Guatemala was put on complete lockdown starting last night.
A week ago the president announced Guatemala would begin phase 1 of reopening the country. I actually went to Dollar City and bought some things to make gifts for the Seniors who will not be able to walk to graduate in two weeks. Jerry and I went out and delivered lunch to each of them. I waved from the car. It was wonderful to see them even from a "social distance". I even walked around the condominium several days to exercise outside.
As we took a tiny breath of fresh air, through a mandatory face mask, we began seeing some very disturbing news on social media. Day after day there were reports of the local markets full of people like it was a normal day. Police were having to close markets by force at the dictated hour because tienda owners refused to close and shoppers continued showing up after hours. People are hungry and they are doing whatever it takes to sell and buy. More and more white flags were appearing up and down the street with families who have no more food. Families are being evicted from their homes for not being able to pay rent or for having a family member be suspected of being contagious with the virus.
The number of positive Covid-19 cases were tripling by the day. A 200% increase. Two of the Covid specific hospitals "collapsed". This means that there was not enough medical personnel or equipment to serve the patients currently in those hospitals. Another major hospital in Guatemala City was placed on complete quarantine due to several Covid positive cases among staff. Guatemala is not equipped to handle this crisis and many of the people still do not understand or do not want to understand the importance of good hygiene and social distancing. Much less staying home and not hanging out in public places.
Last night the President addressed the country and stated that beginning immediately the country is on lockdown. No vehicles are allowed on the roads. Small community tiendas (like small convenient stores) are allowed open from 8-11am (Friday - Monday) and food delivery is available as well as pharmacy delivery. Beginning Monday grocery stores and local markets can be open for a few hours on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Curfew is in effect from 5pm - 5 am each day. Still no travel between departments(states) and masks are required. Beginning Thursday at 5pm the country will be shut down completely. Zero traffic (vehicle or foot) will be allowed and nothing will be open except for medical emergencies. The president said these next few days are for people to prepare for the complete lockdown.
Today people took to the streets on foot to buy food at small local tiendas. There was even a protest across the Pan American Highway of people who are unhappy with the president’s declarations. We have seen a couple reports that complete lockdown may begin as early as tomorrow due to the people not obeying the law.
We had a few grocery items delivered today and have our main shopping scheduled to be delivered tomorrow. We are unaware if it will be able to be delivered. We are also unable to pick up and deliver the bread donation to the shelter this week as the bread shop is closed to comply with regulations. We are hoping to be able to take them bread and some groceries next Thursday depending on Presidential decisions.
Please pray for Guatemala and those who are sick and those who are starving.
Pray for the President of Guatemala and the decisions me makes for the health and safety of all everyone in Guatemala.
Pray for us as we watch this from our living room and are in a little bit of shock and try to make wise choices about purchases and about how to help those in need.
We are also still continuing with a regular school schedule in the midst of all this craziness.
Pray for Maddy and Coleman to finish their final tests, projects and papers well.
Pray for Jerry to finish his year teaching well as well as encourage and help guide the Seniors as the end their year in lockdown.
And pray for me as I send my last chapels and Chaplain Chat next week to encourage everyone as we end the school year and begin summer completely isolated.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support.
With much love,
We have received several messages from people wondering how things are going in Guatemala concerning the virus and life. So here is a little of what we have been living.
The Lord has blessed Guatemala! Our new President (who just took office in January) is a medical doctor. After the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed schools were cancelled until further notice, public transportation shut down and large gatherings of 100 and more were cancelled. By week two gatherings of any size were cancelled and the country basically shut down. Here are scenes to help explain our last several weeks.
*Masks are required the moment you step out of your home (even in your vehicle) - this is enforced by a fine from $900 - $20,000 (yes, dollars)
*Curfew in affect 4pm-4am - this is being enforced by heavy police presence. Reports of police officers being shot and killed trying to enforce this have been circulating. The picture above is of police officers praying in Central Park before the curfew shift begins.
*All parks and public places in the country have been shut down.
*All malls and public and private businesses have been closed for weeks. With the exception of major supermarkets, fast food and restaurant - delivery only, banks (limited locations and hours), and pharmacies.
(local markets were closed during Holy Week but reopened this week from the hours of 4am-12pm)
*Anyone over 60 and children are not permitted to leave their homes for any reason.
