“This is kind of like my life: from a lot of brokenness, something beautiful could come out of it.”
So say the women who have learned to create mosaics from stained glass as part of OM’s ministry in the urban neighborhoods of San Jose, Costa Rica.
Broken pieces transformed into something beautiful are an apt symbol for women who work alongside Julie Paniagua through OM’s Pearl Process ministry. All of these women have lived in material poverty, and most have suffered physical or emotional abuse. But when a woman comes here, she discovers an environment where she is loved, accepted, and valued. She also learns about Jesus.
Six years ago, while working with OM Costa Rica, Julie Paniagua began to dream of a ministry that would bless women. After taking classes to learn the craft, Julie began to train women to create colorful mosaics.
She explains, “I wanted a product that would represent the life of these women.”
Julie was raised in Mexico by parents who served with OM, so her heart for missions was knit into her being from an early age. She left Mexico to attend college in California, but met her husband Alex while visiting her parents during a school break. As they considered marriage, it was important for Alex to know that Julie was willing to be a missionary with OM. It was a life that Julie already knew and loved.
Julie’s parents were supportive of the couple’s decision to serve together with OM, as were others in her family. Julie’s uncle also raised his family in Mexico while serving with OM and her cousins were a great source of support as she considered her future. They all helped confirm God’s clear calling to ministry in Costa Rica.
Julie remarks, “I can’t imagine what life would be like without missions.”
Today, Alex is the Field Leader for OM Costa Rica. Alex and Julie have two daughters — Kayla, who is five, and Emma, who is two. The family is involved in a local church that partners with OM. In this missions-minded congregation, OM provides volunteer opportunities for church members to participate in local ministries.
Because she’d grown up in Mexico, Julie didn’t have the connections with resourced churches in the U.S. that some missionaries raising support do. But Julie notes, “God has been faithful. He has connected us to people and churches in the U.S.” She notes, of this faithful network of financial supporters, “When one supporter drops out, for whatever reason, we wait on the Lord and He brings someone else in.”
As God supports the Paniagua family, Julie rejoices in the ways she sees women’s live being transformed as they participate in Pearl Process. One of these women, Carla, has been working with Julie for a year and a half. Carla had been living in one of the most dangerous slums with her husband and five children. They lived under leaky tin roofs and their children were being bitten by rats during the night. In a country that has rain for eight months of the year, the family’s mattresses were often soaking wet. Six months after she began working with Pearl Process, Carla was able to join her salary with her husband’s and relocate in a safer healthier home in an area with better school systems for the children.
One Monday morning, reports Julie, Carla came to work with a huge smile on her face. Embracing Julie in a hug, Carla beamed, “I’m actually starting to believe that God is good. And that he does provide for me. And does love me and my children.”
Julie confirms, “I’ve seen how God has worked in her life. The business truly is a platform God has created and he’s using it to bring transformation to the lives of women.”
Sometimes, as in Carla’s life, women’s material circumstances are transformed. And sometimes they are not. The changes Julie is recognizing among women in the ministry are spiritual and emotional: the way women think about themselves changes. Julie explains, “You can remain in the same physical place and God can still be sufficient for you there.” She describes the attitude she’s seen develop in women who come to know God’s care for them, “Maybe nothing about my circumstances will change, but God can sustain me. I can have peace. I can have joy. I can experience his love.”
The impact of OM’s ministry to women in San Jose is about to burgeon. The eight women who’ve been discipled over the last two years are preparing to launch and lead small groups in their own neighborhoods. The eight to ten women who will participate in each of these local groups will be introduced to the Bible and will also receive sewing classes that will equip them to provide for their families.
When OM’s ministry among women began, the women who are now leading small groups did not yet have a vision for who they could become. Julie explains, “The majority of them didn’t believe in themselves.” She adds, “I didn’t let them quit. I told them, ‘You’re going to do it, we’re going to equip you.’”
As God has blessed and filled Julie Paniagua, she is equipping women in the slums of San Jose to reach more and more of the women God loves.
Out of brokenness, God is creating beauty in the lives of women.
Lord, we thank You for Your heart of compassion toward the lost and forgotten. For us You sent Your only Son. We ask You, in Your great mercy, to shine Your light into the darkest corners of this world. Use us as You will, Father, to bring the beauty of new life in Christ to those who have not yet heard, that they might also believe and follow Him.
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