Restoring Hope in Guatemala
— Mary Kathryn Tiller · Tuesday, June 30, 2020 —
As the spread of COVID-19 began to take its toll on the United States, Tim and Sharie Martiny braced their ministry in Guatemala for a life-altering lockdown, as well.
Tim and Sharie are the founders of CadaNiño, an Orphan Outreach ministry partner in Guatemala that serves vulnerable children and families in Colonia Santa Fe and the town of San Jose Pinula. During regular times, CadaNiño serves over 200 students with after-school programs. Children as young as seven-years-old can learn to study the Bible, receive tutoring, and learn I.T. skills like coding, programming, and graphics design.
"Our three pillars are spiritual formation, educational reinforcement, and family strengthening. We believe that by serving vulnerable at-risk children and families, at home, in their communities, even if those communities are in the slums, through programs that are grounded in scripture, through programs that meet people where they are at, we can effect true change." Tim explained. "Every aspect of our program serves one of those three objectives.
"Our programs were going great, and our ministry was growing in depth and scope every year; however, once the country went on lockdown, all of our classes had to stop."
While their regular programs were paused, The CadaNiño team began to discuss how they could continue to serve their families during the crisis. A pressing need soon presented itself, and the team moved into action.
"Our centers are located in two of the most at-risk communities in Guatemala. Day-to-day life here is challenging. Many of the families live hand to mouth using the money they earn each day to feed their families the next. So when the country shut down and there was no transportation or work available, starvation and hunger became a real issue," Tim explained.
CadaNiño's response was to assemble and distribute emergency food bags to the student's families.
"We've given out over 150,000 meals, so far," Sharie reported. "Typically, each bag includes rice, beans, Maseca (flour used to make tortillas), noodles, tomato sauce, a fortified milk drink, oats, cereal, and soup packages."
Every other week, CadaNiño has invited the parents to come to one of their locations and pick up a meal bag. They have arranged their centers to allow a small group to come in at a time, observe social distancing, and meet with a staff member or a volunteer from a local church.
"We take time to pray with all the families and ask them how they're doing. We ask about their fears and what they need prayer for in their lives. Many people have broken down in tears and poured out their hearts to us. It's allowed us the opportunity to share the Gospel with them. We've had over a dozen people give their life to Christ. That's been amazing to see. Our focus is The Gospel. We're excited to give food, but we want to make sure that we're also feeding people spiritually," Tim explained.
As the staff and parents have spent more time together, a sense of more in-depth community has developed.
"It's always been a struggle to get face time with the parents. This food distribution has provided us with an opportunity to get to know them and minister to them. It's been so sweet. Nearly every time we do these food rounds, we'll have parents bring us little gifts: drinks or snacks they made with the food that we gave them last time or little handmade gifts. It's been beautiful to see their response," said Sharie.
While CadaNiño was thrilled with what they saw happening within their centers, they never anticipated what would emerge outside of them.
"Soon after we started distributing, we began to hear about other people needing help. But we only have three staff in each of our centers. We knew we couldn't go out and find these people ourselves. So we talked to our students and said, 'You know people who are in need. Identify someone who needs a food bag, and we will give you one to take to them.'
Service is one of the core values taught to students. Since the beginning of last year, they have not only taught the Biblical principles behind service to others, but have given them opportunities to put those principles into practice, whether by going on a mission trip, taking responsibility for cleaning the centers or doing service projects in their local community, such as hosting a Christmas party for the local senior center.
"It's been a natural progression, something we've been doing with them for a while now. So when we presented the teenagers in our program with this opportunity to serve their neighbors, it was a perfectly natural thing for them to say, 'Yes, of course, I'll do that!' Still, it was fascinating to see all these youth stepping up. Some of them walk a great distance to deliver those meal bags," shared Tim.
"We've encouraged them to remember that, yes, these families are in need of food, but they'll eat it and then they'll be hungry again. The one thing that will last is spiritual food; they should be bearers not only of physical relief but also spiritual relief. We encouraged them to take the time to pray with the families and share a Bible verse with them. Many of them looked for elderly or disabled individuals; others found single mothers. It's beautiful to see them putting their faith into action. We believe that God will use this opportunity to spark a fire in them so that service to others becomes not just something they do, but part of who they are and that they will continue to share the Gospel with those around them," Sharie expressed.
Tim and Sharie cannot deny the struggles they see within their community, but as they see the fruit the power of the Gospel is bearing in the lives of the students and parents, they cannot deny the hope.
"Yes, the Coronavirus is causing a massive crisis: the country's economy has crashed, there are serious health concerns and, despite their best efforts, the country is ill-prepared to deal with this crisis. In a physical sense, we see a disaster. Yet, when we look at how God is using this situation to bring people to Him, restoring them and redeeming them, we see the power of the Gospel at work, and that is a beautiful thing," Tim shared.
The Martinys expect Guatemala to be in lockdown for the next several months. Even once the country begins to open back up, it will take time for these families to establish new jobs and an income. CadaNiño plans to walk alongside them through it all, providing meal bags for the foreseeable future.
You can be a part of the work God is doing in Guatemala and in our other countries affected by COVID-19. Right now, only $36 provides a family of five with meals for a month, and ensures they receive the same compassionate care as the children in our ministry programs do year ‘round. Give now.