We didn’t expect the rain on the day we went to Escuela Oficial Urbana Mixta in Cajolá. The school directors had asked us to speak outside in the schoolyard to a group of about 200 middle school students, so we traveled the thirty minutes out into the country, praying for God’s wisdom and for open ears to hear.
It was a beautiful, partly-cloudy day way up in the mountains, and we arrived just as students were walking into the school. Typical skirts and blue uniform sweaters filled the street as we walked in.
They all settled in for the assembly just as the rain began. Just as we were about to begin, the microphone malfunctioned. So we grabbed our jackets and mustered up our loudest voices and began. The school directors introduced John and Tracy as the school pastors, a true honor when you consider that this is a public school, and not only that – it is a public, indigenous Mayan, rural school.
Tracy stepped forward and shared with the students about how God wants us to be wise and discerning and avoid meddling in things of darkness. A number of these kids have been playing around with divination, unaware of the doors it can open to their hearts. I was able to talk to them a little more about the same issue and encourage them to seek the source of Truth instead of a copycat. We ended with Jeremiah 29:11.
Because here’s the thing about schools in Guatemala (and much of Central America): Public school isn’t entirely free after 6th grade. You have to pay for uniforms, registration, and sometimes even tuition, and if you’re a poor farmer or home businessman, it’s a stretch to be able to afford school beyond that. Along with this comes the expectation that girls will stay in the home to help take care of the family and not leave home until they are married. This means that it’s an exceptional thing if a young lady in rural areas is able to attend high school and graduate, and it’s an even bigger deal if she gets to attend college, obtain a degree, and pursue a career. On the flip side, if a young man is unable to afford school, he will either begin learning a trade or simply stay home and help the family in whatever way he can. Hope and future sometimes feel far-fetched and more like the luck of the draw.
We turned the microphone (which they’d been able to get up and running after Tracy began) over to John and his translator as they shared with the parents of these children about their authority as leaders in the home and about what Godly parenting looks like. John shared in Spanish, and the translator shared in Mam Quetzaltenango.
While John shared, I had some time to talk to Jakeline. This art teacher works tirelessly in sometimes less than desirable classroom conditions to help students connect to themselves and to their families through art. She teaches sometimes up to 45 students per class in rooms that sometimes don’t even have table tops due to expense. Jakeline could ask these young people to imitate Picasso or create the next Rembrandt (and sometimes she does). But the pictures she showed me were of students’ drawings of home and family life. One of her greatest projects is having students create these portraits, then write letters of thanks to their parents for all they do and provide. Then she has the parents come to a class assembly, and students surprise their parents with the drawings and letters read aloud. As students share, she says that tears often abound. Hearts and families connect through art all because of a teacher who loves Jesus and loves hard on the people in her community.
As she told her story, two little sweethearts played on the stairs behind us. We decided to take pictures with and of them, and their eyes widened and giggles abounded.
Then we heard John begin to pray with the crowd of parents who’d shown up to hear what God laid on his heart. I looked ahead of me and watched heads bowed as prayer in two languages was lifted up to the Father for these beautiful families.
After the prayer, the families filed into the classrooms to pick up their children’s report cards. I got a chance to peek into the rooms to see what the classrooms looked like. If you look closely, you’ll see the Spanish alongside the Mam language.
As I’ve thought about that day, I’m grateful for the opportunities to meet the teachers there and hear a little of their stories. I’m grateful for the chance to speak to those teens. But what really lasts after we’re gone? What impact is really made?
Connection. Connection between the hearts of children and their parents. We saw it both in the way we were able to share with every member of these families and in the way Jakeline continues building relationships in her school community.
You can go and donate goods or money. You can build a building or hand out salvation bracelets and tracts. You can shout from a street corner or pray in the center of town. And none of that is wrong. But if the Truth can be imparted somehow into the hearts of the families, and if the families can connect with each other more deeply through that Truth, a stronger community is formed. After everything else is said and done – after all resources are depleted and visitors gone – that connection remains. And that connection is what endures.