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Last June, a small group of us from All Souls Church of Boulder boarded a plane and flew to Guatemala City to visit our partner church, Iglesia Belen, for the second time. Iglesia Belen works with Children’s HopeChest, an organization that equips vulnerable children and their families with the tools to be self-sufficient and escape poverty. It does this by connecting Christian communities in the U.S. and Canada with communities around the world.

Our church’s partnership with Iglesia Belen sprung out of a desire to do mission differently. We wanted a relational model that is long term and empowering to local leaders rather than short term and project based, which is why the HopeChest model attracted us.

What does our partnership with Iglesia Belen look like? We financially support an afterschool program for kids in La Limonada, a slum near the church. We send letters, emails, and videos back and forth throughout the year and have a relational visit once a year to get to know the staff and kids, encourage the leaders, and join in this ministry for a week. The HopeChest leaders there are all Guatemalan, and they teach us about the culture, interpret, and guide us. These relationships have been equally powerful as the ones with Iglesia Belen.

We were reminded that many kids who come to the program struggle with malnutrition, fear of violence, and difficult home lives. According to UNICEF, four out of ten children under the age of five in Guatemala are malnourished. Eating alongside the children and enjoying a nutritious meal together had more meaning beyond the simple pleasure of being at the table together. Our support does make a significant difference in these kids’ lives—nutritious food with people who really care about and invest in them is a big piece of it.

The best part of the trip for me was hands down being with the kids, staff, and each other. During the week, we laughed, danced, and created art together. Our hosts led us in worship through song and dance, and it felt like a celebration. Jonah, the youngest member of our seven-person team, said it well when he said that by the end of the week, “I was just having fun hanging out with my friends.” It is a beautiful miracle that this sense of friendship and being a part of God’s family can form so quickly.

We wanted a relational model that is long term and empowering to local leaders rather than short term and project based

As a team, we wondered how we could bring this gift of joy and connection back to our church in the U.S. When it feels like people are more divided than ever, how can our church be more like family as the Iglesia Belen children and staff are? Their mission statement includes creating a sense of home for the kids—and it’s real and tangible. We were blessed that they extended that genuine care beyond themselves and enveloped even us in it. Community feels so different there and we were so grateful to experience it.

When we said goodbye, it was with a sense of “see you soon,” the way you’d leave a close friend. Will, my husband and the pastor of All Souls, was walking toward the van and got called back by the pastor and a few teenagers from Iglesia Belen. I thought there was going to be some serious interaction. But no, they were just playing a joke on him, making him return for no reason just to laugh in that together. He gave it right back. I loved it—that’s what family does.

Lauren Forsythe

Lauren Forsythe is a member of All Souls Church of Boulder in Boulder, Colorado, where she leads the ministry team that partners with Iglesia Belen and Children’s HopeChest.