Calvary Chapels Build Playgrounds

Calvary Chapels Build Playgrounds
Calvary Chapels Build Playgrounds

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Instruments of Healing and Love: Calvary Chapels Partner to Build Playgrounds

Story by Kathy Symborski
Photos courtesy of Calvary Chapel Albequerque

Believers from Calvary Church Albuquerque, NM, rose early in the morning, hopping on a van to enter the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. They passed through several checkpoints before arriving and receiving their marching orders for the day—building a playground. Standing in the baking sun, they took a break to eat lunch, thirstily washing it down with water. It was back to work, then, until the setting of the evening sun or arrival of curfew, whichever came first.

“It’s long, hot, and hard work. We don’t typically see the children or families during construction because that area is closed off, which is why Dedication Day is so important. It’s a big occasion for everyone. We finally get to engage with the families and children, and there are tears and smiles everywhere,” exclaimed Jennifer Santiago, director and co-founder of Reload Love, a ministry of Calvary Church Albuquerque, a Calvary Chapel affiliate.

Something as simple as a child’s playground can be an instrument for healing and love in war-torn refugee camps. Reload Love and other Calvary Chapels have collaborated with Kids Around the World (KATW) to build playgrounds and reach children and their surrounding communities with God’s transforming hope through food, play, and story.

Families playing on playground together

Children watch North Coast Calvary Chapel believers assemble the new playground on a rooftop site in Egypt.

Tangible Love

“The heart of Reload Love is to help children victimized by terrorism, war, and destruction. We bring God’s love in a tangible way that creates fun and joy in a safe space for them to just be children,” said Jennifer. Reload Love was founded in 2014 by Lenya Heitzig, wife of Skip Heitzig, senior pastor of Calvary Church Albuquerque. The ministry provides trauma relief, medical supplies, academic programs, and safe spaces (such as playgrounds) for these children.

The common thread in the partnership between Calvary Chapels and KATW has been the like-minded mission to honor and glorify God and His Kingdom. Jennifer pointed out, “Playgrounds are a tangible [possession] for [the children]. We leave, food runs out, and they grow out of their clothes—but the playground stays. That pillar of color and love we leave to help rebuild their life becomes their community center.”

“The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” Zechariah 8:5

Children watch as playground is built

ReLoad Love has supported the installation of playgrounds in war-torn regions across the globe. Kids in Mosul, Iraq, look on as local workers complete the newest one.

Partnerships for Playgrounds

Members of Calvary Church Albuquerque began a relationship with KATW in Sinjar, Iraq. Jennifer elaborated, “We learned there was a great need for playgrounds with our ministry partners; through that, we were introduced to Dan Liesik, KATW’s vice president of operations. They share the same heart for children, and what they do is truly the heart of the Lord. They just have it figured out, in multiple layers, with expertise in things we do not.”

Melissa Lounsbury, KATW’s senior director of partnership engagement, sees God’s hand at work. “To some, a playground may sound simple, but they become environments where kids experience the love of Christ. I’ve seen how God chooses to use that plastic and steel–He is equipping His saints for works of service to build up His body,” she marveled.

"As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." 1 Peter 4:10

Enishke Kurdistan photo together

Yazidi children in Enishke, Kurdistan, are excited to try out their new playground built by ReLoad Love, a ministry of Calvary Church Albuquerque, NM.

Calvary Chapel North Coast

North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, CA, has worked with KATW for four years. Missions Pastor Nic Gilmour observed, “[Our cooperative effort has] has empowered our church body for service to our ministry partners.” North Coast believers have helped build playgrounds in Kenya, Lebanon, and Egypt; they’ve also assembled and shipped OneMeal packages, a KATW ministry, to Mozambique and Nicaragua.

Pastor Nic compared the refurbished playgrounds to a large Lego set that is taken apart, packed into deep sea containers, and shipped around the world to be reconstructed. “We had a team of 10 volunteers willing to perform very unskilled, but hard, labor: digging holes for concrete to be poured and assembling the entire structure.” It takes four to six days from start to finish to build a playground. “It looks like it dropped right from outer space. When the kids finally get to see it, they just cannot quite believe it! You see the size of their eyes widen along with the smiles, and the next thing you see is them hanging off the playground,” Nic chuckled.

Pastor Nic added, “Isn’t it poetically appropriate that the beauty and color of that playground in the harshest of places is just like the beauty of the Gospel—how in the center of our hearts, it gives life, value, purpose, light, and splendor where there was none of those before.”

KATW’s OneMeal program provides a foundational meal, packed and sponsored by partners and volunteers in the U.S., and shipped overseas to feed malnourished children. North Coast Calvary Chapel’s OneMeal packing events are usually set up assembly line-style outside the church after Sunday services. This summer, because of COVID-19 restrictions, volunteers packed the meals as a family activity at home and brought them back to church. Last October, Nic reported, over 150 people gathered to pack approximately 150,000 nutritionally balanced meals, shipping them to Mozambique to help those devastated by cyclones that had torn through East Africa earlier that year.

Kids posing for camera

Two children in Egypt are ready to play. Believers from North Coast Calvary Chapel, Carlsbad, CA, joined with Kids Around the World (KATW) to build the playground.

Overcoming Obstacles

Reload’s Jennifer Santiago shared how God has intervened when they faced obstacles beyond their control. During their last project in Jordan, two playgrounds went up back to back: one at Za’atari, the largest Syrian refugee camp, and the second at a church in Azraq. The organization in charge of the refugee camp changed the Dedication Day numerous times and eventually cancelled it altogether. “We were very sad about that because it’s a day where we have fun and do a distribution for the children,” Jennifer stated. “So we were in prayer about that, asking for God to open that door.”

Unexpectedly, on Azraq’s Dedication Day, the Za’atari spokesperson called to say they could come that day for the dedication, placing them in a quandary. After prayerful consideration, the team felt that Jennifer and KATW’s Dan Liesik should go to Za’atari for the dedication ceremony, leaving the rest at Azraq to continue the schedule of events there.

Jennifer explained, “The people in charge had decided, at the last minute, to let a girls’ club and their families come be a part of the dedication. Since Za’atari is so large, they do not open [the celebration] up to the entire camp. So in the midst of that Middle Eastern culture, where women and children are secondary and the focus is solely on men and boys, we saw God’s grace in honoring them and our mission—allowing it to be open for this girls’ club. It was just beautiful to watch God’s favor of beauty and provision on something we didn’t even know about or ask for!”

"LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause your ear to hear, to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more." Psalm 10:17-18



All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

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