Mark and Andrew take Dinner Conversations on the road and overseas to Guatemala to visit with and learn from their neighbors in Latin America!


Mark: This episode is about Guatemala. We went to Guatemala. You know, I hate leaving the country. I don’t wanna use my passport. I’ve traveled outside the country all I want to. In fact, I don’t like to leaving Houston anymore.

Andrew: A world onto its own.

Mark: But I went to Guatemala with ChildFund, and I’m so glad I did.

Andrew: It was a really eye opening time. We got to talk to a really unique young woman who was a sponsored child with ChildFund for years and now is a full functioning adult in Guatemala giving back to her own community, and the same with a young man who is now in college.

Mark: They were raised up in the program, and now they’re ministering to kids.

Andrew: Yeah, and they’re part of community development from a long term standpoint.

Mark: I love that.

Andrew: So we got to actually go. This is the first time we’ve done Dinner Conversations overseas.

Mark: I know.

Andrew: Yeah, don’t you want to do it a lot?

Mark: No.

Andrew: But we did it this time.

Mark: But I’m glad did this one, and there’s one seat left at the table and it’s yours. Let’s join the conversation.

Andrew: We’re in Guatemala City, and we’re with our friends at ChildFund, which they’re longtime friends of yours, going to visit two different now young adults who were for years sponsored children. So we’re going to see kind of how their lives turned out. We don’t know until we see. Well, we do know.

Mark: Well, we do know.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: They’re doing very well, and most of the kids, you know, this is a sample of probably many of the kids that have gone through the program. You see a success story, you know, after you’ve supported them for years and years and years like you have and I have.

Andrew: And you will.

Mark: And it’s amazing to watch how they’ve developed and been blessed by this ministry. So we’re going to check it out.

Andrew: Really the end all be all is that this was on Mark’s bucket list to go overseas with me.

Mark: Oh yes.

Andrew: You know where we’re going?

Mark: We’re going to Mirna’s house.

Andrew: That’s right, Mirna’s house. She was sponsored by a ChildFund sponsor for 13 years, the same sponsor, which I think that’s cool. We’ve sponsored kids for years too. And she’s now an accountant.

Mark: And she is a success story, and we’re going to meet her.

Mirna Toj

Mark: Mirna, you were a child sponsored by ChildFund. How has that affected you and your family for the better?

Mirna: It was nice. Since childhood to date, it has been incredible. It was very nice because I used to go to ChildFund to study every Thursday. I was very little.

Andrew: What would you say is the key ingredient, the main thing, that helped you to get to where you are today as being a part of the ChildFund programs?

Mirna: What helped me so much was the training because they would encourage us and have us do presentations or learn about a lot of things. That’s when I began to develop personally. They helped us get what we had inside and be able to express it on the outside, all in a calm environment. We were able to be ourselves.

“[ChildFund] helped us get what we had inside and be able to express it on the outside, all in a calm environment. We were able to be ourselves.” – Mirna Toj

Andrew: Would you say that being a sponsored child or how did it directly impact where you are today? What do you do? What do you do now?

Mark: For a living?

Mirna: I now work for a company called Grupo Ayser. I’m an accounting assistant doing the accounting.

Andrew: So it sounds like because of the community interaction of the ChildFund programs that you became more independent, that you were able to be independent as an adult.

Mirna: Yes, that is true.

Mark: Well, your English is as good as my Spanish.

Mirna: Thank you.

Andrew: What was your relationship like with the families who sponsored you?

Mirna: Throughout my time, there were two. They sent me letters for my birthday, and for Christmas, they gave us a gift. We wrote letters, they took photos of us, and we would draw them pictures even of small things.

Andrew: Was it ever interesting to you that someone from another country that you didn’t know invested in you and your family’s life in the way that they did? Did you ever wonder why?

Mirna: No.

Andrew: You just said okay?

Mark: Just grateful.

