30th September

My month of blogging about the Vive Foundation and the Funky Frog clubs is almost over!

I don’t know about anyone else but I have had a great time remembering everything that has happened over the last few years. Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to say they have appreciated the story and to everyone who has made a donation through the Latin Link website or pre-ordered my story.

Now, this is the last time I’ll ask for money on this blog (for now!): if anything you’ve read over that last month has moved, touched, inspired, impressed or informed you, if anything has made you smile, laugh or cry, please take a moment to consider donating a few pounds to keep this wonderful ministry going. Thanks!

Click here to donate, and here to pre-order an e-version of my story about a little girl in a Funky Frog Club, the proceeds of which will go to the Vive Foundation.

As promised, I’ll be back on Monday with some thoughts on the state of men’s tennis.

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What I do now

If you have been paying attention, you’ll have realized that I don’t work on the Vive curriculum any more. Since the beginning of this year, I’ve been focussing on two areas: Child Protection and fundraising.

At the first camps, in 2013, we included some training on the prevention of sexual abuse. Reflecting on the response to that training we realized various things:

  1. We needed to keep training ourselves in this area.
  2. We needed to focus on prevention, first.
  3. Many leaders had been victims of abuse, themselves.

I started reading around the issue and last year did some online training, offered by an amazing Argentinian ministry that works in this area. In 2014, we were able to acquire some materials that had been produced in Peru to teach children how to protect themselves from abuse and we adapted them for our Clubs. Now, every child in a Funky Frog Club has received a nine-week course in how to identify and avoid risky situations (called Happy, Healthy Lives). We later developed a course (called Happy Healthy Lives 2) on how to be safe online.

As for helping the leaders, we have managed in a very small way to get leader professional help but often all we have been able to do is listen when someone tells their story (which often begins “I’ve never told anyone this before…”).

This year I’ve been working on developing our Child Protection Policy, pulling together all our experiences from the last four years and learning about fundraising:  looking for possible donors and preparing funding applications.

Support Vive here and here.

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Princes and Princesses

We quickly realized that in training and equipping Children’s Club leaders on the Coast, we were unleashing huge potential. Even the local pastors commented on the change in the leaders’ demeanour as they took on more responsibility and ownership of the project.

I had my a-ha moment about this back in 2013 when I watched some of our leaders working with a group of boys at the first circus.

The leaders were from an indigenous community (traditionally a very marginalized group) and the youngsters were from an extremely violent neighbourhood. They were the most aggressive children I’ve come across in Colombia (see if you can spot the knife in the photo of them) and some of the other leaders had tried an authoritarian approach with them, which of course, hadn’t been a great success.

But these indigenous leaders were teaching the Bible story in their usual gentle way, without raising their voices nor using any tricks, just depending on God and acting in a kind, loving way. The boys were transfixed!

I realized then that these leaders, of no value to the world, were princes (like this young man) in the Kingdom of God, with or without the Vive Foundation, but Vive made it possible for me to witness their triumph and for you to know about it!

Support Vive here and here.

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What has been the impact after all this effort?

Although much of the work goes on beyond our sight, enough stories of transformation reach us to keep us going:

The little boy, traumatized and vengeful after the murder of his brother by an armed group who gave up his thoughts of revenge after some time in the club.

The two brothers who recognised themselves in the story of the Jesus and the two blind men: “We’re the beggars and you’re Jesus,” they said to their startled leader. On investigation, it turned out that the church has rebuilt these boys’ house after it was destroyed in a storm.

The boy, on a local armed group’s hit list because he was a thief, who probably had his life saved because his local Funky Frog took him in and turned his life around.

Of course, we set out in faith that our model would be transformative but what we didn’t perhaps expect was the impact on the leaders. More on that tomorrow.

Donate here and pre-order here so that more lonely, vulnerable children can be reached with the good news of God’s love.

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Cast of characters

I’m sorry if I’ve given you the impression that this was all Simon and Leo’s work with a bit of help from me.

In fact, scores of people have volunteered their time to the Vive Foundation and the Funky Frog Clubs. We have received missionaries from Europe and  employed several local people. At the moment there are three full-time and four part-time members of staff between the Medellín and Coast offices and we employ an illustrator and two finance people part time, too.

Here are some of the key people from the story of Vive:

Yubelly volunteered with the project during her time as a seminary student and then worked for us once she graduated. Committed, loyal and highly organised, we have Yubelly to thank for the fact that everything that belongs to the Foundation is neatly labelled.

José Francisco (aka Panky) was another student volunteer who worked with us after he graduated. Theologian and graphic artist, he made a huge difference to the design of our materials and many of his suggestions are now part of the ways things are done.

Mark, a fellow Latin Link missionary, has not long returned to the UK and his ability to instantly connect with the people on the Coast and his unfailing willingness to help will be missed!

Donate here or pre-order here to help keep us paying those salaries.

