Audio: Guatemala – the urban front line

Mark and Rosalie Balfour work with street connected children in Guatemala.

Increasingly they have also been working to offer pastoral support to others working on the front line in a difficult urban context – all part of the way in which their mission call is “all about Jesus and all about people”.

Reflection questions for groups

If you are listening with your small group, you may like to reflect on some of these questions together:

  • What was the one thing that most struck you when you were listening?
  • What phrase or thought found an echo in your own experience or spiritual journey?
  • Were there any common threads that linked the mission work of the people you’ve listened to and the needs of your local area?
  • Does what you’ve heard inspire you to do anything in particular in response?
  • What one prayer need will you commit to carry with you over the coming month and regularly pray for?


Voiceover: Hello and welcome to another Church Mission Society podcast. We try and bring together stories from people across the globe who are involved in God’s mission so that you can pray, learn and participate in mission too. To discover more stories visit

Jenny Muscat: Hi, this is Jenny and I’m with Mark and Rosalie Balfour who are back in the UK from Guatemala where they have pioneered a new location for mission with CMS. So, welcome back to the UK.

Mark Balfour: Thank you.

Rosalie Balfour: It’s really good to be here.

Jenny: Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been doing in Guatemala these past couple of years.

Mark: Well we are seconded to an organisation called Street Kids Direct who are a UK charity that work with organisations in Latin America that reach out to street connected children and young people. At the heart of what they do is a mentoring programme. They work with a number of different organisations specifically in Guatemala City but also in Honduras and Nicaragua. And our role with them is becoming more and more pastoral, working with the people who are actually doing the work and providing care and support for them. So we work with a number of projects; do you want to just mention a couple, Rosalie.

Rosalie: Yeah. In Guatemala we work with the main centre Street Kids Direct Guatemala, which runs a mentoring centre to work with kids to try and prevent them from actually moving onto the streets. It’s also street teams working for really more young adults now that are already living on the streets. We work with a great organisation called Go Guatemala which is in Zone 18, which is one of the most dangerous areas of Guatemala City, again working with sort of street connected and very much at risk children and they do in an amazing thing there. We work with Sigo Vivo, which is a pastor and his wife who actually run the church literally on the streets for those who are living on the streets, and we just come alongside them. We go down to Honduras and there’s various projects again with street connected kids working in gang controlled areas and also using –there’s a project using the mentoring programme that has been sort of built up in Guatemala and is now going out into various different locations in Honduras called Proyecto Alas which is Project Wings and they again working in prevention with street connected and vulnerable children.

Mark: And more recently with the blessing of Street Kids Direct we’ve connected with Tamar’s Hope, which reaches out to women working in prostitution, again a very difficult urban context. But there’s many overlaps and parallels with the work with street connected youth and children. I mean because quite literally some of the children who come to the centre their mothers work in prostitution and also that’s an area that is a huge area of risk for the young women and young girls in the centres and in the different programmes. Prostitution is one of their temptations for them as young women. One of the areas that they can go into, as gangs are for the young boys.

Jenny: So sounds like you’ve got a varied life and exist – and quality stuff to be getting involved in. In terms of the work with the young people, I believe you have a specific group that you work directly with. Can you tell me a bit about them?

Mark: Yeah we’re part of the team, and there’s lots of people who work with them, but we’re part of the team that work with a group of young lads between 14 and 18 years old and they come to our apartments. They’ve been coming to our apartment every Thursday for what we call family time which is a, Rosalie always cooks them a big meal and because, it’s sort of for some of them, that will be the most healthy and the biggest meal they’ll get all week. And we can chill out watching films, there’s jigsaws… It’s just really – And then we all sit around a table to eat, and it is just giving some experience of normal family time together. And Rosalie, well has been sharing particularly the story of one of the lads there called Alex and some of the problems and issues he’s been facing.

Rosalie: Yeah. Alex is 15 and he’s got a couple of younger sisters who are 12 and 13 who are part of the project. But they live with their grandmother who, because both their parents are in hospital – no, not in hospital, their mother is – I think I’ve messed that up…

Jenny: Just start that answer again.

Rosalie: We’ll start again. I’ll start with Alex again. Yes so one of the boys in the youth group was called Alex and he’s 15. He’s got two younger siblings who are 12 and 13, both girls, and they live with their grandmother because both their parents are long term in prison, probably because of gang related activity. So we’re not sure exactly why. But it’s – life is a real struggle for them. Their grandmother is not able to earn enough money to keep them. In fact she doesn’t have any of the ability now to earn any money. And so Alex has been really drawn into the gangs because he sees them as a way of making money. Now he’s the head of the family, he feels that that is a way of getting money. And as some gang member you have to do absolutely appalling things. And he really hasn’t – he’s in this really mixed – he’s got a faith and I do believe he knows Jesus. But at the same time the pull and draw from the gang is just absolutely huge. So he’s been repeatedly getting closer to the gang, and then the organisation have been helping and literally move away with his grandmother to another area of the city, but he’s been taking drugs and alcohol and that again has been getting very close to joining the gang. We know, in fact last time we saw him he had had the marks put again to have his tattoo put on his wrist, and once he has the tattoo filled out then he will not be able to leave. And the three points of the tattoo point to the three destinations that you can go as a gang member, which are jail, hospital, and the mortuary, and that is the only options that they see in life. But we just really believe that Jesus can come and transform his life. And that there’s only so – we can’t do anything. Organisations can’t do anything. All we can do is introduce him to Jesus and it’s Jesus that’s going to make the difference and transform people’s lives so that’s why we’re there.

