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Lauren Pupchik, an American from New Jersey and Florida originally, has been working in Guatemala for the last 11 years. She is now a full-time teacher at Saber y Gracia. I sat down with her to talk about her passion for the country, her perspective on missions, and her hopes for the future of Saber y Gracia.

World Next Door: What was it that brought you to Guatemala initially?

Lauren Pupchik: When I was 15 years old, I heard there were a lot of orphans in Honduras because of a hurricane. We had just gotten the Internet at our house so I searched for orphanages in Honduras, but a ministry in Guatemala that didn’t have an orphanage came first. So it had to be God. My mom signed up to be our leader and we put together a team of 8 people and came down to Guatemala.

I hated my first experience. I didn’t like the food, I didn’t understand the culture, and I didn’t speak the language, so it was a triple threat and I failed miserably. But God used that first experience to plant a seed in my heart for Guatemala. He would later lead me back to Guatemala and completely change my perspective on it.

WND: When you came back you ended up staying for a longer period of time.

LP: Yes, the first time I came I stayed for 2 weeks and came back the 4 summers after that and each time stayed a little longer and longer. My heart continually grew for Guatemala, staying 2 weeks, one month, 3 months…then I came for a 2 year commitment and haven’t gone home since.

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WND: Your friends and family back home must think you’re crazy for giving up everything.

LP: My family thinks I’m passionate. I’m very obedient, so when God gives me a direction, I might fight it at first but I will obey. I think my family realizes that God put a special calling on my life and I am trying to walk that out. I’m sure some people think I’m crazy, but I hope that more than that they see how passionate I am for God’s kingdom.

WND: You’re full time now at Saber y Gracia, so what is it about this school that stands out to you?

LP: I came to Saber y Gracia because [some friends] said it was like nothing I’ve ever seen or will ever see. For a few years they tried to get me to come and see one of their chapel services but at the time I had enough on my plate. I didn’t want to hear about another school and children that need sponsors or another Christian school in Guatemala.
But God slowly and surely started to change my heart and they invited me out on a Monday to take pictures at chapel. I was used to chapel being very short and informal, kind of like a bother, like something that had to be done. “Does anyone have a Bible study story they can read?” It was quick. “Let’s get it done.”

But when I showed up at Saber y Gracia it was an all-out celebration of God’s love and worship – kids raising their hands, prayer time, kids taking notes… It was very different here, like God’s favor was on the school, that he was taking delight in his children.

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WND: Did Rudi [Saber y Gracia’s Principal] teach that day?

LP: Yes. I only knew him informally. I had seen him a few times over the years but that was the first time I heard him preach. My first thought was, Wow, he’s not just a principal, he’s a pastor. Since then I’ve seen him play that out in real life. Really pastoring the students and their families.

WND: Have you had any experiences here that have significantly changed your worldview?

LP: Absolutely. I think there is a misconception in the US – at least there was in my life – that Americans have everything that the rest of the world needs. So when I first came to Guatemala, my first thought was “these poor people need what I have.” I was coming on a rescue mission.

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WND: To save them, to fix them…

LP: Yes, because that was often the message I was taught. A lot of times in youth group it’s, “Come on this missions trip and we’re going to paint this school and we’re going to do a wordless book bracelet and we’re going to teach them about Jesus,” as if there were no national believers capable of doing that.
But over the years, [I’ve seen] amazing Guatemalan believers with a heart for God transforming their nation. I look at it as an honor to come alongside them. So I’m not coming to save them. I’m coming to join in the movement that God is already doing here.

WND: When you think about the future of Saber y Gracia, what most excites you?

LP: I believe that the ministry of Saber y Gracia is about to explode in an amazing way. When I first came to the school, they were at the point of closing. They were struggling financially. They had a sponsorship program with no sponsors. Everything was stacked against them but God put something in my heart and spoke clearly to me that He was going to turn it around.

I remember a conversation with Rudi over Skype. He said, “I guess I should tell you that we are probably going to close down the school.” My first reaction was, “No you’re not. God is going to turn this around!”
I remember driving through Santo Tomás for the first time and I heard God’s voice as loud as I’m talking right now saying, “I will use Santo Tomás and I will use Saber y Gracia as a starting point for the outpouring of my love in Guatemala.” I was like, “Alright, well then what an honor to be a part of that!”

So that’s what excites me the most. God is putting all the puzzle pieces together. He’s connecting us with new people, new resources. He’s pouring out his fatherly love and our children are returning home to their father.