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Here’s a list of other developments in the running of the Funky Frogs, all designed to make the programme effective and sustainable.

  1. Facilitators: Children’s Club leaders  trained to train leaders in new areas.
  2. Curriculum constructors: Children’s Club leaders trained to participate in the writing of the Bible teaching materials.
  3. The Newsletter: A bi-annual newsletter sent to all the Clubs, welcoming the new Clubs, announcing the next events and including advice and encouragement for the leaders.
  4. Visita Club: a visit to evaluate and encourage a Club.
  5. Vive Relevante: a yearly taining event held in Medellín for local Sunday School teachers.
  6. The Circus: a yearly training event in which representatives from all the Clubs learn how to run a camp for the children in their Clubs.
  7. Pastoral Phone Calls: encouraging phone calls to the facilitators and constructors by the members of the team in Medellín and Sahagún (our office on the Coast).
  8. Monthly prayer times: what it says on the tin.
  9. Meetings with pastors: ditto.
  10. Retreats for Facilitators and Constructors: usually held once a year.

Phew, not bad for an organisation with only three full-time paid members of staff.

Donate here or buy here to keep it all going.

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Conversation with a taxi driver yesterday

Taxi Driver: What’s today’s date?

Me: The 22nd.

TD: The world is going to end tomorrow.

Me: Oh yes, that’s right.

Five minutes later.

Me: I don’t think the world is going to end tomorrow.

TD: Of course not. Only the Father knows the time. Not even the Son knows.

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My task for my first few years in Vive was to manage the development of the curriculum for the teaching slot in the Sunday meeting. The challenge was to tell the story of the Bible in six episodes (Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus, the Church and the New Creation) in a year. Which stories to tell, which to leave out, which to tell every year, which only once, how to recruit and train writers, and how to link the stories together with some sort of narrative thread, these were the questions that preoccupied me all the time I was in charge.

Now my successor and neighbour in the office, María del Mar, has to wrestle with them!

Probably no task of my life has stretched me more but how satisfying when the leaders started reporting that the children were enjoying their classes as never before and responding to what they were learning.

Here’s a report from a leader at one of last year’s camps:

“The mum of one of the boys in the class came up to me and asked what we were teaching the children and when I asked why, she said:

“My little boy came home from his class and said, ‘Mummy, read the Bible to me,'” and when I asked why, he said:

“Because I want to be WISE.”

Donate here to keep the children of Colombia supplied with dynamic, culturally-appropriate, beautifully-designed and theologically rigorous Bible lessons and click here to pre-order my short story, also in support of the Vive Foundation and the Funky Frog Clubs.

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After the first Club was established and the Club’s activities defined, the next step was to start three more pilot projects in churches on the Coast.

Meanwhile, I had completed my two-year commitment teaching English in the Bible Seminary of Colombia and was back in Scotland, convinced I would return to Colombia one day but not quite sure as to what my role there should be. It was at this point that Simon got in touch to ask if I would consider managing the development of a curriculum for the Bible teaching segment of the Sunday meetings in the Funky Frog Clubs and I said yes. (This is a very simplified version of what felt like a very drawn-out 16-month process!)

I arrived back in Colombia in May 2011 and after a month’s mission trip, I started work in what we were then calling Vive Kids. My first task was to visit the existing Clubs to get a feel for the project.

Today there are 40 Funky Frog Clubs, not including what we call “Pirate Clubs”, Clubs run by  leaders who have learned the model informally from an official Funky Frog Club nearby (every so often the Pirate Clubs are “demobilized”, receive the official training and formally become part of the programme). Most Clubs are on the Coast but we are experimenting with the model in Medellín and dozens of churches around the country use our Bible curriculum.

Donate to Foundation Vive.
Pre-order my short story about a little girl growing up in a Funky Frog Club.
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Last weekend I was away on one of the Funky Frog camps for leaders.

As the first Funky Frog Clubs were established back in 2011/12, we realised that the leaders could use ongoing training and support both to expand their knowledge and skills but also to encourage them to persevere in their work with the children. We came up with the idea of an annual camp for the leaders and the first camps were held in 2013. At first there were two, then three and now there are four, held in all the areas where we have clusters of Clubs.

This weekend’s camp was in an area called La Mojana, a region of outstanding natural beauty and biodiversity (one of the most biodiverse areas in Colombia, which makes it one of the most biodiverse on the planet).

The theme was Returning Home, encouraging the leaders to experience and enjoy their relationship as sons and daughters (not servants!) in their heavenly Father’s house. We also held workshops on keeping children safe on the internet, making resources out of easily obtained materials, being constructors of peace and working with children aged 9 to 11, the oldest children in the Club.

Apart from two huge thunderstorms with associated powercuts, all went well.

A big thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered The First Colombian in Space, my short story imagining the life of a child in a Funky Frog Club, and donated to the work of Vive. With the pound strengthening against the peso, every donation has just that litte more value!

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