Jenny: Yes and absolutely we’d ask listeners to pray for Alex and those like him. Is his a fairly typical kind of gang story?

Rosalie: He is very, very typical sadly. And we just see more of our boys going that way or just being tempted by the really horrible things around, because that is what they see on in everyday life. And when your parents have been in gangs and you’ve been brought up with parents that are alcoholics and on drugs and that is what you see around that’s how you imagine that your life is going to, is going to go. So as an organisation and the centre is there very much – we have mentors for all the kids and the youth. And the idea is just so that they can see that there is another way of life. They don’t have to go into that. There are other options on their lives.

Jenny: And I believe mentoring has been seen to have quite a powerful impact in terms of improving outcomes.

Mark: It does. I mean it’s proven that when a child has a mentor or an interested responsible adult in their lives who gives them attention and care and love, that would, that changes so many outcomes. And so the kids who are in the mentoring programme with Street Kids Direct Guatemala, they are more likely to stay in school, their results get better, and you can just see that and chart that. They are less likely to get involved in things that are destructive for them. They’re more likely to become responsible adults. And of course at the heart of the mentoring programme it is a, it is a mentoring programme that has faith as a key component: faith in Jesus. So it’s Christian mentors working with the children. And then that’s the mentoring programme that another CMS Mission Partner Steve Paulson has been really involved in enabling to spread through Honduras as well. And lots of organisations are interested in taking on the mentoring programme. And we call it discipleship as well wouldn’t we. And we just think that actually that that it has to be because that’s what Jesus did. He spent time with people, poured his life into their lives. And you know specifically three and twelve that’s what he did. And we see the outcome of that today.

Jenny: Great. And speaking of mentoring you’ve talked about some very difficult contexts and it can sometimes seem easily to be, easy to be matter of fact about them as many thousands of miles distant, but there’s a real cost in working with people whose lives are difficult. So I’ve had a sense that you almost got a mentoring type and pastoral role with those who are doing that difficult work as well. How’s that come about?

Mark: Well thank you. Yeah. That’s really increasing. So Duncan Dyason, who heads up Street Kids Direct, has really identified that as a need and has asked us more and more to have a pastoral role with those working the different projects and to really care for the staff who care for the teams, and also care for those who are perhaps working a little bit more in isolation. And so we’ve been doing that. We are very often – we can visit projects we can spend time with the kids and spend time running things, but actually if you look at where the gap is and there’s a very big gap is in the caring for the people who are doing the caring. Because it is draining, it is very, very often discouraging. People need people to come alongside them and show them love, listen to them, give them time and space, pray for them. Encourage them in all kinds of different ways. And that’s what we see ourselves more and more doing. And perhaps going out slightly outside the bounds of Street Kids Direct in terms of working with organisations that aren’t strictly speaking working with street connected young people and children, but those working in urban ministry. And again that’s with Street Kids Direct’s blessing that we can actually do more of that. And our hope would be, not just to be us, but to be looking at setting up informal networks of people who really understand the context so that when they’re working in an urban context, and the realities of gang life and prostitution and drugs and protection is just part of what they work with, they can talk with and get support from other people who themselves understand that without having to do lots of explanation and will understand the pressures that come with that. So yeah that’s our – we’re very excited for the future in terms of what may develop in that when we go back to Guatemala and then also seeing some of that in Honduras as well.

Jenny: Great. And if people are wanting to pray for you are there some specific things that they can be praying in the coming months.

Mark: We could just ask people to keep praying for the mentoring programme as it’s running in Guatemala City. There’s always the need for more volunteers. And because there is always a need for more children to enter into it, as children who are at risk are identified by the project and they come into the project with the permission of their parents if they have one or their guardian, that’s fantastic but the project can only be as big as the number of mentors who are actually willing to come forward. So praying for good volunteers who have a life with Jesus, have responsibility and are willing to make that commitment. That’s a big thing. So more people for the mentoring programme. We’d say that both in Guatemala and also as it is expanding in Honduras too. And for us, we always ask people in our prayer letters – I’m looking at Rosalie here so, she’s nodding along.

Rosalie: I just like him to do all the talking.

Mark: We always ask people for, our prayer request for us is that we always keep our eyes on Jesus. And that’s a simple one, but it’s not always simple to do we find. We can get distracted very easily or we can get discouraged or we can just feel overwhelmed and actually we need to keep our eyes fixed on him because he’s the source of our hope and our life and why we do what we do.

Jenny: Great, thank you. And as a final question we have been running a campaign called Mission Is trying to kind of engage people in a conversation about what mission looks like in the 21st century and what mission actually means. So could you complete the sentence “Mission is…”?

Mark: Okay. So this is again, I’m saying this but this is something that Rosalie and I have agreed together –

Rosalie: I’m nodding.

Mark: She’s nodding. You can’t see it on the… But again it’s a phrase which we often use that it’s all about Jesus and it’s all about people. And so that’s what we’d say mission is: all about Jesus and it’s all about people. It’s quite simple really. It’s not that complicated.

Jenny: Great, thank you very much for your time.

Mark: Thank you very much.

Voiceover: Thank you for listening to this podcast from Church Mission Society. For more material, go to


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