Following a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Ecuador on April 16, 2016, ReachGlobal Crisis Response evaluated the need and sprung into action.
From Crisis Response:
“Kids frequently have the most difficult time processing trauma, so our response to the Ecuadorian earthquake is making kids and their families the primary focus. We have a team in Ecuador this week equipping kids’ ministry workers and church leaders with the basics of trauma mitigation. Those workers will then be going out to reproduce this equipping in the context of child friendly spaces.
“Our initial plan is to set up 40-60 of these outreaches that will impact 20-30 families at each location. We’ve set a goal of $25,000, which would allow us to prayerfully see as many as 500 of these outreaches across the affected region.”
Ministry offers safe place for women suffering abuse
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — At the bottom of the hill that runs through the slum of Guarari stands a two-room building.
Despite its humble appearance, the building is a refuge for many of the women who live in Guarari. The Costa Rican missionaries who come here regularly seek to make it a place of unconditional love.
“Jesus never intimidates women, hurts them, or sexually threatens them,” Shelley Snitko says while teaching a Bible study to some women here.
For many of the 40 women sitting with her, trusting Jesus is difficult because of both his masculine character and the troubled circumstances they believe he allows them to live in. Snitko, a member of a short-term team from Huntsville, Ala., appeals to these spiritual obstacles by contrasting the character of Jesus with the oppressive men that control many of these women’s lives.
“Jesus is the light in the darkness, hope for the hopeless, peace for the restless,” Snitko says. “He is everything.”
Melanie Wilson, a missionary with ReachGlobal, initially became involved with ministry to the women of Guarari after going there in January 2012 with a short-term team.
“After getting to know the Costa Rican missionaries, I was really excited to join with them because they pretty much are the only people working in Gurari consistently,” Wilson says.
Serving with street-smarts
The ministry, which has been active in Guarari for six years, is led by Costa Rican missionary Hugo Salas. Salas grew up living on the streets and says that experience gave him a heart for others suffering from hardship.
“God gave me the vision to work in a community like this,” Hugo says. “And I began to get involved in this type of community work. I became dedicated to the ministry and the kids.”
The ministry leads Bible studies for the women and children, and also teaches women crafts like jewelry-making and painting to generate more income for their families. Salas says that in the six years the ministry has been working in Guarari, the spiritual state of the community has improved.
“We’ve been teaching the women how to love their children,” Salas says. “But apart from that, we are doing Bible studies and discipleship. Not just for the women, but also for the teens. All this is simply for the reason to tell them about the love of God.”
According to Wilson, one of the main goals of the ministry is to provide a physical place where the women can take refuge.
“It is one place where the women and children can come and it’s safe,” Wilson says. “Many homes have physical abuse, sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse. Violence is everywhere in some form or fashion, sometimes just one of those things and sometimes all of those things. So it’s a safe place where there’s no violence.”
Redemption on display
Wilson says that one of the most powerful testimonies to the power of God’s word that she’s seen in this community happened this past June when a short-term team from Huntsville came to work with the Guarari ministry for a week. In October, Wilson had sent a prayer request asking the team to pray for a young girl who lived in Gurari and was the leader of a drug-trafficking gang.
“We sent them a prayer request to pray that God would work in the gang leader’s life and that the gospel would transform her life,” Wilson says. “We started praying in October, but then kind of forgot about it.”
To the amazement of the short-term team and the rest of the women in the community, the gang leader came with her mother, sister, and daughter every day to the June Bible studies that the short-term team held.
On the last day of that week, the women and the short-term team were trying to fill time while waiting for a pizza to be delivered. One of the ladies from Huntsville came to the front of the room and gave her testimony about her daughter who’s been heavily addicted to drugs. The woman talked about how she copes with that and how it affects her relationship with God.
As she spoke, the mother of the drug dealer cried uncontrollably. Afterward, the mother and daughter came forward.
“This is what I’ve done to my mom,” the daughter said.
“They really were touched by God’s word so we’re praying that the seed was planted and it will grow,” Wilson says.
Despite these small victories, Wilson says spiritual opposition is strong.
“Spiritually, it’s just hard to break through the hold that Satan has,” Wilson says.
As the ministry establishes itself as a place of refuge for the women and continues trying to drown out the darkness of sin with the light of Jesus, the missionaries say their greatest need is prayer.
