Contagious Gospel Joy Pitches a Tent

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and there are the people!
Have you heard that children’s rhyme and finger game before?
Or how about-
Here is the ground, here is the tent, the family of God says, come and join in!
The latter would be a more accurate description of a little community of God that meets in a shantytown, under a tent on a small property lovingly tended by Maty. Maty is a Peruvian woman whom God reached through the ministry of our SAMS missionaries Juan and María Marentes. As María shared the Gospel with members of a shantytown south of Lima, Peru, Maty began shadowing her and helping her tell people the Good News, even before she had clearly confessed Christ. In the Marentes’ words:

“In 2005 we met Maty when she came to be a volunteer at the weekly breakfast for the children in the “pueblo joven” (shantytown) of San Francisco, south of Lima. She was a woman without any schooling, she had suffered a lot in her life. She looked about 10 years older than her real age. She had prodigious hands to knit by hand.

Once the weekly women’s ministry was started by María Isabel, Maty never missed a gathering. She was always attentive and willing to help. Little by little she began to join the evangelistic visits to the surrounding homes. She gave her very simple testimony, but always coming from her soul: ‘Although I don’t know how to read or write, I tell you that the most wonderful thing in my life has been accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That has made me a new and a happy person.’”

María, with funds from supporters, found an opportunity to give a small piece of property to the Diocese of Peru for the purpose of hosting a Christian community. Years after the Marentes left Peru to do ministry elsewhere, the Bishop of Peru reported that Maty faithfully defended from “invaders” that piece of land, and now she and a youth group tend the property and draw people into this small church in the San Francisco shantytown, Peru.

Visiting the SAMS home office for a retirement commemoration luncheon, Juan and María point to their home country, Colombia, on the world map.

We at SAMS are deeply grateful for Juan and María’s faithful service to God’s call in 33 years on the mission field. Originally from Colombia, they retire in Jacksonvile, FL this year after decades of service in Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Belize, and California. Yet, we know that God’s servants don’t truly retire as much as they take on a different shape of ministry, encouraging us as we all press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and making him known.


“From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 6:14 NIV

October Update and Funny Things

First, if you haven’t checked out Evan’s last blogpost which features Annabelle as a “Pom Pom Girl” in her school parade – go check it out! Being here in September, a month filled with national pride and festivities, was fun and interesting. I have never lived anywhere that has so many parades. In our town alone there must have been at least six separate parades. We caught bits of at least three and heard many of them. We got to see a wonderful array of cultural traditions and it was grand.

We are currently in the season of Harvest. It is a beautiful time of thanksgiving and is celebrated in the churches and schools. In the services, the children present poems, songs, dances, and process up to the altar with gifts of fruits, vegetables, and sweet baked goods. Even the children who do not normally care for church or chapel services seem to love Harvest time. There are quite a number of children who have to literally fight to have food in their homes and who are hungry frequently – many of whom are developmentally behind and physically stunted due to lack of nutrition. It is a joyful remembrance and a reminder for all of us that God is the One who provides from His bounty and that we must be grateful for what we have. Even with the drought this year the altars were overflowing.

Annabelle and I got to travel on a bus to Diocesan Day (a day for the entire Anglican Church of Belize) in Dangriga. It was a very long day and by the end we were both unbelievably dirty. But it was so much fun too! We got to participate in a huge church service in an outdoor basketball court. We also got to meet the Bishop of Belize, the second topmost politician, and Annabelle got to play some games and we spent a lot of time with our dear friends who go to the village church and have two children about Annabelle’s age. I’m so glad we got to be here for that event.

There are truly countless stories of tragedy, and hope, and beauty, and laughter, from my counseling, from conversations with people in the street, from all around. There are many reasons we came here but the rhythm of life we have here is slower and simpler and we are still relishing being able to be present here. We are going to soak up what we can over the next two months before we head back.

Another Installment of Funny Things

If you say, “Hey Babe” or “Good afternoon Beautiful” to me when I pass you on the street, I have resolved to be rude (which goes against every grain of manners I possess). I do not look. I do not respond. I pretend as though you have said nothing. If you call to me a couple of times and when I ignore you, you say, “My friend likes you and wants your number,” I will respond, “Oh, ok, my husband will be interested to hear that.” And I continue on my merry way with a smile on my face. When I arrive home, I will inform said ‘husband’ that such an interaction just occurred. Honestly though, I don’t relish these moments, but they are far better than the 4.5 months I spent in Sierra Leone back in my early twenties. I had wondered how it would be here in Belize and it is much better. Back then I easily got dozens of marriage proposals every day from strangers on the streets of Freetown and I found it exhausting and frustrating by the end of the day.

