Transition is the name of the game…
This past month has been a whirlwind of activity.
We started with a lovely team of four ladies from Lake Charles Bible Church. We had a week full of teaching English classes, Bible studies, crafts, music and games at the shelter. This team really connected well with the girls and kids. It was a pleasure to serve with them and be encouraged by them. Our relationships at the shelter were strengthened thru the extra time and attention given during the week. It was truly a blessing to share a part of our heart and burden with them.
The week after the team left found us having a going away party at the shelter for our partner in ministry. We have been transitioning into leading and organizing the ministry aspect at the shelter for some time but it is now reality. While we are sad to see her go we are excited to see all the ways the Lord is working in growing this ministry. We have been able to involve some ladies from our local church as well as a few in the community. One new area we are working on growing is Life Skills Training. Please pray with us for wisdom in choosing topics and classes that are beneficial to the ladies and also for the Lord to continue to provide helpers.
Along with this change, Gerald has been asked to teach Bible classes at a local High School. This is an opportunity that sort of fell into his lap. He is very excited for this new aspect of ministry. He will continue with the discipleship ministry at the prison simply adjusting his schedule to accommodate his teaching schedule.
Due to this change in Gerald’s schedule Sarah will take on more responsibility at the shelter as well as ending a 10 year homeschooling career. Maddy and Coleman will be able to attend the school where Gerald is teaching. This is an answer to prayer as the upper grades were getting overwhelming to teach as well as keep up with ministry changes. It is however a hard transition as it means saying goodbye to something that has been our constant thru all our previous transitions.
And lastly, Sarah recently had a skin cancer spot removed from her temple. Even though apparently this is a pretty common type of cancer it was traumatic to hear that word. The surgery was a success and all the cancer was removed. She is healing well. Medical issues still tend to be a source of anxiety for her. The opportunity has allowed us to get to know a few new doctors here. The experience with her surgeon has been a good one and we were even able to share with him and encourage him as he deals with some personal family issues. He in turn prayed for Sarah as she struggles with some anxiety. God continues to work in the most obscure ways. We are just along for the ride.
As you can see our month has been full of highs and lows. We are so thankful for each of you who faithfully pray for us. It truly sustains us.
-Gerald as he takes on a new responsibility teaching as well as continuing with current prison ministry and finishing up work on his Masters Degree in Theology.
-Sarah as she takes on more responsibility in the shelter ministry and transitions to everyone else being in school. Also for continued health mentally and physically.
-Maddy and Coleman as they begin attending school. That they would adjust well to this new schedule and academics and also to be able to each make a friend. This is a big transition for them.
So many times when girls leave the shelter we never hear from them again. The ones we do hear from, and try to help, don’t really want to do the work to help themselves. It is easy to get discouraged. But every once in a while God blesses us with an encouraging phone call. We recently had several girls and families leave the shelter to head back home. This is always a hard time for us as we say goodbye to so many sweet relationships knowing they are walking back into some very hard places. One afternoon last week I got a phone call from D who had recently gone back home to be with her family. She was so excited to tell me about how her mom had changed and become a Christian in her absence. She told me how she was reading her Bible and answering questions her mom had. They even held a service of thanksgiving in her home because of her return. One stipulation to her being allowed to go home was that her mother find a source of income. D remembered the training on sausage making and began to teach her mom how to make longanizas and chorizos. D started making the sausages and her mom goes out and sells them. She enrolled in weekend classes to finish high school and has been asked to teach the children’s Sunday School class at her church down on the coast. There is no curriculum available to her so I asked what she would be teaching. She told me she has her Bible and notebook filled with Bible lessons and she wants to teach the way we taught her at the shelter starting in Genesis. I cannot express how happy I was to hear all of this! This type of ministry can be discouraging at times, and we sometimes wonder if we are even making a difference. We keep at it because we know God is faithful to complete the work. We know if we are faithful to share His word it will not return void.
