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Azaria Spencer link letter no.1 January 2017

Dear lovely family and friends,

I hope this link letter, my first, finds you all well. As many of you know, earlier last year I was selected as a mission partner in training with Church Mission Society. This lead to me spending three months in Latin America.

Thank you so much to all who have been supporting me and praying for me through the selection process and while I was away. I have felt incredibly blessed and encouraged by numerous kind gestures, financial gifts and messages.

I am currently in a discernment process to choose my long term location. God in his graciousness provided the opportunity for me to visit three countries in Latin America: Paraguay, Peru and Guatemala. This allowed me to experience Latin American culture and learn a little Spanish too (my Spanish still has a long way to go). More importantly, these few months away have reawakened the passion in me for the kind of work which lead me to become a mission partner in the first place.

Children performing at the annex school in Paraguay
Children performing at the annex school in Paraguay

I have felt passionate about overseas mission work for many years now, in particular to live alongside and enable those whom the world has deemed the poorest of the poor. People who live on the edges of society, in particular vulnerable children and young people. God’s call has taken me to many places and I have seen his hand in my life every step of the way.

More recently, God directed me to study and I have just completed a degree in Theology for Ministry. It was during the last year of my degree (2015-16) that I was selected as a mission partner and I have since been discerning where my long term location will be.

This brings us to the last few months, spent in Latin America. I spent the first two and a half months in Paraguay at San Andres School tutoring children and young people, helping them to prepare for their oral English exams. While it was a very different environment to what I am used to with the young people being from elite society, it was a real joy and privilege. It may not be my calling to work in this kind of setting but I certainly valued the mission of the school and felt very blessed by my time there.

A day trip out with the young people from Mi Arca in Guatemala
A day trip out with the young people from Mi Arca in Guatemala

The next part of my trip consisted of visiting two potential long-term placement locations, Peru and Guatemala. I spent a week in each country and managed to fit a lot in. In Lima I met with several mission partners and visited a number of different projects and ministries going on in different areas. These included a youth ministry, a prison ministry, a Compassion project, seeing churches, visiting Shalom – a ministry which supports children and young people with learning and/ or physical disabilities. It was a great week of exploration and seeing what is happening in Lima and how God is using people in this place to minister to people who are considered the “least” in society.

A day trip out with the young people from Mi Arca in Guatemala
On the same day trip with the young people from Mi Arca in Guatemala

Visiting projects that were working to empower young people in particular began to reignite the passion in me for this kind of work and reminded me of how and why I had come to this stage in life. On the brink of moving overseas on a more long-term basis to live and work alongside people who the world has forgotten about and closed their eyes to.

I moved onto Guatemala and spent a week with a charity Mi Arca, and was very blessed by my time there. The charity does many things including focussing on helping and supporting children and young people who are at risk of ending up on the streets. The streets of La Terminal, like many other cities in Latin America, are no place for anybody to sleep let alone children. La Terminal is a central market that takes up approximately six very large city blocks! The sheer size of this place is unreal and disorienting and it is easy to become lost here.

A Lima pueblos jóvenes or favela

One story that broke my heart was of a boy who never “existed”. A lot of children born here are not registered at birth and without paperwork you can’t get a job. Add to this a lack of education and it’s easy to see why many people never get registered at all. This was true for one young boy, aged 17, who was shot dead on the streets. The authorities took his body and wouldn’t allow anyone to know even the time or date of his burial. He was buried in a mass grave and there is no record of his death. With no birth record either, in the eyes of the state he never existed at all! Sadly this is true for far too many people.

Mi Arca seeks to provide an alternative to this story and to living on the streets, one that is full of hope. Some of the teenage boys that Mi Arca is working with, and who I had the privilege to spend time with, are truly inspiring. They have been given responsibility and value and I heard how their lives have literally been transformed within only a few months.

Overall, I was blessed by my time away and God opened my eyes and heart. After almost three months overseas I arrived home on December 1 and now have a lot of processing to do as I lean on God and discern my long-term location. I will begin training with Church Mission Society this month and will also be visiting churches to continue raising support. 2017 is going to be a year of many changes and I am looking forward to this new chapter in my life.

Thank you for all your love, prayers and support.

Many blessings