*All public transportation has been shut down, no buses!
*There is no travel permitted between departments. (departments are about the size of counties or parishes)
*Police and Army are checking vehicles to make sure there are 3 or less people in the vehicle. They are also checking temperatures at check points around town.
*My temperature was checked before I entered a supply store in town yesterday.
Our local University has had some students design and make respirators for use at the temporary hospital set up in our local fair grounds. While this is true Guatemalan ingenuity at work we are a little freaked out by the idea. We are taking every precaution to protect ourselves from contracting this virus and we also have several students whose parents are doctors. In fact, the leading Cardiologist in town has assured the school that any teacher or their family who get sick will receive the best care as he has doctor friends all over the country. So we have that.
The prisoners have been put to work making masks for healthcare workers.
Needless to say, we have not left our house very often at all. Ordering groceries and items online does not work very well here. We have to call or message a very detailed list of the items we want to purchase (exact brand and size of each item). It takes anywhere from 24-72 hours to receive the delivery and items may be missing or different than what you ordered. We tried it once. For now we are planning on going to the store once a week Even our grocery stores have strict rules and only one member of each family is permitted inside at a time. There have been days where this is all very overwhelming and stressful. We are tired of these four walls and just ache to go outside and get some sun. However, we are beyond thankful we live in the land of eternal spring and open our windows to hear the birds and feel the breeze.
We have been kept busy during the week days with school. The school where we serve and the kids attend decided to go full on Goggle Classroom schooling. This began the week after classes were cancelled so we only missed one week of class instruction time. The school day is from 9am-4pm. Most days the kids are in front of computer screens that entire time. It is not ideal but works to get school done. Jerry is teaching all his Bible classes via that format and has been able to meet with his Senior class for Google live meetings. I have been recording myself reading missionary stories to the Elementary students and giving a small lesson. I continue with a weekly Chaplain Chat email including a devotional and questions to ponder for Junior and Senior High students. Jerry and I both meet with our Advisory/Discipleship classes weekly via Google Meets. Maddy and Coleman are both in the middle of writing a term paper with their teacher on the other side of the world in Australia. So, there have definitely been moments of Mom and Dad teaching in our house as well.
We are lonely but safe. There are waves of anxiety and stress of living so isolated but it passes and we are thankful that God has protected us.
Thanks to generous giving last month were able to purchase groceries for the shelter this week. We dropped the items at the outside gate and smiled (thru masks) at a few of them. As well as the groceries we were able to share some color pages with Scripture and crayons for them to help pass the time. There is no WiFi out there so there is no way to have video chats or even record Bible lessons. Our prayer is that providing groceries and Scripture color pages will encourage them and show them a small bit of the love God has for them even in the midst of a worldwide pandemic.
In our country where so many live day to day, what you make that day is what you buy your food with for that day, many are going hungry. There has been a notice going around social media for those who are hungry and have no food to eat to hang a white flag outside their door and the neighbors will help. The young people at our church have coordinated a food bank where members are able to purchase items on a list and they send someone to your home to collect the items and then deliver them to families in need. We were able to provide for three families this week thanks to you and your faithful giving. A young lady from church called me this morning to thank us and pray for any concerns we may have during this time. We are blessed to be a part of such a giving church family here in Xela.
Like many of you, we are also watching all our services online and long for the day we can be together again with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We love you all and are praying for you! We are saddened that our trip for the summer may be cancelled but we trust in God’s faithfulness to us as well as you all. Thank you beyond measure for your continued prayers and support during this time. We could not continue to be here and serve if it weren’t for each one of you.
Thank you again from the bottom of our hearts.
We have great news - We bought a car Saturday morning! THANK YOU! so much to each of you who gave and prayed for this car for us! We brought it to our mechanic and he gave us the stamp of approval. We are beyond thankful to have a reliable vehicle!
About 48 hours after the purchase of our car the president of Guatemala shut down our country.
All borders are shut no incoming or outgoing.
All malls, public and private businesses are closed, all schools closed.
Only pharmacies, banks, grocery stores and gas stations are open for limited hours.
Gatherings of any kind are prohibited.
All public transportation in the country is shut down (if you have been to a third world country you know this is HUGE)
No entry into the prisons.