“I would say to anybody who reads this, pray for the protection of the missionaries there and that the spiritual light that is there will shine brightly and Satan will be thwarted in all of his efforts,” Wilson says.
Church team survives firefight between police, gang in Rio slum
About midnight, the team heads out, almost 100 of them.
They walk single-file down a narrow road leading into a steamy Rio de Janeiro slum called Arará. They head toward the baile funk music pounding through giant speakers in the town square.
They’re crashing a boca de fuma – a drug-fueled party thrown by the local boss. Around them, prostitutes work the square. Dealers sell crack, meth and cocaine openly on tables. Other drug traffickers, many just boys, tote AK-47s.
Suddenly the music cuts out. Traffickers whip out their cell phones, quickly scanning texts. Motorcycles rev up and bolt out of the square.
Then, gunshots. Lots of them.
It’s the BOPE – a military police battalion charged with pacifying drug-controlled slums like Arará and the surrounding barrio, Benfica. As the party vaporizes, BOPE troops hurry to block both ends of the road with tanks.
Continued gunfire sends everyone still caught in the square bounding for cover – inside houses, apartments, storefronts, wherever there’s shelter.
Most of the team makes it out. The seven who don’t scramble to a walk-up lunch counter and hide behind the garage-type metal door.
Amid the mayhem, team member Chris starts talking about Jesus with a 12-year-old boy who’s also pinned down in the shop. Team members pray for the neighborhood. Soon the gunfire stops, and the seven seize the opportunity to get out of Arará. “For hours afterward, we sat as a team and just said, ‘Wow,’” remembers Craig, a ReachGlobal missionary who was one of the seven.
“The police were firing into the boca from two directions,” Craig recalls. “Eventually you could hear it right outside our door – guns being fired. We didn’t know at this point who they were. The fear was it could be another gang coming, regular police looking for payoffs; it could be BOPE. Either way, I was worried about where we were.”
Burden for the forgotten
The team, mostly from Baptist Life Church based in the nearby barrio of Caju, is doing a ministry they call madrugado do carinho – literally, middle of the night care.
The midnight care outreaches are the brainchild of Fabio, a 31-year-old pastor from Rio de Janeiro who took over Baptist Life Church eight years ago, when it had two people attending. The church now has almost 700 people in discipleship groups.
Caju is home to about 50,000 people, most of them poor migrants from northeast Brazil who came looking for a better life in the city.
It’s known as a forgotten neighborhood. That reputation deeply attracted Fabio, who for years has felt a push from God to share the love of Christ with “excluded people,” and to go to places that other people don’t want to go.
“So whether that’s persecuted countries – that captures my attention – or going into a favela at nighttime, these are places that most people don’t want to go to, and they are neighborhoods where there aren’t many evangelical churches,” Fabio says.
But those drug traffickers need to know that there’s a place in the kingdom of Christ even for them, says Mike, a minister from California who led Chris’ short-term team. The night before the shootout, in fact, Mike talked with five drug traffickers in Arará. He told them that he’s lived in their shoes, and that they can be forgiven for everything they’ve done.
Mike’s history gives him an automatic in with these guys. He left a life of drugs and gang violence 12 years ago to follow Jesus after God miraculously spared him from a suicide attempt.
“I know from seeing the situation down there that the only hope for that area is the church,” says Mike, who has led teams to minister in the favelas for the past five years. “I don’t see the government or the police being able to fix it. The only way you can kill a snake is to [twist] off its head. So I figure if I can get to the top guys and get them to accept the gospel message and bring the rest of their men with them into the church, then there’s hope.”
Fabio’s years of ministry in the favelas and his willingness to tell even the drug bosses there about Jesus have earned him their respect. He has leveraged that respect to the hilt, going so far as to rescue people being tortured for crossing drug traffickers.
The first person Fabio rescued was a young man who had been shot through both hands as punishment for a robbery. People who break the no-stealing code inside a favela will often get fingers cut off or get shot through the hand by traffickers. The traffickers double as enforcers for the drug bosses, whose word is law in hundreds of favelas like Arará and Benfica and Caju, where Baptist Life ministers.
