Jessica fixed her eyes shyly on the dusty turf as a red cape was placed around her shoulders. Next came the finishing touch–a red tasseled cap for her head. She received a reassuring grin from her sister, Tanya, who was standing next to her waiting to be similarly outfitted for the occasion.
After Tanya, it was their little brother Andrés’ turn. The 6-year-old wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about, but he stood still as someone assisted him with his graduation garment. His sisters Miriam and Michelle followed, each in turn accepting the cape and the red cap that was passed along to them.
Like any proud mother, Carmen Yugcha watched the proceedings with a happy and thankful heart. This was a significant event for her family.
Five of Carmen’s seven children had recently completed the discipleship program used as a follow-up to Operation Christmas Child gift distributions. Each of them had prayed to receive Jesus Christ during the previous two months.
“My children have been blessed to participate in the Bible studies,” said Carmen, a widow who earns $5 a day washing laundry in order to provide for her family. “They love to read God’s Word.”
More than 90 boys and girls attended the graduation ceremony at a soccer field in Yurac Alpaloma, a squatter settlement on the outskirts of Quito, Ecuador’s capital city. The children came forward two or three at a time to receive their bright red capes and tasseled caps. After being helped into their graduation attire, each child was handed a certificate and a New Testament.
For Carmen’s children and other young people from the village, this day was the culmination of the discipleship program organized and taught by the local church.
“I learned a lot about God and how much He loves me,” said Jessica, as she held the small Bible in her hand.
Pastor Miguel Pumisacho came to Yurac Alpaloma four years ago to share the Gospel. At first people were suspicious, thinking he was hired by the owners of the hillside tract to recoup the land from the squatters. But four families listened to his message and responded by receiving Christ. They invited the pastor to lead Bible studies in their homes.
Delivery of Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts paved the way for ministry to both children and their parents, and the small band of worshipers grew. Then the discipleship program was offered in the community, and over 150 children completed the Bible lessons. Many of the parents also began making decisions for Christ.
“In the past year or so, numerous changes have occurred in the community,” Pumisacho said. “Before, there was little harmony among the people; they often argued and fought over possession of the land. Now the neighbors have begun to care for and help one another. The young people of the area and many adults are now excited about participating in regular church meetings.”