Restoring Lives Through God's Grace
Nicaraguan house mother, Mayra del Carmen Garcia Acuña, shares about her journey and a new special pair of sisters.
I would like to thank God for giving me the opportunity to work for Arms of Love in my field of passion. I’ve been able to develop and grow personally and professionally. I began with the ministry in August of 2007, working with 18 girls between the ages of 8 to 18, all with unique stories and personality traits. From past traumas and poor living environments, there were a variety of mental health issues present within the group … but some behavioral problems were consistent for all, including apathetic attitudes, poor self-esteem, and bad eating habits.
I have learned a lot from the counsel of my colleague María Luisa (our Psychologist), who has encouraged me through difficult moments, reminding me that God is in control, and affirming that I was the right person for the kids. That was important, because in my early years the work was so difficult that I wanted to resign.
I love the Arms of Love girls like my own daughters. I desire for them all to grow up healthy, with good morals, and prepared to be good citizens, professionals, mothers … wherever life takes them. I’ve been blessed to see them healed from past wounds.
I’ve given my best and trusted God with my prayers for our children, their families, the Arms of Love home, and all the people that make it possible for children to overcome trauma and dream again. Just recently, I’ve experienced the power of this hope again. Iliana and Adela are two young sisters who came to Arms of Love in August of 2014. Initially they were frail, scared, and shy. They exhibited evidence of neglect, abuse, and the absence of self-esteem. Iliana and Adela adapted slowly to their new home, but they’ve learned basics, like proper hygiene and eating habits, and have started to feel safe.
A difficultly for them has been learning to read and write, as they had never regularly attended school. The girls have trouble concentrating and retaining knowledge, but I trust they will overcome these challenges, just as they’ve already overcome so many of their fears.
Arms of Love provides Iliana and Adela the opportunity to continue to grow in a healthy environment, with the love, respect and attention that every child needs. With God’s guidance we believe our model of discipleship and holistic care will restore and empower these precious children’s futures.
A Story of Volunteerism and Higher Education
Melessa Starbuck has volunteered more than 700 hours with Arms of Love, including several visits to Nicaragua. She has been a great blessing to our organization, and here is her story of love and education, in her own words:
One of my most memorable moments in Nicaragua, began with a simple question that I asked a 13-year-old boy, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To my surprise, he responded, “Do you mean as a dream or in reality?" Hearing his dilemma, and the truth in his expression, made me realize that the vision he had of his future did not include a world where he could make his dreams a reality. Throughout his early years of life, he had been surrounded by voices that told him that he could only live a life within his existing reality – that there would be no possibility of change.
Arms of Love instills a new voice, a voice that tells children that their dreams matter, and that it’s possible to change their reality. A pathway is provided for the kids to follow their passions, chase their dreams, be successful, and change their family's legacy.
Personally, my reality was changed by attending Colorado State University. As a first generation student from a small, rural town, opportunities were limited. Through my higher education journey, I learned that I do not have to separate my dreams from my circumstances, or what society says is reality. My time as an undergraduate has been an incredibly influential experience. I have been empowered to follow my passions and strive to achieve the vision I have for my life. My degree has opened doors that have never been within reach for my family, and has allowed me to grow into the woman I am proud to be today.
If I have experienced such transformation and opportunities connected to higher education in the U.S., can you imagine the impact it has in the lives of the children in Nicaragua – the second poorest country in the western hemisphere, where only 28% of first graders will ever go on to complete the sixth grade?
It has been a wonderful, humbling experience to work alongside Arms of Love. Watching the children grow up in a supportive environment, reaching their own educational goals while pursuing my own, has been an amazing experience.
Q & A with Ines in the Philippines
com·mit·ment (noun) – meaning: “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” synonyms: devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness
Ines is the essence of commitment, and has been an incredible blessing to our children and organization.
You have been with Arms of Love since the very beginning, what roles have you filled over the years? In my early years I was a computer teacher, then I was a house-parent, I’ve also assisted with the Independent Living Program (ILP), and currently I am the bookkeeper … but the most important role I’ve played is simply being a parent, a mother, a friend, a counselor, and a teacher to children.
The house-parent role is a critical one, what is the most rewarding part of that job, and the most challenging? The challenging parts are when the kids struggle in school, when they desire to be in relationships at young ages, or stray away from their spiritual walks. However, when I see them in a close relationship with God, doing well in school, and when they reconnect with biological parents in healthy ways, those are the rewarding parts.
What are the greatest improvements you’ve witnessed at Arms of Love? -Expanding our educational opportunities, better allowing our kids to find their fit. -Increasing the number of ILP participants who graduate with a degree. -Continuing education offered to staff.
You went back to school and graduated with a degree in education, what prompted that decision? My family belongs to an indigenous population that traditionally can’t afford education, but it’s always been my dream to have a degree and to make a difference. I was encouraged by our former director, Ivy, to pursue that desire. I believe in the saying “you cannot give what you don’t have” … and when I chose to go back to school, I knew by improving my knowledge I would be able to better meet the learning needs of our children. I also wanted to be an example, to show our ILP youth that accomplishing higher education goals were attainable with determination and trust in God.
We know this is difficult work, full of challenges and seasons of exhaustion, how do you persevere? By prayer, the support and love of my family, the encouragement of friends, colleagues, and pastors … and most importantly my deep desire to serve and love the Lord.
In your perfect world, what would be your dream for Arms of Love? That more children could be impacted, and that all our kids would reach their full potential. I’ve also always hoped to host an Arms of Love reunion!
What is a favorite moment in the lives of Arms of Love children? Anytime a child tells me, “Mama, I want to invite Jesus to stay in my heart.”
It’s a major commitment for your marriage and the raising of your own children to be at Arms of Love, what is that like? It’s a big blessing to raise them in such a special place. My favorite thing about Arms of Love is its foundation of faith and family.
Calling All Runners!
Have you ever considered combining your passion for running with your love for serving? Arms of Love is thrilled to partner with the annual Ultra Run on beautiful Ometepe Island. We are offering inclusive adventure packages for next year's race, on February 6, 2016. We're announcing early so you have time to spread the word, to train, to pray about the mission and the possibility of sponsoring a runner (perhaps an Arms of Love child), or to donate running equipment.
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