Spring 2020 Update
Updated: Apr 19
Dear Friends and Family,
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its core. Rightly so.
But from time to time, we need to remind ourselves to stay grounded by taking our minds off of it. Even if for a little. Besides, our son Kawika complains that all everyone talks about is the "C-word." So, let's start up with a different angle before we dive into what's going on in Yucatán. We'll begin with the "GK-word."
GK, in our household, means only one thing: GrandKids, our Ethan & Sophia. Take a look at their buoyant faces. They remind us that a cheerful heart is good medicine. Now that we've been back in Yucatan from a 3-month trip back to the states, we're sure grateful for the good dosage we received while with them in Washington. Even 3,000 miles away, they prompt us to take a moment out of our day to see the lighter things in life and keep our minds healthy.
Okay .... now on the COVID-19 and what’s going around here.
Border Restrictions and Covid-19 Effect on Mérida
The United States and Mexico entered a joint initiative March 21 restricting non-essential travel along the U.S.-Mexico land border to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. When we returned to Yucatan a little over a month ago from our 3-month trip in the states, there were no reported COVID-19 cases here, and yet Costco was already a madhouse.
At this writing, there are over 106 confirmed cases in Yucatán and 7 deaths. We learned that another missionary tested positive and was hospitalized last week. Thankfully, he and his wife (who had virus-like symptoms) are both recovering well at home.
The suspension of school classes, public gatherings, church services, tourist attractions, parks and restaurants mirrors what is seen globally. Citizens here are urged to stay put indoors, supermarkets are limiting 1 person per family to shop, and there are cases of police checking drivers licenses and instructing people to remain in their own municipals.
The COVID-19 effect on the local economy is apparent like everywhere else. Many, like Jorge, our neighborhood gardener, and his family are struggling as they can’t find work as people are warned not to receive visitors. Our good friend Adriana, a business owner dependent on tourism which is a major industry in Yucatán, is facing the real possibility of shutting her doors.
In fact, Mérida was selected for the first time to host Mexico’s huge tourist fair in March. The city had been crazy busy preparing for the fair which expected thousands of travel agents and promoters from around the world. It’s been moved to September, but now that’s up in the air with border limitations.
Covid-19 Effect on Ministry
The same goes for a July work team from Everett First Presbyterian Church (EFPC), located in Washington State. As the virus evolves, it's uncertain how long the joint U.S. / Mexico Initiative restricting non-essential travel will stay in effect.
EFPC is prayerfully considering whether to proceed with their plans to return to join YHH on a project for the Peninsula Presbytery Retreat Center. On the left is a fun photo of leader Darcie and her team members. We had a delightful time in Everett with them over tamales and Mexican sweet breads. Even back in December, they were busy with fundraising and eager to get here, already donned with team T-Shirts.
How relevant Proverbs 16:9 is during this pandemic: "We can make our plans, but the Lord directs our steps."
We are praying that Lord will give us wisdom, even at a time when social distancing is crucial, to keep our hearts sensitive to his calling as servants, on how to continue strengthening churches and what this means for us in reaching out to people suffering now, and in the days and months ahead.
We are humbled by the chaos taking place everywhere but are encouraged by scripture of God’s faithfulness during hardship:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
I will build you up again” (Jeremiah 31:3-4)
Perhaps dealing with the COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown has pointed out the areas in our lives that need change. Matters that inflict and weigh us down. Today, Jesus still knocks on the door of our hearts so that he can work through those issues with his grace and power. Let's go to him in prayer, ask for forgiveness and be set free.
We believe that Jesus Christ paid our penalty of our sin by dying on a cross; that through his victory over death, we can have victory over sin; and through his resurrection, we have the hope of eternal life through faith and obedience in him. We pray that this faith would be yours too. A faith that is unwavering, even through tumultuous times like these.
As our family celebrates Easter, we pray this period would mark a renewal for you in the midst of anguish and sadness. God's peace be with each of you. Our prayers are with you all.