Also, please be praying for us as our partner in ministry at the shelter is retiring. We will be continuing weekly Bible Studies as well as beginning to add more Life Skills Training classes. We have also had the opportunity to involve some of our Guatemalan friends in different ways. A few weeks ago my hairdresser got some friends together and closed their shops for a Thursday afternoon to head out to the shelter to cut hair, paint nails and even wax eyebrows, for those that were brave enough. It was a huge blessing to work alongside some Guatemalan sisters in Christ. The time also allowed me to spend some time one on one talking and praying with the girls as they waited their turn. This was a huge answer to prayer as one thing that has been hard since our partner has begun taking a step back is me leading the Bible studies alone. So many want that personal prayer time after the lesson and with twenty or so in the class it can get overwhelming.
We just want to thank all of you again for supporting us financially and through prayer. God is working and his Word is going out into all Guatemala! God is even using young ladies returning home to seemingly hopeless situations to share the true hope we have in Him.
Some prayer requests
When I began prison ministry I didn't really know what I was getting myself into, aside from working with those convicted of crimes. My last visit was no different. Upon arriving at the prison, I noticed there were more people than normal waiting to enter. As there are many holidays that we do not remember, I was not worried and had permission to enter. I try to use my permission only in the most dire of situations to get in or out but today I was feeling tranquilo (tranquil) and decided it best to wait in line with all the other men instead of walking to the front of the line. After two hours of waiting, I was finally in, still unaware of why there were so many visitors.
As I walked from one gate to another in the prison I noticed a stockpile of propane gas tanks, microwaves, sound equipment, counter stoves, fridges, televisions, and who knows what else. Walking through the gate into general population, Samuel meets me and begins to explain that there was a requisa (search and seizure) in the prison and all of those items were deemed illicit...despite the fact that over time they had been permitted. As Samuel and I chat, he tells me that his shop was searched and torn apart looking for drugs, alcohol, or whatever they could find. The guards were not picky about where they went as they searched every nook and cranny (including taking the sound equipment of the churches-which was eventually returned). When there is a search and seizure the prisoners are not allowed anywhere and remain locked up in their sectors, with limited access to food or water. I was told that on Friday they were not fed breakfast until well after noon and lunch was served to them around 9pm and no dinner. Saturday they were also retained to their sectors and fed breakfast at noon, lunch around 3 and dinner sometime late that night. Sunday, they were also retained to their sectors but around noon were permitted to leave only to find their shops, work areas torn apart and left in absolute disarray and tiendas having been searched and items stolen. I am writing about this because sometimes the injustice in the prisons here is unbelievable.
Yes these men are prisoners, yes they have been convicted of crimes but they are still human and they are still created in the Imago Dei. Numerous friends of mine had their tools stolen as well as personal items; tools they use to make a living while in prison, tools they were permitted to have by the director(s) of the prison. To say that I was confused, mad, and sad all at the same time is an understatement. One thing to understand about prisons here is that finding illicit items is not unusual; as some illicit items are brought in by guards themselves attempting to make some extra money.
Aside from the seizures, some people were transferred to other prisons in the middle of the night. One young mother I know, received a phone call in the early morning from her husband only to find out he had been transferred to another prison three hours away. I was able to talk to her while she was at the prison, collecting what she could of her husbands belongings; he was transferred with only the clothes on his back.
Leaving the prison was just as hard as getting in, as we were told we would not be allowed to leave until 2pm, two hours after our normal exit time. I attempted to leave only to find out my permission had expired on the last day of last year...the same permission that I had been using all year thus far to enter the prison at the main gate. Finally around 3pm was I allowed to leave the prison, still confused and upset at the blatant lack of human rights violations and sad that someone I have known for a while, had been transferred.
Prison ministry is hard, it ebbs and flows, relationships are built and lost as men come and go but these men have become part of me and my heart for Guatemala.
-Please pray with us as I continue to make the name of Jesus known to those who will hear.
-Please pray for the men who are attempting to rehabilitate their lives through faith and by working.
-Please pray as there are rumors of an eventual reprisal against the guards and directors.
-Pray that the government can reduce the amount of corruption within the system.
Yes these are big prayer requests but our God is bigger.
