Blessed to be a Blessing!

The following article was written by Sean Chapman, family life director and team leader for a CALMS’ team from Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska. The team worked in the village of Campanario La Avanzada near La Union from June 10 – 17 and focused on building a movable wall for the new school annex and multi-purpose building built by CALMS, reaching out with the Gospel to village children, and equipping local teachers. This is the community most affected by the landslides of 2008 that destroyed homes and took many lives—and where CALMS has been working with housing , human and spiritual care. Divine Shepherd is working with CALMS by focusing its efforts on this village and plans to send several teams each year to build long-term relationships.

Our Omaha team was diverse ranging in ages from 13 – 60 years and from all different professions and backgrounds. Our mission project took us to a village called Campanario La Avanzada. The drive to get to this location each day was a challenge and a bit rough, with single lane dirt and rock roads for part of the trip. The terrain was rugged and there were steep and precarious hills and cliffs leading to the community.
We were saddened to see the living condition of the people. Their homes were constructed out of scavenged wood, mud walls, and dirt floors. Visiting in some of the homes there, we were surprised to see how sparse they were, and how few possessions they owned. There were virtually no toys, books, extra clothes, and the many other things we would expect to see in a family home.

We were also shocked to learn of their daily food consumption, consisting in many cases of just tortillas and beans. Our team really struggled each day eating lunch in the village. Even though our lunches were simple, we realized that for most of the people in this village, our meal would have more protein and nutritional value then they would get in an entire day. This was a challenging thing to consider and it made it difficult to even want to eat while we were there.

The approach we took to our work was focused on building relationships with the people and attempting to build bridges with local leaders for future work and to establish trust. This community has only hosted a few other teams before us, so we knew we were blazing new trails with the people and leaders in many ways. From the moment that we entered the village, we were looking for ways to connect with and partner with the people.

We believe, as does CALMS, that we need to help create self-sustaining programs and projects. So we were thrilled that our wall-building project involved a wonderful partnership between our team and the people of the village. It felt like a real joint project, and there were some great relationships formed through our work together.

While some of our team worked on the wall, the other half of our team focused on meeting people and making new friends. For example, they were excited to meet two young people who ended up becoming special cultural helpers for our team. Both were 19 years old and showed a strong interest in what we were doing.

Lillian is the oldest of seven children. She lost her father over a year ago and works hard each day to help take care of her younger siblings while her mother worked in the fields. She was at our side helping as much as possible to make a contribution.

Ronnie is the oldest of eight and his father is a local leader in the village. He also helped us with all our projects and was very helpful in our work and teaching.

We came to realize that these two young people were more than just helpers and that that we were actually mentoring future leaders. We talked with them about their future and prayed for them. Our hope is that they might become the future Bible study teachers that CALMS wants to equip to share God’s Word in their village.

During our week, we continued to search for partnerships with the people each day. We felt fortunate to have been invited to work with the public school teachers in this village and to join their staff meetings several days. We were able to discuss with them the challenges and joys of being a teacher. We learned a lot about the people and their village through our time with them.

As we explored partnership opportunities together, we found that we were able to work on a joint project together with the teachers to help make t-shirts for a special event for the kindergarten classes that week to be held in a nearby town.

By the end of the week, the teachers joined us over our lunch hour. We left some games for the school and we spent time showing them how to play the games. It really encouraged some great bonding between us. We were excited when the school teachers asked us to bring teaching Bibles to use with the children!

(Photo C and Caption) Donna and Sean (second from left and far right) from Divine Shepherd bond with the teachers from the local public school in the community during numerous workshops led by Sean and Donna. (CALMS’ logistics helper, Karla Pena (at far left) who is also a Lutheran teacher at the Lutheran school in Zacapa helped with translation.

We are working with CALMS to develop a long-term partnership with this school and hope that we might be able to set up some minimal technology that will allow our church and school to host Skype conversations between classes in La Avanzada and Omaha. Many more relationships and potential partnerships were formed on this trip. I am excited to see how this grows in the future.

Our daily teaching focused on Jesus’ life and work and included arts and crafts, music, games, scripture reading, and sharing a meal with the children. Each day, with God’s help, we felt that we became more effective in working with such a large number of children.

We were also able to take family photos and print copies for each family on portable printers. This was a big hit for these people since very few had any pictures of themselves or their families. Our trip concluded with over 350 people crammed into the community center for the final afternoon session. We were able to share scripture as we did every day. We told the children and their parents how Jesus died and rose again for them. It was a great joy to be able to tell the people that God sent His only son to die for them and that they are saved by grace through faith.

I believe that our team members decided to be part of this trip for many different reasons. However, at the conclusion of the trip all 12 people agreed that the main reason we traveled to La Avanzada was to share the Gospel message and God’s grace, mercy and love for the people of this village.

We came to Guatemala expecting to teach, train, build, and to help those we were serving to grow in faith. However, we found that God was working on each of us and that our faith was stretched and grown by the work of the Holy Spirit in this place.

It was a privilege to be able to be a part of this team and to be used by God for His work in this place. Our second team is currently in Guatemala and we can not wait to hear about their experiences in the weeks to come!

Sean Chapman