Today we traveled to Cuesta Arena for the celebrations of our fifth year of the school. Estella joined us on the way. For whatever reason, Estella has never attended a graduation. For those of you that don’t know, Estella was the start of Cuesta Arena. When Sairy moved here, there were 3 church members, Estella was one of the three. Estella purchased property in Cuesta Arena, dreaming of doing something in this poor community. She talked with the bishop and other church members who told her it was too big of a project, so she prayed. Her husband became ill and she sold a piece of the land to the church. When Al and Nancy and the groups from Ohio and Pennsylvania came, they built a pavilion and put up a sign that said “Centro de Formacion Cristiana”. The sign represented this dream. As Estella’s husband’s health declined, Estella didn’t know what to do with the rest of her property. Sairy instructed her to pray. About 2 weeks later, after spending time in the community and hearing it from everyone we talked to, we decided we needed to buy more land to build the school, and Sairy knew just who to turn to. The church bought the rest of the land and slowly, the dream Estella prayed about became a reality.
As we arrived in Cuesta Arena, the community was unusually quiet for a Saturday morning, as everyone was at the school. We arrived to the photographer taking pictures of the graduates and the teachers hustling around to make last minute preparations. The second floor had been decorated by all of the mothers earlier that morning and the room was filled with community members, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. In the front of the room, the book bags and end of the years gifts donated by missionaries and a new sound system ready to celebrate the day.
The ceremony started with the graduates walking in and then the national anthem and opening prayer. Each group of kids had a presentation prepared. The preschoolers staying on another year, dressed as soldiers, sang “I’m in the Lord’s Army”. The graduates, dressed in tutus donated by Traveling Tutus, danced, gleaming from ear to ear. The morning tutoring program and afternoon tutoring program had skits prepared and scripture to read. Lastly a group of girls from the community prepared a danced and wore their tutus. Each year, one of the moms talks about their experience in the program and how grateful they are to have been apart of the program. This year Johnny, a single dad, talked about his daughter coming to the school and going home and learning her colors and numbers. Though he thanked the missionaries, the church, and the teachers for their support, he stated “none of this would be possible without God” and pointed to the heavens.
It is truly amazing to see the changes in the community. On our way home we stopped and talked with a mom who, to my knowledge had not had any of her kids in the program as they were too old when we started, but she talked about the change the school has made in the community and how grateful she is to hear about all that is being done in the school. On the way home, we talked about the events of the morning and the highlights that touched each of us the most. And then we turned to the heartache and the areas where we all feel called to work harder and kids we feel may have fallen through the cracks. Though there is a “new generation” of kids in Cuesta Arena who play and experience true joy, knowing they are safe and love, our hearts broke for the adolescents, who were too old for the preschool and have struggled in the tutoring program. They have experienced the joy in the day time but we have not been able to break into the homes and the daily lives of their families to show them what Godly love means day and night. Knowing intimately their stories, our hearts break for them and desire to commit to finding ways to break the cycle in the community for their generation as well. Please pray for what this looks like and how you may be able to help.