Everyone should stay indoors and only go out for necessities.
The country shuts down completely at 9pm. NOTHING open.
*we are also out of toilet paper - haha!
We are actually pretty grateful for the extreme action taken. We live in a country where so many are uneducated that the spread of this virus could be catastrophic if not dealt with in this way. However, in a country where so many live day to day and if they do not work they do not get paid, we are uncertain what the future holds for many here. The president is holding another press conference Wednesday to roll out his economic plan to help people get through this. So, while you are experiencing cabin fever and anxiety over the news - we are right there with you. We are praying for you!
We are however, continuing at the school via internet. Jerry will be giving his classes via Google classroom and I have begun a Chaplain Chat email to stay connected with my students to share hope and peace. Jerry will not be entering the prison for an extended time as they have closed all entrances into the prison due to the virus and also a mutiny attempt last week.
Please continue praying for Samuel and the other believers in the prison who meet for the Bible School as all of that has been suspended as well.
We will be checking on the shelter later this week to see how things are going there. When we were there Thursday and Sunday things were normal. Not much coming and going from there. We will wait to hear how their supplies are holding out. I am sure anxiety is high among the girls with all of them being away from family and some from their children and siblings. Pray for us as we try to decide wisely how to help them.
Before the world went into crisis mode we had a very successful first round of service projects for the Spring semester. All secondary students went out to 8 different ministries around Xela and served in many different capacities. Jerry lead the group that served at the Shelter and I lead a group that went out to a rural school. I absolutely love being the coordinator for these projects. It is a joy to disciple our students to serve and share hope with others. At the end of this blog are a few pictures to brighten your day.
We love you all and continue praying for God’s grace and peace to cover each one of you!
t has been a whirlwind of a few months! Between school and shelter there is not much time left for anything else. We were so ready for Christmas Break to begin we just crashed our first few days and are beginning to resurface and enjoy our time together as a family. As I had the opportunity to share the Christmas Story many times over the past several weeks in Chapels and at the shelter I was reminded of the contrasts in the story and in our own lives. Christmas brings so much busyness and “loudness” to our lives but, there was no room for Jesus in the busyness and loudness of Bethlehem. Instead, he was born around back, outside in the quietness of the stable with the animals. If we let it, the busyness can crowd out Jesus and we will miss the opportunity to welcome Him into our lives. We have to look for Him in the quietness and meet Him there. As we slow down and reflect we see all He has done in and through us these past few months.
Sarah's new job as Chaplain of IAS has been challenging and exciting! She prepares at least 4 sometimes 5 and 6 messages a week to share with different age groups. Coordinating monthly service projects for Secondary students has been extremely rewarding. Ninety-four students are currently serving in 6 different ministries around Xela. Students serve in orphanages, schools, and the shelter where we serve. It has been wonderful seeing students fall in love with serving others. God is working in and through our students. We have two students who now join us on Thursdays for Bible Study at the Shelter and both of their moms have visited with us as well. God continues to provide opportunities for discipleship!
We continue weekly Bible Studies with the ladies and children at the shelter. We recently had a group of students from school help us celebrate Kids Day this year. And we just wrapped up the year with our 6th annual Christmas Party at the Shelter. This year we had a couple students as well as their moms join us to serve. It is so fun to watch God grow this ministry and be a part of Him connecting other Guatemalans to help us serve as well. This was always our dream to bring an awareness to Guatemalans about their own lost and forgotten and serve alongside them.
For those of you following our vehicle issues, we have yet to purchase a newer vehicle. Before we even got the Jeep out of the shop we had to have the Tahoe towed. We were returning from the shelter one night and drove through flood water and blew the radiator. It took several weeks to receive the correct radiator from the states. We finally have two working vehicles again and will begin the search for a new vehicle right after the first of the year. Whew! Thank you to all who have prayed and sent support to our vehicle fund.
Visiting the prison has not been an easy task since school began for Gerald; between the constant threat of search and seizures, prisoners threatening to riot, and the government limiting of the number of people allowed special permissions. Gerald's ministry to Samuel and those he is shepherding is still going on with communication via Facebook Messenger. While it is not a preferred method, the ability for him to share opportunities to pray and "inside information" about how to pray for the prisoners and those in charge is valuable. Please pray for Samuel, for the churches and their ministries as our enemy is working hard at destroying them, for the leaders both inside the prisons and the officials making decisions. Please pray for Gerald as he plans on visiting Samuel this coming Saturday, that he is able to enter quickly, and spend as much quality time with Samuel as possible. Thank you for your encouragement in this very difficult ministry.
