Updated: Mar 7
Cadaniño has seen incredible growth in the past years. We went from one teacher with 35 students in a small garage in 2016, to 12 staff working with 200 students in two community impact centers.
We have seen our dream of serving vulnerable kids become a reality. We have the equipment, resources, staff, and funding to create a safe place for children to come, learn about God, receive assistance with homework, eat a meal, be introduced to technology, and get the help they need to change the trajectory of their lives indefinitely.
It is so exciting to see change happening. A student who was failing in school now making the honor roll. A child who was struggling in math who is now passing their tests. Teenagers who had never read a whole book now finishing a dozen a year. Kids who had never touched a computer learning programming. Teenagers who had never understood the love of God, now sharing their faith with others.
The potential for what we are doing to break the cycles of physical and spiritual poverty and alter the trajectory of a family for generations to come is unlimited.
Yet, sadly, for some, dreams of change are cut short because of the realities of the broken world in which they live.
This point was driven home to me recently when gang-related violence flared up again after several years of relative calm in the Santa Fe neighborhood.
There is a reason we serve in the places we do, and it’s not the great weather or beautiful views of the mountains, although I appreciate both. It’s because of the extreme brokenness that exists because of the crime, violence, and poverty affecting all those living here.
Colonia Santa Fe is a neighborhood behind the airport that has long been considered a dangerous place. Gangs exert control over the population through extortion, and the police have little control over what happens.
Many people who live in Santa Fe and the surrounding neighborhoods moved to the capital, searching for work to better provide for their families. The living conditions are less than ideal, with families renting rooms in poorly constructed buildings or appropriating land on the side of cliffs to create makeshift homes.
Bordered by several other impoverished communities, including La Libertad, Boca Del Monte, and La Isla, and with only two ways in and out, it’s a place most people who not choose to visit.
Over the decade that we have worked there, we have seen violence rise and fall. While it hasn’t affected us personally, our teachers, the students, and their families accept it as a part of their lives, and almost everyone has been touched by it somehow.
Over my time working there, I have been constantly confronted with it.
When I first started volunteering in the community, teaching classes at a small school, I made friends with a young man named Danilo. He was a 16-year-old who had left the gang life behind. The Christian lady who ran the school had taken him in, and he helped out in exchange for room and board. Whenever I showed up, he was always there to greet me with a smile on his face and excited to use the few words he knew in English.
One day I showed up, and he was nowhere to be seen. None of the students would tell me what happened, and after finishing classes for the day, the director came and told me that Danilo was no longer with us.
She said his old gang had come and told him he needed to return, but he refused to rejoin, and someone had shot him on the street in the middle of the day.
I was crushed and devastated to realize that the life of someone I knew had been snuffed out so quickly and at such a young age was heartbreaking.
I didn’t know if I could help everyone, but I knew we had to try and at least help some of them. Something had to be done to provide children with a least a chance of a brighter future.
Ultimately, my work there turned into the first Cadaniño Community Impact Center, now serving 100 students in our center in Colonia Santa Fe and another 100 in our center in the town of San Jose Pinula.
As our program grew in-depth and scope and we enrolled more students, I began to be confronted with more situations like this.
I have heard gunshots in the morning, listened to the sirens that followed, and then comforted a student whose uncle was shot in the head in front of his daughter so someone could steal his cell phone.
I’ve seen streets cordoned off with police tape while they investigate murders.
I’ve walked past bullet holes in walls and windows, heard from students how they came to be there, and listened to stories from many students about how violence and crime have affected their lives.
Over the past years, we’ve been blessed with a period of general peace and quiet in the neighborhood. Some of the gang members had been killed or arrested, neighborhood communities had succeeded in coming together to threaten and expel other criminals, and a sort of truce was allegedly formed with gangs agreeing to stay out of each other’s turf.
That was shattered recently. Five people lost their lives last month because of a shooting during a soccer game near our center.
Though none of our student’s families were personally affected, it was a startling reminder of why we are here and the urgency of our work.
On the one hand, our goal in working with these kids and families is to provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives. Through faith in God and the development of the gifts, He has given them. By helping kids get better grades and finish school. By taking the time to introduce them to IT and STEM skills, and teaching them how to learn, so that they can become the catalyst that changes their lives and their children’s lives for generations to come.
On the other hand, the extreme brokenness that exists all around them means that they may be gone tomorrow despite our best efforts. Their life tragically cut short before they ever have the chance to see greater dreams realized.
Living within that tension is probably one of the hardest things to deal with. How do you create a long-term discipleship program for those you serve? How do you work with students to develop a life plan of what is possible when you are constantly confronted with the reality that it could end for them tomorrow?
It’s not easy. After almost 20 years of working as a missionary serving the orphaned, vulnerable, and those with special needs, I have no quick platitudes to offer.
My heart still breaks for the lives lost. I still cry when I think of Danilo. I wonder if somehow, someway, I could have done something different or better to have helped him have a different outcome.
I grieve for the students who have lost family members, knowing the lasting grief and trauma that will affect them for years to come.
Yet I dig deeper in my heart, past the pain, suffering, and sorrow to a faith grounded in something more profound. A conviction that drives me and sustains me towards something greater than helping these students live a good life here on earth.
The reason why we are here.
It is to give our students and those we serve has the opportunity to personally know a God who loves them. A God who cares for them enough to send His Son to die for them. And that no matter what challenges they face here on earth or how soon their life is cut short, the promise of eternal life through salvation in Jesus Christ awaits them for eternity.
We work to keep a dual focus.
On one side, helping our students discover their God-given gifts and abilities and use them in a way that Glorifies Him can change life here on earth.
And on the other side, holding fast to an eternal vision, remembering that we are a small part of what God is doing to redeem and restore lives to Him for eternity. We can take comfort in the job He has given us today and trust Him for the work He is doing tomorrow. Whatever that may look like and whether or not we get to see it.
John 5:11-13 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”