David and Fabiola Alvarez, a husband and wife pastor/missionary team, visited the oldest newspaper in South Carolina, Thursday afternoon, to share with our readers the story of their church and its impact on their homeland of Guatemala; an impact that started with the children but has reached so many more. As David Alvarez explained, “God gave me a call to work with kids when I was 19 years old.” In response to that call, Alvarez co-founded Centro Cristiano Cultural de Guatemala in 1982. That church, which started in Alvarez’s garage, went from a congregation of about 20 parishioners to a church that now provides programs that service over 2000 children and their families.
The transformation from that small home-church took time, however. About 20 years after the church was established, the church moved. As Alvarez said, “God moved our church to a very bad neighborhood where they have a lot of kids with a lot of needs.” Many of those needs, the church found, could be traced back to malnutrition. In response to this, the church started a food program for the children. Now, that program serves approximately 500 breakfasts a day, Monday – Saturday. The church has branched out, as well, and is now in 14 different areas in the country; some of those areas Alzarez referred to as “very behind villages.” Food access is not the only need the church is working to meet in the areas it serves, however. They also address medical, water, and job skill needs. They established programs that help to improve water filtration, that aid in sanitation through building composting toilets, and that assist pregnant women. The church, of course, provides spiritual support, too. They host Bible camps for children and theological training for pastors. They have worked to improve education in the areas they serve, as well. They have built middle schools and opened their first high school last year. The church even has a program to teach children how to grow and sell vegetables to help provide for their families. Of all the issues facing the areas the church serves, however, Alvarez said that today, the main need is medical support. The church sponsors medical clinics, but Alvarez stressed how the church needs medical personnel that will partner with them to come into the areas to provide basic needs such as vaccinations. After all, it does no good to feed the children if they cannot stay well because of preventable diseases.
While the church has done a lot of good for Guatemala, it has not been without trials and dangers. In fact, Alvarez shared how the church faced danger in that area to which God called the church to move, a place he also called “very dangerous spot” in Guatemala. The danger presented itself in the form of gangs; gangs made up mostly of children. Alvarez said that the average lifespan of a gang member in that community was about 21-25 years old. Gangs worked to recruit members from the children of the area to take the place of fallen members. Of the first year in that area, Alvarez said, “That was a hard time.” However, within 4 years, the gangs had lost power because the children were joining the church rather than joining the gangs. Now the neighborhood is one of the safest in Guatemala. “The atmosphere there changed completely,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez gave God all the glory for the work the church has been able to do in Guatemala. He also shared how God has provided along the way, even providing things that at the time, Alvarez did not know the church would need. One such provision was beach property. Alvarez was quick to point out that he does not like the beach and that when a good friend of his approached him about purchasing some land the friend needed to sell, Alvarez was not interested. However, the friend was in dire financial straits. He needed to sell the land for $60,000. Instead of purchasing the property, though, Alvarez loaned the man what he could, which was $2000. And then the friend just disappeared. About 5 years later, the friend showed back up, this time wanting Alvarez to purchase the property for $30,000. Again, Alvarez declined the offer. However, the friend told Alvarez he had not forgotten the money he had loaned him and would sell the property to Alvarez for $6,000 (which would only be $4,000 minus the loan). Again, Alvarez was not interested, but another friend helped Alvarez see that this property was a true God-send. In the end, the $60,000 property was purchased for $6,000 by the church. It now serves as a location for, among other things, a camp for children. It has become what Alvarez described as “a very important center for us.”
“We are basically a church … a calling of two faces,” Alvarez said of his little church that has blossomed to serve so many. One face is the church, itself. The other is the charity; the charity that was borne from a food program started so many years ago. However, that program, and the others it has generated, is not cheap. For the food program alone, Alvarez said, takes about $10,000 a month to feed the children the church serves. And while there have been months when he was not sure from where the money would come, Alvarez shared that God has always provided. In fact, Alvarez stated that the children have had food every day for the past 10 years. He also shared, however, that the church is currently facing one of those uncertain times; a common problem facing many charities. And as with any charity, Alvarez and his church rely on partnerships with others. That is what has brought the Alvarezes to North America. They are providing updates of their endeavors to existing partners and are looking to add new partners along the way. The needs of the church and its ministries are not just financial, though. Boots on the ground and people willing to come along side the church in those areas it serves are also needed. The church hosts mission groups who aid in the various projects the church is sponsoring throughout the villages it supports. Alvarez insisted that there are many ways God and the church can use people, and no amount of people willing to join in their efforts is too small. For more information on Centro Cristiano Cultural de Guatemala or to partner with them, please visit www.cccguatemala.comor call (502) 233-9280.