I'd like for you to read about how being a part of the Cadañino ministry has impacted one of our students.
We serve vulnerable children who are living difficult lives. While we know they face challenges, it's not until they trust us that we see the extent of just how hard things are for them.
This story was shared by Luke Dove, the youth pastor at the Community Impact Center in Colonia Santa Fe.
Recently we held the first retreat for the youth in the Cadañino ministry. It was done in partnership with Casa de Libertad, our local church. It was a great day, filled with laughs, games, a sermon and a time of worship, etc, and we closed the day by opening up the floor for testimonies. As we had studied the book of Mark with the students, we had discussed the importance of sharing our stories, and we wanted to provide an opportunity for them to do that. One of our teachers started us off, really pouring out her heart, and then we gave the students a chance to share.
One girl, whom we'll call "Mary," got up and began to speak. She's a student in my morning youth class, 16 years old, and a smart girl, but quiet and not very outspoken.
She talked about her family how things had been really hard for them. Her grandfather, an important figure in her life, had been arrested and put in jail for allegedly trafficking narcotics. She spoke about the bullying in school, how all her friends distanced themselves from her, that she was accused of being a drug dealer and that everything she had was from dirty money. She was made fun of, abandoned by her friends, and her family was in shambles dealing with the repercussions. It was so bad that she had to change schools, making her feel even more alone.
She worried that if she opened up at all or even shared her name, people might figure out who she was, and the cycle of bullying would start all over again. She went through all of this while her family lost everything and ended in complete poverty during the pandemic.
To be honest, I don't know if her grandfather is guilty or not, and it doesn't matter to me. Regardless, this young girl's life has been shattered.
As she stood there that day, under a tin roof, on a mountain, I realized the depth of what she was dealing with in her life. Though I'd talked to her many times, there was so much I didn't know. At school, she felt alone. At home, she felt like just another mouth to feed. To her friends, she was a pariah. To the world, she was a statistic, one of the thousands of children in Guatemala who grow up without the resources they need to succeed, unlikely to finish school or have a career.
Most of the circumstances in her life had led her to believe that she didn't matter.
But then she began to speak about Cadañino. Specifically, about the youth group and what the series of Mark had meant to her. How she had learned that the God of the universe knew who she was. That He loved her. That she was His daughter. That He had come to earth to die and pay the price for her sins so that she might be saved.
To my surprise, she began to talk about me and what I meant to her. How my words had opened up the Bible to her in a new way helped her think about things differently. How, despite my imperfect Spanish and imperfect teaching, God had used our study of the book of Mark to touch her deeply.
She shared how I took time with her one day when I had just started serving at Cadanino. She came in feeling especially alone and in a dark place. In addition to all these other things she had been going through, she had just lost a family member to sickness.
After I finished the class, I asked for a volunteer to pray and close out the class time. She volunteered, which was surprising as she never spoke up. As she began to pray, she became choked up, struggling for words and just clearly not able to finish. I stepped in, finished the prayer, and we moved on. The students left for their next class, and I pulled her aside and asked if she was okay. She broke down crying in my arms, and we walked into the office for privacy.
Slowly and haltingly, she began to share what she was going through. One sentence at a time, through her and my tears, it all came out. I just listened. I knew that there were nice pastoral things and Bible verses that I should have shared with her, but none of them came to mind.
But it didn't matter. She talked, I listened, and we cried. That is what mattered. I took time away from everything else I had to do and spent it with her. She was a young girl who felt like she was a burden to everyone in her life, a number to her teachers at school, and a nameless face of poverty and systemic issues beyond her control.
She kept asking me if I had to go out and teach the other kids, and I told her no, my place is here with you.
As she shared this story with the other students at the retreat, she said something profound. She said that at this moment, for the first time in a long time, she felt that she mattered, that she was important, and that her life had value.
She finishes up her story by saying that she knows that Cadañino, (which means Each or Every Child in Spanish) is more than just a name. It's something her teachers believe.
Once again, I find myself crying alongside her, and not just me, but other students as well. She gave words to the pain and suffering that so many of our students feel.
My job as a youth pastor is to teach these students the Bible, but it's more than that. It's taking the time to stop whatever else I'm doing, put it on pause, and say, right now, at this moment, I need to be here for this one kid.
One of our students' favorite worship songs is the Spanish translation of the song "Reckless Love" which is called "Love without Conditions" in Spanish. It's about the parable of the shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the 1.
Hearing her share about how much the time I spent with her meant to her makes me realize that that is what we do at Cadañino. We strive, however imperfectly, to teach, impart and live as an example of the never-ending love of our Savior who leaves the 99 to pursue the heart of the one.
Why? Because we believe, as our Heavenly Father does, that every life, whether it is Mary's, or another one of our students, matters, that they are important, that they are loved, and that they deserve to feel that love.
This is just one story of one student whose life has been impacted by Cadañino. Now, multiply that by 200 students enrolled in our programs and add in their families who we also serve, and it will give you a glimpse of what God is doing here in Guatemala to redeem and restore shattered lives through the love and hope that only the Gospel brings.