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Christmas hope burns bright in Guatemala

Yulisa picks up the woodburner for the first time. She examines its fine metal point and glances at the temperature gauge.

“How do you do it?” she asks curiously.

That’s Yulisa. A mixture of curiosity, artistic expression and the desire to try new things. Soon she is quietly engrossed in wood burning the silhouette figures of the nativity scene.

Yulisa lives at our Good Shepherd Children’s Home in Guatemala. In addition to her artistic interests, she also loves music and is a proficient piano player. Though often shy playing in front of large

groups, Yulisa has dreams for a musical future.

“I want to write my own songs one day,” she says. I already have the musical scores, I just need to find the words.

This Christmas, Yulisa looks to the future with great excitement. She is 17 and has one year left to finish high school. In Guatemala, high school students get to choose a career path to focus on during their junior and senior years. Yulisa is studying medicine and aspires to become a doctor one day.

“I would like to become a traumatologist,” she explains, “because I really enjoy helping people.”

The Good Shepherd Children’s Home is committed to providing the necessary scholarships for those residents who want to go to college and pursue a degree. Although still unsure which

college she wants to attend, Yulisa knows she has the resources, support, and people in her life to make it happen. That confidence is a far cry from her situation when she came into care ten years ago.

Good Shepherd Children’s Home in Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala rescues orphaned children, helping them find hope in a place plagued by poverty, alcoholism, and chronic malnutrition. Yulisa was one of the very first children brought to Good Shepherd when it first opened in 2014. From a human perspective, it never should have happened, because at the time she was older than the 0-5 age requirement that the home had established. But God can use human errors to accomplish His purposes, and when seven-year-old Yulisa showed up at the door with nowhere else to go, Good Shepherd didn’t turn her away.

Since then, she has grown not only physically and intellectually, but also spiritually. Yulisa remembers giving her life to the Lord at a local church the children attend. She credits church participation, the youth spiritual retreats hosted at the Home, and the positive influence of staff for her spiritual growth and maturity.

In a sign of that maturity, the person she says has helped her the most along the way is Marco, the home’s assistant director, who she says has always helped her in many ways, correcting her when she’s gotten off track.

International friends have been part of Yulisa’s unique journey as well. Each year, the Good Shepherd hosts many week-long mission teams, through Baptists on Mission. Often these church groups come year after year and begin to form lasting bonds with the children in the home.

“One of my favorite visitors is Eddy,” Yulisa reminisces. “He comes every year dressed in a full Santa Claus suit, but it’s never at Christmas time! He’s full of jokes and lots of fun.”

While Yulisa appreciates the mission teams, the people also appreciate her.

“What a leader she is,” a team member commented after spending a couple days filling in for one of the Guatemalan child care workers. “She practically ran the house and helped us know what needed to be done to stay on schedule.”

Yulisa says she hasn’t sought out a leadership role in the Home, but being the oldest, the other children often look to her example. “It’s just something that happens,” she mused while acknowledging that such a position comes with a responsibility to lead well. If she does go to college next year, she will be leading in that area as the first resident to pursue a higher education.

In the meantime, Yulisa looks for ways to enjoy her time at the Home during the Christmas break. She loves to walk the property. There is much to explore: trees, flowers, gardens, chickens, goats, bees, and even a horse! In addition, Yulisa claims two pets as her own: a black dog named Sombra (Shadow) and a cat named Pantera (Panther) that she found and rescued as a kitten. The children and staff stay busy as they work together to care for the plants and animals on the property.

As Christmas approaches, they begin decorating the home and the property with lights, greenery, and homemade decorations like the one Yulisa is working on today. Carefully she lifts the woodburner and shows off a nicely shaded camel that is part of the nativity.

“All done”, she exclaims proudly—a new decoration to celebrate the Christmas season. And there is much to celebrate. Yulisa is one of many children whose life has been forever changed and set on a new course. Her future burns bright with the hope of the One whose birth we celebrate this Christmas season.

Written by Arwen and Mike Elders, BCH Associate Missionaries, Guatemala

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