wise leadership.
On Sunday, February 15, 2015 we woke up with the roasters and traveled 3 hours up the mountain to San Juan Sacatepéquez an indigenous community. In order to arrive to the church and feeding/ education center we drive for hours up a mountain, drive through a market place where most of the people ware beautiful indigenous attire, drive a short distance down a hill, parked the vehicle and walk the rest of the way with all of our supplies in hand, cross a river, walk up a hill and then we arrive The children assisted us in carrying our supplies. Once we arrived over 50 children were waiting for us and gave us a warm welcome. The moment we arrived a woman arrived with her 3 children. We walked into a small room to talk with her as she came to seek help as she is facing domestic violence at home. She informed us that they are very poor and any money they get her husband uses for alcohol and when he drinks he is verbally and physically abusive. The children cry daily because of the situation. Pastor Neri and I had an opportunity to share a message with the woman and her children, each person in the room which included a 99 year old pastor’s wife, a woman from the church, the Pastors wife and the pastor who oversees our center, Pastor Neri, Ivett and myself offered encouraging words and guidance to know how to deal with this situation and to inform her of her legal rights. We sought to find a solution and prayed with the family. A powerful moment is when the pastor said that before he gave his heart to Jesus he was a miserable person and abusive to his wife. While holding his wife’s hand he said I am ashamed of my past but I am here to tell you that with God nothing is impossible and I am living proof that God can transform a life, He can transform a family.
Later we had a church service and the woman stayed for the church service. The pastor worshiped as he fell to his knees crying out to God. A woman in indigenous attire shared her testimony how she was a broken woman but since coming to this church she is transformed. She sang worship songs and when she was finished she humbly fell to her knees at the altar on a dirt floor of a church building made of wood and metal and with only three walls and prayed to God. The Pastor’s wife shared a song and following I got up and shared a short message. Playing the piano which we donated in June 2014 when we brought a mission team to San Juan I sang a song call Arms Open Wide. It was my first time playing the song on piano and performing it live. The words talk about various situations such as problems with health, seeking purpose and facing life problems but God says look to me here I am with arms opened wide, come to me and find your purpose in my eyes, all of your pain ceases with the power of my name, but I felt a new verse come to mind and I began to talk about family problems. When I opened my eyes after performing the song I saw tears in the eyes of the people and the pastor on his knees. Pastor Neri than shared a powerful message and the people came to the altar for prayer and were on their knees crying out to God. The people in this community are so humble and passionate about God.
Ivett worked with the children during this time, teaching Bible and moral lesions as well as art classes. Later we fed all of the children. We installed the water purification system and trained the pastor on how to use it. In June 2014 we installed a water pipe to bring water to our center along with a faucet. We took water from the system we installed with our mission team and poured it into the new water purification system. This will provide clean water for the children who attend our feeding/ education center, the church and the pastor’s family. As we ate the Pastor’s wife shared how God has a plan to use me and that I will leave an imprint in the hearts of many. They said my music impacted them and God is going to use my music and the message of my songs to touch many lives.
A little girl came to us and the pastor’s wife shared how the school would not let her attend classes because she didn’t have a pair of shoes or a backpack. There was an extra large shirt that was donated that no one could use because of the size and so she asked if she could use it as fabric. With a donated large shirt she made a beautiful backpack with a strap and pockets and was able to present it to this little girl along with a new shirt and shoes so that she will be able to attend school. We discussed an idea to teach the local women to sow and begin making clothing, dolls, bags, etc. and we will sell them in the markets, online on our website and amazon.com, and when I speak at churches and special events. A percentage will go to the women and to the program this will help the women economically and help sustain our programs in this precious community.
In the last year through all of the financial struggles God has opened doors to open new church-based feeding/ education centers, expand our reach throughout Guatemala, unite and empower churches, help children needing surgery, provide nourishment to the hungry, cloth the naked, provide education and counseling, provide wheelchairs to the disabled, pray for the broken and preach the love of Jesus and salvation to many. This year we have vision to continue this momentum and complete the construction of the second level to the Haven of Hope to open a home for children, open new church-based feeding/ education centers in Guatemala and in other nations, help 33 African orphans in Kenya, register as a Guatemalan non-profit to receive donations within Guatemala and be a covering for current churches and new churches which we are planning to open including one in the Haven of Hope.
With your prayers and financial support The Hope Movement united with others will fulfill the vision of God to flood hope through the streets like a mighty river.