Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Passion for Community Transformation

Our friend, Andi, lives in a little village close to El Sembrador. She belongs to a little country church in her poor community. In fact, she's the Sunday school teacher. Every Sunday she instructs about 30 kids of all ages while the adults are in the worship service. She has no resources, no lesson plans, no toys and no supplies other than her Bible. But she loves it. And she knows that she has been given the awesome responsibility to help shape the future of her community.

Andi's daughter, Scarlett, introduces Uno to a few of her friends from church.

When we first arrived at El Sembrador earlier this year, Andi asked for my help to fix up the Sunday School room. She said it needed fresh paint. When we went to look at the room, we found that it needed a little more than some sprucing up! The kids were meeting in a dilapidated building with a leaky roof and littered with moldy wood, rusty nails, old paint and the droppings of some unwelcome critters on the concrete floor. To make matters worse, the village public school was also using the building for its Kindergarten classes every day.

Andi confessed that she had been struggling with the church leadership. They were completely focused on the Sunday worship service and viewed her as the babysitter that made it possible for them to minister to the adults on Sunday morning. She was frustrated at their lack of vision and their inadequate investment in the children.

Andi also helps plan activities for holidays and special events for the kids in her village.

So I agreed to help. But first, she would have to gain the support of her church for the project. I helped her think about her priorities and we came up with a reasonable plan and budget together. Then Andi went to work. Over the last several months, she's held meetings, planned work days and recruited people and supplies. She has gained the confidence of her church family and the community has begun to contribute to the project. Some have donated toys, others have worked to repair the roof or painted the walls. And now Andi is working with a local businessman to build a wall to separate the children's area from the storage area the church needs.

I helped Andi design simple murals to paint on the walls of the children's chapel.

We have limited our involvement in the church to a small $100 donation from our ministry fund and some encouraging words. Another friend from Minnesota also donated $100 to the cause. But Andi has done all of the work. In the process, she has earned the respect of the community and has become a leader in her church. Perhaps most importantly, she has gained the confidence to share her ideas with other leaders. I'm guessing this won't be the last project Andi will initiate. And if she has anything to say about it, there will be entire new generation of leaders with the same passion for community transformation.

The roof in the children's chapel has been improved, the walls painted and cute Bible scenes decorate the walls thanks to Andi's efforts.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

You Fall Well with Me

The phrase "I like you" seems so much more profound in Spanish. Literally translated it says "You fall well with me." For some reason, this expression strikes me as a beautiful sentiment. Maybe it's because the idea of falling in like with a good friend seems more meaningful that just liking someone.

When we first moved to El Sembrador and started to get to know the students, one little boy stood out to me right away. He's a pest. Annoying, moody and always in trouble, Lou is an obnoxious young man. His name is really Luis, but I call him Lou because he hates it. Actually he likes to pretend to hate it.

At first Lou seemed like he'd do anything for attention. He picked arguments with me, taunted me and generally pushed all my buttons. He just seemed to want my reaction. But I did my best not to respond. I didn't yell at him to calm down or tell him to stop it. I just answered his ridiculous questions meant to bait me into an argument. I didn't let him divert my attention from the other boys. And if he got too out of control, I just ignored him altogether. Lou was a real pain.

After several weeks of torturing me, Lou met me at the soccer field one evening in a particularly rotten mood. He spent at least an hour telling me how much he hated our new puppy and how he had plans to sneak in our house and steal him. Gradually, his taunting turned into threats on the poor dog's life! But I just ignored him and struck up conversations with the other students who all wanted to know more about our new pet. At the end of the night, Lou walked up to me and stuck out his hand for a handshake. "Kelly, you fall well with me," he said matter-of-factly before heading off to bed.

I didn't know it at the time, but that sentence signaled a change in our relationship. Lou was a different kid from that point on. Oh sure, he still gets into all kinds of trouble. But he's the first for volunteer when I ask for help with something. He's polite and open with me. He takes correction well and doesn't talk back. He even asks about the puppy once in a while. Recently, he opened up to me about a bad day and I got the opportunity to pray with him.

I guess sometimes Lou feels like he's got to push a person down just to see how they land. I, for one, am glad I fell well.

Lou, you fall well with me too buddy.