Yucatan Helping Hands
Summer Update 2020
Dear Friends and Family,
With the recent flooding in the Yucatan peninsula, global protests and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus, the panoramic of where we live and how we live has changed.
The three of us remain healthy, and we praise God that we made it out of the clinches of Tropical Cristobal intact earlier this month.
Mérida, where we live, was expected to be hit harder especially as the storm was exiting out of the region. But due to warm pressures in the west, the system went northeast of us and out onto the Gulf.
But before leaving, the storm brought relentless rains to the peninsula for about a week. One day, in a matter of hours, our front sidewalk was completely submerged in water which almost reached our front door. Byron and Kawika emptied 67 large 20-liter buckets of rain water coming from the roof spout in the back of our home to keep the water from entering our back door. (There’s no outlet in the back of our home.) And inside of our home, we had to constantly clean up and monitor rain leaking in from cracks in our walls (which we never knew existed). Before going to bed, we raised what we could off the ground not knowing what would transpire during the night.
Still, what we went through pales to what has happened to our friends in the pueblos in the southern part of the state. Waters rose up to 5 feet and more in some of the areas hit the hardest.
The above photos were taken in Chapab and the ones below were shared with us from friends on social media. Later, we’ll share some of the stories of the harrowing experiences our friends went through. (See "Personal Stories of Tropical Storm Cristobal").
Our friends in Maní and Akil showed us a video that went viral in a nearby town Yotholín (see photo below). The main road had become a raging river, taking everything in its grasp including a washing machine, stove and refrigerator. Here's a link to that video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9CFzCTuW2g
While we continue to look for organizations that can aid with relief efforts, we have been communicating with people who have expressed interest in helping us. Thanks to donations for food supplies, we were able to provide help to families in seven communities in Yucatán and Campeche. We are also grateful for having received a letter from the Peninsular Presbytery in Yucatán requesting local authorities to allow us to travel and carry out our work. Without it, we would not have been able to enter pueblos outside of Mérida due to ongoing contingency measures.
The Lord was with us as the letter worked at every police check point, including in the southern neighboring state of Campeche where police scrutinized the document and the food boxes in our vehicle. Many of them were kind and thanked us for our work. At several stops, we had our tires sprayed with disinfectant and even a police-escort to a church where we had a meeting in the pueblo of Bécal for a possible future water plant project.
The Tikinmul water plant that we collaborated with Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church and Living Waters (First Presbyterian Church in Maysville, KY) back in November received some damage from the flooding but thankfully, it is up and running like normal. We were able to deliver new filters to the plant donated by Dave Harnish from First Presbyerian.
As circumstances keep changing and we are all faced with new challenges, we are comforted knowing that the Lord’s promises stay the same. Psalms 12:7 (NLT) says, “The Lord promises are pure, like silver refined in the furnace, purified seven times over.”
Promises of taking our hand through storms, not forsaking us, strengthening us when we are weary and loving us without fail.
May our God, who does not change with the shifting of shadows, bless and protect each of you.
Aloha, Byron, Inez & Kawika Ahina
More in This Issue:
· Personal Stories of Tropical Storm Cristobal (and How You Can Help)
· Living with Ongoing Effects of COVID-19 in Yucatán
· Other Updates
· Children in Yucatán: Their Thoughts on the effects of COVID-19
· Prayer Requests
·Tidbit in Mérida
Personal Stories of Tropical Storm Cristobal
Save me, O God, for the floodwaters are up to my neck. Deeper and deeper I sink into the mire; I can’t find a foothold. I am in deep water, and the floods overwhelm me. I am exhausted from crying for help; my throat is parched. My eyes are swollen with weeping, waiting for my God to help me.
This Psalm could have been the very words of our friend Griselda as the Tropical Storm Cristobal dumped heavy rains in the Yucatan Peninsula earlier this month.
Griselda, who has served with us a ministry cook and lives in the pueblo of Chapab, said the rains came in so fast, she had to pack in a hurry and seek refuge in her daughter’s home on higher ground. She and her family prepared ahead of time by bringing her refrigerator and stove to her son’s home. But before she knew it, she was in knee-deep waters. She was distressed as the rains hurled at her, and instead of packing her clothes, she ended up packing sewing fabric instead. Meanwhile, the water level was rising and the current was getting stronger. This made it difficult for her and her daughter, Isolina, who guided Griselda out of her home and into her husband’s car. “We couldn’t see anything that we were walking through, and I was afraid my mother would slip and fall.”
Fortunately, they made it to Isolina’s home safely. “My family kept asking me how I was doing and I told them I was alright,” explained Griselda, who is no stranger to floods. She also survived 5 foot water floods from Hurricane Isidoro en 2002. But once nightfall came, sleep eluded her. “I couldn’t sleep and cried as the rains continued through the night. I was worried about my home.”
