In 2015, an EMI Canada project team was preparing to go to Cambodia.
Instead, they rerouted to Tactic, Guatemala, to share and help shape a dream.
Impact Ministries had already started ten schools, three church congregations, and a medical clinic. But God had even more planned.
Before the pandemic hit, Braden Swab from EMI Canada revisited Tactic to hear more about the Vida (Spanish for 'life') dream.
It was a modest room. Not much bigger than a bedroom.
Clear plastic bassinets lined the walls of the small hospital nursery, each with a brand new life swaddled inside. Most were asleep, though the few that weren’t belted out cries that echoed off the concrete walls. The nurses calmly completed paperwork at a table in the middle of the room, seemingly unaware of the chaos.
I walked around the room slowly, peaking into each bassinet. I couldn't help but smile as memories of my own kids' arrivals played back in my mind.
Suddenly, amid the commotion, the enormity of everything that had led to this moment hit me like a tidal wave. God had woven a tapestry of dreams together to create the Vida Children’s Home.
Interviewing members of the children’s home advisory council that week in Tactic, I was amazed at just how intricate this tapestry was.
Canadians Rita and Les founded Impact Ministries in Guatemala in 2000, where they have lived and worked full-time ever since. On the sunny back patio of their home in Tactic, Rita told me her Vida story.
“In the first years we lived here,” Rita began, “I would go to the hospital maybe twice a month to visit the area where babies were born.”
Her persistent smile faded as she continued, “There was rarely a visit that I made to that hospital where I didn't find abandoned children.”
“The nurses explained it to me like this: A mother comes into the hospital. She gives birth to her baby. When the doctor says she's free to go, she packs her things and goes.”
“But sometimes, when they go to clean her bed, they find her baby.”
The somber tone is rare for Rita, typically beaming and optimistic. But those hospital visits weren’t the first time Rita was drawn to the cause of the orphan.
“The very first dream I ever had for my future was when I was about 12 years old.” Rita’s smile had returned.
“I dreamt that one day I would have an orphanage. I even wrote a little book about it. I still remember the title page. It was ‘House of Dreams’…”
Then, after twelve years of ministry and many more hospital visits, a Guatemalan couple came forward. They had a dream as well.
Edgar and Sheny have been involved with Impact for over 15 years. Edgar is a former Impact student and is now an agricultural engineer serving on the Impact Ministries board. Sheny is an administrative assistant for Impact's school system.
As we sheltered from the steady rain on the porch of the recently opened Vida Children’s Home, they told me their story.
“My dad abandoned us 29 years ago,” Edgar told me. “I hated my dad for abandoning us. But, I saw that I had a mother, and there were children who did not have a mother.”
“I thought, ‘Now, what about the abandoned children?’ So, as I grew up, an idea was born in my heart.”
“I said, ‘I am going to be an engineer, I am going to earn a lot of money and I am going to buy a farm. And on that farm I am going to make a house for orphaned children.’”
Sheny also had a childhood dream.
“I was in the second year of high school, and I began to think that I wanted to find a baby. I said, ‘If I find a baby, he will stay with me.’” Sheny laughed, “What I was going to do with a baby?”
But as she grew up and matured, the thought persisted.
“I thought a lot about love, appreciation, affection towards a child. And it entered my mind. ‘I'm going to have an orphanage,’ I thought.”
After years of working with Impact Ministries, Edgar’s heart had changed. He still wanted to start an orphanage, but his focus had shifted:
“The vision is not to earn a lot of money. The vision is to love people, to win people, to take care of people.”
Meanwhile, the Lord was weaving another couple into the dream.
Hector, also a former student of Impact’s schools and board member, is the lead pastor at Rio de Vida Church. His wife Ericka is the newly-appointed Director of the Vida Children’s Home.
“I was reading some books, in particular one by George Müller” Hector recalled. “It inspired me so much that George Müller founded orphanages and with a lot of faith in his heart.”
“I thought, ‘Lord if you want to use me like that one day that's good, but how do we get involved?’”
Ericka didn’t have the same dream initially. In fact, she grew up determined to have a family with no more than two children. But God changed her heart.
“Brother Les and Sister Rita told us, ‘Go there to the capital for some lectures and the perspective will open your mind to be able to think about a children’s home.’” Ericka said.
“I spent the whole two days crying with stories that impacted me.”
“The Lord began to call me from my comfort of my space…to deny myself, to stop being selfish, and to be able to open my mind and my heart, and I began to see what the Lord wanted of me.”
A committee was forming around these three couples, along with another couple from Canada.
Sandra, Impact Ministries Canada’s Operations Manager, first visited Tactic in 2009 with her husband Don. A volunteer at the time, Sandra had her first conversation with Rita over lunch after a morning visit to the same hospital nursery.
“I asked Rita a question no one had ever asked her before: ‘Are there any dreams you have that are still unrealized?’”
Rita told her about her dream as a 12-year-old.
“As she was talking, I was so sure that God was speaking to me. And He planted a seed in my heart that grew and grew.”
By 2014, the committee was refining their vision together. They conducted research, visited other orphanages, attended a variety of conferences, and gained support from the local church.
Later that year, Sandra connected with a friend from her church in Canada: Greg Young, EMI Canada’s Executive Director. Greg explained how EMI could help their committee translate their shared dream into a thoughtful master plan and Phase 1 building design.
There was only one hiccup, Sandra remembers, “Greg said, ‘Well, you know it will be at least six months before we can come.’”
God had a different plan.
“A couple of weeks later, Greg phoned me and said, ‘Sandra, you'll never believe it. We've had a cancellation. We have a team ready to go for you.’”
So, in February of 2015, an EMI Canada team visited Impact’s property in Tactic.
Since that time, much has happened: The committee received the EMI plans, broke ground, and built the Phase 1 baby house and staff housing.
After several years navigating government requirements and working with social services in Guatemala, Vida Children’s Home received approval to open in the summer of 2019.
Today, it is home to eleven children.
With the experience in the hospital nursery fresh in my mind, I made my way back to the Vida Children’s Home baby house. Each visit meant I got to spend time holding the babies, an easy draw for me.
As I held one sweet little girl, I was reminded of something that Edgar said to me.
“One day, one of these children will be the director of the Home,” he said with conviction. “He will understand much better than us, because he is part of it. And he is going to do much better than us…”
That’s when a second tidal wave hit: This dream – the tapestry that God was weaving in this little town of Tactic – was far from finished.
Rita, Edgar, Sheny, Hector, Ericka, and Sandra each followed God’s call to the orphans of Guatemala.
But there are more threads to be added; more people who will hear God’s call to join the Vida dream.