Our church service yesterday on thankfulness reminded me of some special memories. When I was in seminary I worked for a Methodist church in Houston for a few years. One of the major parts of my job was coordinating outreach projects and mission trips. These formative years definitely shaped my passion for outreach in the local church! One organization we worked with was ZOE, a nonprofit focused on empowering orphans and vulnerable youth. My wife and I continue to support them, and I think they’re worth checking out!
ZOE is a 3-year program that lifts teenagers and their younger siblings out of poverty through education, health, and business work. They have programs in Guatemala, India, and several African countries. 60-120 youth in a particular community come together as a “working group” and meet on a regular basis. They select adult mentors and organize what to spend grant money on for both individual and group projects. Pastors from the community would offer spiritual guidance, too, for a holistic approach to missions. ZOE covered the full spectrum of human need, from promoting public health, educating youth about the bible, to even how to successfully raise pigs.
While working with ZOE, I had the blessing of making several trips to Xela, Guatemala to see this mission project in action. These weeks were such a blessing to see youth overcome the struggles of poverty and transform their communities. ZOE groups had a lasting impact on the surrounding town. Young people developed businesses and had brighter futures than joining gangs associated with drug cartels. This was so powerful to see, compared to the troublesome anti-immigrant and racist sentiments that run so rampant in our culture. God calls us to love our neighbors, and that includes “neighbors” in other countries, too.
As I reflect back on these trips, I cannot help but remember the spirit of thanksgiving among these young brothers and sisters of the faith. They were truly thankful for what they were learning. They saw how God could give hope, regardless of life circumstances. Sure, they had challenges, including abandonment by a parent, violence from gangs, or faced racism as indigenous Guatemalans. Yet they found ways to count their blessings and celebrate what God was doing in their communities.
Here are some pictures and details on the mission work!
How can you count your blessings this week? What does it mean to have joy in all circumstances? Do you intentionally spend time thanking God for what you have?