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.
As we mentioned before, the shelter has been through many changes with an almost complete turnover in staff as well as residents. It has been a bumpy transition at times but seems to have settled into a new “normal” for now. We have been encouraged as we have begun building a relationship with the new director. We have been allowed to carry on ministry as before which is wonderful. We continue coordinating dental appointments and have seen a major change in one girl in particular through this avenue. She began her dental visits so afraid and self conscious due to her dental issues. The dentist has helped her health greatly as well as fixed some cosmetic work that has brought a huge smile to Erika’s face. It is wonderful to see the joy and confidence she now possesses. She has been much more vocal during Bible study time as well. (Erika is on the right in the photo below)
We continue with Thursday Bible Studies and most recently walked through the story of redemption with the Woman Caught in Adultery. We currently have a very lively group and it was great to have discussion and lots of questions. The current feeling in the house is one of Peace which is a huge blessing as this is not always the case. When the transition period began there was a lot of fear among the girls and some were having nightmares and night terrors. Then rumors began about a certain room having a spirit living in the room The majority of the ladies come from rural areas where there is still much mysticism practiced. So we met for Bible Study in the dormitory area for a few weeks and prayed over each section of the home. It was wonderful to see a calm wash over the house as the girls began to realize God wasn’t just with them in our Bible Study room but also in every inch of that house.
(the picture below is of some new younger girls in Bible Study with Jerry and Coleman)
Please continue praying for the new director (Massiel), the workers, the residents and us as we continue in this time of transition. Specifically for Bella, Dora, Erika and Maria Alejandra as they are the residents who have lived through the "old" and the "new".
Pray that the Lord would continue to grant Peace to all who enter the home.
Pray that we will be faithful when there is little and when there is much. (resources and residents)
Thank you so much for all who prayed for Elena. She is finally doing well and healing. She and her mom (Mariela) are back at the shelter for now. They have a hearing Wednesday to determine their next steps. Mariela poured her heart out to me Saturday saying she has been told they will be taking Elena from her. A lady has stepped in who would like to care for Elena but she does not want Mariela. I was able to spend some time praying with her and just loving on her. Please continue praying for them!
Also, please be praying for two sisters who have a hearing coming up in April. Erika is 16 and Mari Alejandra is 7. They have both had the opportunity to see our dentist friend and have several teeth removed and cavities filled. As I coordinate these appointments I am able to spend one on one time with them at visits. This allows me to know them in a way I would not at the shelter in the big group. These sisters have become very dear to us. Please pray as they will be finding out if their Mom wants them at this hearing. They are pretty certain she does not. Since Erika is only 16 they will most likely be put in a more “permanent home” until she turns 18. Most “permanent” homes are not as well kept as the shelter they are in now. Please pray for God to comfort them and give the judge wisdom as he/she makes decisions. Please pray for God’s grace in their lives.
Thanks to your generosity we have been able to purchase groceries for the shelter. They are still in dire need. They had eaten plain pasta for lunch that day. While we do not fully understand all that is going on in the organization as a whole we will continue helping the shelter directly, as we can, with these needs. I wish you could have heard the excitement and thanks as we unloaded the car. Maria Alejandra (7 years old) walked into the kitchen exclaiming “Que Bendicion es la comida!” “What a blessing is food!” You all made this happen! Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for giving and allowing us to love them in this way.
We recently celebrated Kindness Week at school. As the culmination of this week we had a Fine Arts Fair where Sarah’s elementary students performed by class. It was a lot of work but a fun day!
One of Gerald’s favorite experiences comes from this years Senior class. Through one of the classes Gerald teaches, he was encouraged to join a Saturday morning ministry to the homeless community here in Xela. A local organization prepares and feeds homeless men and women, eggs, beans, bread, and a hot drink. Gerald accompanied two of his Senior boys to help on a Saturday morning to check things out and to offer the Senior class as the ones to prepare all the food for the upcoming breakfast. This was an experience that has forever changed the lives of each Senior in one way or another. So many of these young men and women desire to get an education only to return to advance their city, their country and their people. As you can see from the smiles on all of our faces, this was truly a wonderful opportunity to serve our community together. A couple of the guys had such a good time we have continued going on Saturdays to help out.
Please pray as we are preparing for Spiritual Emphasis Week coming in April that ends with Jr and Sr High traveling to a retreat center for 3 days. We will each be leading a session/workshop during this retreat on the theme of Take Action based on 1 Peter 1:13-15. Gerald’s session will be on How to Apply the Bible’s Teaching in Your Own Life. Sarah will be teaching on Jeremiah and understanding God's plan for our lives. Please pray for us as we pray, study and prepare! As we have said before the school is an interesting opportunity as there are very few evangelicals. It is a challenge to lead a session/workshop to such a diverse group. We truly want to share the love of Jesus with these students we are growing to love. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to open hearts and minds and to guide us as we prepare and teach!
