“You are moving where… to Guatemala? Why?” Because God said, “Rescue my children.” That became my short answer to everyone’s question, and at 50 years of age, the question seemed to be what everyone was asking me. The journey had actually started two years prior. In 2010, my husband Mike and I were on a five-week sabbatical. As a regional pastor, Mike thought brushing up on his high school Spanish skills would be beneficial when serving his colleagues from diverse churches.
After the first day of class, he came running down the stairs to meet me beaming like a young schoolboy and talking about how his high school Spanish skills were coming back to him! As for me, nothing could be further from the truth. I had very little experience with Spanish, and within days my Spanish teacher was as miserable as I was. Together, we came up with a plan to go on daily field trips instead of having class, which allowed me the opportunity to both hear the language and to learn about the Guatemalan culture. My first priority was to visit schools and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that served Guatemalan children. My trips eventually concluded when I decided to volunteer at a nearby malnutrition clinic for toddlers.
After Mike’s daily language classes and my field trips, we would meet at Central Park. He would share his exciting day of conjugating verbs, and I’d describe the beautiful children I had met in classrooms or the hospital. We would often walk to the market to get items for dinner and then retire to our apartment to prepare our meal. Typically, our evenings were spent with Mike studying Spanish as I continued my graduate school studies.
One night, however, changed the trajectory of our lives. In the middle of the night I was awakened when I heard “RESCUE MY CHILDREN,” yet no one was in the room, and Mike was soundly asleep next to me. What? Rescue whose children? Are children trapped somewhere? The next several hours were spent praying, crying, and wrestling with what those three puzzling words could possibly mean. Was God really calling me to rescue children, and if so, from what? Mike and I both had successful careers, family, and two grown children back in the States. Surprisingly, my fears and questions eventually subsided and were replaced with peace as I fell back to sleep.
The next day proceeded as normal, but when I met my husband at the park, he exclaimed, “Carol, there is just something about this place and the people here… I could actually see myself living here one day!” I stared at him blankly, and I stammered, “Well honey, let me tell you what God said last night.” Now, it was his turn to stare as I shared the previous night’s experience with him. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the cobbled streets of Antigua, contemplating what the words “rescue my children” could possibly mean. I felt assured that we were to serve in some capacity in Guatemala, and Mike was certain that whatever God was asking us to do could be accomplished from the States; besides, we had financial, spiritual, and family responsibilities back home.
The conversation that began in the park in Guatemala continued over the next couple of weeks as our summer sabbatical came to a close. It was time to head home, and we had no more clarity then of how to rescue God’s children than that first night when I heard God’s voice.
Once back home in the Carolinas, I returned to my classroom of cheerful first-graders and Mike to his ministry, but unanswered questions lingered in our hearts. We committed our concerns to prayer and eventually decided to share our story with a few trusted friends who also agreed to pray for God to give us wisdom about rescuing God’s children.
In December of that same year, we organized a mission trip for church groups, colleagues, and families to serve in Guatemala. Volunteers stayed at an orphanage and supported the work of the missionaries. We built a house, served in vacation Bible school, distributed food, constructed a chicken coop, and assembled a few wood-burning stoves. As relationships were being developed with the missionary staff, I received an invitation to provide professional development for the teachers working at their school, Prince of Peace.
During the professional development, I learned about students’ plight to receive an education and of their limited opportunities. Children in neighboring areas often worked thirty-five hours a week. Seven-year-old children could be seen heading out to farms with their machetes dangling along their side. Many families had to pay 700 Quetzales (roughly $100 USD) for uniforms and supplies for their children to receive the government-provided “free” education. It was inspiring to see that the children were simply thankful to be safe and well-cared for, but the lack of access to educational opportunities had a profound impact on me.
Limited supplies, schools, teachers, funds, and a lack of diversity in instructional strategies had contributed to the average education for the majority of Guatemalans being at the third-grade level. These children needed to be rescued and given food, education, and perhaps most importantly, an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty. But how could we support ourselves and start a nonprofit? The answer came through a chain of events that led me to an international teaching opportunity in Guatemala at Colegio Interamericano.
Starting my first international assignment at a “mature” age was an eye-opener. Despite my 20 years in education, in many respects I felt like a newbie! I didn’t speak Spanish, and because I preceded Mike’s arrival into the country by a few weeks, I had to learn how to get around while not reading the road signs nor understanding the language of people around me. The school became my safe place. There, native teachers were bilingual and helped me learn about both the school and the culture.
Eventually, friendships developed, and trust was established. The young international teachers began coming to our house for dinner, and then eventually, a Bible Study followed. We shared our hearts about the plight of children in neighboring villages whose lives differed greatly from those we loved in our private, international school. Interamericano teachers began to collaborate with our efforts, working in the villages, feeding children, building homes, collecting and distributing school supplies, and providing free professional development and instructional supplies for local schools. The international and local teachers’ enthusiasm was contagious as their students began saving snack money in order to sponsor children to attend school, purchasing materials to construct a stove for a feeding program, donating shoes and clothes, and giving up their Saturdays to participate with their teachers and families to build sustainable chicken coops in the villages.
Following my two-year teaching commitment at Colegio Interamericano, we returned home to our careers, but our hearts remained. It’s now been nine years since the rescue journey began, and the ministry continues to grow. A full-time staff of Guatemalans now manages the day to day operations of our non-profit, Give and Teach, and we travel back to spend the summers hosting teams and serving in villages. Through dedicated donors, the feeding program now reaches ten villages, 64 students are currently sponsored to attend school, Guatemalan school districts are collaborating with Give and Teach as volunteer teachers travel to provide free professional development for teachers, three schools now have traveling classroom libraries, and numerous micro businesses have begun. Land has been purchased, and the vision of a lab school, vocational training center, medical clinic, and home for children is underway.
From a very still voice in the middle of the night to mission teams, donors, and an international school community, a non-profit was established called Give and Teach. Our motto was mirrored from the old adage – If you give a man a fish he can eat for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, he can live for a lifetime. The mission – give to an immediate need and teach for a sustainable future. Why? It’s simple: To Rescue God’s Children.