As stories unfolded by the people we visited, the trauma and fear were still evident in their voices. Children explained how they were scared; a friend described how her toddler grandchild shuddered at the pounding sound of the rain. Griselda's son showed us a video of their neighbor around the corner weeping helplessly as he surveyed his property when the rains began rising and found his chickens drowning.
In Akil, the house of our friend Carolina, who has served with us in ministry, was also flooded. She recalled trying to raise their belongings and husband's carpentry machinery out of the way when the water level was already at her hip. She fell and got hurt in the process. Basilio lost valuable equipment and wood in the flooding. Carolina described how people, like her husband and brother-in-law, didn’t want to leave their homes. But due to the rising waters, they had to face the reality of not being able to save their belongings and flee to safety. Later in the evening, safe on the second floor of a rented house, she asked her husband how he was doing, and her told her he was fine. But she could see the muscles in his arm twitching, and when she awoke early the next day, he was gone -- in his workshop examining his machinery.
We were told of an adult son who said to his elderly father who refused to leave: “Papa, I have never disobeyed you. But today I must. Please forgive me.” To which the father protested, “Hijo! No!” -- while his son picked him up over his shoulders and carried him out of his house.
It’s difficult when your home is all the world that you know.
At the Bethel church in Akil, where evacuees had been sent to, we stopped to visit Pastor Armando and his wife Gloria. We were happy to find out that they were well, although during the storm they had to deal with water leaking in from the roof. Pastor Armando says that families from his church have lost thatched homes, crops and orchards.
Our friend Isabela couldn't enter her orchard the day we visited because the water levels were still too high, and the police had blocked the roads. She grows oranges and other fruits in what is considered Yucatan’s citrus belt. Many others have lost produce and animals which families depend on for economic sustenance. As we traveled, we saw many orchards flooded even days after the storm passed.
Due to road closures, we were not able to travel to Cantamayec, where we built a water plant back in 2018. However, we were informed that the plant was not damaged. Nonetheless, there was a lot of flooding in some areas of the pueblo which led to the road closures.
The road south to Tikinmul was quite the experience for us as we passed lake-like waters that had flooded otherwise dry terrain. Pastor Ricardo and his wife explained how the flood waters from Bacalar (more than 200 miles southeast) reached about a half mile from their pueblo, and people were taking advantage of the situation by fishing and catching shrimp.
A bright spot in all of this? Maybe, but they also described to us that flooding partially covered the hills in the area creating “islands.” Only military helicopters were able to deliver food to the families stuck there, even families who were not flooded but were cut off from roads. Pastor Ricardo told us that, thanks to God, although his congregation has been affected by the flooding and the economic hardship of COVID-19, church members were responding and donating what they could to help the military with food supplies.
After Cristobal, the brothers in Tikinmul decided to build a shelter at the entrance of the plant where people wait for their water. Besides protecting people who wait for their water jugs from the rain, It also serves as a welcome shade from the hot sun.
There was a lot of cleaning up everywhere we went. We saw Bibles and encyclopedias drying in the sun and many families were still washing clothing that had gotten dirty in the floods. Dishes that were found floating on the street had to be washed. Blackened walls from mold, even in our own home, needed to be cleaned with bleach.
For now, the storm is over. Suddenly, masons find themselves with a lot of work as people are hurrying to repair their roofs and walls before the next big rain. The difficulty that lies ahead is economics, especially for farmers who have lost entire crops of corn, watermelon and papaya.
Please pray for recovery efforts complicated with the ongoing COVID-19 contingency. We've read that the governor has requested natural disaster aid from the Federal government, but, as of date, we have not heard of anyone receiving this help. And this is just the start of the hurricane season which experts predict to be an active one.
A Special Plea: Please pray for the farming communities in Yucatán who have lost much. A pastor shared a story of a widow who lost her husband, a Presbyterian, who drowned in the flooding. Not only did she lose her spouse but also their home and income as their crops were destroyed.
How You Can Help: Please prayerfully consider donating $30 toward a two-week food package for a family in need. Click on the donate button on our website for instructions.
Living with Ongoing Effects of COVID-19 in Yucatán
As the effects of COVID-19 virus continue, life is increasingly becoming difficult for many. Each day we receive prayer requests for pastors and other Christian brothers and sisters, coming down with COVID, some dying from it, including a former pastor who served at the church we attend. Women without work occasionally call from the street asking for food and clothing. People are protesting against the federal government’s decision to delay the reopening of the economy.
To date, churches are still not be able to congregate, and citizens are urged to continue staying home except for essentials. Medical experts here are saying this is not the time to relax safety guidelines as doctors continue to fall ill to the virus and the number of cases and deaths continue to rise. During the last week, Yucatán has seen its highest numbers of cases yet. So, we continue to pray and be on alert.
