Several years ago, VisionTrust Guatemala Director Rut Chamalé asked if I’d like to visit the Los Verdes Learning Center, their newest program at the time. Without hesitation, I said “yes!” As we pulled up to a small, brightly painted church building, I caught a glimpse of the children playing on the concrete patio outside. Eager to interact with the children, I offered to assist the teachers, leading the children in creative play activities. While crafting play-dough sculptures and pretending to be firefighters and doctors, smiles and laughter abounded. One young boy, Riverí, caught my attention. He had a spunkiness that set him apart from the other children. Little did I know that our paths would cross again, years later, in the wake of a heart-breaking situation.
This October, I returned to the Los Verdes Learning Center with a short term mission team and was completely blown away by the incredible growth and progress that had happened over the course of a few years. The Learning Center had more than tripled in size and is now meeting in their own facility thanks to the faithful and generous partnership of Connection Pointe Christian Church.
When the children arrived on Monday morning, right away I noticed Riverí and remembered that we had met on my first visit. That same twinkle in his eyes shone brightly has he participated in the games, crafts, and activities the team members had prepared. As I laughed with the team members about the confidence that exceeded his years, they shared a bit of Riverí’s story. In 2014, Riverí was left with his aunt and was told that his mother had gone to Guatemala City. Unbeknownst to Riverí, she was headed to the States and would not return. With his father already out of the picture, Riverí eventually had to face the reality that both his parents had abandoned him. Four-year-old Riverí battled sadness, leaning into the Learning Center staff for comfort and physical affection. During these difficult years, his teachers surrounded him with love, creating a place where he can not only heal, but also belong. The road has been a difficult one, but despite all odds, Riverí is growing up to be a friendly, energetic and adventuresome child.
As the 2016 school year came to a close, Riverí celebrated an important milestone alongside his classmates—graduating preschool! Each class performed a special choreographed song for the families in the audience. Without surprise, when Riverí’s class walked on stage, he was stationed front and center. As the music began, Riverí jumped into action, dancing and singing with all of his heart. At that moment, I realized behind his unbridled joy was a story of heartache and pain that I could never even begin to comprehend. And I also couldn’t help but wonder how many other children at the Learning Center are finding strength in the joy of the Lord, despite devastating life situations. Through the Learning Center staff, stateside supporters, the local Guatemalan church and most importantly, the Holy Spirit, the lives of these children and families are being transformed. Where desperation could reign, hope abounds. Where sorrow could destroy, gladness restores. Where abandonment could embitter, love overcomes. Let us join together in a song of praise, for “the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” Psalm 126:3