As I shared in a previous blog post I have been diagnosed with Chronic Moderate Gastritis. There is no sign of infection or parasite so my Gastroenterologist thinks the major reason for my stomach issues is stress. Nice! Anyway, just like I teach the girls at the Shelter, God always has a plan. Here is my story…
My gastroenterologist also attends our church. His wife works with heart patients but also acts as his nurse for clinic procedures. While I had seen them around church and know his parents I had never really met the Dr or his wife. After I had an endoscopy my Dr’s wife comes into where I am recovering from anesthesia and tells me her story. She and her husband both received their specialty degrees in Germany. She goes on to tell me about the 3 years they spent living in Germany and her struggles living in a foreign country so far away from family and all that was familiar. She actually had severe physical issues as well due to the stress of it all. She then proceeds to invite me to be a part of a small discipleship group. She told me I needed friends here. The group began because God answered her prayer and provided a similar group for her when she lived in Germany. When she returned to Guatemala she prayed for a small group to study the Bible with and pray. Almost immediately a lady in our church approached her about joining a small group she was starting. That was 5 years ago, right about the time we moved to Guatemala. For the past couple of years I have prayed for a group of ladies like this. And here it is handed to me because of stomach issues and an endoscopy procedure I did not want to have. I have been meeting with this group for a couple months and what an encouragement they are to me.
I have also been praying for years that the Lord would show me how to connect Guatemalan women with our ministry at the shelter. As well as praying for avenues to teach the ladies skills so that when they leave the shelter they have a way to support themselves. Many of them only have an 8th grade education at most and several can not read or write. Many times I am heartbroken to hear the fear in their voices as they tell me that if the judge allows them to leave the shelter they do not know where they will sleep that night and they have no way to earn money. Again, God had a plan and through this small group I met a lady who took classes at a local college on how to make Chorizos and Longanizas (local sausages) of the quality to sell. She has taught me the process and this Monday a group of 5 ladies from church are going with me to the shelter to teach a class on sausage making. The ladies at the shelter are so excited! A few responded with “WOW” and asked me tons of questions. You could hear the hope in their voices. What an answer to more than one prayer!
God is always working whether we see it immediately or we have to wait 5 years! Be encouraged, God will complete his plan! We need only to be faithful and patient in the waiting.
We are wrapping up the holiday season of 2017 more fulfilled and blessed than ever. We kicked the season off by celebrating Thanksgiving at home just the four of us, calm and quiet. Then Maddy headed off to church camp with the youth from Bethel followed immediately by the entire family heading to the coast for our Sunday School class weekend retreat. We came back to Xela to get ready for Maddy's Quince (15th birthday party) which turned out perfectly! She has been so blessed with amazing friends! It was great for our family to participate in this traditional aspect of our culture. The following week found us pulling together last minute details for our annual Christmas at the Shelter party.
Each year we add a little more to the program and this year was no different. We started with an interactive reading of Mary's story and Sarah talked about Mary's decision to place her life in the hands of God's plan for her. We focused on how that obedience brought us the most wonderful gift of Christmas - the miracle of Immanuel 'God with Us'. Gerald then read the Christmas Story from Luke 2 and had a special prayer over the ladies and children. While we all watched Home Alone II filling the house with laughter, Gerald hand-cranked over 50 granizados (snow cones). We ended the evening with gifts for everyone. It is always so much fun to see all the faces light up as everyone opens their gifts. We still can't believe we are the ones who get to be the hands and feet to carry these blessings of love. We returned to the shelter to take them Christmas dinner and several of the ladies were walking around wearing the purses we gave them. It was precious!
We rounded off the next week with two different Christmas Convivios (parties) with our church family...and funny enough, a few birthday parties for friends. We spent Christmas Eve Eve and Christmas Eve with our church family and traditional midnight fireworks with our missionary family.
We certainly hope and pray that your Christmas season was as filled with love and blessings as ours was.
