This was my second mission trip to our children’s homes in Guatemala. I entered the infants’ room, and one baby girl instantly captured my heart. I learned she had been abandoned, left to die at the pila (wash area). Sadly, it is not unusual for babies to be abandoned there. Guatemala has the highest infant mortality rate in Central America and the highest rate of malnutrition in the western hemisphere. Thankfully, this one was rescued, but she still showed signs of the trauma. Her round eyes fixed on me, calling me to hold her, feed her, care for her.
Two cribs down, another precious child grabbed my heart, an underdeveloped six-month-old boy. He was born to a teen alcoholic mother. Guatemala has one of the highest child pregnancy rates in Central America, and alcoholism continues to be a tragic reality here. This little one’s fingers were so tiny he could barely wrap them around my little finger. I gently squeezed his hand, letting him know he was safe now.
Four of the children in care did not know their birthdays. All had lice. One 12-year-old’s feet were cut and calloused because she did not have shoes. She had never owned a bed. The young girl feared her father would force her to marry an older, abusive man. Another child had bruises on her back from beatings. A two-year-old boy bore the evidence of extreme abuse, his entire little face black and blue. In anger, an adult had thrown him in a trash can. The children’s home staff welcomed these children with great love and compassion.
As I visited, I heard more heartbreaking stories. An eight-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, who have experienced a lifetime of physical and emotional abuse, came into care. (Recently, the little girl had to have surgery on her skull to repair the damage she experienced at the hands of people who should have cared for her.)
A four-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister arrived here following the death of both parents due to alcoholism. Their mother died a week before; their father died just the day before they arrived. These sweet and frightened children are finding security after the trauma they have lived through.
I have been working in ministry to children and families for 40 years. I have seen and heard horrific stories, however nothing compared to the situation that existed for the children in the government run homes in Guatemala which are overcrowded and understaffed. Two years ago, 41 young girls locked in a room died in a fire –– one of the deadliest tragedies in Guatemala since the end of their civil war decades ago, and it happened inside a group home for at-risk youth who had been placed there by the government.
The plight of these children grabs me at my core. Just like on my first mission trip, I left profoundly altered and even physically sick. I left with an immense appreciation and burden for missionaries Roger and Vicki Grossman and the Guatemalan Christian community who are determined to live out the message shared in the gospel.
Our mission team returned home determined to raise funds to increase the space available to care for more children. Jay and Scarlett Westmoreland initiated this work, giving a $100,000 challenge gift to build the second home. For years, the Westmorelands shared, they had dreamed of building a home at the beach; however, after this mission trip, they said there was another home they needed to build instead. Matching funds were raised, and the Westmoreland Family Children’s Home was dedicated to the Glory of God this spring in memory of Jay’s father, Dr. Ted Westmoreland.
In a recent issue of Charity & Children, you read that Baptist Children’s Homes will build
a third home to serve more boys and girls in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. J.L. and Toni Bowen, after many mission trips to Guatemala, have felt God’s calling in their hearts to build the next home.
“Some of the children, infants, were found in rusty carts or cardboard boxes. It was as if they had been discarded,” says Toni Bowen. “There’s little doubt the children would have died if not for this life-saving ministry.”
The Bowens have issued a $100,000 matching gift challenge to raise money for the project. Gifts will be matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000 for The Mae Home, named in memory of Mae Bowen, J.L.’s mother, who left a legacy of love for children. To God be the glory!
Ninety three boys and girls have been cared for since BCH opened the orphanage in 2014, and the need for this work grows every year.
Right now, there is a desperate need for this home. It is imperative we raise the funds and build the third home as quickly as possible.
The next step is up to you. You have the opportunity to offer boys and girls a hope they have never known and share the Gospel in a region that desperately needs Christ. Will you be the one? Will you give sacrificially?
Call me at 336-689-4442 for more information on how you can be the one. You can also click here to give immediately. Choose "Guatemala Matching Gift Challenge" from the Gift Designation drop-down menu.
Worthwhile Investments is written by Brenda B. Gray, Executive Vice President of Development & Communications