Azaria Spencer, a mission partner working with street-connected children and young people, reflects on her first three years.
I’m frequently asked, “What do you enjoy most about your work?” The answer is always the same: relationships with the people I serve and seeing their lives transformed.
Letting go of doing
Often we focus on numbers but some impact cannot be counted. Relationship and transformation are not easily measurable, but they are what God is all about and are what he has been doing in me and through me in Guatemala.
When I arrived in Guatemala I had all kinds of expectations of what I might “do” or “achieve”. Even when I tried, it was hard to surrender my desire to “do”. However, it is through that surrender that God can work more holistically.
Through working alongside Street Kids Direct (SKD) I was led to working closely with a group of teenage boys. In a moment of searching and questioning, a close friend said to me, “Azaria, the love you have for the youth comes from God. Why else would a lady from Yorkshire love a bunch of Guatemalan youth so much?”
From football to faith
Retrospectively I can see how God led me to work with them. It began through facilitating a weekly football outing, which even as I type seems utterly ridiculous to me.
I don’t particularly like football and I certainly cannot play, but they love it and with my limited Spanish back then it was a great way to spend time with them, to build trust and show love.
Through consistency and relationship, and as my Spanish improved, we started a weekly “family time” activity consisting of food, films and fun. This then grew into short Bible studies and eventually into more one-onone mentoring-type sessions, fulfilling a sisterly or even motherly role in their lives. This has led to the absolute privilege of seeing these young men grow and transform.
Much loved, slow to anger
Take Danilo, for example, when I first met him as a somewhat stroppy 13-year-old. He was intent on making everyone’s lives difficult. Over time he softened and began to share more of his story, a lot of which at least gave context as to why he was so angry and broken when I first met him. Through support, guidance, help with education and by far most importantly love, I have seen him completely transform. Now he volunteers and serves in our centre, he is full of fun banter, he is succeeding in school and is exploring deeper relationship with God. He is not simply someone I work with or serve; he is my friend.
One young adult with a particularly difficult and complex background was once angry, quick to place blame and easily provoked. The other youth frequently teased him and he would always bite, it never ended well. He was unable to sustain a job or finish school.
Through consistency in love and forgiveness and substantial support, his whole life has changed. He has moved away from his old context, is supporting a younger sibling, working hard to earn his own way, learning English to further his education and more importantly he has a strong and joyful faith. One of his passions is sung worship. Now he is slow to anger. Recently I witnessed some of the youth try to provoke him and he didn’t rise to it at all – this is a huge transformation.
A place of safety
One 16-year-old, who is not comfortable in his own skin and hasn’t quite worked out who he is or found his full identity in Christ yet, will often ask if we can go shopping to buy a new T-shirt or socks (with his money). I realise now it is not because he necessarily needs these items, but rather because he wants to spend time with me: to talk, to escape his home life, to be accepted, heard and loved. There was once a time when he wouldn’t go near or open up to anyone. God is working in him, slowly transforming.
When I first met Maria, she was incredibly shy and had little self-worth. She had missed a lot of schooling and was not confident, regularly saying, “I can’t do it.” Over time SKD has helped her to attend school, provided her with a fantastic mentor and been a safe place of acceptance and love for her to try new things and see that she can do it.
I translate the children’s sponsorship letters and recently Maria wrote: “Thanks to you I can study, and I know I will be somebody in life and I am going to achieve a lot with effort, it doesn’t scare me to be someone important.” Simply incredible!
These are just a few examples of lives transformed. To have played even a small part in the journeys of these young people is an honour. The impact is lives transformed by God and heading to much brighter futures. Imagine how many more lives God will use them to impact.