Making Ministry Look like Child’s Play

Los Olivos Church uses playground to reach community

Watching kids whirl around a tire swing at the new playground in Sumpango Sacatepequez, Guatemala, you’d think they had done this a thousand times.

Truth is, the brightly colored slides and tubes make up the first playground of its kind in this agricultural town of 35,000 people.

The playground was installed in August by a team of 26 people organized by Kids Around the World, a children’s ministry that builds playgrounds, and Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, Lodi, WI. It overlooks a hillside lot owned by Los Olivos Church, one of the largest churches in Sumpango and the first Evangelical Free church in Guatemala.

Giving kids a place to laugh and tumble around might seem like a low spiritual priority to some; but leaders at Los Olivos see it as a grand opportunity.

The big idea? Reach the kids with the good news of Jesus, and their families will follow.

[Check out the related video: Playground in Sumpango.]

“In order to reach the children and youth, our church needed to have something attractive to them,” says missionary Oscar Chiquitó, who is also project direct at Los Olivos. “That’s why we came up to the congregation and said, ‘OK, we need to build a playground for the children, because we know if we have the playground, children will come.’

“At first it was really hard, because they thought, ‘Why are we doing this?’ In their minds, they always think that the church needs to care only for the spiritual life of people. But at the end, God was able to convince the people that this project would really attract the children and youth.”

City on a hill

The playground is just the start. Reaching older kids also means hosting sports. And in Guatemala, that means building a soccer field.

So on the terrace above the playground, the church is constructing an artificial-turf-over-concrete field. Built to withstand weather and negate the cost of maintaining natural grass, the field is one of only two outdoor soccer facilities in all of Sumpango. The other one is only hard-packed dirt.

Los Olivos is hoping to raise $20,000 for the turf from American partners soon. The church plans to use the field without turf until then.

That the soccer field exists at all testifies to the collective vision of the church, which has about 800 attenders. While the playground and the retaining wall separating it from the soccer field were funded through donations from Kids Around the World and U.S. churches, Los Olivos funded the field entirely on its own — $8,000 for 800 bags of concrete. This, in a town where people typically live on about $300 a month.

All it took to raise the money was for the skeptics to see the joy in the mob of laughing kids at the playground’s opening ceremony in August.

“When they saw that the children were having fun, when they saw that the children were enjoying this place, they got really excited,” Chiquitó says. “So they really bought it. And we really praise God, because we don’t have rich people in our church – we have poor people. But they were giving sacrificial offerings.”

Playing with priorities

Los Olivos’ original plan was to build a new worship facility on the land first, then do other projects – the field, the playground, a proposed school and perhaps a health clinic – later. However, Los Olivos favored the playground over the worship center as an extension of its outward focus on Sumpango and the surrounding area.

“They really felt like that’s what the community needed versus what the church needed,” says Paul Haan, a youth pastor from Hope Free Church in Manitowoc, WI, who has led several youth teams on trips to Sumpango. Haan’s latest team helped build the facility’s retaining wall.

“That’s a real testament to sharing the gospel,” Haan says. “It’s much more of a gift, and a gift is a pretty good demonstration of the gospel message.”

Playgrounds can play a key role in boosting a church’s impact in a community, says Kids Around the World Regional Vice President Chris Marshall. The $10,000 playground erected in Sumpango is a good example.

“What they are saying to that city is, ‘We believe in children, we love children, and we’re committed to your children,’” Marshall says. “It’s a disarming tool to get into a community in an even more powerful way.”

Brian Erickson, senior pastor at Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, says he values the vision of Los Olivos because of the church’s heavy emphasis on evangelism.

“There is such a felt need down there,” says Erickson, whose church has sent six short-term teams to work in Sumpango. “They don’t have money. They don’t have clean water. There’s a lot of illness. When you go down there and you meet felt needs in the name of Christ, it just sets you up for being able to then build off that and share Christ with people who are very needy and in a good position to receive Christ.”

Chiquitó sees the playground/field project as a lesson in how vision trumps dire circumstance in God’s work.

“One of my goals as a leader of the church is to bring the vision to them,” he says. “The Bible says, ‘Without vision, the people perish [Proverbs 29:18].’ Even though we don’t have the means, if we have vision, we know for sure that God will provide the means so we can really reach the vision that, as a church, we have for this place.”

Story by Lincoln, EFCA ReachGlobal Missionary Journalist

* * * * *

Discipleship questions

  1. Per capita income in America is almost $40,000, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Per capita income in Sumpango is about $3,500. What can Los Olivos’ generosity toward the work of Christ teach us about giving?
  2. Read Mark 10:13-16. Talk about or consider yourself the value Jesus placed on children and how the vision that Los Olivos has for ministry to children fits in with that.
  3. How can ministry to children reach entire households with the gospel?
  4. Oscar likes to quote Proverbs 29:18. Read that verse and talk about the vision your church has for ministry. What are the strong points of your church’s vision? What might be lacking right now?
  5. Name some ways you and your church could impact your community with the gospel without having all the funds to do everything right away.

* * * * *

CONNECT

latinamerica@efca.org

SERVE

If you are interested in sending a team to work in Sumpango, write to Oscar Chiquitó at chsoscar@hotmail.com.

PRAY
  • That God will continue to provide means for Los Olivos to fulfill the vision God has given them for Sumpango and the surrounding villages.
  • That children would accept Jesus as savior and Lord through Los Olivos, and that their families would, too.
  • That Los Olivos would be able to replicate the ministries it has begun in Sumpango throughout the villages in the surrounding area.
GIVE

Partner financially with Los Olivos by helping the church meet its goal of $20,000 for turf on the new soccer field.

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