We have all been dewormed. In the Fall and the Spring at St. Andrews School they deworm all the children. Evan and I have been meaning to get dewormed for months now… and we finally did it this week. They are some intense pills for adults – six different doses. Anyway, it was overdue! I feel a bit like a dog or a cat but that’s just life here. We’ve been told this particular medication is not available in the U.S. so we’ll be buying some to bring back with us for a session after we return. More deworming to look forward to.

Speaking of worms… one of the things I miss a lot from the U.S. is our compost pit. Ever since we moved to Charlottesville we have had compost piles. The one when we had pet bunnies was a particularly good one, but I liked not having all that vegetable and fruit and eggshell waste going to waste. 😊 It’s been difficult for me in a place with significantly depleted soil to be throwing all our good vegetation scraps into the rubbish. So, several months ago I started a compost bucket. However, since where we are renting, I didn’t have a good spot to dump the compost and eventually it got maggots (an unbelievable amount of creepy, crawly, slimy pale buddies) and it started to smell awful. After Evan disposed of it and we still smelled it for days he put his foot down. Alas, that was the end of composting here. If we lived on our own land or even just had more space around our house, I’d be a crazy compost lady. Maybe one day my dream will come true…

Last, but certainly not least for funny things, Evan had to go back to the States for a funeral last week. He did a video chat with us from the Atlanta airport. He flipped the camera around and said to Annabelle, “Look where I am!” (meaning the airport). Annabelle immediately said, “Woah, look at all those white people!”

And so dear ones, it is going to be an interesting few months. With each passing day our minds turn more and more to the winding down of things here, making an international move, and readjusting to life back in the U.S.A. For Annabelle, of course, a year is a seventh of her life and this has been no small adventure. While she is anxious to get back to the U.S. and especially anxious to see all those she loves, we know she will miss things about life and people here. We had another rough patch with school a couple of weeks ago. However, after processing what happened and working through it, I think she seems to be better and happier at school than she was previously, and I think there are little friends she will miss quite a lot. Please continue to pray on the school-front for her.

Please also continue to pray for us as there are so many things that will be happening here. Starting tomorrow, over the next five weeks there will be two different priests visiting from the States and the Bishop of Belize will also be joining us one Sunday. We are so glad they are coming and it will certainly be a change of pace!

We continue to be so grateful for each of you. I’ve heard from so many who continue to read these writings and who continue to pray for us. Thank you!

Spiritual Warfare in Madagascar

Patsy McGregor (left) and Jacky Lowe (right) have had similar experiences with spiritual warfare in Madagascar.

Jacky Lowe woke up in terror. Never before had she experienced a nightmare like this one. She had just returned to Madagascar from a visit to the United States. In this dark Thursday night, deeply disturbed in her spirit, she struggled to find the peace she needed to return to sleep. She got up from her bed and paced her home in prayer for two hours before returning to her bed. She continued to pray to the Lord as she fell back asleep.

Jacky is not the only Christian in her Madagascar community to experience such a disturbing dream this past year. Her fellow SAMS missionary Patsy McGregor has also suffered from a nightmare the first night returning from a trip – on a Thursday as well. This is hardly a coincidence: Jacky and Patsy have received reports that a local group of witch doctors prays against Christians, marriages, and families every Thursday night. “Why would witches pray against marriages?” I asked Patsy. “Because marriages are strong,” she replied. In the words of last week’s New Wineskins for Global Mission Conference theme (September 26-29), God’s people are #BetterTogether. 

The Anglican Diocese of Toliara, of which Patsy’s husband, Todd, is the bishop, ordained and commissioned ten leaders on August 25: one priest, three deacons, and six evangelists. With such growth, I am not surprised that the devil is nervous. “Spiritual attack is ongoing on a daily and weekly basis. It’s very heavy,” says Patsy. “We have done a lot of ‘spiritual sweeping’ to get the darkness away. God is stronger and breaking through!”

Here in the West we rarely encounter such obvious spiritual warfare. One could say this is because our senses are dulled by entertainment and comfort, and the devil has an easier time distracting us from God. Whatever the reason, we can respond in two ways to this story. First, we can pray for spiritual protection over Jacky Lowe, Patsy and Todd McGregor, and their community near Toliara on Thursday afternoons Eastern Standard Time (Thursday night in Madagascar). We can pray in Jesus’ name that the witch doctors would be freed from the forces of evil. Second, we can live daily with deeper assurance that the spiritual world is real and the material world is not all there is. St. Paul’s words are true: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:12 – 13 NIV)

Stand firm and pray, friends.

