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  • Writer's pictureYucatan Helping Hands

Fall 2019 Update

The sunset-lit sky glows softly above the Bethel church in Akil, Yucatan -Photo by Kawika Ahina

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s October and we’re still in the hot, rainy and muggy season – yet signs of Christmas preparations are already popping up in Mérida. But before we move onto the holidays, there is one “fall” celebration in Yucatán that as a family we remember this time each year.

Yaldud, the Christian elementary school Kawika once attended, takes the month of October to prepare for the Feast of Tabernacles. The students bring palm leaves to build a shelter and learn about God’s provision for the people of Israel when they lived in temporary make-shift dwellings while wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

Then at the end of the month, teachers, families and relatives gather at a large park to read scriptures, bless the children, sing worship songs and have a great big potluck celebration.

We have wonderful memories of this celebration which call us to remember the great Psalmist’s words:

"I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth… Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." (Psalms 121)

To know and trust that our heavenly father keeps his loving eye on us is always a reason to celebrate – and yes, even during tumultuous times when His purpose is not clear to us, and we feel like the wanderer in the wilderness -- totally dependent on God.

As we head into the holiday season, let’s recall the ways the Lord has cared and strengthened us and then share our stories of gratitude with people around us… maybe even at a potluck.

We hope you enjoy reading our update. There is much going on in our ministry life, and we are excited to share and celebrate it with you. And please remember to read our prayer requests and tidbits on our life in Mérida at the end of the update.

We’re so grateful for your support of prayer and giving!

Blessings & Aloha,

Byron, Inez & Kawika


Inside this Update:

  • FPC Lebanon, OR, Helps Build Pastoral Home in Akil, Yucatan

  • Preparations in Place for New Water Plant in Tikinmul, Campeche

  • Hosting High School Student, Josiah, from Bend, Oregon

  • Setting Up Plans for Church Project in Maxcanu in February 2020

  • Prayer Requests

  • Tidbits on our life in Merida

  • Reflection: Connecting Through Language (see separate blog section)


Ministry Updates

FPC Lebanon, OR, Helps Build Pastoral Home in Akil, Yucatan

In left photo, Patty Baker from FPC Lebanon (r) shares a scripture and words to Pastor Armando and his family, while Debby Stalley, right photo, presents a housewarming gift.

It always takes that one person (or group of people) to motivate a church community into missions. The team leaders who come to serve alongside us are people with vision, enthusiasm and a deep conviction to serve Jesus wherever they are. Their servant attitude is contagious because they inspire, bringing out the best of their team.

That's why we're so grateful for team leaders that we work with, including Patty Baker and Debby Stalley from Oregon. They've accompanied us in our Yucatan journey since over a decade. Last month, they brought a team of five, including Pastor Tim, Dayla and Kayla from FPC Lebanon (FPCL).

Thanks to the FPCL team and our good friend Jim from Birmingham, AL, the church of Bethel in Akil received help toward building a new pastoral house which it began building earlier this year. Although there’s still more finishing touches to be done, Pastor Armando and his family hope to be able to move in there by Christmas.

Debby credits Patty for making this trip a reality and says their trip to Yucatan couldn’t have happened without her. And so when the other team members found out that she had to schedule a surgery on the planned dates to Yucatán, they all agreed to change their arrival date a month later so Patty could make the trip.

As an added blessing, Jim Darden of Altadena Valley Presbyterian Church in Alabama responded to our invitation in our summer update to join the group. Not knowing anyone from the team, he took a step of faith, got on a plane and became a wonderful asset to the group. A high school visitor, Josiah Santucci from Bend, Oregon, also served with the team (you can read more about Josiah's Spanish immersion experience in Yucatán below). Our son Kawika also worked in construction and translated as he received school permission to be with us for the week.

The Bethel brothers were amazed at the speed the team worked. About six men came to work alongside the team and Jose, one of the church leaders of this project, told that what he factored to be a day’s work of stuccoing for the group, the team completed in half a day. For any of you who have done stuccoing in Mexico, you know this is no easy feat.

Jose also shared this with the congregation at the end of the week: “If you came to the site, you would have been laughing.” We've got to believe that he was referring to the camaraderie and teamwork that took place during construction. And yes, including all the joking that went around. (Please be sure to read about how the group made an impact in our separate Reflection post on "Connecting Through Language" in missions.)