We are eternally grateful for the privilege to live and serve in this precious country and to those of you who make our lives and ministry possible. Woodlawn Baptist Church who are so faithful to give each year so we can buy gifts and food for the shelter, each financial partner for your faithful giving which allows us to live and thrive in Guatemala and to each person who lovingly prays for us. We could not do this without each one of you reading this newsletter who give, love and pray for us. Your sacrifice is eternal. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
As I (Gerald) sit and write this end of the year blog post, it is hard to believe that an entire year has just about come and gone. I think back to where we were at this time last year, as we were able to see many of you in person and not via an email update, a facebook post or maybe even an instagram photo. So much happens in 12 months and yet finding the words to put it all down in is quite possibly the most difficult. In an attempt to summarize this years events I would like to begin with a verse as we have already entered this Christmas season.
The apostle Paul writes in Acts 20:35 "In all things I have shown youth by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" We have not see the truth of this verse more clearly than we have in the past year. Being on both sides of this verse we have been the recipient of your sacrificial giving and with that we have been able to further minister to this wonderfully beautiful culture.
We would like to thank you all also for the consistent praying you have done on our behalf.
Coleman this year saw not one but two English speaking friends leave Guatemala to return to the States. We thank you for the prayers as he said goodbyes. It was a rough start but he has made many new friends in the condominium complex and at church. Almost daily our doorbell is rung by friends wanting Coleman to come out to ride bikes or play soccer at the park.
Maddy has always been our social butterfly but sometimes even a butterfly gets tired of fluttering. Maddy has struggled at times this year with being the person who always walks up and introduces herself but your prayers have helped her also establish and reinforce relationships through activities with the church youth group, including going away for 4 days to the church youth camp with all Spanish speakers.
Sarah as many of you know has dealt with health issues and actually spent some time in the States to visit her doctors. While she is on the road to recovery, this trial has also brought about opportunities for she and I to get to know other people in the congregation. One of the couples who is in our Sunday school class have a son who just so happens to be a gastroenterologist who has helped us incredibly since Sarah returned from the States. Last week Sarah was scheduled for an endoscopy which revealed some gastritis but more importantly, he only charged us a third of the normal cost...which we happened to have stashed away in an envelope. We would be satisfied if that is where the story ended but as God would have it, the doctors wife was acting as his nurse and invited Sarah to a women's discipleship class. The ladies were getting together to have a Christmas party and Sarah was more than welcome to attend. Soon the party snowballed and families and friends were invited. We are still reeling from the amazing time we had last night with ladies we know from church but with whom we were able to build deeper relationships.
I continue to hold his discipleship class every Wednesday at the prison. The group grows and shrinks but Samuel is faithful. I ask that you continue to pray for the discipleship ministry and for Raul. After months of seeking him out to continue our Bible study, I made the tough decision to put the ball in Raul's court, and have him seek me out. I have not seen Raul in quite a while, despite him knowing I am in the prison every Wednesday, but there is hope. Samuel told me that he saw him in church Sunday. I ask that you pray along with me for God to continue to work on his heart.
We cannot thank you enough for the prayers that you pray for the ministry in the prison, women and children in the Shelter and even people here in our condominium complex.
This year the Shelter received a huge gift to help provide the annual Christmas party at the Shelter. Over the past few months we have been making purchases for over 50 people and working on getting things ready for the party. Receiving this gift is such a blessing for us to receive so that we can give. We wish that for each of you who give you could see the faces of the kids and ladies as they open their gifts. For us it has clearly revealed to us the truth of Acts 20:35.
Because of you we have been able to work hard to help the weak. We are so blessed and happy to be the hands and feet of such a sacrificial team. We look forward to sharing with you videos or photos from Christmas at the Shelter. While I am unable to share a photo of Samuel and I together, know your giving is precious to him as I minister to him.
1)Prison ministry as it shrinks and grows; and for Samuel during the holiday season without family to visit
2)For future donations to come in as we pursue purchasing medical insurance
3)Shelter ministry as the ladies and children who will not be in their own home this Crhistmas season.
Sarah and Maddy are finally heading home! Thank you all for your prayers for Sarah's health. She is feeling much better and feels confident in the care she has been given in the states. Praise the Lord with us that no surgery was required. She has been put on a couple different medications and all is going well.
