“What are you going to do about it?” Possibly the most challenging eight words in the English language. As human beings, we see the needs around us almost continually, whether we live in downtown New York City, the middle of the African bush or in Small Town USA. Most of us, with varying degrees, feel sadness, remorse and frustration at the situations that we see, read about or hear about. God asks us to make it personal. “What are you going to do about it?” Those eight words were the beginning of Extreme Response. Jerry listened to the voice of the Lord speaking through a little boy in the dump. Pan de Vida is a partner ministry of ER that started because of the very same words…and a hungry little boy named Juan.
Yesterday, Dan and I spent the morning celebrating a ministry here in Ecuador that started because Oscar, the founder, had to acknowledge that very question, ironically enough, on his way to church one Sunday morning. As he came around the corner, a little shoeshine boy was waiting here. He asked Oscar for a quarter to buy a “pancito” (“little bread” in Spanish), and as Oscar accompanied him to the bread store, he was struck with the realization that he was doing nothing for the street children here in Quito, and that he had to, from this point on. “What are you going to do about it?” Oscar comes from a relatively well-to-do family here in Quito. He is highly educated, both at university here in Ecuador and in the United States, and by all accounts, was setting himself up for a comfortable life. Until that Sunday morning. Oscar walked away from that encounter with the unshakeable feeling that his life had just changed. Permanently. That encounter took place in February of 2001. The little boys’ name was Juan Alpapucho. The ministry of Pan de Vida (“Bread of Life”) was born shortly thereafter, in a carport belonging to a missionary here in Quito. That first Sunday, there were about 20 people present. Oscar and David (the missionary) provided a meal of scrambled eggs, rice, pancitos and milk to the people there, and gave a short Gospel presentation. By the end of 2001, Pan de Vida was providing a meal once a week to about 350 people a month. Their annual budget was $4500. Oscar continued to work in his “day job”, while juggling the responsibilities of a ministry that was literally growing by leaps and bounds.
Over the last 10 years, Pan de Vida has occupied four different locations here in Quito, each being larger than the last to accommodate their growing outreach. The current building was purchased in 2006. Each month, Pan de Vida ministers to over 1500 people. They have counseling services, a tutoring program, a program that teaches women how to sew, providing a skill that allows them to better their lives and the lives of their children, a food distribution program, Bible studies and church services…they also have a school supply program that helps parents with the basics needed to keep their children in school, as well as a program that takes place at the beginning of each school year that allows children to receive a complete physical, eye and dental exam and vaccinations for $5. In addition, there is a clothing sale that takes place, allowing people to purchase clothing for their families at significantly reduced prices (Usually $.25-$1.00). If you are wondering why the clothing is not simply given away, it is because allowing the parents to purchase what their child needs gives them back a bit of their dignity. Charity has a price. It strips the receiver of the dignity associated with the ability to work, earn money, and use that money to provide for your family. This dignity is especially important for men, who are by tradition the ones to support their wives and children. Charging for the clothing, even a small charge, restores a little bit of this.
Oscar could easily have walked away that day. Here in Quito, and I suspect in many other parts of the world, having someone ask you for something on the street is a daily occurrence. For us, it seems to happen almost every time we step out of our front gate. When the needs are so pressing, and the resources seem to be few, it becomes easy to “block it out”, and not think about it. Oscar chose to think about it. He chose to listen to the Lord that day.
About four months ago, Dan received a call as we were walking into church on Sunday morning. Juan Alpapucho, the little boy who had started it all, had been shot and killed the night before in a robbery. He had grown up, married and had small children. He was a taxi driver by trade, and was killed by a fare. Even as we listened in shock to what had happened, we were struck with the realization that Juan was now dancing on streets of gold, in the presence of our Savior.
A chance encounter, a small piece of bread, and a man who listened to the voice of the Lord when He spoke.
What do you see that bothers you? Is it a person, or a situation that you just can’t get out of your mind? At work…on the street…a child’s friend…
What are you going to do about it?
“Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35