By Reggie Hundley
San Raymundo, Guatemala, is a rural village of about 26,000 people located 31 kilometers north of Guatemala City, the nation’s capital. A blend of indigenous citizens of Mayan descent and Ladinos of Spanish descent live there. The region’s illiteracy rate is extremely high. Public schools are free, but uniforms, books, and transportation are expenses the impoverished residents cannot afford. Rather than attending school, many children roll wicks for fireworks throughout the day to help with family finances.
About 5 kilometers north of San Raymundo, hundreds of students study at Morning Glory Christian Academy. The school was started by Lori Nij, who, along with her husband, Queno, were missionaries with the New Iberian Mission Association (NIMA). The couple also connected with Casas por Cristo, a partnership that has improved the homes and living conditions of many families across the area. The school and new homes changed both the eternity and daily reality of the people of the region. These improvements are natural expressions of the Nijes’ dreams.
We are getting ahead of ourselves, however. This story actually began almost seven decades ago.
The Pinneys: Room for One More
In 1952, Melba and Herb Pinney Sr. decided their date would include seeing the movie Room for One More. The couple chatted about a number of things as they made their way home. During this seemingly offhand conversation, Herb said the title of the movie should be the theme of the Pinney home. Little did they know how prescient this comment would turn out to be. Over the years, Melba gave birth to nine children and the couple adopted another. The Pinneys brought another 67 children and young adults into their home while their lives stabilized. The openness of their home meant there would also always be “room for one more” in the lives of their children, including Lori Pinney Nij.
In the early 1980s, Lori Pinney was teaching at Colegio Biblico in Eagle Pass, Texas. As a semester break approached, she became aware several students from Mexico and Central and South America would be unable to return home for Christmas, so she loaded her Volvo station wagon with students and headed to her parents’ home in Vidor, Texas. All told, the Pinney children brought 21 extra teens and young adults to fill the house that Christmas. The gift of hospitality rooted and was in full bloom!
The Nijes: Multifaceted Ministry in Guatemala
After graduating from Dallas Christian College in 1980, Lori Pinney become the dean of women and teacher of pedagogy for Colegio Biblico in 1981. While there, Lori met and married an older student, Eugenia Queno Nij. After his graduation in 1985, they began ministry in San Raymundo, Guatemala.
There were many elements of their ministry. Queno preached in the local church and they started what has developed into the self-supporting Community Christian Hospital. Lori had learned first responder medical aid throughout her life, so she became the “medical person of note” in the community. First Christian Church of Vidor, Texas, purchased a vehicle that served as an ambulance for transporting the injured and ill to Guatemala City, almost 90 minutes away over rough, mountainous, and muddy terrain. Lori provided Mayan translation for a Jesuit physician in Guatemala City. Their friendship led him to come monthly for a clinic day at the church.
In 1987, doctors from the First Baptist Church of Texarkana, Texas, helped build the Community Christian Clinic and Hospital. The hospital is open to all; it is operated by a staff doctor (a native of San Raymundo) and short-term medical missionaries. Queno and Lori Nij were asked to fill permanent seats on the community committee governing the hospital. Queno continues in this capacity; he also is pastor/teacher with Strong Tower Christian Church and is spiritual director at Morning Glory school.
Morning Glory: Carrying on the Dream
In 2001, Lori began the Morning Glory Christian Academy with the desire to make a lasting impact on the lives of the children of San Raymundo. It started as a two-room school and 90 students and has grown to serve 650 to 700 students annually led by a faculty and staff of 50.
“Why a school?” supporters occasionally asked Lori. “After all, public schools are free in Guatemala. Wouldn’t it be better to use funds to provide food for the people in poverty?”
Lori’s typical reply: “You cannot fix poverty with a basket of food. We would probably have to pay double the price since people know the funds come from the USA, and the food will run out soon. What lesson are we teaching by simply providing food? Isn’t it more effective to teach a family to fish, to plant, to produce?”
After leading the development and growth of Morning Glory school for nearly 18 years, Lori Pinney Nij died on April 12, 2019, due to lingering health complications. (See “Remembering Lori Pinney Nij” at the end of this article.)
Morning Glory will continue to grow and bless the lives of people in San Raymundo for years to come. The partnership with Casas por Cristo will continue to help break the cyclical grip of poverty. A local leadership board called the Junta Directiva (board of directors)—to distinguish it from the NIMA board—has been chosen to carry on the dream. The leaders Lori leaned on are now in new positions of authority and autonomy and must look to raising up the next level of Morning Glory leaders.
The NIMA directors, headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico, will work even more closely with the local leaders in Guatemala. This working relationship benefits from the continuing presence of Lori’s father, Herb Pinney Sr., as chief financial officer and her brother S. Dean Pinney as the chief executive officer of NIMA. This is uncharted territory for some on the local board, but the people know God has created this team to keep the dream moving forward.
The vision statement for the Christian academy ends with these words, “Morning Glory wants to be the catalyst for life change as people become self-determining, understanding that they are not defined by their circumstances—they are defined by their relationship with a living and active God.”
The consistent ministry of NIMA, and Queno and Lori Nij, has always been to help people see that Jesus came to change their eternity . . . and their today.
Reggie Hundley has served as CEO/administrator of the Christian Churches Pension Plan since July 2017. Previously, he was executive director of Mission Services Association and editor of Horizons magazine for 21 years.
_ _ _
Remembering Lori Pinney Nij
On April 16, 2019, residents of San Raymundo demonstrated their love for Lori Pinney Nij as her body was carried on a last tour through the village streets. A brief ceremony led by the mayor and superintendent of schools followed this procession. A celebration of Lori’s life was held April 17, and her remains were laid to rest at Morning Glory Christian Academy, “where she wished to rest forever, and so be always close to her kids.”
What has the life of Lori Pinney Nij and the Morning Glory Christian Academy meant to the people of Guatemala? Two former students expressed thoughts shared by many.
Tiffany P. wrote,
Morning Glory. Just saying the name brings to mind thousands of happy and sad memories. How can I forget that every day when [we] arrived at school, Miss Lori was there, greeting us, and when it was time to go, [she was] waiting to say goodbye?
It’s incredible how she [made] a great impact on all of the students. She was a part of my life since I was 4 years old. When I arrived at school, there was always a happiness that characterized her, and now that I am 16, I still remember that happiness.
How [can I] forget when we were in a Bible class and she told us that it was very important to pray? Her words were, “When I can’t sleep, I go into my Facebook and I see who is connected and I start to pray. For example, for you Tiffany, I have prayed.”
Miss Lori was with us so much . . . that the school felt like a second home full of laughter and happiness.
Former student Karla A., 24, who is now a Morning Glory teacher, wrote,
[Morning Glory] for me was like a refuge and escape from the situation I was living in [at] my house due to my parents’ separation.
On one occasion, I remember that I got sick. I got a fungus on my wrist and no one in my house was worried about it. The only one who [was concerned] was Miss Lori. She cleaned me and bought a cream to make it go away.[The Bible classes on Fridays] were the best. Miss Lori taught the class. I remember the excitement that came with Friday because of Bible class. In those days all the students were taken to the hospital cafeteria and Miss Lori used a tape player for the music.
Another favorite moment was the dance group. We were the first private school to have a dance group, and September always [brought high expectations] for the parade. Miss Lori [went] in her red van in front with the music, and we were divided in squads behind. She told us we were her feet.
She always inspired us to be the best. And in many occasions, other schools didn’t want to compete against us because they said Morning Glory always won. It was a very good time in my life despite the situations . . . in my house. They are memories I will never forget.