*Part of Sarah's job as Chaplain is to plan both Elementary and Secondary Spiritual Emphasis Weeks. Please be in prayer for all the details and the team and speakers coming to serve.
*Spiritual growth of students and teachers at IAS and discipleship opportunities.
*The financial state of the shelter as the budget from the government was cut by 90% for the new year. For the spiritual understanding of the ladies and children at the shelter.
*For our health as we keep up a break neck pace and for encouragement as we continue to reach out to not only students but families at IAS.
*Please pray for David at the Shelter. He is a 4 year old boy who has become attached to Gerald. When Gerald brings bread to the Shelter David has begun to ask that Gerald not leave or for him to leave with Gerald. David's mom does not read or write and is pregnant with her third child. Please pray for the future of these children.
This week has been a doozy!
The Jeep has been in the shop since the last email, six weeks ago. Monday we got a call from the mechanic saying "he could not help us this time and he was not aware of anyone in town who could". After a mild freak-out we prayed and God has lead us to someone who has experience working on Jeeps so we will be having the Jeep towed to him tomorrow. It has been very stressful coordinating our crazy life with one vehicle. Especially since the one vehicle we are left with does not drive straight and the tires are bad and it is rainy season so it has been pretty dangerous road conditions at times. We have not been able to put it in the shop because we need at least one working vehicle. We have no idea when or if the Jeep will be back up and running so we are praying for wisdom in what move to make next. You guys have graciously provided $5800 so far! We are so thankful for your generous gifts. It is looking like we will need at least $4400 more to be able to look at a newer model vehicle. We can not sell the Tahoe at this time to add to the amount not knowing the condition of the Jeep. Please continue praying with us for God to provide the vehicle/s we need.
The shelter has received many new girls and children over the past few weeks. As always when many new people enter at once there are issues. Conflicts arise and the superstitious thoughts of the villages are brought in. The girls have been telling me stories of demons and spirits being seen all around the home. This has happened in the past and usually starts when certain games are played. I taught the Armor of God study last Thursday and we talked about putting on our armor daily to fight against our enemy, Satan. The girls have an irrational thought that God is in the classroom where we do Bible Study and not in their rooms at night, which is where they keep seeing and hearing spirits. So after study we went to each room and read a Psalm and prayed over each girl who sleeps in that room. I left them with verses to read each night and encouraged them to pray together in their rooms before bedtime. Please continue to pray for their eyes to be open to the Truth of the gospel and to know that God is with them every where they go. Also for peace to reign.
School has also had its challenges these past couple of weeks. I have been very clearly sharing the gospel in chapels and have had great responses from the students as they are beginning to understand real Truth. We have also been working on teaching on the meaning of true worship, This is something new to them. Satan is having a field day literally and we have experienced more power outages, rain dripping down the wall ruining the connections on our brand new TV monitor (purchased just for chapel) and loud rain storms at the most inopportune moments. We have yet to have power or a working monitor for the words to the worship songs during Junior High and High School chapel this school year. We started a worship team this year and their heart for worship is amazing. It has been wonderful seeing a couple students stand up to lead and teach their peers about worship. It has been a learning experience for them to see Satan attacking the work they are doing. Please pray along with us; Gerald, myself, our principal and the Jr high Bible teacher, who is coordinating the worship team. We will be meeting every Wednesday at 1:50-2:10 to pray for our students and for God to cover our chapel times. If you are free at this time on Wednesdays please join us and pray for our students. Our chapels are Wednesdays 2:15-3pm.
Make no mistake, God is working in Xela, Guatemala! We covet your prayers and know they sustain us as we press on. Please continue in praying as there are many other stories we could tell and many other opportunities for prayer at school as well as the shelter and prison. God knows all the details and He hears us.
Thank you for your continued prayer and support.