In this Issue, we'll cover:
Our 3-month trip to the U.S. from the Mission Field:
· Recounting to the Church the Things God Has Done
· Celebrating Missions at Altadena Valley Presbyterian Church
· Getting to the Other Side: Driving Through an Alabama Storm (see separate Reflections Post )
· Update on Water Plant in Tikinmul
· Update on project in Maxcanu
· Praise report on Pastoral House in Akil
Tidbits on the Road
IMPORTANT NOTICE Change of Mailing Address Notice for Donations: Son Raise Missionaries Services (SRMS) has changed its mailing address. Please update your information to reflect the new SRMS address below. Thank you for your ongoing support! Son Raise Missionaries Services 4395 Idlewood Dr. SW Wyoming, MI 49519
Recounting to the Church The Things God Has Done
There's beauty in doors. The architecture style, the thickness of wood, the welcoming in. They've accompanied us in ministry as symbols of open and closed opportunities. During our trip back to the states, we were able to share about these "doors" and what God is doing through us in Yucatán. How home recipients have become active church members and how churches, who operate the water plants we've helped build, give back to their community, sharing the gospel while donating water to the poor.
It’s always a joy for us to reunite with friends, meet new ones and see the faces of people who support us, pray for us and have come to work alongside us in the Yucatan peninsula. In Reinbeck, Iowa, Byron was given the privilege to preach, and we also presented at churches in the Pacific NW, California, and Alabama. We also had the opportunities to speak, for the first time, at churches in San Diego, Detroit and in Maysville, Kentucky. How wonderful to enter these doors!
A special thank you to Dan Coppin and Dennis and Kaye Ostgard from our home church, Calvin Presbyterian. Dan, the leader of our action team (back center in photo below), has worked alongside us since the beginning of our ministry 16 years ago. Although he remains on our team, he has passed the leadership baton on to Dennis and his wife Kaye. Gracias Dan for your faithfulness throughout the years and to the Ostgards for your open hearts to serve.
We want to express our deep gratitude to our hosts who lovingly welcomed us into their churches and homes, allowed us rest and made it possible for us to share about our ministry and the needs in Yucatan with others. Malia and Adam, our daughter and son-in-law, have been especially supportive of us each time we return to the states -- we can't thank them enough.
A shout out to our friends Cindy Keyser and Janet Schildroth for engaging us in their neighborhoods. Cindy recruited us to volunteer for Mary’s Place, a Seattle non-profit organization, at an event for families coming out of homelessness; and Janet invited us to teach Spanish for a day at Gladbrook-Reinbeck High School in Iowa (see photo below).
Thank you for allowing us to serve and be a part of your communities.
El Maestro: Kawika used games to test students on their Spanish vocabulary (left photo). And of course, he got Teacher Janet to dance the Chuchuwawa with the class (right photo)!
Photo Collage of our Hosts & Friends: We put this together in gratitude to the Lord for accompanying us in our journey through all of you. We were remiss in taking photos in each place we visited, but remain thankful to each & one of you! Looking forward to the day when we can, once again, "break bread house to house in gladness."
Celebrating Missions at Altadena Valley Presbyterian Church
Writing to you about how the Lord is working in Yucatán is just part of our narrative. If not for our supporting churches who enable, encourage and pray for us, we wouldn’t have a story to tell.
In February, we were able to participate in Altadena Valley Presbyterian Church’s “Celebrate Missions” in Birmingham, Alabama. The 3-day event was one of the highlights of our trip. We saw God moving and uniting his people – missionaries on one end and congregants who help make it possible for us to serve. We sensed a gracious yet powerful energy flowing all in one place.
We gathered with other missionaries from abroad and the local area who are supported by AVPC. We got to meet the Missions team, who did a superb job planning out details so that its congregation could get to know us on a personal level. Each missionary family was assigned to a navigator who helped us stay on track and answer our questions. Before Sunday service, we were assigned to different classes to share about our ministries.
Engaging Children in Missions
We loved that AVPC involved the next generation in the event, having them participate in the welcoming service and learning what we do on the field. One of the activities we did was ask the children to draw what they liked most about their homes. After listening to them describe their drawings, we talked about the blessings God gives us for having enough space to play and a safe home to be together as a family. We explained how groups from churches, like theirs, have come to labor out of love to build strong homes and help local churches teach people about Christ.
