The vision to make a lasting difference in the lives of impoverished children began in the hearts and minds of Gary and Laura Sherwood from Lisburn, Northern Ireland after a trip to Guatemala in 2004. They were struck by the severe poverty that they saw and realized that they needed to do something to make a difference in the lives of the people they had met. Reachout Ministries was born from their desire to make a difference in the lives of impoverished children. They returned to Guatemala in April 2005 to meet with Otto Bonilla, the pastor of Iglesia Dios De Pactos, God of Covenants Church in Chiquimula, Guatemala. With a growing love for the children and families they had come to know, Gary and Laura together with Pastor Otto developed a strategy that would change lives. They returned to Northern Ireland with a vision for a scholarship program that would provide the resources for children to obtain an education while at the same time be presented with the Gospel. From that beginning Reachout Ministries was born.
The plan for Reachout Ministries was to supply everything the children needed for school including uniforms. They were also to be given English lessons and academic tutoring. In November 2005, Gary and Laura returned to Chiquimula and presented Pastor Otto with the keys to a new fifteen passenger van. This was a huge blessing to the community which had limited means of transportation.
Pastor Otto’s daughter, Lily began to work with the children, gathering uniforms and supplies, and tutoring them. A daily nutritional cereal package was also provided. After several years, her brother Erick began teaching English as well as basic principles of finance to adults in a micro loan program.
Many children suffered from emotional issues often caused by living in a difficult home environment. Parents were dealing with issues of poverty, substance abuse, and marital discord. Some of the children were being raised by grandparents or a single parent. The children received counseling and nurturing from the Bonilla family. Under loving care, the children flourished both academically and emotionally. Fathers came to faith in Christ, turned from a lifestyle of alcoholism and drug abuse, and recommitted to their family.
In 2006, Gary and Laura asked Fred and Ruth Beach to become their American representatives for Reachout Ministries. This meant, they were to find American sponsors for the ministry. The couple had developed a strong friendship with Gray and Laura after meeting at a bed and breakfast near Cork, Ireland in 1995. They started with eight sponsors from the United States and twenty from Northern Ireland. Fred and Ruth made several trips to Guatemala and led a team from the United States in November of 2008. That was a difficult year for Gary and Laura as they dealt with serious health issues. They were no longer able to continue with Reachout and brought the ministry to a close in the U.K. Fred and Ruth, having made friendships in Guatemala and seeing the impact Reachout was having on the people there, felt they could not let it dissolve. After talking with Pastor Otto, Fred agreed to take over leadership of Reachout Ministries. This is how he became the director of Reachout Ministries USA. Upon returning home from the mission trip, Fred and Ruth formed a board of directors comprised of Christian friends who had a heart for missions and for Guatemala. They also completed the legal requirements to become a 501c.3 nonprofit corporation. By the end of December, they had twenty eight American sponsors so all the children who had been part of the program under Gary and Laura continued to receive support. Sufficient income was also pledged to cover the salary for Lily.
In the years that followed, Reachout Ministries has expanded their program. They partnered with Calvin Cody to raise the necessary money to install water filters in public schools. A second expansion was the implementation of a micro loan program along with training in principles of sound financial management and responsibility.
When Reachout Ministries was started by Gary and Laura, the children served were in grades 1 through 6. After taking over the program, the Reachout board voted to begin serving children from preschool through high school. In the fall of 2017, Reachout expanded their program to support students who were pursuing a college education or vocational training.
In 2014, Fred and Ruth felt that God might be opening a door to expand Reachout Ministries in Colombia. They had contact with a pastor in Medellin who had expressed an interest in the ministry of Reachout. Fred and Ruth spent a month in Colombia researching various options. They visited two ministries in Medellin which were well established and flourishing. The third visit was to the city of Quibdó. Here they encountered an extremely impoverished community served by a small church with little outreach to children and families. They believed God was calling them to Quibdó. They realized that to successfully start a ministry there, it was important to have the necessary personnel. A director was needed to oversee the program. It must be someone with the ability to handle financial responsibilities, business and organizational requirements, and be fluent in English. Someone else was needed to work with the children and their families to secure school supplies and to mentor and nurture the children and their families. God abundantly supplied the people to fill these needs. Anderson Ocampo is a skilled and Godly business man who is fluent in English. He agreed to serve as the director. Margarita Moreno, a retired school social worker, was looking for a way to serve God in retirement. She was pleased to be the hands on person in Quibdó. She would work with the children and their families to get school supplies and help meet the physical and emotional needs of the children. She would be supported by a team of volunteer Sunday school teachers. One of the teachers is fluent in English and able to teach it to the children.
Currently, Anderson has recruited seminary students who travel to Quibdó to work with the children and their families, sharing their faith and teaching Biblical principles of finance. He started a micro loan program for adults. He has promoted the sponsorship of the children in Quibdó to people living in Medellin. Reachout Ministries is expanding in Colombia under his leadership.
Looking back over the years, Fred and Ruth are amazed to see all that has happened in and through Reachout Ministries. God continues to bless this ministry and open doors to supply all their needs. They are grateful to be a part of God’s work in Chiquimula, Guatemala, and Quibdó Colombia. In touching hearts and changing lives of children in these countries, their own hearts and lives have been blessed beyond measure.