We recently had a stretch of sickness go through our family. It was very trying and we are tired. Please pray for our immune systems to get back up to speed. Sarah’s immune system has really taken a beating and she is on injections to try and help. Please pray they work.
Both Maddy and Coleman are going through difficult times right now. Please pray for encouragement and grace! And wisdom for us as we try to love them well during this time.
Lastly, please be praying for Sarah's dear friend, Sonia and her two children. Sonia is a new believer who attends the Discipleship group Sarah attends. She has had a horrible year and is really trying to lean on her new faith. Please pray for grace and comfort for her and her children as well as God to continue working in her life and growing her faith.
We truly covet your prayers! We recently attended the annual Intermissions Conference which was a huge encouragement to each of us. As Satan began attacking us the day we returned home (not kidding, this happens every year) we were reminded of something we learned over the weekend. Your prayers for us are far more valuable than any amount of money sent! God truly sustains us by your prayers! When we are weak He reminds us we are surrounded by faithful supporters who not only support us financially but prayerfully. You are a blessing to our family even when you do not realize it!
Thank you all again for your love and support as we continue seeking to share Jesus where he has planted us here in Xela!
Gerald, Sarah, Maddy and Coleman
As I sit here New Year’s Day morning, the house still quiet, the kids enjoying sleeping late for a few more days and Gerald having left early to go visit the prison, I am reflecting on our year as so many are today. God sure did shake things up for us this year!
As we talked about what God had taught us during our advent study this year two different stories came up. One was of the angel coming to the shepherds, the lowest of society, the humble and outcast. God made sure they knew and saw with their own eyes the Messiah. How they went out and told their friends, those who were like them, what they saw and heard. God showed himself to the lowly and forgotten. We talked about the shelter and the prison ministries and how God has called us to love those that seem hard to love because they are so different from us. How God has given us a love for them that we cannot explain. How still today God reaches out to the lowly and forgotten.
Then we thought about the angel appearing to the three Wise men. How God also showed himself to the professionals of that day, the educated; that God made special effort to give them a star to follow. He spoke to them in their “language” to show them who He was. We were amazed to see how God has brought us into a season of ministering to these same people as well, those who sometimes are also forgotten when it comes to missions. The ones who have the means to get the education but are also the ones still searching for truth. We have been humbled and blessed by working at the InterAmerican School. These families who need Jesus’ love just as much as the poor. The ones who have everything but are just as empty as the single mom with no job or home. The ones who need a hug and hope because their parents work so much they are alone most of the time. The ones who struggle with philosophical questions and are looking for answers to life. Our future professionals. It is not always an easy place to work or build friendships as we see the world so differently but it is a mission field to which all four of us have been called. Each one of us has our own individual struggles in our new world. So we talked about how God has called us to be a light at IAS.
That is our goal this new year. To continue to be a light in the darkness to the needy and hopeless, whether they come in the form of the poor and lowly or the wealthy and forgotten (searching).
Prison ministry has been slow going as there has been a substantial increase in the number of people visiting the prison, which leads to more “search and seizures” when visitors enter the prison and during the visiting time. As Sarah stated above I visited the prison on New Year’s Day, and am very thankful that I was able to enter quickly and spend a few hours visiting. Samuel and I had a wonderful time together catching up and picking each others brains about church issues, our faith, personal opinions about things pastors say, recipes (Samuel more so than me) and a host of other conversations. I am truly blessed to call him friend and brother and was pleased to find out that he had completed the first three year program of the Bible institute classes.
Hearing this wonderful news also made me pause to think that Samuel and I have been meeting together for the past three and a half years. It was only after Samuel was released to general population that I was able to encourage him to attend the classes. For these three and a half years his hunger to learn and study the Scriptures has lead he and I to study the Bible together, encourage each other, and experience the joy of him having family visit him. My time with Samuel has passed so quickly. There are so many memories, from our first meetings with him in isolation and standing at an iron gate, to now, the two of us sitting in his own bodega (workshop) studying the Bible. I cannot thank you all enough for the opportunities your sacrificial giving has provided in seeking and serving the least of these.
