Torrance team travels to Belize
Villagers help ministry team repair building.
by KARL LARSSON –
(l-r)The Torrance team gathers at the San Ignacio Outpost. The floor at the Georgeville Corps is cleaned after the work is completed.
Belize, a small Central American country—about the size of New Hampshire—borders Mexico and Guatemala. The Salvation Army in Belize is part of the Caribbean Territory, operating as a region with three corps and one outpost. Western officers Captains Mark and Vicki Gilden serve at the Georgeville Corps and the San Ignacio outpost.
A team of six from the Torrance Corps, Calif., traveled to Belize this past summer to give the Georgeville Corps a makeover while ministering to village residents there, at the edge of a jungle.
Upon arriving, we piled into Captain Gilden’s pickup truck, ready for our journey into the jungle and for the place that by week’s end would become home.
At the Gildens’ house, children instantly surrounded the truck, curious as to who we were—new strangers in their world.
Plans for renewal
The plan for the week was to spend four days repairing all the cracks in the corps’ walls and ceiling and painting the whole building inside and out, with help from Gilbert, a local contractor. For later in the week, we planned two evening evangelistic campaigns at the outpost as well as a Saturday morning soccer camp. Our final day, Sunday, we would participate in traditional Sunday activities.
Gilbert is one of the few male role models in the village. He has completed college and now owns his own construction business. Even though he had no guarantee of getting paid for assisting us, he worked hard all through the week. He would sometimes continue on, tactfully improving our handiwork, after we called it quits around 11:00 p.m. and headed home for dinner.
When I met Albert, Gilbert’s brother, as an apparent and almost immediate sign of trust, he pulled out his false eye to show me the hole. He had lost his eye on barbed wire when he was 6 years old. Now, 10 years later, Albert volunteered to help with the repair work, even though he does not attend the Army. At only 16, Albert has no interest in continuing with school or in getting a job until he needs the money. He manifests a lack of motivation common to many young people in the village.
The village children enthusiastically embraced our project. They stayed with us all day, every day, wandering home only when they got hungry. There were 5-year-old boys cutting the grass with machetes, groups of barefoot kids painting the corrugated iron roof in the midday sun, and kids trying to hit chisels with mallets. We appreciated their help and company.
Hope for the future
We were most impressed with the Gildens’ hope to effect a positive, lasting difference in this small community. They have begun a variety of activities to help the area children be successful, including a child sponsorship program. Gilden makes sure the funds are used only for these kids, sometimes even taking the parents shopping himself. They run an after-school homework club and allow children to use their laptop computer for internet research, while encouraging the girls to finish their education and get jobs—hoping to develop a generation of independent-minded, intelligent young women and break the cycle of broken families, alcohol and drug abuse in this village.
We held the Saturday morning soccer camp in a local field with over 60 excited—and barefoot—children. We played some challenge games and gave away prizes including soccer equipment and a few signed soccer balls from members of the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer team, donated by the Torrance AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization).
On our final day in this community, we conducted morning Sunday school. The children seemed to enjoy themselves, even accidentally ripping the parachute due to their enthusiasm. The evening meeting was standing room only. We had to clear a space at the front of the hall so the younger children could sit on the floor. Local people attended who had not been to the church before. There were even a couple of men, unusual for this congregation.
The atmosphere of the evening meeting was hot and sticky, and a little chaotic. As the altar call began, a few children started toward the front. Then a few more. Then an adult knelt at the altar. Gilbert’s aunt came to pray. One of the men followed. Soon, people were lined up at the mercy seat—children and adults, men and women—waiting for someone to pray with them.
As we left Belize the following morning, I could not help but feel a little hollow. We had all fallen in love with this small village, in this small country. We are invested in these people now, especially the children. I thought of Alicia. Of Alfonso. Albert. Valerie. Loretta. Carla. Vanessa. Richie. A palette of faces—individuals that over a week became our friends.