Just a few days before the Christmas break, I received a phone call from my friend Dave MacDonald. Dave and his wife, Danaya, have a very collaborative relationship with our school, even though their children don’t attend ACS, as they homeschool in order to volunteer in Guatemala. They have hosted several school events at their property including staff retreats, Nicaragua team parties and International Program events. “Dave, what’s up? Merry Christmas to you,” I said cheerfully into the phone. 

Gerry, I wanna ask you something crazy. Ready for it?

Sure,” I replied cautiously.

Dave went on to explain that they were in Guatemala, at the end of a two month stint hosting English House, a live-in immersion program for rural students. Two of their graduates, Florinda and Alvaro, had six months before they would start university or college and he was looking for somewhere they could study English and experience Canadian life until July. I said, “How about they attend ACS for a semester?

A chain of events began that could only be described as one great Christmas miracle.

A desire to learn

Let me tell you about Florinda and Alvaro.

They are cousins, from dirt floor tin-roof houses in the mountain village of Buena Vista. They grew up carrying water and searching for firewood, speaking the Mayan dialect Kakchiquel, and struggling to learn Spanish as their second language.

Alvaro’s father was murdered on a trail, and then his mother died because they didn’t have five bucks for a bottle of antibiotics.

Florinda’s family didn’t have money for her to continue school in grade 7 and so at age 13, she left home to make tortillas in the city, hoping to save money to go to school. She heard about a scholarship opportunity, and told Alvaro to come with her to plead with the program leader, Candelaria. They waited for hours in the pouring rain outside the leader’s meeting and begged for a chance to study.

God’s Hand in the Process

In summer 2013, they were chosen for the Forging My Tomorrow program, even though Alvaro was illiterate. Candelaria taught him to read, enrolled them in grade 7 and in the fall, they joined the first of four English Houses. They spoke not one word of English.

For four years, they have been tutors and trainers for 100 children in their village, helping with literacy, English, mathematics, and computer skills. This past November, they were the captains of the now-25 students at English House, the faith leaders of the group, graduated from high school, and were seeking the next chapter God had for their lives.

In a period of five days, they applied for their student visas, applied at ACS, secured donors willing to put together funding for both of them for their entire stay and travel, worked out a program, secured a home-stay family, sent an intro video, and applied for a passport.

It seemed like an impossibility that these two amazing high school kids would be able to jump through all the hoops before the end of January.

A day of miracles

On the way to drop off their visa applications, they stopped for a bite to eat, and while inside, someone broke into their vehicle and stole all their things, including their identification documents and the visa application. Yet, with some quick thinking and a lot more work, they were still able to apply, and instead of a day of disaster, Alvaro describes it as a day of miracles.

Here in Canada, we met with the donors and our staff, and put together a plan for the unlikely event that they would receive all their documents in time. 

It was unheard of for these types of documents to be ratified in such a short time, but just last week, all the paperwork came back approved. It was a miracle, and next week they’ll be at ACS. 

And this is very, very special. They are not the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders of today. They are not a destination for our help, but a conduit for us to multiply that help to the younger students who look to them as heroes. We have been given the privilege of pouring into their lives and leadership development, and it is an honour.

If you want to help with their transition to ACS, please email me and join the team that is making this miracle happen.

“Wanna shape God’s world with us?”