Twelve year old Yovani Mateo lives in the sprawling village of Tejeras. He and his four siblings regularly attend the feeding center run by Pastor Orlando Rivera, of the Iglesia Lirios de la Valle (Lilies of the Valley Church).
Yovani’s parents both live in the home, but his father has lost both of his legs in an accident, so he is unable to work. His mother picks up jobs around the village when she can; cleaning houses, washing laundry, cooking, and doing other kinds of housework. The family is desperately poor, and they have trouble getting enough food to eat on a regular basis. Yovani attends the public school in his village.
The meals at the feeding center are available twice a week, and they are enriched with a collection of vitamins and minerals specifically designed to supplement the diets of malnourished children. Hopefully this enriched food will help stave off some of the possible effects of poor nutrition – like stunted growth, skin and muscle damage, blindness, and cognitive delays.
In addition to receiving this food, the children visiting the feeding center learn about God and His love for them. Yovani and his family now attend Sunday School and worship services at Pastor Rivera’s church, as well.
Here on the blog, I tend to write about the big picture . . . that we supply and oversee more than 100 feeding centers in small remote villages throughout the mountains of western Honduras (and even a few in other locales – like the center we supply which feeds homeless children in the large and extremely dangerous city of San Pedro Sula). I haven’t made a habit of highlighting the individuals who benefit from these programs, but we recognize that people need to hear that part of the story, as well.
Large sponsorship programs feed large numbers of children by creating a relationship between the donor and the individual child. While this method helps encourage donors to stay involved with the specific child or children they are helping, it is a very expensive ministry model. We’ve looked into setting up a similar sponsorship program for our feeding centers, but we simply don’t have the resources to maintain this model. We would need to visit each feeding center frequently, take regular photos of all of the sponsored children, see that they write letters to their sponsors, get the letters translated, and mail the letters. When communications were received from sponsors, these would have to be translated and delivered. We simply do not have the ability (time or manpower) to be the intermediary for all of these relationships, and if we made the attempt to do all of this, it would require the collection of significantly more funding to run the program.
Here’s what we do, instead, with the resources we do have:
When a pastor or other individual approaches us about the need for a feeding program in their area, we help them set it up. Generally the pastor recruits volunteers from his church or community to cook the food, and a convenient location in the village is chosen for the site. This location is often the church building, or a large porch off someone’s home. The pastor of the local church is the one who has the relationship with the children and their families, not us, and not the donors. He is the one who helps them, prepares the Bible lessons, teaches them, prays with them, etc. We supply the food, at no cost to the pastor, and we ask for some recordkeeping, mostly just the names and ages of the children in attendance, for accountability purposes.
The downside to this ministry model is that the donors are not getting the opportunity to develop a relationship with the children. There are many upsides. For instance:
The local pastor understands not only the child’s language (no need for a translator), but also the culture in which the child lives. He can know the family situation much more intimately than a donor from afar, and.even more fully than we can do, in spite of our having lived here for more than a decade.
The local pastor is likely to be on a similar economic level as the child and the child’s family. This avoids the difficult but common scenario of the recipient seeing the donor (and their comparative wealth) as the solution to their problems. The pastor is more able to point the recipient family to dependence on God, rather than dependence on the sponsor.
The local pastor volunteers his time for this ministry, as an outreach of his church. This keeps down the direct cost of a salary, and also the additional overhead costs involved in having paid staff.
The cost to sponsor one child in a large corporate program is in the range of $35 – $40 per month. This money is used for advertising, multiple levels of salaries, all of the relationship-building activities mentioned above, in addition to actually providing food and services to the child. Our program provides similar services to the child, with the exception of the communications between a specific child and donor, for approximately 25 cents per month.
Using this model, Allen, Russell, Iris and I are facilitating the feeding of 12,000 children. For the same donation which would sponsor one child in a corporate program, a donor can ensure that an entire feeding center – more than 150 children – is funded!
As a friend of our ministry stated, “With sponsorship, there is a strong cord between you and one child; with your model there is a beautiful, multi-strand web from the donor to you to the pastors to literally thousands of children. We may not be able to see those cords as well, but our Father in Heaven surely does.”