Ever since she was 17, Emily Steenwyk Romero ’05 had been interested in Latin American missions. She loved the language and the people of this part of the world and couldn’t wait to immerse herself in the culture.
There was something called college that had to come first.
Calvin didn’t get in the way of Emily’s passion; rather, the teaching and learning enhanced her interests and skills. She enrolled as a Spanish major, international development minor and looked for opportunities in Honduras.
“The fall semester of my sophomore year was the first chance for me to travel there,” said Romero. “I went on the Spanish department semester with Professor Marilyn Bierling, lived with a family in Tegucigalpa and immersed myself in the language.”
For interim and the spring of her junior year, Romero went back to Honduras, this time through the international development program with professors Kurt Ver Beek and Jo Ann Van Engen.
“I was inspired by my time there as I worked on an independent study on street children, so I wanted to stay the summer as well. I taught at a Christian ministry high school,” she said.
At the school, Romero met a Bible teacher—David Romero—who would eventually become her husband.
After graduating in 2005, Romero volunteered for World Renew in Tegucigalpa, assisting in a microfinancing program for small businesses.
Emily and David married later that year and moved to Pasadena, Calif., where Emily worked on a master’s degree in cross-cultural studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and David served as the youth pastor for a local church.
“We knew we’d be going back to Honduras some time, but we didn’t know in what capacity,” said Emily. “We both loved children and education and evangelism—my husband is a third-generation pastor and evangelist—but we needed a vision to pursue all of those passions.”
That calling came in 2009. Right about the time of the birth of their first son, Anthony, the Romeros established a nonprofit organization, Jubilee Centers International, and settled into the La Era community of Tegucigalpa.
“The original plan was to begin a school in February of 2011, but a local friend who wanted to keep her preschool open asked us to partner with her and keep these children in a nurturing environment,” said Romero. “So, a year ahead of time, in February of 2010, we began with 85 pre-K and kindergartners.”
The Romeros and their colleagues have added one grade a year since then. This February, fifth grade will be added, and the goal is to eventually operate a K-12 Christian school.
The focus of the school is to minister to the entire family to address the poverty, emotional stress and brokenness in the community. David Romero does pastoral care and a case worker/counselor has been added to the staff. The intent is for the educational effort to gradually grow into a holistic ministry center.
“We do charge tuition although there are scholarships,” said Romero. “We want all families to be invested and involved in the school.”
Ground was recently broken for a new school building, with a hoped-for opening this spring. Until now, the children have been educated in three separate locations throughout the neighborhood. Emily and David have welcomed a second son, Eli, into their family and see their future as part of developing a Christ-centered, positive community.
“Our area can still be a dangerous place with a history of unemployment and violence,” she said. “But we know that children are powerful messengers, and through them whole families are transformed. We plant seeds and in just five years have seen much fruit.
“We want to raise up young men and women who will be leaders in Honduran society in the next generation, so their work and families can be models of integrity,” said Romero.