When People Truly Matter
An outreach trip to Colombia challenges International Needs’ Global Ministry Team Coordinator Jodie Arroyo to reexamine her priorities.
Jodie Arroyo enjoys extending the gift of hospitality. But when she finds herself tempted to fret over housekeeping minutiae, she recalls her visit to Colombia in January 2015 as a member of International Needs’ (IN) Medical Team.
In the La Playa Slum community near Barranquilla, Colombia, Jodie visited the home of single father and night watchman William and his three children Lilibeth (9), Ismael (8), and Daniel (5).
Like most of the homes in La Playa, the family’s two-room home is austere. The walls are made of boards and sticks, the floors of dirt. During Jodie’s visit, a chicken ran freely throughout the home, possibly kept inside to avoid theft.
“There was a couch that was dirty and torn,” says Jodie. “The home was grim and dark, and yet somehow so inviting.”
On prominent display in the center of the living room was a photograph of Jackie and Steve Reimink, the couple that sponsor William’s three children through International Needs Colombia.
“William just lit up when we came into his house,” says Jodie. “The experience has helped me process my need to at times have my house perfectly put together before I can welcome people into my home. It shouldn’t be that way. William did not invite us in to try and impress us. Physically, he had nothing to offer us; yet he was hospitable and filled with joy to have us in his home.”
Plagued by a history of armed conflict, Colombia is staggering under the weight of 2.5 million displaced people—a total second only to Sudan. The La Playa slum community, where International Needs serves, harbors more than 10,000 displaced persons. La Playa’s unemployment rate is more than 80 percent, and 75 percent of the families are led by single mothers. Most lack an income to feed, clothe, or educate their children.
Children are the key to breaking this debilitating cycle of poverty. Through International Needs’ Child Sponsorships, children like Lilibeth, Ismael, and Daniel can attend the local La Rosa de Saron School where they receive a high-quality education, school uniforms, shoes, and one hot meal per day. They also receive basic medical care and the loving nurture of Christian educators.
Since February 2014, Jodie has served as International Needs’ global ministry team coordinator. She oversees the logistics associated with the 10 to 15 short- and long-term mission trips International Needs sponsors every year, including purchasing airline tickets, planning itineraries, and obtaining visas.
While the January 2015 Colombia medical trip was Jodie’s first long-term mission experience, it was by no means her first international exposure.
Born and raised in western Michigan, Jodie found her world expanding when, in 1997, her family of origin hosted Sylvia, a 4-year-old child from Colombia.
Sylvia had been severely burned and had come to the United States to receive medical care through the Midwestern organization Healing the Children. Sylvia lived in Jodie’s home for nearly two years, and quickly became part of the family.
“The experience opened my eyes to a bigger world,” says Jodie, who was in high school at the time.
Known for her servant’s heart and her love for people and their stories, Jodie majored in elementary education at Calvin College. After completing her student teaching in November 2003, Jodie left the following January for Malaysia, where she assisted a family by homeschooling their two young children.
Jodie returned to Michigan fully infected with the travel bug. She desperately “wanted out” of western Michigan. While waiting for doors to open, she accepted a summer job doing human resources work for a large food manufacturer.
The “summer” job lasted 10 years. The company employed large numbers of immigrants from countries like Bosnia, Vietnam, India, Nepal, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, and Jodie quickly fell in love with her role helping them to acclimate to a new culture and working environment.
“I realized that I did not need to leave western Michigan to find what I was looking for,” says Jodie.
“God told me to stay put and create the community that I longed for right here.”
After a year on the job, Jodie met Roberto, a production supervisor who had immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1998. The couple married in 2006 and are parents to Ariana (8) and Tristan (6).
“In meeting Roberto, my eyes and heart were once again opened to a different way of living and thinking,” says Jodie. “We were raised very differently. We think very differently. We celebrate differently. It is a challenge to both of us, but there is so much beauty in it.”
The couple is intentional about incorporating Mexican culture into their children’s lives. The family visits Mexico often and celebrates Mexican holidays. The children speak Spanish.
Jodie appreciates what Mexican—and Colombian—cultures have taught her about life’s priorities.
“In Mexico, life is slower and more focused,” she says. “People truly matter. Relationships are the most significant part of life.”
In February 2014, Jodie transitioned to employment with International Needs, and in January 2015, she joined IN’s first-ever medical team to La Playa, Colombia.
“Going to Colombia gave me the chance to hear stories firsthand and meet the people whose lives are being impacted by International Needs,” she says.
Jodie shared photographs and stories from her trip with the IN team and with her family, including a recounting of her visit to William’s home.
“My daughter Ariana couldn’t believe that people really live like that,” says Jodie. “In a small way, it made her realize how blessed we are to have our home and all of our stuff.”
Jodie also had the opportunity to visit Camila, the six-year-old Colombian girl that the Arroyos sponsor.
“Ariana loved hearing stories of Camila and seeing the pictures,” says Jodie. “Camila became a real person, not just a girl that we send letters to. Every night Ariana prays for Camila and her family, asking for God’s blessings on them.”