Persistence in Prayer
AVPC also devoted an hour for a prayer session for the missionaries. After being on the road for over two months, it was therapeutic to open up to attentive ears, receive encouragement and feel the power of prayers, one after the other, lavished on us.
During a panel session when the missionaries were asked random questions. we appreciated hearing how other missionaries face common struggles we do such as: balancing deadlines while dealing with people who are hurting; raising children abroad; and facing discouragement on the field. But above that, we learned how Christ is alive and at work as he uses pastors, doctors, church planters, and ordinary people like us to help spread the gospel of salvation and meet the needs of the suffering.
A Good Laugh: During the panel session, (photo on left), Byron shares a funny story about being lost in translation when he asked amused groceries workers in Mexico, "Donde está Peeta-Pan?" (Where is Pita Bread?) instead of Pan de Pita.
Summing It Up
On the last day of the event, Inez heard a woman calling her name softly with a sweet southern drawl. It was Mary Jane. She lovingly presented Inez with two books, a Spanish version of John MacArthur's Thinking Biblically , and a booklet, "Standing In the Gap For our Kids." The latter is a compilation of beautifully and powerfully written prayers by Mary Jane's friend who began the practice of praying scripture even before her children were born. It has been a blessing to read these prayers together as a couple for our son, daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. Likewise, for the precious children we know in Yucatan.
Mary Jane's kind gesture showed us what church Missions events can do:
1. Stir up genuine personal concern for those on the mission field.
2. Activate a giving spirit.
3. Encourage missionaries through the different stages of their parenting life.
Thank you AVPC, and all of our partnering churches, for being a blessing to missionaries and your commitment to share Christ to the nations.
Update on Tikinmul Water Plant
As we reported in previous updates, the Principe de Paz church in Tikinmul had its antiquated water purification plant building and system completely replaced. In collaboration with Principe de Paz, Rolling Bay Presbyterian church (RBPC) of WA constructed the new plant building in November. A week later, First Presbyterian Church of Maysville, KY, through Living Waters for the World (LWW), replaced the purification equipment.
Now that the temperatures in the Yucatan Peninsula have reached the 100s, coupled with containment efforts due to the COVID-19, the need for the effective production and access to clean water will be crucial during this period.
The water plant system is working wonderfully, according to Alejo, the plant operator, and Iliana and Aurora, the women who had been delivering the water to the community (photos above). The non-profit plant so far has remained open during the COVID-19 crisis, supplying affordable and clean water. Because of the new system, they’ve been able to produce more water efficiently without having to work around glitches as they did with the old machinery.
For now, the state of Campeche has one of the least amounts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Mexico. The water plant leaders are working with the local health department, implementing extra hygiene measures for handling water jugs received from the public.
We are grateful that, even before this pandemic, LWW puts emphasis in training people to educate their communities about the importance of clean water and safe hygiene. Pastor Ricardo says they have been distributing brochures with instructions on how to follow proper hygiene guidelines. To further help reduce the spread of the virus, the church has suspended home deliveries, and unfortunately this comes at a time when sales are normally at a peak. Pastor Ricardo adds that he will evaluate the situation on a weekly basis.
While the Principe de Paz church is doing its part to contain the spread of the illness, delivery workers like Iliana and her mother Aurora worry because their earnings are based on a percentage of the sales they make. Thankfully, the women have been assigned to work at the plant for the time being. Iliana, a church member for over 15 years, says she will stay committed to the operation of the plant because she sees the good work of the Lord at hand when she delivers the jugs house to house and donates the water to those who need it the most -- people like Santiago who was born with a disability and has difficulty finding work to sustain his family.
As well, the Cantamayec LWW plant in the state of Yucatán has stopped delivering water to homes to protect their workers. Instead, they are requiring people to come to the plant where precautions can be enforced, such as controlling the number of people coming to the window, maintaining distance between each other, providing soap and water for the washing of hands. Due to contingency measures elsewhere, many people have lost employment outside of the pueblo and have returned to Cantamayec from larger populated areas such as Mérida and Cancún.