As many others of the faith community, from small rural churches to large churches in the city, we continue to worship online with our church and participate in virtual Bible classes during the week.
During our travels out to the pueblos, we entered a church for the first time since the COVID-19 contingency began in March. To walk pass empty pews and stand in the sanctuary set up like a major photo shoot was surreal to say the least, but it was a stark reminder of how the unity of the church is being tested during this quarantine.
All things considered, we continue to see the Lord’s goodness. We are so grateful to the individuals who have made donations to help us with people affected by the COVID-19. Isaias, a nurse assistant who can’t afford to buy his own protective gear, was able to purchase them as he's assigned to COVID patients and wrapping bodies. He remains separated from his family to avoid spreading the disease. He sent us his gratitude to you via social media:
“I am infinitely grateful to God and to you, brothers and sisters, for the help that you have given me. Thank you for your continuous prayers for this servant and for all the health personnel in general. To God be the glory. Receive a fraternal hug.” —Isaias
We have also used those donations to buy basic food supplies for the needy, and recently Kawika made dozens of his brownies for us as a family to deliver as thank you gifts to COVID-19 front liners for their work. We were able to distribute them to a medical team who visits homes of people with suspected cases and to a 40-person team of doctors and nurses at the COVID hospital where our neighbor’s son works as a physician. They were so appreciative, and one doctor shared it on social media with a caption, “Little things that make it worthwhile to keep on going!” We plan to continue our gifts to other front liners and those in need.
Maxcanu church kitchen: During our trip to the pueblos, we were also able to meet with the brothers in Maxcanu, purchase materials and inspect the kitchen project there. They've since begun working on counter tops and will continue to take turns during the weekends in small teams of 1-3 men, adhering to social distancing regulations.
Possible Water Plant Project: And just 30 minutes from Maxcanu, we also visited the pueblo of Bécal, Campeche for the first time. We met with Pastor Abraham to discuss the building of a potential water plant there as two U.S. churches have expressed interest in a water plant project. The church, El Buen Pastor, in Becal has raised a portion of the funding and has put it on side for the time being due to the COVID-19 contingency measures.
Kawika we can now say has survived middle school! We are so proud of him for his endurance over the last 3 school years, his hard work and accomplishments! Like for many 2020 graduates everywhere, his school’s ceremony event will be held on social media. The formal celebration that was to take place after the ceremony has been postponed for the time being and only the Lord knows when and if it will happen. During his last academic class this week, Kawika’s favorite teacher (readily known as the most challenging and toughest of the school) announced, “This will be your last roll call in middle school. I love you all.” This consequently sent Kawika and his peers into tears. Ah, an end to an era!
Children in Yucatán: Their Perspective on Effects of COVID-19
“Why did the virus have to come? Why can’t we just kill it?”
Children in Yucatan, like everywhere around the world, are asking the why questions and processing COVID-19 with honesty, innocence and spiritual reasoning. Please join us in praying for them as they cope with the ongoing effects of COVID-19. Our prayers go out especially for children who, before the virus, already lived in precarious situations at home, poverty and lack of healthcare. Here are some quotes friends have shared with us of their children and grandchildren on the virus' effects in their lives. We thank them for sharing! (Note: We took the liberty to add scriptures to each of them; artwork painted by children in Yucatán).
Please join us in prayer for:
The Yucatan Peninsula as we deal with the aftermath of Cristobal and ongoing effects of COVID-19.
For pastors in general in the Yucatan peninsula and especially those of rural churches who are not earning an income due to the economy.
For the Lord’s guidance as we continue to work on the Maxcanu kitchen and potential projects.
For Kawika as he graduates from middle school and moves on to high school.
Byron’s niece, Liane, who has been diagnosed with a rare brain cancer. Please pray with us for God to work strength, grace and resources in this brave woman as she battles for her life.
For our protection during this hurricane season.
For our finances as we continue to face a shortfall in our ministry funding.
Tidbit in Mérida
Byron came across a quote on the internet, and he tweaked it for his own situation:
“During this time of self-quarantine, an extrovert is going insane and the introverts are laughing at him.”
With continued contingency measures in place in Mérida, Byron is going insane. One day, he sat in a park on an early morning with his mask on, and no one was in sight -- except for the police officer who walked across the park to politely ask Byron to leave.
Inez appreciates the extra time catching up on her Bible reading and other books on the shelves. Kawika enjoys video chats with friends, listening to music and googling all kinds of stuff, especially on history, politics and power. And Byron ….. well, every so often he just needs to get out and go driving, even if for a half hour or so.
Whether you're extrovert or an introvert, here are a few tips to live sanely through the contingency:
Be kind to one another; Keep your hands and feet to yourself; Follow the rules.
Sort of like in Kindergarten.
And above all, don't laugh at the other person. (This one is particularly hard for Inez and Kawika.)
--Keep safe and blessings to everyone! Thank you for reading!