Dr. Jose Luis Guerrero poured his heart into his career as a young doctor, earning himself a position as the head of teaching and research in one hospital and head of consultations in another. He quickly became a respected member of the medical community. Dr. Guerrero was not a Christian, but the Holy Spirit was already working in his heart. He had an unexplainable urge to help the poor.
"All my life, I have felt mercy and pain for the people living in poverty and felt angry for the social injustice, but without Jesus in my heart, I believed that socialism was the solution," Dr. Guerrero says. "After I received Jesus in 1998, my thinking changed, and I had the desire to help the people in need."
In 1999, Jose Luis was driving through Jalapa, Mexico, and a common sight struck him with new force. "I saw two children working in the street asking for money," he remembers. "I then decided to draw up a formal plan to help the children working in the streets." When he brought his plans to his church, the plan was accepted and supported. Dr. Guerrero soon felt God leading him to the community of El Por Venir, which means "The Future" in English.
In his spare time, Dr. Guerrero began his ministry work in a crumbling cinder block shack located on one of the many steep streets of El Por Venir. Although the tin roof was holey and the floor was dirty, patients came to see Dr. Guerrero on his regular visits.
After beginning partnership with the Luke Society in 2002, a small ministry center named Vida en Abundancia (Abundant Life) was built on a large piece of property with hopes for expansion. The new one-room cinder block building was a big improvement as it had windows and a heavier metal roof. However, as word about Dr. Guerrero's ministry spread around the community, the building was soon too small.
Construction is nearly complete today, and the clinic has now expanded to three stories, housing a kitchen and large eating area, classrooms, medical exam rooms, a dental area, offices, and a small outdoor area for children to play.
The new clinic will offer the obvious benefits of more services in a better environment. Because the clinic attracts more people with varying financial situations, they will be able to implement a sliding scale fee for consultation services. "Some people with better economic conditions will pay a little more, and the people without resources can receive the consultation for free," explains Dr. Guerrero. There are also hopes for government grants. "The authorities and other organizations are looking at us more and more, and this is good because we can ask for more help for the children," he says.
A typical day begins very early at Vida en Abundancia. The night watchman, Salvador, begins preparing breakfast at 6 a.m. At 7 a.m., Samuel joins the process by setting up tables, and then from 7 - 9:30, breakfast is served to the community children. The menu for the breakfasts is put together by Laura Garcia Cortez, a nutritionist who volunteers her time and expertise. The government provides vitamins, rice and beans for the children every month. For fresh fruits and vegetables, staff members gather donated food at the local market. On this day, the children are eating tostadas, which are made from a fried tortilla, beans, lettuce, cheese and sour cream. A local bakery donates a cake every week, which are used to celebrated birthdays or other special occasions.
An average of 25 children per day comes to Vida en Abundancia for breakfast. The children come from poor families in El Por Venir. In most cases, the mother has already gone to work and is not there to prepare the meal, but usually the families cannot afford to feed their children more than once a day.
As soon as the doors open to feed the children, patients begin coming to see the doctor. Because much of Dr. Guerrero's time is taken up by administrative duties, the clinic has hired another doctor: Dr. Eli Garcia Sanchez - a valuable asset to the ministry. "He is a young doctor, but a mature Christian man," Dr. Guerrero says. "In the ministry, he is a good doctor, and in addition, he takes special care of the children."
Patients are seen in a room directly next to the kitchen and eating area. A small examination table is tucked against the far wall by the window, and a tall scale stands on the other side of the room. In the middle of the long room is a desk with a typewriter. After assessing the patient, Dr. Jose Luis or Dr. Eli will type out a prescription and instructions for the patient. A carbon copy is kept of each prescription, and the patient must sign their name to signify they understand the instructions.
On the first floor of the new clinic, the classrooms are already finished and being used for the Scholarship Reinforcement Program. This program provides additional education opportunities for the children of El Por Venir. Dr. Guerrero found teachers willing to volunteer their time to tutor children wanting extra help with their homework. The program runs for 25 weeks with an average of 33 students per month attending. There is a 90% attendance rate, and also 90% of the children attending the program pass to the next grade level at school with at least a B average.
Lilia Hernandez Cruz is one of the Luke Society staff teachers. "The teachers at the school are surprised at how willing these students are to learn," she says. "They have asked us what methods we use to encourage the kids. We have shared our method with them, and we tell them it's not only the method we use, but we also mix the students so the older ones are helping the younger ones." The tutors place great importance on the quality of one-on-one time the children have with them. The ratio of students to tutors is usually around five to one.
The Scholarship program teachers enjoy the freedom they have with the students that they did not have while teaching in the public schools. "We are free to speak about God," Graciela Linas Rivera says. "Some of the students have problems at home. They cry, and we cry with them and tell them God loves them and cares for them."
After the completed construction of the new clinic, the second floor will house an extension of the Scholarship Reinforcement Program, but will focus on older children living in El Por Venir. Dr. Guerrero hopes to provide job training opportunities for those wanting to be electricians, bakers or computer technicians.
