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The Oasis of Peace School Lives Up to its Name
By Rod and Sherry Boyd

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Alexis and Ariela Esquivel are pastors at the Oasis of Peace Church in in the outskirts of Panama City.  They have been friends for many years.  We have appreciated their ministry heart.  Ariela started the Jehovah Jireh Good Shepherd School in 1997 with just 16 children.  The school has grown to more than 500 children and youth.

Pastor Alexis and ArielaAriela and Alexis had a strong burden for the Juan Diaz area out of Panama City and decided to start a school.  The Oasis of Peace Good Shepherd School was started in 2008.  Truly this school has become an oasis of peace in the midst of a desert of difficulty and disappointment.  Ariela is the director of the school and Pastor Alexis is chaplain, doorman, cook, etc.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with them.  Following are the highlights of our interview with them.

Tell us a little about the Oasis of Peace School, when was it started?

Alexis.  It was our dream to have a school. In 2007 we began the work to open a school in the area.  The Oasis of Peace Good Shepherd School opened in March 2008.  It’s been a little difficult, but at the same time full of laughter, tears, suffering, investment and we have now been here for 3 years.  We started with 53 children; now we have 85 children from preschool through 4th grade.

What was your motivation for opening the school?

Oasis of Peace SchoolAlexis. This area is quite marginalized.  This neighborhood began as a resettlement of those that were displaced from the downtown area as a result of the invasion in 1989.  We used to live here.  The two main buildings of the school are the house we used to live in and the house that belongs to my wife’s brother.  Our family has given these houses to the school.  We know the area well, neighborhoods known for poverty, drug addiction, bad living.  But the school has come as a light in the middle of the darkness here in Juan Diaz.  We’re reaching out not only to the children of this area, but also from other neighborhoods as the school is becoming known. People are finding a refuge; not just children, but parents are also discovering this oasis of peace for their homes that were destitute, but are now strengthened.  Parents who didn’t want anything to do with the gospel are now members of our church!

How has the church been involved in the ministry of the school?

Ariela. Oasis of Peace is an Assemblies of God church located in the neighborhood Villa Lucre.  It is a church that believes in evangelism that reaches out to hard-to-reach areas like the Darien Province.  The church has donated many of the things we have at the school like furniture and desks. Church members have been sponsoring children with limited resources, every month providing a half-scholarship, at times nearly a full scholarship so these kids can go to school.  In addition, we have a support committee at the church that raises funds for the school through offerings, dinners and other activities so that the school will have additional income.  The school gives reports to the church of activities and results of children and family members won to Christ.

Oasis of Peace School

How many children from the school come from Christian families?

Ariela.  We would estimate that between 30% and 40% of the children have parents that know Christ or are sympathetic to the gospel.  Some are faithful church members.  Others attend church occasionally.  They know about church and the Bible, maybe have even given their heart to the Lord in past. Many have returned to Christ because of the ministry of the school.  The remaining 60% to 70% need to be reached with the gospel.  For this reason we have special parents’ classes on Saturdays once a month to reach out to parents with Bible teaching and practical messages directed to their special needs as parents.  The pastor is there to minister to them. We pray for them. We believe in the Christian home and that the school is an evangelistic arm of the church.  We want to reach 100% of the children and families with the gospel.  We have seen grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and neighbors come to these events.  They hear about the school and what is happening in the lives of their children, how they are learning and how their lives are changing.  We have incredible testimonies of children that have come from very painful, difficult situations whose lives have been transformed.

Pastor Alexis, you shared with me yesterday the story of a father of one of the children in the school that came to see you at school about becoming a Christian. Can you share that story?

Oasis of Peace SchoolAlexis.  One day Eladio, the father of one of the boys in our school named Emanuel, came to up to me at the school.  He is a new believer and attends the church.  He was crying and said, “One of the things that brought me to the church and to the point of accepting Jesus as my personal Savior was when my son Emanuel opened the Bible and asked me to explain what it said. I felt so ashamed because I couldn’t explain what the Bible said.  I realized I needed to know God and his word.”  Today both Emanuel and his daughter Estefani attend our school.  Eladio and his wife Aura, their two children, and the grandfather faithfully attend church.  The grandfather is the one who does maintenance at the school, fixing leaks and repairing desks.

Ariela. Something else very interesting is that this family is now producing fruit because Emanuel’s mother has won another mother of one of the children of the school to Christ who is also faithfully attending church with her daughter. There are two other mothers who have also been won to Christ.  Though their husbands are not yet Christians, the children attend and we are believing for those fathers too.