Mirna: But it’s great, it’s great.

Mark: So you would recommend people sponsoring children. I mean, you’re a success story, and we’re very grateful ’cause I’ve been sponsoring children for many many years and haven’t been able to, not long enough to see them come to fruition like you have. So we’re very proud of you.

Mirna: I really appreciate this. Really, it’s incredible for me, and ChildFund has been a highlight in my opinion.

Andrew: What did you learn by being a sponsored child? Did you learn anything new about God, or did your relationship with God change at all?

Mirna: Yes, the program helped me to develop. I am also in a group of Catholic youth. I’m Catholic. God has helped me a lot, as well as the institution. It has helped me to be more humble, calm, and grateful for what I have. I really am so grateful. Thank you.

Mark: Thank you so much for preparing our lunch and spending time with us and sharing your beautiful home.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: And your nieces and nephews, what a wonderful family you have.

Andrew: Do you ship tortillas to Tennessee? This is a real tortillas.

Mark: This is the real deal.

Andrew: We think in the United States we know how to make tortillas but not like this.

Mirna: It’s delicious.

Mark: Delicioso. Is that the right word?

Andrew: Is this your mother?

Mirna: Yes.

Andrew: So you are Mirna’s mother?

Manuela: Yes, I am Mirna’s mother.

Andrew: Are you proud of her?

Mark: Thank you so much.

Andrew: Thanks for sharing your daughter with us.

Mark: Thank you.

Manuela: Thank you for coming to our home. Thank you for visiting us, my daughter, my husband, my children, my daughter-in-law, and my grandchildren.

Mark: No wonder you want to spend every weekend with her. What a wonderful mother you have. I’d want to spend every weekend with her too. She works during the week and spends weekends with her parents.

Andrew: You can. We’re leaving you here.

Mark: Okay, I’m moving in. Where is my bedroom?

Geraldine de Vera, Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Guatemala

Geraldine: What I’ve heard from Mirna is that at one point of her life she realized that she could do things by her own and she can go through in order to overcome what she has to overcome in order to succeed in life, and this makes me think about sponsorship because a sponsorship is a journey that begins when they are toddlers and ends when they get to the young life. It’s not one moment in life that makes the difference. The difference comes because there is a series of efforts and activities that are very well prepared in order to let them know and also prepare them to see life differently, to see life that they can achieve things that maybe they couldn’t think that before. And that’s what we saw in Mirna’s example. That was for me the moment in which we can realize how the intervention of our activities have done its job. For me, sponsorship is a contribution that comes from your heart in which we can see a series of events that makes a difference in not only one child but in lots of children who are part of our province.

Mark: What a wonderful day we had with Mirna and her family. It was such a good soup too.

Andrew: Yeah, it was a good soup. It had some plants that we saw in their gardens.

Mark: They grow everything.

Andrew: They do, for their family, including coffee beans. I tried one.

Mark: There’s no Kroger near here.

Andrew: There is no Kroger, absolutely not. However, we learned a lot from Mirna about how sponsorship really impacted not only her, but what I love about sponsorship is that it has a ripple effect of impacting people, her entire family, generations impacted by that, and the spiritual takeaway for me was Mirna kept talking about her confidence, how confidence had been boosted and how she had really learned about the value of herself. I think a lot of people because of their circumstances — we live in a developing country, we are poor — we don’t have value. I don’t think that’s true at all, but sometimes it’s hard to connect the truth that you are loved, you’re valued by God until someone steps in to say, “Here’s why you’re valuable. You can make a living for yourself. You can change the poverty that has been a part of your family for generations.”

Mark: And now we’re going to meet David, right?

Andrew: Jorge

Mark: Jorge. Is it Jorge?

Andrew: It’s Jorge.

Mark: I thought it was David.

Andrew: I don’t know who David is.

Mark: Oh, well, we might meet David.

Jorge Armira

Mark: Jorge, this is your university I hear?