Click the link to send support: www.WorldOutreach.org/407
Last night our Jeep broke down in the middle of a very dangerous section of the highway. Everyone is okay. However, we do find ourselves in real need of at least one reliable vehicle. Almost every time we have been given extra money this year we have had to put that money into repairs on one or both vehicles. Please pray with us and consider giving to help fund a reliable vehicle. We will sell one vehicle to help have money go toward something newer but we still lack about $7000 to be able to purchase something really reliable. We are unable to take out a loan here in Guatemala for a vehicle because we are not Guatemalan citizens. We currently have a 20 year old Tahoe and a 15 year old Jeep Liberty. This letter is going out to those of you who support us financially and/or prayerfully. As always we covet your prayers more than you money so please pray with us as we wait for God to provide. Please also pray we would be wise in our decisions concerning a vehicle. Thank you.
Click the link to send support: www.WorldOutreach.org/407
Guamiski, which means GUAtemalan MISsionary KIds” is, as one would expect, a camp for missionary kids that live in Guatemala. This camp has been a safe haven for many missionary kids, a place where we don't have to feel the pressure of being a missionary kid. As having aged out of camp I can say that this camp has and will continue to help ease the stress and pressure that comes with the life as a missionary kid. In my years at camp, I can tell you that it was always something to look forward too. It was also something that I could always count on to help me feel welcomed, safe and accepted. Which has always been hard to find. As we’re no longer yellow, as our birth-country is, neither are we green, as our now home-country is. We’re blue, a beautiful mixture of the two. Camp for me was always a place where I could find other kids who understood not really fitting in to our birth-county nor our new home-country.
Unfortunately, all great things have to come to an end. So as a missionary kid, I’ve had to say goodbye plenty of times, and I’ve had to say goodbye to camp Guamiski year after year for 6 years now. However this last one was different. It was different because it was the last time that I’d have to say goodbye to the camp for forever. As long as I’ve been there I’ve seen many people come and go, but this year, I was the one to go. However, I hope to go back next summer as a junior counselor helping out with the kids as well as lead the music as I did this year.
As a way to better express how much all of the people meant to me, here is a part of my instagram post after my very last year at camp:
“So this goes out to all the people I’ve met through the camp. I miss you all very much. I hope that you’ve all been able to have as amazing of lives as you’d all hoped when I met you. I truly wish you all the best. I hope you all have been able to grow into the amazing people that I always knew you all could be.
And as I said my last goodbye through my graduation speech, I realized that while I was hoping my legacy would be carried on by the new kids; I had a moment when I knew that I was a part of someone else’s legacy, which I hope will be carried on for many years to come.
I love you all and I wish you all the best.”
Events at the prison have continued to change and there has been more national police involvement. Changes from simple things like the family that holds my car keys while I am in prison no longer being allowed to stay on top of the hill where the prison actually is to national police exhaustively checking everything and everyone going into the prison. While this is a well intentioned process it affects those who travel from hours away to visit. Despite all that affects my entrance, the times I have been able to get in and visit are always a joy and an encouragement. About a month ago I saw a familiar face in the prison; a face that I spent countless hours with having weekly Bible studies. Our eyes met and he about jumped over the table to get to me, much to the surprise of his breakfast companion. It was Raul, my old friend and Bible study partner. It was a surprise and great reunion. He told me to sit with him and asked me what I wanted to eat for breakfast and that he was paying; I couldn’t resist this time with him. We chatted and picked up right where we left off. Despite our time being short (maybe 20 minutes) it was a great time and I was encouraged to hear that he was attending church.
Samuel is doing well and is really enjoying the Leadership classes he is attending. He has such a hunger to learn and I consider it a blessing to be a part of his life. My time with Samuel is always a joy regardless if we are having a Bible study or just catching up. Please pray for Samuel as he has been experiencing headaches and the Doctor said it is due to a lack of vitamins which is a regular problem in the prison. Sadly the Doctor does not have medicine and the prison does not provide any medicine.
Summit Camp is held the week after school ends on the school campus. The upperclassmen organize and lead camp. The school invites the students from the nearby low income public school to participate. It is a big deal and is looked forward to all year. We had lots of team games and competitions as well as activities such as archery, dance, cooking, ropes courses and crafts. We concluded each day with a chapel time including worship and a devotional. It is a wonderful time to encourage our students to invest in others. We were both able to serve this year as adult supervisors, Gerald in riflery and Sarah in archery, Maddy lead the dance classes and Coleman was junior helper at the rifle range. We have already been asked to lead the chapel times for next years camp.
