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Much to Do

A visit to an uncomfortable world

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“What is it like to live here?” I asked

“You mean what is it like during the day?” Pastor Aníbal responded. The Alliance minister gave me a “walking tour” of one of the roughest areas outside the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Few people who don’t live in Barrio Obligado would enter at night. This Argentine villa houses some of the poorest of the poor. Its dirt roads are filthy. The river that borders it is undrinkable. Putrid water stands in open ditches between the roads and the houses. “When it rains hard, you can’t get in here,” the pastor said. “This is why we come now, before it rains.”

Squatters pour into this shantytown from Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Argentina to find land, build homes or shacks and look for work. The Argentine economic crisis has caused Barrio Obligado to grow. Dogs run freely. Little stores sell sodas and snacks. Men and boys play soccer in the dirt plaza, and neighbors sit outside to talk and drink mate, the Argentine tea.

No Childhoods Allowed

I returned to my question. “What is it like to live here?”

“Here life means little. Human dignity is not valued,” Pastor Aníbal replied. “Here virginity ends with childhood. Fathers molest their daughters. Brothers molest their sisters.” He spoke sadly but with a determination to make a difference.

“Many residents look for work but end up collecting garbage to sell, or they beg for change on the streets, subways and trains. Some work changas, jobs with long hours and little pay. Then they return here.”

The pastor pointed to his left. “See that little girl?”

I saw a child carrying a toddler as four or five smaller kids followed. “Her parents left for a couple of weeks to look for work. She is the oldest, so she is in charge of her seven brothers and sisters. She is ten years old.

“With this kind of poverty, some can’t go to a free public school. Even the cost of a public bus is too much for them.” People come and end up staying, raising a family and passing on a sense of hopelessness to the next generation.

“See those small water tanks?” he asked. “Those are for the entire villa. During the summer, we often bring in bottled water because there is not nearly enough to go around.”

“How many people live here?”

“Around 1,500,” he answered. I looked around, wondering how these people make it year after year. I was glad for Pastor Aníbal’s company. I would never have entered this villa alone.

A Plan for Hope

We stopped at a tiny house with three rooms and a small bathroom. A dedicated church member lives here with her eight children. The family lives on 250 pesos (approximately US$83) that the government gives the mother each month, plus whatever other work she can find. The 42-year-old father recently died from alcohol poisoning. The older children have been baptized, and on weekends, the younger ones come to the church for meals.

“How many kids come to your Saturday and Sunday feeding kitchen?”

“We have about 60. Being right on the border of the villa enables them to come.”

Next to the house was a building with four walls but no roof. “This is where we want to be. We want to be here, inside this shantytown,” Aníbal said. He pointed to the partially finished structure on a lot donated to The Christian and Missionary Alliance church. “This will someday be a center to teach people the Bible and train future missionaries. It will also house a feeding kitchen for children.”

He pointed to another lot also donated to the church. “We want to use this property to provide skills training that will help the people find jobs or start businesses.” He pointed to a nearby vacant lot that was also a gift. “There we want to house an activity center, a safe place for the residents and their children to come to. This is our plan, our hope.”

Pastor Aníbal is from Colombia, and his wife, Rosa, is from Uruguay. Thirty years ago his life in Colombia consisted of drug trafficking, kidnappings and assassinations. Pain from an irremovable bullet in his left hip reminds him daily of his former life. At age 20, while in prison for drug trafficking, Aníbal came to know Christ as his Savior. Later, while in exile in Germany, he met Rosa and she too became a believer.

By God’s grace, Aníbal now teaches theology and hopes to earn a doctorate. He and Rosa are both bivocational and have been working in this villa for eight years. The C&MA mission became involved through FAARO, a ministry founded by two Alliance missionaries that works to unite resources and ministries dedicated to working among the poor. Aníbal looked around. “Our church has come a long way, yet there is much left to do.”

Light in the Darkness

We walked back to the church. The Saturday feeding kitchen had finished, and the kids returned to the villa, all except those who were responsible for cleaning the building. That evening, men were to come to study the Bible. The next day, there would be another feeding kitchen with Bible clubs for the kids, followed by an evening service.

After saying good-bye and giving each person a customary Argentine kiss on the cheek, I got into my car and headed back toward my world. My community has all the water it needs; it has well-lit streets. I would go home and kiss my children, who sleep in their bedrooms, and my wife and I can eat until we are not hungry.

When I turned onto Camino de Buen Ayre, the interstate leading back to the city, I thought about the family of nine, who live in a house the size of our kitchen. It was dusk, so I didn’t take the exit that led directly to my neighborhood. It was already too dark, too dangerous, to go that way. I took the longer route and saw the lights of all the shantytowns that have grown up in this part of Argentina dotting the landscape along the route, stopping only when the congestion of greater Buenos Aires begins.

I wondered, How many of these villas have a church dedicated to making the lives of its residents better? How many of these shantytowns have Jesus in their midst?

It doesn’t take a lot to impact the lives of those in need, and in an Argentina plagued by crime, uncertainty and a lack of hope. FAARO (Fundación Alianza para Ayuda, Recursos y Oportunidades) shows that a little can go a long way.

FAARO exists to meet the needs of children and families living in communities filled with poverty, unemployment and poor living conditions. By working with local churches and others, FAARO tangibly shows the love of God and provides both a future and a hope.

FAARO works with Pastor Aníbal’s church in Barrio Obligado. Through FAARO’s help, the church has a new industrial stove for the cooks to prepare for the Saturday and Sunday feeding kitchen. “We used to cook food for up to 60 children each Saturday and Sunday on an old stove that had one working burner…We now have a stove that more than meets our needs. Thank you for believing in us,” Pastor Aníbal said. FAARO also gives educational scholarships for needy children and is working with the church in a long-range plan of skills training and microenterprise development.

To learn about additional projects, visit www.faaro.org. Make donations to: FAARO, The Christian and Missionary Alliance, PO Box 35000, Colorado Springs, CO 80935-3500

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