“By and large, the drug traffickers, they respect pastors – pastors who are serious about their work,” Fabio says. “Unless I cross them over, they’re not going to harm me or the church. The fact that I’ve been doing this a long time and understand the way of the favela, I don’t have the same fear I Íused to have years ago.”
Neighborhoods like Caju teem with people involved in drugs – bosses, sellers, and users. Because those people tend be out more in the middle of the night, Baptist Life has made a point of being out then, too – even at the risk of walking into gunfights.
“There are missionaries and pastors there that are absolute modern-day heroes for Jesus Christ, risking their necks every day to spread the gospel to people the rest of the world would just hate and turn their backs on,” Mike says. “And those are the very people who, if they can be reached, will make the difference to turn that country around.”
For the continued mission of Baptist Life Church – that they would be able to expand their discipleship groups into places like Arará and across Rio de Janeiro.
That God would use Baptist Life and its discipleship and evangelism ministries to put an end to drug trafficking in places like Caju and Benfica.
That God would protect Fabio and his people as they minister in the neighborhoods.
ReachGlobal reaches poor through clinic partnership
Some people in Costa Rica can easily afford health care. Others, like Maria*, can only hope and pray for it.
Temporarily without her usual domestic-help jobs, Maria, a sweet middle-aged Nicaraguan woman, lives with 16 other family members under the same roof in the La Carpio slum of San Jose, Costa Rica.
On the main street, run-down houses are crammed together and look as though they could fall apart at any moment. You can smell the pollution in the air congesting your lungs. The garbage that lies on the streets and sidewalks is embedded in the cracks.
Responding to the influx of war refugees from Nicaragua, Christ for the City International founded Clínica Cristiana more than 15 years ago. They seek to provide basic medical and dental services to people like Maria who struggle to thrive day-to-day.
“I feel good about the way they have attended me here,” Maria says. “They always attend me well when I come. It is a way of surviving around here. If this clinic wasn’t around I don’t know what we’d do.”
Volunteers at the clinic also realize the greater need for spiritual healing of the heart: ReachGlobal missionaries Cathi and Melanie pray for a distraught patient whose newly discovered medical problem may go untreated because of family lack of funds for basic care.
Without the security of a monthly paycheck and legal documents, basic health care is very difficult to find.
This specific clinic, however, is helpful to the people of La Carpio because those without insurance can see a dentist or a nurse without paying a price that’s probably too expensive. Even the seemingly affordable $8 Pap test, for example, proves too steep for many patients. In such cases, it is not unusual for one of the volunteers to cover the cost.
Their overarching goal is compassion: to extend a helping hand while meeting people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
“They try to give back a little love through the medical appointments,” Maria says. “They don’t just give us this, though, as they also give us occasional talks about the Word of God.”
Cathi, a registered nurse who partners with Clínica Cristiana, has been volunteering on Tuesdays and Fridays for the past four years.
After the initial adjustment in moving to Costa Rica, Cathi struggled to find her purpose—outside of caring for her family. In the midst of frustrated tears one day, she begged God for direction. The very next day a doctor from the clinic called, asking Cathi if she would be interested in joining their ministry.
Although shock gripped her heart as she entered the slum that first day, the women’s need for accurate information and good health care has drawn her back week after week.
“I’d say that I have a deeper appreciation for the plight of women everywhere. Just seeing how we can meet their needs—their spiritual needs as well as their emotional needs, just by being here for women who have no social support of any sort.”
Serving women in the clinic has revived Cathi’s passion for ministering to the sick and brokenhearted.
“I think there’s always room for some kind of holistic health care,” Cathi says. “I think wherever any mission agency goes, we need to address the whole person—not just the physical but the spiritual and emotional aspect. That can be done anywhere in the world, but it takes people.”
*Name has been changed to protect patient’s confidentiality.
Within days of the earthquake in January 2010, God called ReachGlobal Latin America and TouchGlobal (the crisis response arm of the EFCA) to Haiti. The initial crisis may be over, but we remain in Haiti because of the overwhelming spiritual, physical and relational needs.
Find out more about our growing ministry in Haiti and accept the call: Pray. Give. Serve.
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“Beauty from Ashes” is part of the Moving Latin America Pictures project. It is the third of five videos produced by a short-term mission team of videographers to capture the essence of the ministry and the needs on the field. Please stay tuned as we post a new video each week for the next two weeks.