These first pictures may confuse you because if you thought "hey, that looks like the shelter not school" you would be correct. We have been extremely encouraged to have connected our ministry with the shelter to our service at the school in a few ways this past semester. To begin, each year the Secondary students at school participate in Spiritual Emphasis Week. As part of the week this year we divided up in groups and went out into the city and served in different ministries. We were able to add the shelter into this group. It was so exciting to take a group of students to work along side us at the shelter for a couple days. The guys lead by Gerald did some needed maintenance work around the grounds.
We all played games with the girls and children and spent time listening to their stores and encouraging them. It was a special time for us to be able to have extra time with the ladies and children at the shelter hanging out and just being with them. It was very eye opening for our students to see those who live in such conditions and without hope. We had several opportunities to debrief with our group and discuss the joy and hope Jesus gives us that we are called to share with others.
Another really cool thing was that Maddy was able to visit an orphanage on one of the service days and was greeted by two little girls we had known a few years ago at the shelter. The older sister, Genesis, recognized Maddy! It was a surprise and a blessing to hear how well the sisters are doing since they were taken away from their mom a couple years back.
We also enjoyed participating in and leading small groups during the retreat part of Spiritual Emphasis week. All Secondary Students and many teachers loaded into two chicken buses (old decked out school busses from the states) and headed to the coast for a few days. And by coast I do not mean long stretches of beaches with waves crashing on the shore and ocean breezes. I mean a hotel off the highway near the coast but way to far away to feel any breeze. But it was warm, with a swimming pool and away from the busyness of school. It was a great time to get to know the students on a different level. And for them to slow down and listen to a great speaker who shared straight from the Bible. We heard many positive comments about the speaker and the small group sessions. We have been so amazed at how God is working in the lives of the students to draw many of them to himself.
(play "Find all four Lastrapes" in the photo below. This is the entire Secondary group from school who participated in Spiritual Emphasis Week.)
After we returned from retreat the Senior High girls decided they would like to have a drive to collect hygiene items for the shelter. It was made a school wide event and the class with the most donations earned a pizza party. The drive was a huge success and provided around 15 boxes filled with shampoo, soaps, lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste, toilet paper and many other needed items for the ladies. Sarah and two other teachers from school were able to take all the Senior High girls one Monday morning to the shelter to play games, and have a spa day. It was adorable watching the girls from upper class families dote on these sweet girls who have literally nothing. A couple of the girls were stretched out like they were in a real spa with a student painting each hand and another painting her toes and still another behind her combing and braiding her hair. I tear up just remembering the love that was expressed that morning. God has truly done a great work in the lives of our students as well as the lives of so many at the shelter. Love truly is the greatest of them all!
As we look toward to next school year Sarah been given the job of school chaplain for the entire school from Pre-K through Seniors. It is a big task as she will be preparing four elementary chapels a week as well as a secondary chapel, which also includes coordinating monthly service projects all over Xela. She will also be leading an Advisory class, which functions as a Discipleship group. Her goal is to continue only part time at school so that she is able to continue to keep up with ministry at the shelter.
Gerald will continue as the High School Bible teacher, teaching Old and New Testament Survey, Systematic Theology, Church History, World Religions and Apologetics. As well as the Senior Community Service class which focuses on ministry projects and preparation for Summit Camp. As well as continuing with his Advisory class of 7&8th grade boys moving up from last year.
As you can see our plates are full to overflowing with ministry but our cups are also full to overflowing with blessings as we have had the tremendous opportunity to blend shelter ministry with school ministry!
Please pray for us as we both have been given heavy responsibilities for the spiritual growth of the our school. Sarah is feeling a heavy burden and truly covets your prayers as she embarks on the role of chaplain.
Pray for our health as we attempt to keep up with the fast pace, that we would also find some times of real rest and keep stress levels down.
Pray for both Maddy and Coleman as school merges with ministry. That both would be able to focus on their studies and have understanding especially in the area of Math.
Gerald and Sarah Lastrapes
Along with their two children are missionaries in Guatemala. They will be sharing stories of discipleship through prison and shelter ministries.