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Behind The Curtain: Puppet Ministry In (and Out) of Guatemala

Here's the scene: There's a boy puppet making a cake with his puppet mom, and she leaves the stage for a moment, warning her puppet son not to touch the mixing bowl while she's gone. In his curiosity, the boy fiddles with the bowl, and flour spills all over him and the stage! He returns with a bag over his head, ashamed of what he's done, but he has to face to consequences of disobedience: he has to clean up all the flour and now they don't have enough flour to make cookies as well after the cake is finished. On top of that, the flour makes him sneeze. This part of the show certainly doesn't bother the audience, because candy shoots out from the stage every time he sneezes! "This is my favorite script we use with the puppets," says Diana Stoddard, "The kids can see the consequences as they happen. It shows the importance and value of obedience while keeping the kids laughing and engaged too."

David and Diana Stoddard, TEAM missionaries in Guatemala, founded Manos a la Obra Títeres ("Hands  at Work Puppets") (which you can read more about in 2013's article here), six years ago after moving to Guatemala from Colombia. They both teach at SETECA Seminary in Guatemala City as well. In recent years, Manos a la Obra Títeres has been spreading and growing in an unlikely way: YouTube. Their collection of videos has garnered the attention of almost 90,000 viewers, who watch not only their puppet performances, but the "How to Make the Puppet" instructional videos. As a result, Manos a la Obra has gone from a small puppet show troupe in Guatemala to an international puppetry equipping ministry, too. "Almost every day we are getting requests from all over the Spanish-speaking world for materials, advice, or instruction manuals." says Stoddard, "And that's the coolest part of the ministry right now, just seeing God doing work through puppets around the globe." Manos a la Obra Títeres has provided instructional resources to organizations who are want to teach, for example, violence prevention in Mexico, self-help and recovery for gang members in Colombia, and self-protection from abuse in Peru.

But that's not to take away from what's going on within the puppet troupe within Guatemala. They have traveled to dozens of sites from Huehuetenango to Xela, using puppets shows to illuminate the gospel, Bible stories, and Christian life principles to groups in schools, churches, and even in the street. "The kids are excited to see puppets, they're excited to see the stories, and that allows us to teach really important things in a way that keeps the kids' attention. We love using humor, songs, and interaction to connect the audience with the lesson."


And aside from the performances, the work within the group of puppeteers is special in itself. "We use teenagers and Seminary students to do the puppeteering, and we train them from wherever they are at skill-wise to be a part of the performances." It's the growth, the relationships, and the spiritual maturing happening within the group of puppeteers that makes the group so special. Even though the group is fluid, of different ages, and from different countries, they have always been cohesive; laughing together often amidst their commitment to ministry.  "There's nothing they'd rather do than do a show out of town together," says Stoddard, grinning.

Manos a la Obra Títeres isn't about just puppets. It's about the message. The leaders and puppeteers know that. The audiences can catch the message quickly from the stage. YouTube viewers need not look far into the group's resources to discover what it's really about: spreading the good news of Jesus. And it is a beautiful picture when Manos a la Obra's team of young puppeteers, hailing from Guatemala, Bolivia, Argentina, El Salvador, the United States, and other nations, are spreading that good news together across Guatemala. It's a beautiful picture to think how good news is being spread by puppet ministries in all corners of the world through the networking Manos a la Obra Títeres is doing in person and through the Internet. It's a picture that keeps the Stoddards teaching their teams, stitching together puppets, and dreaming about what's next.

To see the Facebook page for Manos a la Obra Títeres, click here.

To find out about opportunities to serve with Manos a la Obra Títeres, click here.

Written by AJ Westendorp

Photos by Diana Stoddard



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