I spent the day Saturday with Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura, both passionate and visionary church leaders in Belize. No question about it, they stirred up my faith, challenged my half-hearted commitment, and embodied the true definition of the word “pastor” in ways most of us rarely encounter.
Pastor Ed was the leader of a small, struggling church. He and his wife felt called to intentionally and proactively launch a community children’s ministry. But when they sought the input of their church leadership, the vision was voted down. They took it to their denominational leadership and received the same negative response. Not able to shake their sense of calling, they stepped down from their church and launched a children’s ministry with no safety net, no support systems.
Now, a few years later, Pastor Ed and his wife lead Koinonia ministries–a revolutionary children’s ministry in their town of Orange Walk, Belize. Ed told me that in Belize, children begin taking on significant responsibilities at about age 5, and rarely get a chance to be children. So a big part of their ministries is just to allow kids to be kids. Their ministry might not look revolutionary to American church leaders who see robust and well-financed children’s ministry all the time; but in Belize, hardly anyone is doing stuff like this.
I happened to be in Orange Walk on one of three Saturdays in the year when Koinonia holds their “children’s fair.” At the fair, kids brought in little play money they had “earned” in a variety of ways over the last few months. Then they used the “money” to play carnival games where they won school supplies (there are no free schools in Belize, and both the cost of school and the cost of school supplies is a significant hurdle for many families).
Check out the joy on these kids’ faces:
Oh, and as the parents of these hundreds of kids started to hang around, many of them began asking for a church. Koinonia church now has about 80 people (large for a Belizian church) meeting under an awning on the side of Ed’s house.
And Ed has a vision for training children’s workers all over Belize and Central America. He now has about 200 children’s ministry leaders from all denominations (ministries across denominational lines is extremely rare in Belize), including Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and even Old Order Mennonite, coming to Koinonia three times a year for training. Next week, Ed and some of his young leaders are traveling to Guatemala and Honduras to lead children’s ministry training sessions.
Ed and his wife have basically given up everything to follow this calling; but he is clearly living the fullness of life in a way that most people never realize.
Then Ed took me to meet Pastor Rosaura. Honestly, I found her little village of Caledonia a bit depressing. Or, at least, let’s say it would be a tough place to minister. Isolated and small (2000 people), with all the societal challenges that come with being a poor, isolated village. Rosaura and her church leadership team greeted us warmly and shared with passion about their very, very local commitment. This woman has a love for her village that is palpable.
Two years ago, she was deeply discouraged. Her tiny church was struggling, and none of her vision for her village was being realized. But through an introduction from Pastor Ed, Praying Pelican Missions showed up and asked if they could bring groups to help her. Hearing her tell the story of these past few years, and how things have very much turned around for this little (but growing) church, she was full of hope. And what was clear to me was that it wasn’t really about the projects that the visiting PPM groups did; it was that someone saw them, that the groups who were willing to come to Caledonia were a clear indicator to Rosaura that God had not forgotten them.
One of the best stories Rosaura told me was how she and her church leaders felt called to “anoint” their village. But they weren’t sure how to do it in a way that didn’t create friction or alienation. So after praying about it for a while, they collected hundreds of pebbles. They put the pebbles in a large bag and coated them with oil, praying over them. Then, in the middle of the night, they prayer-walked through the entire village and dropped a pebble in each yard.
Here’s what struck me about Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura: they need Aarons and Hurs to hold up their arms (just like Aaron and Hur did for Moses when his arms grew tired while the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on their way out of captivity). Sure, they could use funding and resources. And, yes, the PPM teams that come and work with them are absolutely helpful. But these two leaders are not short of vision, not short of passion, and deeply know a God who is not short of meeting any need. What they DO need is people who say, “We believe in you, and we believe in your vision; and however we can help you, we’re committed to encouraging you with our presence.”