The Shelter is going thru some serious financial issues once again. As is a common occurrence, the government has not provided as was promised. Several workers have resigned effective today since they have only been paid three months wages out of the past twelve. About half have stayed despite not having been paid. There is also a lack of funds for household basics and food. Please continue to pray with us for wisdom on the part of the organization directors as they look for other avenues to raise funds. Thanks to many of you we were able to help tremendously with some basic needs for the girls and children this Christmas. They know this help comes from you all because God has given you a love for them. It brings me to tears each year as we explain where the gifts and things we share with them come from. I wish we could accurately describe the looks of thankfulness and amazement on the ladies faces as they realize they are loved and thought about by people that do not even know them. God has some amazing ways of allowing us to be a part of sharing his love and hope with the world. We are so blessed to be a small part. Our hope is that by reading some of these stories you catch a tiny glimpse of the role God is allowing you to play in his eternal plan.
The School Christmas program went extremely well for Sarah’s first ever attempt at leading 147 students in a performance. It was a great joy to present the real meaning of Christmas to all the parents and families. She is really enjoying getting to know her students better and have some of them who live in our condominium complex visit our home.
Despite being his first year at IAS, Gerald has the opportunity to teach two Senior level courses, the first is Bible and the second is Community Service. This second class allows time during a class period to talk about ways the school and Senior class can serve the community, the nearby neighborhood and public school. For Christmas, this class implemented a program similar to Angel Tree Project where each person who took an angel off the tree also purchased a Christmas gift based on the gender and age of a child from the local community. Together with parents and other family members of the school we were able to give out over 100 gifts to children living immediately in the neighborhood of the school. As part of the program a local pastor affiliated with the school shared a Christmas message with the families who were receiving gifts. It is encouraging to be a part of the school being a light to the community.
This update is long, our Christmas season was long. However, we are encouraged as we reflect over the past couple of months. We have enjoyed a nice break from school and ministry these past two weeks and are gearing up to start up again on Monday. Please pray with us as we begin this New Year eagerly anticipating all God will do in and through us here in Guatemala. We are beyond blessed to have you all, our faithful supporters, along on this journey. To each we hope you enjoyed a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Peace of Christ to You,
Jerry with the Senior boys.
The first quarter of the school year has come and gone in a flash. We are all doing well and enjoying our new opportunities to minister, meet new people, and finally feel like we are getting a handle on our schedule. Sometimes. Getting back to teaching for me (Gerald) has been exciting and building relationships with students again has been a joy; writing lesson plans, being somewhere exactly on time, everyday…well not so much but it is something that I am loving. I honestly did not think I would be teaching in a classroom environment again much less here in Guatemala but we are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to serve in this capacity. Walking into this environment was a bit intimidating and overwhelming as this school has extremely high academic standards and is known for students going to colleges all over the world. But it is exciting knowing that we are pouring into the lives of the future professionals and leaders in Xela. Our kids have done well socially and are getting there academically. It has been more of a struggle for Coleman having never been in a school environment but little by little he is doing well. Madeline had some setbacks in the beginning but has begun to flourish academically. Sarah has taken on a role teaching Music in the Elementary grades and has been working on a small Christmas performance. She has also taken a rather important role in the library, in an endeavor to organize and utilize a new library system. She has gone above and beyond in the two days she is at IAS (Inter American School). We thank you for your prayers as we all male these transitions.
Prison ministry has been going well, when I am able to get into the prison. Over the past few months, directors have come and gone and at times left many issues in their wake. Along with new directors there are new opportunities for the director to attempt to curb the entrance of drugs and alcohol unfortunately at times it is the guards themselves who allow the entrance of these illicit items for a chance to earn extra money under the table. It is sad and frustrating to prison ministers and inmates as well, who are seeking a new life. Recently there has been a number of “requisas” (search and seizures) at the prison and at times they have been exacted on visitors days. This inevitably denies entrance to visitors, thus agitating them/us and prevents one of their rights as prisoners. These “requisas” take anywhere from half a day to covering at times as many as three days. The prisoners are locked up with very little access to food or water. The most recent “requisa” resulted in the prisoners getting in touch with Human Rights lawyers to come and investigate. We can only pray these lawyers will be allowed to do their work without fear of reprisal. Despite the hardships, my friends remain encouraged and greet me with a smile and a hug at each visit. Currently we are studying the prison epistles. I thought this to be a beneficial study to see how Paul dealt with his imprisonment and how he remained encouraged despite the hardships. Thus far we have studied Ephesians and began a study of Philippians this past Thursday. I am blessed each time I visit the prison and always leave encouraged; I am so very thankful for your financial gifts that allows us to work in ministries such as the prison.