During the afternoons, the team conducted Vacation Bible School (VBS), teaching the children about God's goodness and the importance of obeying and trusting him. VBS was led by Kayla who wrote story scripts for us to follow, planned the games and came up with the crafts which the children loved. Kawika and Josiah helped out with games, and Inez translated for Bible stories. Byron as always worked behind the scenes and served his famous homemade Jamaica drink during snack time. But the truth is we could not have done this without the vital help of some wonderful women of the Bethel church, Dora, Irly, Jenny and Nadia (above photo on right).

All in all, the children had a great time and, by the end of the week, they understood the central message of the VBS lessons and what Pastor Tim made sure they learned by heart: Dios es Bueno todo el tiempo! God is good all the time!

One Body with Many Members

One part of our ministry that is so endearing to us is seeing the body of Christ edified through unity across the borders. Jim Darden put it well in a letter to us:

"I think the thing that impressed me the most was the spirit of unity that I experienced on this trip. Brothers and sisters in Christ came together from Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii, and Alabama to help provide a home for Pastor Armando and his family. This will aid them in their ministry to Bethel Presbyterian Church; which will help the church spread the Gospel of Jesus to the village of Akil. Barriers of language, culture, and geography were not a problem. I saw John 13:35 lived out: 'By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.'"

Preparations in Place for New Water Plant in Tikinmul, Campeche

Byron with church leaders and work crew at the water plant job site in Tikinmul, Campeche

Excitement is building up in Tikinmul, Campeche for next month's team arrival of Rolling Bay Presbyterian church (RBPC). As we’ve mentioned in our last updates, RBPC is helping the Principe de Paz church here build the housing for its new water plant. The church brothers have been working hard to construct the building in time for the RBPC team to paint, lay tile and pour a concrete driveway.

Enjoying lunch at Alejo's & Rosita's w/church leaders

Brotherly Love

Each time we’ve visited Tikinmul for planning and visiting the construction site, we’ve had a delightful time with the brothers and sisters there. They're humble, eager to work and treat us with kindness. On one particular trip there, we were caught in a bit in a bind. But God’s hand sustained us through their care for us.

Despite having our car checked by two mechanics prior to traveling, we ran into problems with our breaks on the way there. When we noticed the situation, we were still 40 minutes from the pueblo but looked up and immediately saw a break repair shop right in front of us. The owners spoke English -- a major plus for us when dealing with car terminologies in Mexico.

A God send, we thought. Until they told us they didn’t have the right break parts for our needed repair. Still, it helped that we were on a country road, which allowed Byron to not have to use the breaks much.

By the time we arrived in Tikinmul, the brothers had already found the car parts we needed and had arranged for our repair in the city of Campeche for us. Galatians 6:2 was manifested right before us: “Carry each other’s burden, and this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Besides making visits to the construction site and communicating with the church leaders, we’ve also been in contact with Dave Harnish, a LWW team member from Kentucky, regarding the electrical requirements for the operation system. His team will begin installing the system right after RBPC returns to the states. Thanks to the Lord, we’re seeing the plant coming to fruitition!

Hosting High School Student, Josiah, from Bend, Oregon

Children in gather around Josiah after lunch in Akil, Yuc.

What do you do if your son is just a couple of credits from graduating from high school and it’s only September? Send him to Yucatán for two months.

That’s what our friends, Pastor Peter and Charlene Santucci, from Bend, Oregon did. Their son Josiah is already proficient in reading and writing in Spanish but wanted to be immersed in speaking the language.

Besides working with us in Akil, he attended San Pablo Seminary, lived in the pueblo of Maní, assisted a university English professor in the pueblo of Tekax and is studying at Blas Pascal, the high school where Kawika attends mid-high. We're so thankful for our friends (Marcos & Selmi, David & Oliva and Gina) and their families for welcoming Josiah and sharing their lives with him.

The easiest part of his adventures here? Eating everything that’s offered to him. From raw habanero and jalapeño peppers to pozol, the drink of the Maya, made of fermented corn dough dissolved in water. Even chapulines, fried Mexican grasshoppers.

He’s swum in cenotes, laid in the grass where an infamous inquisition took place against the Maya back in 1542, and explored an ancient cave where the Maya natives hid during the caste war (1847-1901). Now he’ll just have to come back and be immersed in the Mayan language.

We’re grateful that Josiah will also be helping us with RBPC’s team in Tikinmul. It'll be a great way for him to apply all that he's learned in Spanish before he leaves back to the states. He'll be missed!