Please pray for them as they travel back to Guatemala. There is a lot of political unrest in our country right now as protests are scheduled for the next two days country wide causing all major roadways to be blocked. Their flight arrives this evening so we will all be staying put in the Guatemala City for a few days til the protests end and we are able to travel out to Xela. Please pray the protest do not extend thru Thursday.
We love you all and thank you for always keeping us in your prayers!
Also, we would like to update on our need for health insurance. We have received $50 committed monthly to help toward this $500 a month expense. Please be in prayer for the remaining $450 needed to allow us to obtain medical insurance.
Jerry, Sarah, Maddy and Coleman
So much of our time is spent in the mundane. The weekly schedule. The striving to be faithful. And every once in awhile we catch a glimpse of the bigger picture. We have experienced two such times recently.
We have been in a good flow of Bible Studies at the shelter. A time of peace after a little rough patch at the shelter. The girls have been truly hearing and interacting. And as we talked with them one day during study we realized over 2/3 of the group had accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior for the first time all in the past month! Some in our bible study and some when a small group came to visit with a special activity one week. We had each lady write her "new birth" date in the front of her bible and we took a picture. It was one of those times when you see the fruit of your labor. The real need for the ongoing Discipleship. The small part God is allowing us to play in his eternal kingdom. God giving us a peace to continue on.
And then, a routine visit to the Dr that ended in concerning ultrasound results and cancer marker tests. God is my Peace! After a second opinion, a last minute flight to the states and follow up testing and ultrasound, all is calm. Nothing has ever caused anxiety like that week of waiting on test results. We were blessed to be surrounded by some in our Sunday School class praying for us and encouraging us, reminding us that God is our peace. Sarah and Maddy flew to the states thinking Sarah was having surgery and Maddy volunteered to help her recover. Instead they have both had a chance to relax and enjoy family and recover from the stress of all the drama. Please pray for us as our family is separated for a couple more weeks and also for the follow up ultrasound Sarah will have before returning to Guatemala.
This whole ordeal has made us painfully aware of our need for some sort of major medical insurance. We have chosen a good fit for our family and the monthly cost will be just under $500 a month. We do not have this in our budget at this time. We are looking for a few families or groups to partner with us. Please pray with us and consider how you can partner with us for this need.
Thank you all for your continued love and support.
This past Tuesday Gerald was told that his permission to get into the prison needed to be renewed because a few people who signed off on the permission are no longer working in the penal system. This is not just with Gerald's permission but for the Bible institute teachers as well. We know God has a plan in all of this and we seek his guidance in the meantime.
1) Pray for Sarah's health and healing while she is in the States and for Maddy as she spends time in the States with friends and family.
2) Pray that Sarah will not be anxious and trust God is her peace.
3) Pray for upcoming ultrasound results to show no new growth.
4) Pray for us all as we are apart for a couple more weeks.
5) Pray for God to provide partners to be able to begin having insurance.
6) Pray that Gerald and the other prison teacher can receive their new permissions.
Most Christians know the story of George Mueller and the faith he had in his prayers to provide daily sustenance for the children in his orphanage. We are often told of the orphanage housemother telling Mueller “The children are dressed and ready for school. But there is no food for them to eat.” Mueller then instructing her to bring the children to the dining room and wait; he then prayed and waited for the food he knew God would provide. As the story goes, not much later there was a knock at the door of a local baker who knew of the orphanage and at God’s prodding baked enough bread for the children followed by another knock at the door from a milkman whose delivery cart had broken down in front of the orphanage with milk that would spoil in the time it took to fix the cart. There are countless other stories of Mueller’s faith in prayer from the orphanage and during his time as a pastor in a small English church.
Often times we read of these stories or others much like them and think of the faith of the person praying and wonder if we would have the same measure of faith. One of our ministries here in Guatemala is to the Women’s Shelter where we teach the ladies and children a Bible story, build relationships with them, do special events like Mothers Day, Kids Day, Christmas or the yearly shoe distribution. But one of the ministries we have with the Shelter is providing necessary cleaning supplies. While we do pray the Shelter becomes fully self sufficient in its needs we are blessed to be able to help them in simple yet practical ways.
