Jimmy Martin gets emotional when he talks about one particular little girl growing up in a garbage dump in Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Not all impoverished communities are as hard to reach as Songwut’s, but the lack of quality education can isolate them just as much. For many families, costs associated with school — tuition, uniforms, supplies — make education inaccessible. But graduating with job skills is crucial to helping children break the poverty cycle.
“I gave her a plate,” Martin recalls, his voice cracking, about a girl he met in the same garbage dump Nayeli lives near. “But she didn’t have a glass. She looked over — and there’s garbage everywhere down there — and she saw a glass. She went and picked it up out of the garbage and brought it to me to fill up. I took my handkerchief and tried to wipe it off.” He poured her drink into that glass.
Martin was one of several volunteers from Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville, Georgia, helping a church in Guatemala City minister to families whose tiny, rickety houses are located inside the city’s huge garbage dump. The local church, Cristo es el Camino, and its pastor, Saul Perez, were serving meals out of the back of a van, just as they have done at least once a week for years, when Martin poured that drink for the girl.
Since that time several years ago, many good things have happened in that impoverished neighborhood, thanks mainly to the cooperation of two Christian churches separated by more than 2,500 miles but joined in a common vision. Together, they bought property and built a new school just outside the gate of the dump, improved conditions of many of the homes, planted other churches in the area (one of them inside the landfill), and held Bible studies. Most important, they have demonstrated that God’s love is everywhere, even in a garbage dump.
So how did two churches with different languages and so far apart get connected?
About 15 years ago, Robbie Christmas, then a youth leader at Lakewood, learned about the needs of Guatemala and chaperoned a group of young people on mission trips to the Central American country, according to Dennis Jackson, leader of the missions team at Lakewood. They led Bible studies for children in an elementary school set up in a rented building just outside the dump.
On one of his trips, Christmas heard that the school’s sponsor was pulling its funding and that the school would have to shut down. He came home and asked if the Lakewood church would support the school.
“That would’ve been a major portion of the missions budget at that time,” Jackson says. “But we prayed about it and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ It was a stretch. It was pretty much a miracle.”