Pastor Darío is an unassuming man with a friendly presence and a warm smile. He may not draw much attention in a crowd, but there’s something magnetic about the love he has for his community and his confidence in God’s faithfulness.
Pastor Darío and his wife, Yeni, raised their three children in Etén, Peru, where Darío worked as an associate pastor. The family was happily settled, enjoying their work and loving their church family. But when Darío first stepped foot in Cerro Colorado—a town more than 1,700 kilometres from Etén—something stirred in his heart. Families struggled to make ends meet here, living in homes of mud, rushes and hay without the most basic amenities. He felt a distinct lack of hope.
“What struck me the most was seeing several children practically living in abandonment,” Darío says. “My heart ached for those little ones. That day, while I was going back home, I couldn’t help but to pour out my tears, feeling powerless. Each one of their faces was in my mind.”
From that moment, Pastor Darío was filled with a burning desire to bring God’s love and transformation to Cerro Colorado.
Darío spoke to his family. If they were to minister to a new community, they would need to uproot and move to the other end of the country—not a decision to make lightly. But Yeni and the kids were supportive and open to what God had in store for their family, wherever that took them. With the blessing of their church, the family made their preparations and moved to their new community.
Their welcome was less than enthusiastic.
“Many of the families we visited were skeptical of our intentions. They thought we were expecting something in return,” says Yeni. “The people who really listened to us were willing to start the work in the community. We were only a few, but that never brought us down.”
A key demographic on whom Darío and Yeni focused their ministry was teenage mothers. Teen pregnancy is a common occurance in many areas of Peru. According to Seguro Integral de Salud—Peru’s leading health insurance provider—one in six young mothers in Peru gives birth before the age of 18. Many drop out of school and can only find low-paying jobs as a result. Children are often left at home, alone and unsupervised, while their parents look for work.
Darío knew the children of this community needed better support, despite the community’s skepticism. His young church got creative, acquiring a bank loan to plant rice. With the earnings, they would begin construction on a church building and community care centre.
Then, just two weeks before harvest, an unseasonable rainfall flooded the rice fields. Birds came and devoured the swollen plants. Despite the efforts of community members to save the field from the fowl, 70 per cent of the crop was lost. The church would have barely enough left to pay back the bank.
Pastor Darío was devastated. As he wept, he clung to the only stable thing left—God’s faithfulness.
“I was sure God had put that desire in my heart and He was going to provide everything we needed,” Darío says. “I didn’t know what to do, but I was sure God was bigger than all my problems and He wanted us to serve those children. So, I continued working without ceasing. And little by little, more people of the community joined our little church.”
It was then that Pastor Darío saw God move in a mighty way.
“One morning, while we were cleaning the church, Pastor José [of the Etén Church] came to tell me that Compassion was interested in financing a church plant here,” says Pastor Darío. “In that very moment, I fell down on my knees and started thanking God because He answered our daily prayers.”
Planning began immediately. The Los Peregrinos Church in Etén partnered with Compassion to provide the funding, and Samuel—an architecture student and Compassion program graduate in Etén— managed the design of the new building. Together, the planning team came up with a model that focused on child-based learning and play in every area of the building.
The space, now complete, is beautiful. Brightly coloured walls are adorned with printed Bible verses. A patio floor has built-in hopscotch games where children can play as they walk to their classrooms. High ceilings allow for better airflow in the humid region, and an outdoor play area offers an alternative to playing on the streets.
Now open for six months, this community hub is a symbol of hope for the 150 children who learn and play here throughout the week. These kids receive support from their tutors, help with homework, nutritious meals, health check-ups and a safe space to play with friends while being cared for by loving adults. As Pastor Darío once dreamed, the work of the church is transforming the lives of these children.
And transformation isn’t just happening within the classrooms.
Doubt and hesitation in the community has turned into hope, and many have become fully engaged in the church’s ministry.
Elizabeth, who lives in the community, now stands guard at the entrance of the church every day, ensuring the children arrive to the centre safely. “I have been living in Cerro Colorado for more than 70 years,” she says, “and it is the first time I have seen the children running around with smiles on their faces. It is an indescribable joy.”
The journey has been fraught with challenges. But Pastor Darío is deeply moved by God’s faithfulness in every moment—especially when the obstacles seemed impassable.
“God’s timing is perfect,” he says. “Far behind are the times when our children lived without hope. We are preparing a bright future for them. And even though we still have a long way to go, we will continue our mission.
Because we know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.”
By Jonathan Ruiz and Aveleen Schinkel