About an hour drive outside of Guatemala City, we arrived at Bethel school in Patzicia. As usual, we were welcomed warmly into the school by the administrators, but also by the children as they were having their break. We exchanged many handshakes, high fives and fist bumps.

During my trip to Guatemala at the end of September, I had the opportunity to visit a number of schools from pre-primary to secondary. My colleague and I spent time with principals and coordinators discussing what is going well in their schools and in what ways they would like to grow. We asked how Edu-deo Ministries, the organization that set up the trip, might be able to walk alongside these schools.

Back at Bethel school, the bell rang after a few more greetings.

“Es tiempo por clase?” I asked.

Several said “Si,” but I guess they didn’t want to leave me as I found myself surrounded by about 15 second graders who pushed and pulled me into their classroom.

The teacher, Gabrielle, seemed okay with this intrusion. I practiced my Spanish a bit but, honestly, I don’t remember much of what was said. I was just taking it all in. This was such a wonderful way to start the day, and confirmed to me that my heart is in elementary school.

There are many more stories I could tell, far too many to include here, so let me share a few observations and reflections:

  • AMG (Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel), which runs the schools we visited, has a very holistic approach, providing hot breakfast and lunch, medical and dental care, family and social assistance and more.
  • When basic safety and physical needs are met, as listed above, students can thrive and learning happens.
  • When providing education for the poorest of the poor, the question isn’t, “Can you afford Christian school tuition?” but “Do you require sponsorship to be able to receive Christian education?”
  • Starting with questions like, “What do you have?” or “What are you doing well?” allows people to see what they need to be thankful for and gives them hope.
  • A good relationship between the teacher and the students is foundational to good learning, everywhere and always.

But perhaps the most important observation I made while in Guatemala, was that students who are thriving are eager to welcome visitors into their school and classroom…even the point of kidnapping a visitor.