When the pastoral staff of Believers Fellowship in Gig Harbor, Washington, decided to grow their missions program, they were looking for an opportunity to work deeply with a community. Ministries Director Matt Edwards interviewed mission organizations and decided to partner with Food for the Hungry.
Church members from Believers Fellowship sponsor over 200 children in Ushpa Ushpa, Bolivia. On short-term teams, they visit their sponsored children.
“We partnered with Food for the Hungry in 2010 because we were looking for an organization that would allow us to work in one community for a long time, rather than just doing ‘one-off’ mission trips every year,” Matt recalled. “I was impressed with the way that FH put together their program. They are committed to enabling the local community to direct the development plan and they are intentional about a 10-year stay (so as not to create dependence). I liked that they work with churches, but that they don’t work exclusively with churches—theirs is a holistic development plan. Finally, I loved their emphasis on relationships over projects.”
Food for the Hungry staff introduced Believers Fellowship to the community of Ushpa Ushpa in Bolivia. The church has been partnering with the community ever since.
Life Change on Both Sides
Believers Fellowship has taken six short-term teams to Bolivia. In their years of partnership, they have discovered that while transformation is occurring among the community members of Ushpa Ushpa, it is also taking place among their own congregation.
One team member, Anthony, was especially touched by his experience. He was not a regular church attender, but he happened to be at Believers Fellowship one Sunday when they announced preparations for the next mission trip.
Anthony, a team member from Believers Fellowship, told the story of his father’s love. He encouraged parents in Ushpa Ushpa not to give up on their kids.
Matt remembered his first conversation with Anthony about Bolivia. “Anthony approached me and said, ‘I would like to go to Bolivia this year. I am not a Christian and I am not sure I believe in God. But I believe in what you are doing and I want to be a part of it.’ I told Anthony that he was welcome to be a part of the team, but that since it was a Christian mission trip, that we were going to pray on occasion and that he had to be okay with that. He said he was, but also added that under no circumstances did he want to be asked to share anything. I agreed.”
Anthony joined the team along with his father. On the last day of the trip, Food for the Hungry held a parenting seminar for the community on the importance of family. They asked for volunteers to share. Anthony raised his hand immediately.
“He shared a heartfelt story of his struggles in life and how his dad had always been there for him,” Matt said. “He encouraged the parents not to give up on their kids because they didn’t realize what an impact they were having. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.”
Matt has witnessed many stories like Anthony’s over the years. “People who otherwise struggle to connect at church are finding meaningful relationships through a shared commitment to the kids in Ushpa Ushpa. It’s been awesome.”
Engaging in Multiple Ways
Every year since 2010, Believers Fellowship has sent a short-term team to Ushpa Ushpa. On their visits they have completed physical projects such as the construction of a community center, a clean-water initiative and church building improvements.
For all of these physical projects, community members have taken leadership. Food for the Hungry believes that fostering local leadership ensures that development is sustainable and that community members are the owners of their future. In Ushpa Ushpa, community leaders decided which projects to prioritize, and local residents worked side by side with the Believers Fellowship team. As a result, infrastructure and relationships were built simultaneously.
Besides their annual visits, Believers Fellowship has a year-round commitment to Ushpa Ushpa. Through the child sponsorship program, church members sponsor about 230 children in the community. The children communicate back and forth with their sponsors through letters. The child sponsorship funding enables Food for the Hungry staff to maintain a daily presence in the community, training residents in health, nutrition, education, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction.
Looking to the Future
This summer, another Believers Fellowship team will travel to Bolivia. They will be working on a clean water initiative, constructing a water tower to serve more families in the community. Food for the Hungry will educate the community on clean water practices.
Matt pointed out that their church is not the main contributor to the water project. The community members themselves are contributing toward their own development. “It’s a steep price tag—$58,000. But the community is chipping in $32,000. The reason that this is cool to me is that when we did the filters project in 2011, the community was only able to contribute $2,000 toward a $19,000 project. In just 5 years, the community went from contributing $2,000 to $32,000! Food for the Hungry’s community development plans are working.”
Believers Fellowship has taken to heart the vision of Food for the Hungry: “God called and we responded until physical and spiritual hungers ended worldwide.” Their response to God’s call has helped to end poverty in Ushpa Ushpa, Bolivia.
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