Transformed by Christian Education

When Magdalena began teaching preschool at Granada Christian Education center as a volunteer in 2016, she had no idea that in just two years she would have to stand there bravely in the face of disaster. Her biblical understanding, grounded faith, ministry background with her pastor father quickly became a strength of the school when she began teaching and Magdalena immediately endeared herself to her students with her love for Jesus and for them. She and her sister Veronica have selflessly given their time and talents as teachers and their father, a pastor in the nearby city of Granada, serves as the campus pastor. The school sits in an extremely needy area outside of the city called Pantanal (“the Swamp”) where most have given up hope that the poverty and crime rates will ever improve. But when God called founders Charles & Sarah Kaye and Ryan & Adriana Brooks to start construction on a large, empty piece of land in a place no one wanted to go, they stepped out in faith.

From the now-accredited school to a sports ministry complex, the land quickly went from a blank canvas to a well-known meeting place for children and teens to play, be mentored, and learn about the love of Jesus. GCEC partnered with the University of Virginia to create sustainable buildings that work with the local landscape and the honor the country’s history. The whole facility was built to operate entirely off the grid. Local teachers, facility staff and guards all volunteered and were prayerfully added to the team as the ministry grew. Classes were growing, new developments were under way, and the ministry was thriving.

In the summer of 2018, chaos ripped through the city as protests broke out in Granada and pro-government paramilitary groups arrived with brutal retaliation. Business all but shut down, tourism crumbled, and GCEC’s founding missionaries and directors, the Kayes and Brooks, were forced to evacuate Nicaragua. In a matter of days, Magdalena’s life changed from relatively predictable into an intimidating test of faith and commitment. With the directors in another country, someone had to take the reigns and keep GCEC running, and that someone was Magdalena. She was terrified at the prospect but knew that the Lord had called her to this and she had to answer. She was a 26 year old preschool teacher and university theology student. Was she even qualified? But she chose to trust that the Lord would carry her and that He had His hand on GCEC. And what hope He gave the community through the school!

Through all of the political unrest, pressing violence, and uncertainty of their country’s future, the whole staff banded together with prayer and GCEC became a symbol of refuge and hope for the community. While other schools were closing for 2-3 months, GCEC only missed 5 days of school during the entire time of unrest. With violence and fear seemingly everywhere, the students were free to be children at GCEC and parents knew their kids were safe. In constant contact with the stateside directors, Magdalena stepped into their shoes, led the brave staff, and kept systems up and running on the ground so that the school could continue its ministry. Not only did they continue, but the Lord used the situation to grow their sphere of influence and bring them out of the crisis stronger.

Through years of building trust and showing up for the community, GCEC has grown into a beautiful reconciliation of the Granada and Pantanal communities. There are waiting lists for almost every class and the program adds a grade level each year as the inaugural class advances. Each class learns English as a second language in addition to their core classes in Spanish, and the directors hope soon to offer a fully bilingual classroom, co-taught by a local Spanish speaking teacher and a native English speaker. In an area where tourism is a huge industry, proficiency in spoken and written English opens the doors of opportunity wide as the children grow up and enter secondary education and the workforce. As the school rapidly expands, so does the need for volunteers and teachers, especially native English speakers. GCEC is actively recruiting U.S. teachers for preschool-3rd grade and interns to assist with ministry logistics and visiting church teams.

The increase of students and staff means a greater need for financial support as well. A new sponsorship program offers an easy way for churches and individuals to get involved at every level and connect with students and teachers in prayer. The student tuition sponsorship, 36 for 1, invites sponsors to stand in the $36 per month tuition gap for a student, allowing the families only to be responsible for $2 per month. A small “family commitment” cost has been shown to help students keep attendance high and stay in school longer and help parents stay involved with their child’s education while still being an accessible amount on a low income. To provide for the staff, a sponsor can choose an amount or provide a full monthly salary for a specific teaching or staff position. A church can also sponsor the whole staff by splitting the commitment among their members. A classroom sponsorship or donation provides a well appointed space for students with furniture, curriculum, books, and supplies as well as learning activities in the classroom and field trips.

As classes advance, more buildings have been planned and phase 3 of facility construction has begun. Continued funding toward the $35,000 goal is necessary for phase 3 to continue and for buildings to be ready for rising classes. When 4th-6th grade classes advance, they will need classrooms and facilities. A well-equipped school library will be an invaluable resource to all ages. Roads and pedestrian access need improvement for students and staff to safely get to school. As the facilities grow, so does the need for secure fencing, kitchen equipment, and other small scale projects. The sports complex is also in need of prayer and funding as they work toward additions that will make the field usable for public events like restrooms, bleachers, a water well, and field maintenance.

Short term missions teams from the United States are welcomed several times a year. These teams help with construction, run Vacation Bible Schools for students, lead Sports Ministry camps, and tackle projects that would otherwise be left unfinished. Teams also have led valuable community events like marriage conferences, teacher training, youth conferences, and health and nutrition workshops. From high school or college groups to adults and families, GCEC invites teams of all ages to partner in ministry that will surely stay close to their hearts when they return home. Groups of up to 30 can be housed in dorms at GCEC’s partner church, El Puente, in the heart of the city of Granada.

GCEC’s teachers and staff, founders and volunteers, US prayer partners and supporters and visiting teams all play unique roles in the making the school and sports complex ministries thrive in Pantanal. Through times of hope and uncertainty, anticipation and disaster, the Lord has remained faithful to sustain GCEC and use the school to show his love to the community. But the work is just getting started and Granada Christian Education Center needs partners both local and international to grow. For more information on the ministry, prayer, funding needs, or bringing a team, visit today.