After hundreds of meetings on Zoom, Facebook Live, and phone throughout the pandemic, I finally met face-to-face with the church pastors Willow Creek and Enlace serve last December. One pastor after another, some with tears in their eyes, shared stories of suffering, death, loss, and pain. But their stories were also ones of hope, love, and new opportunities to advance God’s kingdom.
Their resilience reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s words, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:8-10).
From Guatemala and El Salvador, these stories stood out as particularly applicable to our lives and our churches.
Nancy is a single mother of three. Before the pandemic, she sold fried plantains and yuca chips on the street and struggled to pay her mortgage. When lockdowns closed her business, she lost her home and her ability to feed her children.
Pastor Byron and a group of community leaders heard Nancy's story. They brought her a food basket with supplies for three months. They connected her with a neighbor who lent Nancy a food pushcart. They also raised money to help Nancy start a new food business, yet she still felt anxious and alone. A couple of women from the church began calling Nancy every week and visiting her at least once a month. She began to open up about her anxiety, depression, and fear. Eventually, Nancy asked to join the church and accepted the Lord. She and her children have now attended Pastor Byron's church for over a year.
Pastor Marvin and Chicken Farms in El Salvador
Pastor Marvin and his congregation have served their community for many years. Yet, as lockdowns closed their church and prohibited large gatherings, they felt unable to serve the community as they always had.
As people began losing their jobs, Pastor Marvin and church leaders asked community leaders how the church could help. Church and community leaders suggested starting family chicken farms as a source of income. Enlace offered training and start-up capital for the first 20 businesses.
Last month, chicken farmers gathered to celebrate their first production cycle and sales. Four of the farmers had already grown enough to hire additional people. Others had plans to buy more chickens and increase coop sizes. Both farmers and church leaders welled with hope and excitement. In one community, a local leader who was once obstinate about church work asked Pastor Marvin if he would be interested in starting a Bible study in his home. To date, that Bible study has grown to involve 70 families.
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