The staff currently numbers 25 volunteer and paid positions. Thankfully, each of them is Christian, sharing Dr. Guerrero's passion for the children and people of El Por Venir. "It is of the utmost importance to have a Christian staff because we want to share Jesus' love," says Dr. Guerrero. "If a staff member didn't have Jesus as their personal Lord, it would be impossible to share something they didn't have in their life. We aren't just an NGO (non-government organization) of altruism or philanthropy, we are a Christian ministry, and all of us think that this is the way how our Lord has called us to serve."
Although the staff shares a common vision and passion for Vida en Abundancia, the staff has not always been so close-knit. Recognizing the need for more unity, Dr. Guerrero set a plan in motion. In January 2007, he began organizing staff devotions at noon. He required all staff to be present, and he invited all patients and students to come as well. He was surprised when some of the construction workers building the new clinic came also!
"Our devotion time is 20 minutes, and in that time we pray, read the Bible, reflect on that passage of the Bible, and sing," he describes. "It really is a blessing because we prepare different reflections every day, and all the staff members have to prepare a reflection to share with the group. I can see God working in our lives as a staff through this activity, mainly creating more unity and identification with one another."
Dr. Jose Luis' wife, Laura, is also a key member of the Vida en Abundancia team. She works for the government as an accountant, but was given the entire year of 2007 off to work at the clinic. She and Dr. Jose Luis have dedicated themselves to developing a stronger prayer life this year as a couple and with the clinic staff. When the clinic opens in the morning to feed the children, those who are present spend time in prayer. Also, the last Friday of the month is spent in prayer and fasting. "All of these activities have a principle role in the life of the ministry because we constantly look for the direction of God," Dr. Jose Luis says. "We are in a constant spiritual battle against the Enemy, and only with prayer and fasting can we win. And in Jesus, we are winners."
Last year, God placed another burden on Dr. Jose Luis's heart during breakfast. "I was reading the local newspaper when I saw a big report about a little town in the mountains near Jalapa where the children suffered from malnutrition and illnesses related with the weather," he says. "The newspaper included several pictures similar to those I saw earlier of children working in the street. I felt pain in my heart and heard a clear thought in my head, you should do something for these children."
Dr. Guerrero called the reporter who wrote the article and asked several questions about the people living in El Paisano. A few days later, Dr. Guerrero went to the village. "I could see the real situation of poverty and need in this community," he said.
The climate of the village is cold with high humidity. The houses are made of boards that leave gaping holes which do not keep out the weather. The people try to dress warmly, but their tattered clothes do not protect from the chilly wind. It was obvious to Dr. Guerrero that the community needed their help, and when he discussed it with the staff, they were ready and willing to go. When the Vida en Abundancia staff goes to El Paisano, they are prepared for hard work and a rewarding day. A donated 15-passenger van is loaded to capacity with volunteers, medical supplies, toys and clothes. They drive for an hour by highway, and suddenly turn off onto a road paved with stones, making for a bumpy ride. After an hour of bumping along through beautiful, untouched forests, they arrive in El Paisano. They set up in a small cinder block building with two rooms. One room is quickly converted into a medical clinic. Lights are turned on and a cot is loaded down with blankets. The coffee pot is turned on in the corner. Numbers are scribbled onto pieces of paper and handed out to those already waiting in line.
One woman has already asked for a doctor's attention. "I have two sons at home who are very sick. They cannot walk here. Can you come see them?" After some discussion, Dr. Guerrero learns that she lives nearly an hour away. The van is now unloaded, so he quickly puts some medicine in his bag, and they drive away. Dr. Eli begins seeing patients.
Patty Gonzalez Vasquez is Dr. Guerrero's right-hand woman at the clinic in Jalapa. In El Paisano, Patty is in charge of the children, and there are many! To get them out of the way for awhile, she divides them into boys and girls and leads them to the cow pasture across the street and down the hill. Patty's brother takes the boys to play soccer. Patty and the girls play a modified version of "Duck, Duck, Goose." Although the soaked grass splashes with every step and they have to avoid the manure piles, there are many smiles and lots of laughter.
After an hour or so of playing outside, the children are herded back into the small building. Patty leads some rambunctious singing where she asks someone how much they love Jesus. Whatever the answer is, the children echo it loudly back to Patty. After they are done singing, Patty seats them on the floor, and quickly hides behind a large sheet hanging in a corner which has been painted with a familiar pasture scene. Soon, puppets are springing up behind the sheet, and every child's eyes are glued to the action. The puppets talk in animated voices, and the children laugh often. A peek outside the window reveals that many of the men are enjoying the show as well.
At the end of the day, all of the toys and clothes have been handed out. All of the 52 patients have been seen, and most have been given medicine. The entire staff is exhausted, yet during their supper in a villager's home, the conversation is lively.
The Vida en Abundancia staff visits El Paisano only every few months, which is not often enough. They are currently working on putting together a survey of the community's most pressing needs, and then plan to visit the community on a monthly basis.
It is exciting to think about the future of Vida en Abundancia and of the children in El Por Venir. It is an answer to the staff's prayer that life is and will be different in the community. "They now have good, accessible medical attention with doctors, psychologists and dentists that don't just want to give them a prescription, they want to show them Jesus' love," says Dr. Guerrero. "I hope, no, I mean I am sure the life of many, many children will now be different and better than before this ministry began in this place. And I know all this job is God's work. We are just tools in His amazing hands." As the Holy Spirit continues to work in the hearts of the families in El Por Venir, the future will continue to be bright.