BY BRIAN WILKINSON
The 38 networks that partner with Viva connect 2,324 churches and 1,152 organisations – but these numbers do not tell us the real story.
What has motivated and inspired me over the years has been meeting the heroes and heroines who sacrificially give their lives to serve children at risk.
Over the last few months I have visited a disused rubbish dump in Rio, Brazil and the most violent community in Costa Rica. In both places I met the ‘Saints in the Slums’ that Viva has often referred to: leaders of projects and pastors of churches that work in drug and gun controlled communities.
Having worked with the young people of the community and children of the gang leaders themselves, they have earned the right to come and go with immunity, and have the utmost respect of everyone.
I was told that if I had entered on my own I would not have come out, but when escorted by these leaders, every woman and child came up and hugged them, and every man nodded in recognition.
This may be understandable now, ten years on after beginning the work, but how did they even start as outsiders?
I heard that one lady pastor single-handedly cleaned out the river that bordered the community. And I was told the story that another man had held a gun in a pastor’s face but the mention of Jesus stopped him in his tracks, and this guy is now both a friend and an active member of the church.
The people I met see violence and share the hurt of the community every day but, always without fail, bring the hope and light of God.
In both Brazil and Costa Rica, all parties agree that the only way to break the cycle of violence is to raise the children with different values, and to ensure they receive better education and have better opportunities than their parents.
One pastor or one project cannot do this; it takes a concerted effort of a network to impact the whole community with a joint strategy and plan to bring about consistent change over a number of years.
Viva’s partner networks are not just connecting churches and organisations – they are connecting amazing people that make up the body of Christ. In a network, people are not alone; they can share in each other’s good times and hard times and, added together, they are an incredible force for good.