Global mission partnerships can be challenging for both the U.S church and the local ministries. Recently Faith to Action was able to interview two partners who have journeyed together to strengthen families for three years to learn about their experience working together. Faith Lutheran Church is located in Appleton, Wisconsin and Puerto Abajo CarePoint supports families through medical care, counseling, after school programs, and much more in Guatemala.
Faith Lutheran Church: In the past, our congregation never had a single international mission focus. Our congregation would send money to various places, send school supplies, backpacks, and clothing to other locations, and a trip here and there. Proposing a single, laser-focus on international missions was something completely new and was met, initially, with some resistance.
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: We [the founders] were very lonely working for this village. We tried to use some limited local funds and our own to support a small amount of children. We could afford to have a weekly meal for around 50 people, rented two very small houses, and supported around 150 children with school supplies at the start of the school year.
How did your partnership come together?
Faith Lutheran Church: Our relationship/partnership with Puerta Abajo came about through Children’s HopeChest. One of our pastors attended a session at a “Best Practices in Ministry” conference and listened to [their] presentation. Through several email exchanges, phone calls, and a presentation to our Mission Board, [we] decided to pursue a long-term relationship in ministry with Children’s HopeChest. Participating in a Vision Trip with HopeChest lead to the current relationship with Puerta Abajo. After sharing the mission and vision of Children’s HopeChest and sharing success stories from other HopeChest partners, our congregation decided to move forward. The impact was immediate on our launch weekend when we had members sign up to sponsor about 160 children that weekend!
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: It was coincidental. We have heard of Children’s HopeChest, as one of our sons collaborates with them being a host for the American groups who come to visit the “carepoints”. So when Hope Chest expanded their coverage, we were asked whether we would like to partner with a church in the US. After some members of Faith Lutheran visited us, they decided to become our partners in this ministry.
What has transpired within your church because of this partnership?
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: With the partnership of Faith Lutheran, support has multiplied manifold! Now our weekly lunches feed 230 people, we support 250 children with their school needs, nourishment and medicines. Children are continuing with their school education. Before the partnership with Faith Lutheran Church, we had delivered around 45 wood saving stoves with the help of different sponsors, both locally and internationally. This was another area we were interested in because the community is used to cook in open fires. This had caused them to have many respiratory problems. Now, with the partnership of Faith Lutheran Church, we have delivered 30 more, which makes a total of 75. In 2017, after starting the partnership, we hired the help of three collaborators: One who is in charge of the library and internet room and of the cleaning at the premises, a caretaker, who is in charge of all the belongings of the carepoint, and a cook who is in charge of preparing the weekly lunch. In 2018, we hired another person [who] manages a database of 370 children, their birth certificates, their school reports, and delivery of milk to infants, and our other workers respond directly to him. Recently we hired the help of another person, who will be in charge of supervising the children when they do homework.
Faith Lutheran Church: Our congregation has responded to this new relationship in an amazing way. We have sent three teams so far on three separate partner visits. Each trip involved fundraising for specific projects. Each fundraiser we did to help purchase supplies for the projects was met and exceeded. We have also developed relationships with two other churches – one in Oshkosh, WI and one in California. These two churches have also become involved in fundraisers and trips with us because of relationships between our members and some of theirs.
What advice can you share about how to build a strong partnership?
Faith Lutheran Church: Be patient and be clear in and consistent in communication with the leadership within the congregation and [partner organizations]. We have also learned that our goal is not to “save” the people of Puerta Abajo – that is God’s job. We are there to love and grow with them, learn from them, help teach them, and use the gifts that God has blessed us with to share with them and for them to share their gifts with us.
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: We all are good in some area which can be useful to another. We have different resources too. If we build partnerships, we can combine these abilities and resources for the good of the people we serve. Ecclesiastes 4 describes this fact very well! It is very difficult to work being a loner, and few things can be achieved. We can build partnerships to strengthen our work, to make it work and work better! So we would say, do not be a loner in this kind of work, a partnership will enrich and enhance what you do, and will have better results! The relationship we build in a partnership is also very important. If a good relationship is developed, we will also develop trust, friendship, accountability and good opportunities to share time, resources, support, etc. And everything, for the glory of the One who has called us both to this ministry.
How does this partnership support keeping families together?
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: Family is central in this community and culture, although they face many relational problems. During every meal we have small talks with the children and their moms on the importance of valuing each other at home, on respecting each other and on the importance of both, parents and children, doing their best for their families. The course the children take on values made great emphasis on the importance of families. When we visit the homes, we are told about their family problems. It is a good time to give some advice and to pray for them. The counseling sessions also aim to help families keep together.
Have your ideas of how to care for orphans and vulnerable children shifted due to this partnership?
Faith Lutheran Church: Absolutely! The children and families of Puerta Abajo have been such a blessing. We have learned that it takes more than just providing something for them – ie. Money, structures, clothing. In fact, focusing on providing things like that can do more harm than good. Helping them understand that our goal is for them is to be able to succeed in life with minimal outside influence and not creating an environment of dependence. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and deserve to have the opportunities to succeed.
Puerto Abajo CarePoint: [Faith Lutheran] has witnessed firsthand the condition of this community in their trips, so we think that coming to visit it and the children is very important. They approach us to ask the questions they have about the community. The mission or main objective of our work at Puerta Abajo CarePoint is to help the needy families of the village of Puerta Abajo to improve their lives spiritually, educationally and socially. We want to show them the love of God in practical ways. The partnership between Faith Lutheran Church and Puerto Abajo CarePoint is an encouragement for all U.S. churches. With a humble approach, commitment to best practices, and help of an intermediary organization these partnerships provide a mutually beneficial relationship that enables both partners to step more fully into the work God is doing.
Learn more about building strong church partnerships through Faith to Action’s Short-Term Missions: Guidance to Support Orphans and Vulnerable Children.