Thursday, March 10, 2011

Benevolence in Bolivia

I’m doing some blogging on Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale’s new website these days. This is my first live post.

What would you change with God's help?

Gary and Grace Streich know. Gary has been a faithful volunteer in Calvary’s Benevolence Ministry for several years. Grace's heart broke when she read online newspaper reports from her hometown of La Paz, Bolivia. Children live in prisons with their convicted parents. If a parent is sentenced to prison and there is no one for the child to live with, the child goes to prison with the parent. The only other option is the street.

"My heart pains for these children," Grace said. "These children are exposed to violence and drugs in the jails. I began to pray about how the Lord might use me to reach these children and change the government's policy."

Benevolence in BoliviaFor two years health issues prevented them from making the trip. A tumor was found in Gary’s lung the day after Thanksgiving 2009. He has stage four lung cancer. But they continued to pray for a door for hands-on ministry to open up.

In September 2010, finances to cover the costs of a trip appeared.

When other complications threatened to sideline Gary, he determined to push ahead. They booked tickets for a December flight and trusted the Lord to open doors for a Christmas Outreach to the prison's youngest residents.

The Streichs tried to plan things over the phone from Florida but hit a dead end with every attempt. So when they got to La Paz, they simply went to the prison and asked for whoever was in charge.

"We serve an awesome God!" said Grace. "We had no obstacles meeting them and we got an immediate approval to do an outreach event on Friday, the 24th of December for all the children at San Pedro Prison."

They were in for a surprise, though. They expected 150 kids based on newspaper reports. But because schools were on break, visiting children caused numbers to swell to around 450.

Benevolence in BoliviaA prison social worker suggested they serve the children "Chocolatada" (hot chocolate with cookies).  That meant they needed 100 bags of sugar, a commodity under tight government control. People line up at distribution centers before sunrise for a small ration of sugar. When Grace arrived at the distribution center, it was late in the day and the line filled with empty-handed people was still very long. Grace went to the front of the line and told the man in charge her plan. He was moved with compassion and made arrangements to give her all the sugar she needed after the center was closed for the day.

On Christmas Eve, 410 children at the San Pedro Jail received hot chocolate, cookies, gift boxes and a message about the greatest Gift ever given. 40 boxes were left over and distributed to homeless children in the streets. In addition to those ministered to in the prison there were four salvations including Grace's family members who helped with the outreach. Gary and Grace are numbered among the army of faithful volunteers at Calvary Chapel who serve in quiet corners impacting eternity.

Prayer Point:  Pray for more Spirit-guided opportunities to minister to these prison children.

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