Setting Up Plans for Church Project in Maxcanu in February 2020

Byron discusses plans with Pastor Omar and brothers from Emanuel church, Maxcanu, while Kawika listens in.

Last July, Inez and Kawika were called to serve as translators for a team from Connecticut. As soon as they reached the pueblo of Maxcanu, they were still on the bus when Inez received a call from our friend, Jean Legters, a longtime missionary in Mérida.

"Coincidences" Happen for A Reason

“You’re in Maxcanu??” Jean asked. She just happened to have a contact from Michigan requesting information for a project that needed to be done in the very same pueblo and at a church, Iglesia de Emanuel, that we a have a history with.

In 2004, Byron designed a sanctuary building for the church working with Jean’s late husband Dave, “Don Bito,” a beloved and highly respected pastor and missionary in Mexico (see photo on left). And it was the Ward church in Michigan who helped start the construction of the sanctuary building. We’ve also held medical clinics at the church as well. Going back even further, our daughter Malia served in a youth group here from Calvin Presbyterian, our home church, back in 2002.

So, Jean’s call began our investigation into the project and now we are working with the team leader from Ward Church. The group’s arrival is slated for the end of February, shortly after we return from our furlough to the states. We are planning for the start of the first phase of construction to begin in November by the brothers of Emanuel. The team will help build a cement roof for the pastor’s home, a bathroom and a kitchen for the church. God willing, we’ll be able to visit the Ward Church in January during our trip in the states and look forward to meeting the team.

Clockwise: Iglesia de Emanuel; Pastor home that will receive a cement roof; Benjamin at the site where a kitchen for the church will be built; Byron & Kawika chat with sisters after service.


Prayer Requests

Would you join us in prayer for the following?

  • For the Bethel church in Akil, Yucatán. That members would raise sufficient funds for the last details needed to complete the home by Christmas.

  • For the Principe de Paz church in Tikinmul, Campeche. That more people would come to know Jesus as their savior through the church’s water ministry to its community and surrounding pueblos.

  • For the RBPC team as they prepare for their trip here.

  • For Josiah, the high school student we are hosting. For safety, health and a deeper understanding of the world God has created.

  • For Inez’s ongoing battle with dental issues.

  • For our health in Yucatan as the flu season has started. One school in Mérida had to close down for 3 days this month due to the alarming number of flu cases there.

  • Our Furlough plans and trip (Nov 20 through mid-February). That the Lord would guide us to new churches as we raise financial support. Also, for our health and safety during our travels.

  • Our preparation for upcoming teams, including for Everett First Presbyterian who will be working at a Presbytery camp retreat in July.


TIDBITS on our life in Mérida

-Loving the ukulele in Mexico

Nazul & Kawika play the ukulele while Xhail sings along.

"If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place."

-Jake Shimabukuro, ukulele master

When we left the states back in 2004 for mission work in Yucatan, a friend gave Byron his ukulele as a gift. We never imagined that Kawika would take up the up the instrument 15 years later. Nor did we imagine other people playing it here either.

To our surprise, at a recent get together at our home with friends from church, our guests brought a homemade pineapple upside down cake and, you guessed it, an ukulele. Kawika grabbed his and soon enough, there’s a ukulele jam session going on in our living room. So cool to see a part of our Hawaiian culture influencing young people in Mexico.

-Pet Crazy in Mérida?

For all you animal lovers, you might be interested in knowing that Yucatán is increasingly becoming a pet-friendly state, especially in the city of Merida. We keep seeing more pet owners walking their dogs in restaurants and upscale shopping malls. Recently we were at a mall and did a double take when we saw a dog in a hipil! Many people have their opinions about dressing pets. But being neutral on the subject, as we’re not pet owners, we couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Las hermanas en hipiles: (l to r) Febe, Inez and Lety in Cantamayec, Yuc.

By the way, what's a hipil?

A hipil is the common traditional dress for women in Yucatán area. It’s usually made of light cotton and is much admired for its beautiful vibrant colors and embroidery. While traditional hipiles have cross-stitched embroidery, an artistry that takes months in the making, there are hipiles that have machine sewn embroidery or even hand painted designs. Inez loves wearing them as the dresses allow her skin to breathe in Yucatan’s hot climate. Yet, as much as we thought the dog looked adorable, we much prefer the hipiles donned by the señoras and señoritas in Yucatán!

Thanks for reading everybody! Until our next update, aloha & blessings in Christ!

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