Despite opposition from the local church, impoverished children graduate from The Greatest Journey
In a small Ecuador town, there was something special happening. It was difficult to see the cause of the excitement from the outside, but the commotion slowly drew a small, cautious group of spectators to the door of a local community center. Looking to see what all the fuss was about, they would often slip inside to watch young girls and boys in their caps and gowns graduate from The Greatest Journey program. Curiosity had brought them in, but the Gospel message encouraged them to stay.
For Pastor Carlos Julio, every man, woman, and child in the room was a blessing. As individuals and families arrived, he greeted each of them with a warm smile and a handshake. His love for the community was evident, but not everyone in the community appreciated his dedication.
Just days before the graduation, Carlos and his team faced fierce opposition and potential violence. Threatened by the growing popularity of the program, a local Catholic church had forbidden many families from attending and even rescheduled a weekly event to interfere with the day’s festivities.
“Many of the children’s parents did not give permission for them to come,” Carlos said. “There is real persecution; some parents are supportive and some are not supportive, and some children are here in spite of it.”
Earlier in the year, the children had all received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. For this impoverished areas, it was the first time that many of the children had ever received a gift.
“Yes, there was lots of happiness,” Carlos said. “You could see the heart because they never received a gift like this. Lots of joy, crying, and hugging.”
It was also the first time that Carlos and his team had the opportunity to use The Greatest Journey, a 12-week discipleship course for children who have received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Though there were some challenges, it was a blessing because it was the first ministry tool for children that they had used. The response was tremendous.
“There has been a very huge change in the children,” he said. “They are encouraging themselves and coming despite opposition from the local church.”
To make sure that every child who was interested could attend The Greatest Journey classes, the pastors took a taxi to pick up the children from their homes. The pastors also helped meet some of their basic needs by bathing and feeding the children. The home used as The Greatest Journey classroom has now become a church, which Pastor Carlos prays will grow as parents continue to watch their children change through their faith in Jesus Christ.
“I pray that God could open doors and touch the heart and break the chains of the enemy and that we can plant this church,” Carlos said.
One of those now attending church is Angel Israel Miranda and his three children, Wilson Daniel, Miguel, and Santiago. For most of the graduation ceremony, Angel sat in the back with a proud look on his face. As the festivities wore down, Angel took great care of the new Bibles his sons received.
“Thank you for your support,” Angel said. “Thank you for all that you have given them. I saw a change in my three boys. They are becoming better.”
The boys received their boxes three months ago and then asked their father if they could go to The Greatest Journey. Since starting the program, the family has now been attending church every week. Miguel said that they have learned, “God created the heavens and the earth. God created everything.”
As the ceremony drew to a close, there was a sense of joy in the room. Challenges and hardships will continue as this new church of children continues to grow, but the hope these graduates found in the Lord Jesus Christ remains.
“To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13, NKJV).