About two weeks ago we returned from Guatemala City with cleaning supplies as well as personal hygiene items for the ladies. As you can see from the photo there is a random assortment of different types of soap and two boxes of bleach containing 6 gallons and a couple bag of dry milk. When I (Gerald) showed up to deliver these supplies one of nannies could not thank me enough for the bleach. She made sure I knew that she had prayed specifically that someone would bring them bleach! The flies that were becoming a problem were exacerbated by the lack of proper cleaning supplies. She was so thankful that God had heard her prayer and put it on someones heart to purchase bleach for them. She thanked me numerous times for the bleach and let the other workers know as well.
We are thankful that God has called us not only to the spiritual health of these ladies but called to their physical health as well. I want to return to the story of George Mueller because we are often told of the faith in his prayers that God would provide but I also want to point out that we may never know the name of that baker or that milkman but they are just as important to the story because whether they heard God speaking directly to them to make bread for the orphanage or are dealing with a broken down cart loaded down with fresh milk they responded to a need. We share with you the encouragement to continue to hear God calling you to send people into the world to share the Blessed Hope that we have as we are sent into the world and listen for the voice of God in providing simple yet necessary needs to those God has put in our lives.
We cannot do what we do in the lives of these ladies without your generous donations. We cannot thank you enough for being the senders to those of us who are goers. Thank you for your love for people you may never meet or see in person. Your kindness is a direct result of God working in your life so far reaching you may never know the eternal impact you have on a single mother leaving behind a life of abuse. We know you don't do what you do for the applause or the gratitude but it must be given.
¡Paz de Cristo a Usted!
Peace of Christ to You!
Please pray with us in the following areas of ministry and life:
-Having experienced a rather strong earthquake last night please pray for those whose homes were damaged and for the families who lost loved ones
-With new arrivals at the Shelter there is going to be some adjustments and the Shelter has had their fair share in the past month
-Maddy and Coleman are headed to Camp Guamiski (camp for English speaking missionary kids) this coming week
-Continued opportunities to share the Word of God in the prison
This past weekend I (Gerald) traveled to the city with six other prison ministry veterans to be trained as facilitators and to receive certification as trainers in a new Prison Fellowship International project called The Prisoner's Journey. This project is specifically designed as an evangelistic outreach that leads to 8 weeks of small group discipleship. Our training was provided by Stephen James who is the creator of The Prisoner's Journey. There is no better training than to learn directly from the person who came up with the idea. We had some great training! To be a part of this project in our own prison system is such a great opportunity for us to share the light of Jesus in such a dark place. Along with being trained to lead small discipleship groups that will come out of the initial meeting, I am also certified to train others to lead small groups. I know it is cheesy but it is true, "Mathematics is part of the Christian life". Multiplying yourself (what God has and is doing in your life) into the lives of others so that they may do the same in the lives of others. This is discipleship! It is exactly what Paul was writing in his second letter to Timothy: "...and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." I am so excited to see what God will be doing through this project in the prison and in our lives.
We have been overwhelmed with concern for the Shelter by the gifts we have received to help them out at this time. Your sacrificial and extra giving allows us to purchase items that they cannot purchase at this time. There is always a fine line between swooping in and fixing things and allowing the Shelter to be self-sufficient; and we covet your prayers as we walk that line. Your gifts allow us to see needs being met and we thank you! We will be posting pictures over the months of the purchases we make as we are able to bless them. It is an honor to be used by God in this way, as the conduit for these blessings from you to the girls at the Shelter. Thank you again for your giving and your love of the least of these.
Please pray with us in the following areas of ministry and life:
- Pray for us as we seek to help provide for the shelter while not causing dependence.
- For the start of The Prisoners Journey and the facilitators, and for the prisoners who will be reached.
- For permission to be approved by the Director of Prisons for Gerald to also enter the prison on Tuesday's to continue discipleship with Raul.
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.