Jorge: This is the University Rafael Landivar where I am currently studying.

Andrew: There’s a program that you, a ChildFund program called Points of Encounter, that you’re a big fan of, that you really like. Tell me what Points of Encounter is.

Jorge: ChildFund’s active youth project was born to empower young people to develop and be leaders in their own communities. At the Point of Encounters where I was, we had the opportunity to train multiple children in computers and also in some math. We went on to train older youth and gave workshops for children in schools. It was a nice program that gave us the power to focus on the community.

Andrew: He talks like I do.

Mark: What do you think it’s important to give back after you’ve been sponsored, give back to the ChildFund?

Jorge: Well, I believe that all who are sponsored who received the support of ChildFund should return what they have learned to the community. That’s why I mentioned the active youth project because, in the Points of Encounter, the focus was to return the knowledge that we had gained toward children and toward schools. So we trained children in bullying prevention, violence prevention, and reproductive health in sixth grade, for example. So yes, this is a commitment that all sponsored youth should have when we receive such benefits.

Andrew: Why do you think it’s also important as a Guatemalan man for you to give back in your country? Some people would have received the help from an organization like ChildFund and seen new opportunities, better opportunities, and moved out of the country, perhaps maybe to the states or somewhere for the “best opportunity.” Why did you feel it was important to continue to invest back into your own community and country?

Jorge: I think it’s important to keep investing through ChildFund in the communities because it is a program that impacts children in their local areas. A child who is sponsored does not think the same as a child who isn’t because the sponsored child is openminded. The mentality of someone who has been sponsored is not to leave but to work here and fight for your people, right? So I don’t think of leaving, but ChildFund should continue investing in children because these children will be able to make their own thoughts and judgements. The majority of those who have left, it’s because they did not have direct support.

“A child who is sponsored does not think the same as a child who isn’t because the sponsored child is openminded. The mentality of someone who has been sponsored is not to leave but to work here and fight for your people.” – Jorge Armira

Mark: Thank you so much, Jorge. Thank you all for allowing us to come to your wonderful country and see what what ChildFund is doing here.

Andrew: Yeah.

Mark: Cheers.

Andrew: How do you say cheers?

Jorge: Salud.

Andrew: Don’t drink the water. No, I’m just kidding.

Brenda Sulamita, ChildFund Guatemala Consultant

Brenda: I have worked with ChildFund for more than four years in sponsorship, so I can say that difference… It starts everyday because every kid has a different story, has different elements, and you know our country is small but our difference are many. ChildFund is an opportunity to provide decent eduction programs in different ways.

Andrew: You were telling us yesterday how you still work in the field of inspiring education, education being the foundation block for ending poverty in people’s lives.

Brenda: Exactly. Exactly, because in the past because some projects and programs provide materials…

Andrew: Food.

Brenda: Exactly. But the idea is how you can provide food and money, at the same time what it means in terms of nutritional health and how the ChildFund forums can help kids, families, the whole community to support them. 

Andrew: Themselves

Brenda: Exactly.

Andrew: Can you tell me what the likelihood is of Mark being kidnapped this trip? High likelihood?

Mark: High? That’s the only thing I haven’t done.

Geraldine de Vera, Sponsorship Manager, ChildFund Guatemala

Geraldine: ChildFund programs and sponsorship programs have a holistic approach with children because sponsorship is not only benefiting just one child but for example there are guide mothers that are in charge of training or there are 10 or 20 mothers that have one, two, three or more children. So this makes our approach more broader and it makes that more people, even though they are not sponsored, but other children from other, from the community are benefiting from these trainings. And we also are leaving capacity installed in community because these guide mothers already empower other mothers to repeat the same trainings with other mothers in order to have a generational impact to other children. Guatemala, nurturing with tenderness, that’s not so common. You can think it’s common, but here is just given them where to live and something to eat. It was like, okay, that’s my job as mother or father, but taking care of children, playing with them is not part of our culture. With these programs, they have learned how important is to take time with our children in order to nurture them and to promote their well-being.