Can you share with us a story of a child that has come to know Christ through the ministry of the school?

Oasis of Peace SchoolAriela.  We have a lot of children who come having had traumatic experiences--sexually abused, abandoned, mistreated--from homes with separated or divorced parents, living with complete strangers at times.  Well we do have a testimony that has really impacted me because this boy was abused when he was in a daycare center before coming to the school; a person there sexually abused him.  When he came to our school he was really closed, guarded.  He wouldn’t let anyone touch him; he didn’t want anyone to hug him and he wouldn't hug anybody.  He used bad words because of where he had been and what he had been through.  His mother told us about what had happened and asked that we be patient with his aggressiveness and asked us to pray for him and for her.  We began to pray for her and minister to her.  We gave special attention to the boy.  The teacher and staff were so patient with him.

He gave us a lot of problems the first year.  He was still violent and hurt the other kids.  The second year was a little better as his behavior began to improve.  He stopped using bad words, would give hugs to the pastor and his teacher and was less aggressive.  This is now his third year and he has completely turned around.  He prays, talks about God, studies and gets good grades.  And now we don’t see the aggressive behavior that he once had.  We believe that constant love and discipline have contributed to the miracle that God has done in his life.  The Holy Spirit has touched this boy and now he’s in class with the other kids as if nothing had every happened. It’s the Lord that has covered that sin with his blood.

What are the major needs that the school has right now?

Alexis.  Our major need is economic.  Why?  Because we don’t have enough students to cover the cost of the operation of the school.  Because of this we have to look for help.  This is where LACC plays such an important support role.

What does LACC do exactly?

Oasis of PeaceAlexis.  LACC is the heart of the Good Shepherd Schools; it is what gives us confidence in Lord that we are not alone, that we have a friendly arm that holds us up, a shoulder we can lean on, someone that can tell us at the right moment that they are here to help and that they understand what we are doing.  For me, this is LACC, the heart of the Good Shepherd Schools.

So, our major need is economic.  We need to purchase the piece of property next to the school; we need to pay our teachers.  My wife and I don’t receive a salary from the school.  Instead, we give to the school from what the church gives us as a salary as pastors.  We do it because we believe that God has given us a vision for this school; we believe in what we’re doing and we’re seeing results.  For us it isn’t an expense, it’s an investment in the Kingdom of God.

Oasis of Peace

How many students does LACC sponsor at the school?

Ariela.  There are 10 right now. But we have other children that have applied for a sponsorship.  Then there are new ones that need help.  The help that these children receive each month is such a blessing for parents.  They just simply can’t pay the cost of the education.  They pay what they can and LACC makes up the large difference.

Tell us a little about the future plans for this beautiful school.

Ariela.  Our school is what is called a General Basic School that can go through 9th grade.  Our dream, our goal is to go through 12th grade.

Oasis of PeaceYou know, we don’t know when the Lord will come.  We believe it will be soon.  In the meantime we will continue to expand the school, adding one grade each year.  This year we go through 4th grade.  Next year we’ll add fifth grade, maybe the sixth grade too.  This is the plan as the Lord leads. We’d like to see a complete school and even consider starting a university.

Alexis.  By 2012 we’d like to have the building finished; we don’t know how we’re going to accomplish this.  We’d like to have the left wing of the building finished with three floors.  Our engineering permit allows us to build up to three floors, so this is our dream.  The how and when belong to God.

Tell us a little about the land next to the church. What’s happening there?

Alexis.  They were asking $40,000 for the property and we have been praying.  Later they lowered it to $30,000 and the latest asking price is $20,000.

But you’re raising funds, right?

Alexis.  Yes we are.  We make and sell tomales; we do other activities that include the children from the school and we’ve raise $700.00 so far to buy the property.

And how much more do you need to raise to put down as a deposit to secure the purchase?

Oasis of PeaceAlexis.  The lady wants the whole amount; she won’t accept a downpayment. So we’re lacking $19,300.

Ariela.  We understand that money really isn’t anything and that the earth and its fullness is the Lord’s.  God owns the earth and He owns our lives. Considering the little time left before the return of Christ we must dedicate ourselves to the salvation of children’s souls that are being lost due to violence and abuse that exists in our country.  God will hold us accountable if we don’t take advantage of the opportunity because we are selfish, thinking only about having more for ourselves.  We want to do the will of the Lord; that’s why we are in this ministry.  We are so thankful to the Lord for the people from LACC, for people who are sponsoring children so that they can go to school because God is using them so that his work will continue.

Video Interview

Oasis of Peace School Lives Up to its Name from Rod and Sherry Boyd on Vimeo.