The Joy of being a HopeChest Friend to an Older Child – A Conversation with Rich Atalla

Welcome back to our blog and podcast series Fueling the Future, where we explore the importance of empowering tomorrow’s leaders by investing in today’s youth. In today’s blog, we have a conversation with Rich Atalla, a former HopeChest Partnership Leader (HPL) and current HopeChest Friend to 3 teens and young adults from Mision Energes CarePoint in Guatemala. In the Q+A styled conversation below, Rich shares his inspiring story of two-way transformation and highlight the crucial importance of investing in our youth. Get ready to be inspired! 

Q: Rich, before we begin, could you share a bit about yourself and your journey with HopeChest?

A: Certainly! I’ve been with HopeChest for five years now. When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, my church was searching for a missions organization that focused on building relationships rather than simply writing checks. HopeChest was exactly what our mid-size church was looking for. I’ve had the opportunity to make multiple trips to Guatemala, both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing an incredible partnership along the way!

Q: This series revolves around sponsoring, supporting, and empowering teens and young adults. Could you tell us about your experience sponsoring Wendy, a 14-year-old girl?

A: Wendy holds a special place in my heart. I remember meeting her on our first vision trip. There was something extraordinary about her even then. We’ve been friends for about five years now, and witnessing her growth has been truly remarkable.

Q: Wendy is now 14 years old, and you started sponsoring her around the age of 9. What significant differences have you noticed in your relationship as a HopeChest Friend?

A: The most notable change I’ve witnessed in Wendy is her newfound confidence. This transformation is huge, considering the gender roles that often influence young girls’ lives. Previously shy and reluctant to smile, she now radiates joy. Wendy is thinking ahead and asking herself, “What can I do?” It’s inspiring to witness her growth and self-assurance.

Q: You mentioned a recent trip to Guatemala. Could you share some highlights from that journey?

A: Returning to Guatemala after a while was an incredible experience. Seeing the leaders and families who have had children, witnessing Wendy’s growth and increased confidence—these were some of the most memorable moments from my trip.

Q: How does your conversation and relationship with Wendy differ now that she has grown up?

A: Initially, when you meet younger children, you engage in games and activities. On my recent trip, I gifted Wendy a prayer journal as she has shown interest in reading scripture. Our conversations have become deeper and more meaningful. It’s remarkable to engage with someone who is finding their way in the world and discovering their identity in themselves and in Christ.

Q: Having traveled to Guatemala multiple times, have you noticed any notable challenges faced by Guatemalan teenagers compared to their counterparts in the US?

A: Absolutely. Many of these children come from broken homes, grappling with issues such as drugs, identity, and relationships. However, the most significant difference lies in the opportunities available to teenagers. In the US suburbs, the sky’s the limit—endless opportunities for sports, college, and more. Breaking the cycle of poverty through HopeChest empowers these children to dream and envision a brighter future. 

Q: How do you perceive your role in providing encouragement and speaking life into Wendy’s journey?

A: Having been involved in youth ministry for over a decade, I’ve learned that having someone who genuinely cares for you, without the obligation of parenthood, is a game-changer. It’s different. As a parent, I’ve often found that when my own children hear advice or wisdom from their youth pastor, it carries more weight. Similarly, being a consistent source of support for Wendy allows her to see that someone is always thinking about her and praying for her. 

Q: Some people might wonder about sponsoring a teenager or young adult. How would you encourage them to take that step?

A: Many individuals aspire to make a significant impact, and they may assume that they can influence a younger child’s life more profoundly. However, I firmly believe that you can impact a 16 or 17-year-old just as much, if not more. Often, these older teens have never experienced someone investing in their lives before. They may have grown up without a father figure or with an inconsistent presence from their mother. By putting your arm around them and letting them know that someone out there is constantly thinking about them and praying for them, you can provide the support they desperately need.


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