‘Children’s Center made me a better person’: Mario*

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Articles

When Mario was 8-years-old, he was trained by guerrillas for a couple of weeks. At this age, due to the guerrilla’s domination in the Meta region where he lived, he began to work in the fields harvesting and processing cocaine. The guerrillas used money to win his heart and when he was 11-years-old, he ran away from his home to join their ranks and become one of the 18,000 Colombian children in the illegal armed groups.

In the Meta region, the guerrillas have oppressed the population. Mario was born and lived there during his childhood. When he was 10-years-old, former President Andres Pastrana (1998 – 2002) separated 42,000 kilometers within territories located between Meta, Caqueta and Guaviare, for dialoguing with the FARC. This was an attempt to put an end to the armed conflict. These dialogues were broken when the ‘Teofilo Forero’ (a mobile column of FARC’) kidnapped a congress man.

During that time, the guerrillas took advantage by displacing the population who lived in this area. Because of the armed conflict, Colombia ranks number one for the most number of displaced people in the world. There are 4.9 million people displaced, according to Semana magazine.

Mario’s family was in Vistahermosa (Meta) and he knew about the FARC because his two older sisters were part of this armed group. He was thinking of doing the same thing, but God used his family’s displacement to change Mario’s life. They moved to Granada (Meta) where the pastor of the church Monte de Sion gave them refuge and taught them the Gospel.

In Granada, Mario and his younger siblings continued to be at risk of being recruited. Their mother began to pray for them, she wanted to prevent her three little children from following the example of her oldest girls. The pastor told them of a new home for persecuted children that was located nearby.

Mario and his two brothers were the first kids who came to the Open Doors’ Children’s Center, on June 6th, 2001. This was five days after the Children’s Center opened to provide refuge and education to children and adolescents from regions where there is persecution against Christians in Colombia.

Coming to the Children’s Center changed the lives of Mario and his brothers. There they met Christ and felt the love of the Father. At the Children’s Center, they were educated and learned to work and to be good men. Today, 25 years of age, Mario is married with two little children. He has held jobs using the skills he learnt at the Children’s Center. These include working as a driver, farm manager and geotechnical official at an oil company.

“During the six years that I was there, I learned to live the Christian life and the values for living the life according to what God wants. The best of my time spent there was getting to know God as a Father. There I was transformed into a better person. I was a rebel child when I came, but when I left the Children’s Center, I was noble thanks to the support of tutors, teachers and companions” he said.

During the first months there, he threatened to flee constantly. He wanted join the guerrilla and expressed hatred for his younger brother through violence, but within three months the Lord began to change his heart, through the love that he received from his  teachers. Step by step he was more receptive to corrections made by his tutors.

The transformation made by God in Mario’s life was so radical. Today he is a worker and a man who cares for his wife Lucy* and his little children who are 6-months-old and 6-years-old.

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‘Our Shepherd is good’

In August 2013, Mario and 48 other kids participated in the first former students meeting. Its slogan was ‘Our Shepherd is good’ and its goals were to strength the relationship between the students and the Lord, to learn about their current lives, especially for those who have strayed away from God’s ways, and also to measure the Children’s Center’s impact in their lives.

During these three days, 49 former students participated in inspiring conferences based on Psalms 23 and developed trainings with OD volunteers who motivated them to renew their relationship with the Father.

Forty-nine percent are still living as Christians; among them, twelve percent are congregating at the local church and the other thirty-nine percent aren’t. Among the forty-nine percent who came to this meeting, there were 16 who left the Children’s Center after 2010. This means seventy percent of the kids who came to the meeting are still Christians.

At the end of this meeting, the Children’s Center’s leadership’ found that the former students had difficulties adapting to life outside the Children’s Center, and many of them didn’t continue their spiritual life. This is largely because they chose to establish friendships with young people who are not believers, and so they stop following the way of the Lord. It was also established that their families don’t assume the roles they should and many choose to live separate from them.

However, some of them continue with their ministries, which began developing when they were at the Children’s Center. For example, one former student is a preacher in his church. Another teaches Sunday school and supports his pastor by leading a family group. Others help in their local church by leading worship ministries.

Other students like Manuel Hernandez were also there. He came to the Children’s Center after being a guerrilla child, and there he surrendered to Jesus and became a leader who learned to play the guitar and taught other kids to play. Together, they began the ‘OD Children’s Center worship ministry’. Before he came to this meeting, he was not walking with God, but he was confronted by the Word of God during a devotion time and announced that he was ready to resume his relationship with God. 

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A project in God’s hands

Since its foundation in June 1st, 2000, 170 children –from 31 districts of Colombia- have lived there.

This project began with 4 children, and by the end of that first year, there were 17. Twelve years ago (2001), the home was moved to its current location, and in 2010, seven children graduated as the first graduates. A year later, there were four and last year, there were five. This year, 2013, fifteen children will be graduating as the first batch of graduates with specializations in systems technical training.

Now the Children’s Center provides refuge, protection, education and food to 49 internal kids, as well as education to 21 external kids, who are there to accomplish Ministry of Education requirements. This is because the government requires a certain number of children who have achieved a certain level of grading, in order to issue a license of operations. Four of the children who have graduated in the recent years are part of the continued education program, and they will receive a scholarship for college. At the same time, they are working as assistants of tutors. One of them is a member of the center’s staff team now.

*Names changed for security reasons.

Prayer Points

Pray for:

  • Kids who were once housed in the Children’s Center – for their lives, families and ministries that the Lord will continue to strengthen and guide their lives everyday.
  • Teachers, tutors and staff; that the Lord will grant them wisdom and renew their strength, so that they can continue helping these kids.
  • Those kids who are separated from the Lord; that the Lord will stir their hearts and spur them to return to live under the shadow of God’s wings.
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