The Shelter ministry has grown greatly over the past few months as Sarah has had more time to invest. We continue with Thursday Bible Studies as well as weekly bread delivery. We have been able to add some time on Fridays, spending time playing games, listening to music and doing crafts just being there to allow opportunities for deeper connections. Sarah has also been able to connect a dentist from our local church to begin seeing the girls for dental visits. There has been such a need for dental care with so many never having been to a dentist in their lives. It has been a challenge to coordinate dental visits as it is complicated to have the girls leave the shelter. But it has proven to be a great avenue to show them that they are valued and loved. God works in some amazing ways to allow us to gain the trust needed for the girls to accept and take seriously the truths we are sharing from His word. We would like to ask you to pray specifically for a wonderfully, intelligent group of brother and sisters who have left the shelter, going to live with other family members as their mother wants nothing to do with their raising and only wants to live her own life. We mourn for the life these children live knowing their mother would rather do her own thing than be their mother. These children’s faces are burned in our memory along with the faces of all the other children and women with whom we have had the incredible honor of knowing, teaching, praying, and playing. We know this is part of the job but there is no amount of preparing to deal with the heartache we feel for them. We are encouraged as we know many of you lift us and them up in prayer, Please pray with us that God would pour his grace on them that they would grow up feeling loved. That they would be brought to church and taught much more about the God who loves them.
Unfortunately we are still currently underfunded and ask that you pray with us for our monthly support to increase. Also, if you are looking for a year end investment would you consider giving to further these ministries in Guatemala. If you know of someone that may be interested in partnering with us we would love to speak with them or forward you information to speak on our behalf.
Gerald, Sarah, Maddy and Coleman
As I sit here preparing to teach the ladies about True Love from I Corinthians 13 I am reminded of all those we have been called to love with the love of Christ here In Guatemala. God has brought so many into our lives over the past five years. We began this journey thinking we were coming down here to train pastors but God had other plans for our lives as we followed Him one step at a time. It has not been a journey without doubts but as we recently reflected on the past years and where God has us currently we were reminded that God has been with us every step of the way leading and preparing us. Our summer was somewhat of a whirlwind with many changes on the horizon as mentioned in the last newsletter. We had a wonderful and relaxing visit from my parents in July, it meant a lot to us to share our piece of the world with them as well as introduce them to those we have been called to serve. They were loved by all at the shelter and Dad was even able to visit the prison with Jerry. We are so thankful for the time we had with them. We are now in the midst of the adjustment period to our new schedules and responsibilities. It is very hard but very good at the same time.
Jerry is thoroughly enjoying being back in the classroom teaching Bible. He is especially loving working with the Senior Class as they work on their Life Plans and Community Service projects. He is also encouraged as he is able to continue with his Discipleship group in the State Penitentiary. He is very busy but very happy in the ministries God has given him. Please pray for continued health as he keeps up with the demands of his busy schedule. Also that he would find the time and energy to continue with his Master’s Study (he is 2/3 of the way thru).
Madeline and Coleman are struggling as they adjust to a "real" school schedule and some very demanding classes but thankfully both have fit in extremely well with the other students. This was a very big concern of ours due to the many stories we had heard but God has answered all our prayers and they both especially love the social aspect of school. The other teachers have even expressed their surprise at how well they have fit in. Please pray for them academically, that they would be able to rise to these new challenges and that God would give them understanding and stamina.
Sarah continues Bible studies and other ministries at the shelter. She was also asked to fill a need at the school two days a week teaching music and working in the library with elementary students. She is loving working with younger kids and loves the opportunity to share many songs and books about Jesus. This addition is challenging as it makes the weeks very full. Please pray for her to be able to balance being mom, wife, work at the shelter and now at the school also. She is dealing with some physical results of the stress of all the changes and medical issues of the summer. Please pray as she pursues avenues to deal with stress in a healthy way and to also feel some relief from pain due to tension.
Lastly, we would like to share that our monthly support has been abnormally low the past couple months. Please pray with us that God would continue to supply all our needs as well as those of the ministries in which we are involved. Our positions at the school are volunteer. We do receive a small gift for our work but it is not a salary. Currently it offsets our needs at the shelter and prison to purchase Bibles, notebooks, pens and craft supplies as our need for these items has greatly increased due to having double the ladies and kids in the past year as well as a higher turn over rate which means many more Bibles are being given out. These are great problems to have as it means the gospel is going out to many more however it is a challenge financially none the less. We thank you all for your faithfulness in giving and in prayer! We are often humbled by the way it sustains us.
Peace of Christ to each of you,
Jerry, Sarah, Maddy and Coleman
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.
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.