Calixta Otzoy Simon, Guide Mother

Andrew: My name is Andrew.

Calixta: My name is Calixta.

Andrew: First, explain to me what a guide mother is or does.

Calixta: A guide mother has to teach kids that they must respect each other first. Then comes welcoming them, and then we move on to homework. Then we sing a song and work on motor skills, sociability, and language.

Andrew: And why is it important for children to receive an education in your opinion?

Calixta: You can learn from a young age. Even when you are little, you already have a little conceptual knowledge. Children can form thoughts on what they want to be and do.

Andrew: How has being a guide mother changed you as a woman or a mom?

Calixta: There is a difference. Children will learn more when you give of yourself, but when you don’t, they don’t learn. That’s why the guide mothers are there, to teach them how it is done. It takes time. Children need love. You can’t teach without it. You have to teach with patience.

“Children need love. You can’t teach without it. You have to teach with patience.” – Calixta Otzoy Simon

Andrew: How has it changed the community to have the mother program in the community? Has it changed how all the children… Has it changed how you treat children other than even your own? You know, are all the children treated differently?

Calixta: Things are different today than before. Before, there was a lot of abuse to the children, but now it’s not like that. That is where education comes in. I believe education helps people treat children better. Before, if you did a bad thing, they would hit you, but that is not the case now. Now, you first explain what is good and what is bad, how doing good brings good things to your life and your future.

Andrew: So in essence or in summary, you’re learning to love your children differently. Is that true?

Calixta: Yes. We have learned to treat them with love.

Andrew: Gracias.

Romelia, ChildFund Sponsored Student

Romelia: In my community, we have a lot of children who do not study. So a dream I have is to help the children because, in my case, I am studying, but there are many children from my community who don’t have the same opportunity to study because their parents lack resources. If they study, they will not work. I hope that in my community change arises so they can study and achieve their goals because there are many children here who have goals. I also have dreams that I want to achieve.

Student 1: I want to become a professional nurse.

Student 2: I want to be a translator.

Student 3: I want to study.

Student 4: I want to be a nurse.

Student 5: I want to be a singer.

Student 6: I want to be an officer.

Student 7: I want to be a lawyer.

Student 8: I want to be a nurse.

Student 9: I want to be a musician.

Mark: Thank you for watching Dinner Conversations.

Andrew: We had such a good time in Guatemala. Don’t forget to sponsor a child today. Partner with us by sponsoring a child in Guatemala just like the ones you saw on this episode. Go to And you know what? We’ll see you next time.

Mark: Yes.

ChildFund is a community development organization that has been envisioning a world where every child is free to live at their fullest potent no matter where they are from — or what challenges they face — since 1938.

Partner with us and our good friends at ChildFund to change the world in the life of a child by considering sponsoring a child today. It takes so little to make a difference. A child is waiting. And remember, every one who sponsors a child is invited to a Dinner Conversations Friends & Family Weekend in Nashville, plus receives an autographed Season Two DVD, CD and a special item handmade for you by our communities in Guatemala.

Learn more here:

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Watch Our Other Episodes:

S03, E01: Orphans No More featuring Lisa Harper
S03, E02: Perfectly Imperfect featuring Wynonna Judd
S03, E03: Surviving Miscarriage featuring Jason Crabb and Sonya Isaacs
S03, E04: Fear Factors featuring Patsy Clairmont
S03, E05: A New Normal featuring Jaci Velasquez and Nic Gonzales
S03, E06: Suicide: Hiding in Plain Sight featuring Mark Means and Wes Hampton
S03, E07: Personality by Number featuring Ian Morgan Cron and Lisa Whelchel
S03, E08: An Intellectual Faith featuring Eric Metaxas
S03, E09: Finding Beauty in Brokenness featuring Julie Roberts