Friends, please join us in prayer over the workers, pastors and plant committees as they face decisions to make during this evolving crisis -- and for the communities they serve.
Update on Kitchen & Roof Project in Maxcanú
Jesus’ teachings, provision, healing and miracles often revolved around eating and drinking with others. So, it’s no surprise that the church kitchen is a ministry in itself, used for community outreach and strengthening its community.
YHH gives thanks to the Lord for the generosity of Ward Presbyterian church (Detroit, MI.). Now, the Emanuel Presbyterian church in Maxcanu will be able to serve its community with a new kitchen and provide a cement roof for the church’s pastoral house. As well, gracias to Doña Jean Legters for making the connections for this project.
Although Ward had to cancel their mission trip for last month, the church graciously decided to help finance the kitchen while seven Ward families helped contribute additional money to complete the funding needed. We’ve been coordinating with the pastor and the Emanuel men who have been working hard and organizing labor teams among themselves to keep the construction going.
As it turns out, we believe the Lord used the canceled trip to keep the team members who were planning to come out of harms way during the virus. And likewise, for the Maxcanu congregation who they would have been in contact with.
We had a wonderful visit to Ward back in January, spending time in devotion and small group meetings. Through this, we were able to see the unity and walk commitment for Christ among the brethren there and are thankful that Christ has instilled an ongoing love in them for our friends in Maxcanu. Please pray that the Lord would use this new kitchen as a ministry tool for outreach, bringing new life to the Emanuel church and unifying the body of Christ.
Update on Pastoral House in Akíl
Praise report: The Bethel church, Pastor Armando and his family were able to celebrate the inauguration of the pastoral home which FPC Lebanon helped to contribute and construct back in September. The Bethel church members have been saving and working hard over the last year to complete the home. We are so grateful to have partnered in this endeavor!
Tidbits on the Road
There are always funny signs to be seen on a road trip. Someone with a good sense of humor made this Lincoln sign (above photo) knowing there are only five main streets in Lincoln, IA.
That being said, we think the South may have dibs on creating clever signs:
Besides, where would you find cut outs of recipes and photos of food placed on restaurant bathroom stalls? That'd be Alabama y'all.
A Tidbit in Merida: Byron, feeling a little cooped up at home, took a walk in our neighborhood and purchased a beverage at the corner 7-11. Paying for his drink, he realized how odd the new norm is. A few months ago, who'd ever imagine?
Our return back to Yucatán was met with sadness. We lost three friends while we were away. We are comforted knowing they are with the Lord and are no longer suffering. In their memory, we’d like to take a moment to mention their names here:
Miriam, one of the first women who welcomed us into the “fold” of our church community 16 years ago; Doña Nelly, the mother of our friend Ivette, who we’ll always remember for her kindness toward us; and Victor, the late husband of our friend Claudia and a father figure to one of Kawika’s closest friends.
Please join us in praying for their loved ones and for the following petitions:
· For God´s guidance on our ministry.
· For the authorities of the Yucatan Peninsula as they deal with the rising COVID-19 cases.
· For our dear friend Florecita, a gov't hospital employee and pregnant; for her husband Darwin, who evaluates people suspected of the virus.
· For Kawika and his peers without the daily guidance and presence of their teachers and each other.
· For Byron who is suffering from an eruption of eczema, an atopic dermatitis skin condition.
· For Inez who recently fractured her back tooth and dealing with pain after treatments.
· For our niece, Liane, who is recovering from brain surgery.
· For God’s direction on our upcoming July team whose traveling plans may be affected by the the coronavirus.
· For the Lord’s leading on a new opportunity to build a new water plant in the pueblo of Becal. A second team from the States is intrigued with the possibility of building a future plant.
· For God’s protection over the Tikinmul and Cantamayec Water Plants workers and leaders.
· For the Emanuel church in Maxcanu as the men work to complete the kitchen project (as far as they are able to during this voluntary lock down).