Have you ever been to an area where your GPS warns you that you are in a BAD part of town?
Catherine our host, driver, and translator, was driving us to meet the leaders at a community work that started as a church and now works directly with families in the community through centers that they have developed.
The pastor who started the work from the church was Gerardo Kopf who now serves as the General Director of Fortalecer: Recursos Para Familias Y Comunidades. Lucio Andrés from his board of directors also agreed to meet us at one of their centers. Gerardo explained that although they started as a church, they realized the people needed more. They needed more professional help – beyond what pastors are trained to do.
As Catherine drove us to the neighborhood in Buenos Aires she announced that her GPS issued a warning that we were entering into a dangerous neighborhood.
I have seen worse actually, but it did have all the traditional signs of a bad neighborhood. Graffiti, burned out cars left out on the streets, heavy bars on all the windows in sight. This is where the church has placed it’s self.
The issues for families in this community are very challenging and there is a great deal of abusive violence. The community center itself is heavily barred because the husbands of abused wives want to get back at those who help their wives.
Fortelecer’s principles are clear:
- All people are created in the image of God and are to be valued and respected.
- The gospel of Jesus offers hope.
- Hope that produces change is possible.
With these principles they provide resources to help families become healthy and create safety, love, equity, peace and solidarity. Wow.
I notice that whenever I ask South American leaders about ministry, they respond talking about people – fruit of their work. Most pastors here are engaged in active counter cultural activity within their community as part of their regular work week.
Volunteers power Fortalecer. I met Aldo, a psychologist, who gives one day a week to do counseling at the center. He sees eighteen people a day from 7:30am – 9:30pm. It is his volunteer service for the Lord and he is just one of forty “permanent’ volunteers. There are also over 100 additional volunteers for special programs The counselors here see 1500 people per year in this manner and in addition hold five workshops per week.
I was deeply touched by three things today. The commitment of lay people from the church to working in the community. The philosophy that if we bring people together with a common problem, they can become a community helping one another.
When we left the center, I was stuck for words. Not because of my lack of Spanish, but because of the love of their neighbors and their volunteer commitment to this calling.