This week I witnessed an incredibly unique sponsorship program in a uniquely challenging and beautiful place. Focused on a single (but large!) slum in Guatemala City, Lemonade International is a small, intentional and relational organization which allows them to go deep rather than wide in their impact.
Mobilized by God, local Guatemalans walk into this dangerous neighborhood with very specific goals for the children who live there. There is no presence of another development organization, government aid or even the police in these neighborhoods. One Guatemalan recently said, “I never stopped to think there are families with children living there. I just thought they were all thieves and gang members. I thought nothing good could come out of La Limonada.”
What does Lemonade Sponsorship look like?
Lemonade staff daily seek to “learn, love and be loved” by these image-bearers with the belief God loves them, has plans for their lives to prosper and not to harm them, to give them a hope and a future.
What are the primary goals of their sponsorship program?
1. Gang Prevention
2. Showing the children another option
The government cannot afford to send these impoverished children to school for more than half a day due to the capacity of underfunded schools. Without the Lemonade academies, many of these children would be unattended in a gang-filled neighborhood for the remainder of the day. Instead, 220 children are brought into a bright and cheerfully painted academy with teachers who love them, help them with their homework, supplement what they are not learning in a half day of school and teach the Bible. A stark contrast to the tense streets and dark homes where kids grow up fast, the academies are filled with light, hope and laughter. Kids can be kids here. They play with their friends, enjoy what often is the only meal of the day, receive vitamins and brush their teeth. Occasionally they may receive other items such as shoes or school supplies based on the need. Every child is known and the staff has visited their homes. Their needs are unique, and uniquely addressed as best as they are able.
Two Unique Aspects of Lemonade Sponsorship
This sponsorship program has two very unique aspects in addition to this. The first is a resident child psychologist in each school. Due to the rampant physical and sexual abuse, neglect and ongoing trauma (i.e. blood on the streets from the shooting the night before, constant death and living in fear), the psychologist has a special room in each academy reserved for play therapy and trauma care. These were pleasant and beautiful rooms filled with peace despite the heaviness unveiled there.
Sponsorship funding is placing mostly local Guatemalans with huge hearts and strong faith in Jesus in the path of these children, who are known, prayed with and loved. They are faithfully present for the children giving words of encouragement and hope for another course of life. You cannot mass produce this kind of investment or reproduce the power of relationship. Staff are hired more for their hearts and offered monthly skills training. They are also given support and mentorship from the Spiritual Director Inna as they work with such spiritual intensity every day.
Lemonade makes no grand promises or claims about the success of their programs. No one has gone before them in addressing these unique and hard realities. Yes, there are the goals I mentioned above with strategic and prayerful methods. But they are seeking faithful obedience to follow God to draw near to the oppressed and love the least of these. The results are His.
Meeting Our Sponsored Child, Cristian
I mentioned briefly in Day 2 post about our beautiful time meeting Cristian. We gave him a small bag of gifts including Spiderman bubbles. Such joy! It took him a couple of tries to know how to do it but he was persistent. We cheered him on along with all of his classmates. None of whom showed signs of jealousy. They all seemed truly happy to tease him out of his shyness and celebrate the visit of the gringos.
We later visited his home where we met his step-sisters and blind grandmother. He sat attentively as we drilled his sisters with questions about his parents. His mother works every other day from 6:00 am – 8:00 pm cleaning at a mall. What would this five year old do during the mornings if he were not in this academy? He is too young for public school and it is dangerous to play outside the house.
Cristian’s shy face lit up as we handed him a letter, which contained a picture of us on the top of South Mountain. It nearly brought me to tears to see him look closely at the photo. He held it up side-ways as if he was reading it carefully, not even knowing it wasn’t right side up. I asked him to sit in my lap and let Tim read the Spanish translation. We told him we loved him, would be thinking about him and praying for him, our hopes he would learn much in school and be very happy.
Do I believe my prayers could impact Cristian’s life as much as anything else the sponsorship provides? Could knowing two gringos came from very far to meet him, hug him and tell him he is a special boy whom Jesus loves make a difference in the course of his life? Could he believe there are more possibilities than joining a gang? Could God answer prayers and provide work in miraculous ways even with a La Limonada address? Could God protect him from harm in such a violent place? Could God draw near to him giving him light in the midst of darkness? Does prayer make a difference?
We believe it does. We believe God brought us into his life for a very specific purpose. And we humbly ask God would do above and beyond our prayers for Cristian.
- ‘Bloggers Trip to Guatemala’
- ‘Guatemala Preparation’
- ‘Day 1: Violence & the Aroma of Christ’,
- ‘Day 2: Denied. Precious. Joyful’,
- ‘Day 3: Following Upward’.
As I continue to process and pray about this intense experience, I will continue to blog about it. Have no fear.