When Stacy Young, Global Outreach Director for Calvary Church, asked what her church could do to help a girls' residential home in Guatemala, the answer was unexpected. "We were asked to put a on a women's retreat for the staff there—the tias [aunties] who care for the girls in their casas, the social workers, and the support staff."
A 21-woman team spent much of 2014 planning and organizing materials for a staff retreat at Oasis Residential Home. The home is administered by Kids Alive International, a Valparaiso-based organization focused on rescuing orphans and vulnerable children around the world. Oasis staff work alongside government officials in Guatemala to provide a safe place for girls who have been pressed into child labor or have been physically or sexually abused.
"The abuse these girls have experienced is severe, and the staff bears a particular kind of burden in caring for them," Young said. "They need a chance to step back, take a breath, and be refreshed."
To offer respite from jobs that are often intense and emotionally draining, the American team members provided the Guatemalan staff a mix of inspirational talks, activities, and round table discussions. They supplied a wealth of printed material, books in Spanish, and gifts and devoted a portion of each day to creating a spa-like atmosphere for Oasis staff, giving arm, leg, and shoulder massages and mani/pedis to retreat participants.
The team had been warned that the retreat participants might not be willing to talk openly about themselves or issues in their work or personal lives. The opposite proved true as Oasis staff admitted to concerns the Americans instantly related to: worries over children and family and struggles with confidence, patience, and self-worth. Young thinks the catalyst to open communication was the team's willingness to show love for the Guatemalan women without telling them what they should do or how they should feel. "We don't have all the answers and we didn't pretend we did," she said.
Capitalizing on the willingness to communicate, especially in round table discussions where several Oasis staff members sat with one American team member as a facilitator, the team encouraged Guatemalan personnel to share their stories with one another and to pray together. "Many of them didn't know each other well. It's a large complex and everyone has a job to do," said Young. " We hope we left them better connected and with a sense that they have each other to turn to."
When the team learned that their chosen travel dates in November would coincide with school holidays, they began planning a children's program, as well. Part of the team provided respite care and kept the resident girls engaged with stories, crafts, and activities. The girls made fleece blankets, colored pictures, watched Frozen, a favorite there as well, and had their faces painted. They played outside and posed for selfies with team members.
The team set out to provide a service and to make the Oasis staff feel valued, but they came away from the retreat feeling loved themselves. The Oasis staff spent the final evening of the American's trip preparing a special meal for the team. They decorated tables with colorful cloths and served chi-chus, a food similar to tamales, and a traditional Christmas drink of apple juice warmed with dried pineapple, raisins, and papaya. "For Guatemalans, this is an act of love," team member Beth Ireland said. "Cooking this food is how they express love. We were blessed."
Calvary Church, 1325 Evans Ave., Valparaiso, is an independent Bible church committed to spreading the word about Jesus Christ throughout Northwest Indiana and the world. Calvary offers a contemporary worship experience and relevant expository preaching to nearly 1400 worshippers. For more information, visit www.calvaryweb.net.