Kate Ulrich, SAMS Home Office

Photos and Video from the Hansen’s Fall Term

Hi everyone! I have some photos and video for you.

First a quick update:

I have been leading chapels at three different schools this term. It has been fantastic. We sing and pray and I teach through the Fruit of the Spirit. Basically we’re talking about character formation. God gives us the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to live well. And God wants us to live well so 1) Our lives will be good and joyful, 2) Our lives will be evidence of God’s character and power, and 3) so we will live as natives and not foreigners in the world to come.

I’m teaching 6 chapels every other week. I have a time lapse of the St. Andrews students. Each school is a different experience. I’ll try to grab some video of the different schools and elements of the service. Below is also one of the songs I’ve taught them.

 

Independence Day (Month!)

September is full of celebrations and parades for Independence Day. There were so many holiday days, half school days, and parades that it was amazing we were able to get anything else done. Every school has a parade. There are town parades, church parades, etc… I have some video of Annabelle’s parade and a late night church parade. The church parade was super fun and the video is of a new friend of mine singing on the back of a flatbed semi trailer with a full band and sound system. It was crazy!

Caye Caulker

Missy mentioned our trip to Caye Caulker for Annabelle’s 7th Birthday. Here are some photos from that trip!

Annabelles First Day of School

 

Bullying, Kindness, and Other Sundries – Missy’s Aug/Sept Update.

We have been praying for rain. The rainy season has not been panning out as in past years. It has been quite dry and hot. The next few days thunder storms are called for and we have had a couple of doozies, but they have been relatively short-lived. Sadly for us, it has meant many less mangoes than everyone had talked about. But the more important reality is that many people here rely on rainwater for everything in their home and that fruits and vegetables which are normally quite reasonable are increasing in price. Still, we are so grateful that we have water that comes through our taps (most days) and is relatively clean (with the exclusion of days where it has been muddy/green). We are also grateful for the trucks that drive around tooting their horns so we can buy 5 gallon jugs of purified water (at least most of them are mostly purified). And we are so glad that we can afford to buy them. They only cost $1.50US/jug but many locals cannot afford it and have to drink whatever they can get from rain or the tap or the rivers. The need for rain is a constant reminder of our reliance on He who commands the winds and the rain.
Since the initial slowing of summer, we have had increasingly busy weeks with the exception of 6 glorious days we spent on Caye Caulker. My younger brother, Nathan, traveled again from the U.S. to join us and we spent our days relaxing, swimming, eating, walking around, and one day snorkeling (at the reef, shark ray alley, coral gardens, and in Hol Chan Marine Reserve). It was glorious and so important for us to have that time away. In many ways it felt like being in a different country. San Ignacio where we live does not exactly feel like a tropical tourist island although it is both tropical and touristy in parts.

Some highlights and prayer requests:
Unfortunately, we were not able to obtain Annabelle’s student visa because we went “too early” to immigration to apply for it. It’s a bit of a long story, but it means she is currently living on a tourist visa which is quite expensive at this point, has to be renewed every month, and is a hassle. They had told us when to schedule an appointment and then changed their mind and said it had to be right before school started. We were not able to go when they said we needed to, so I have another appointment to try and get it sorted. I dread going to immigration and it is usually a grueling process. Please pray that getting Annabelle’s student visa is a smooth and quick process next Tuesday, September 17th.

After being asked by one of the principals, I did a bullying training for the teachers of the three Anglican schools (Saint Andrew’s, Saint Barnabus’, and Saint Hilda’s) of which Fr. David Alenskis is the manager, 3 weeks ago when the teachers were getting ready for this year. It was a full time we had together and we were not able to even get to everything. One challenge is that bullying and physical discipline (at home and sometimes in the schools) is something that they all grew up with and is relatively normalized here. As I have expressed before what is considered abusive here is extreme, so trying to work with the cultural understanding of things was challenging. No one wants to be bullied, but many find it difficult to recognize when they are bullying others. Of course, this is no different than realities of bullying all over the world. I think there was some headway and I certainly hope it was beneficial. We are really trying at St. Andrews (where Annabelle attends) to address the bullying problem. Social, emotional, verbal, and physical bullying are all issues and often teachers and family members do not address it or address it too late and sometimes in unhelpful ways.

I am starting St. Andrews Committee for Kindness and Safety, or StACKS, and I’m hoping the leadership will be taken over by some teachers, parents, and maybe even some students once we leave in December. We are trying to address the issue in a variety of ways and personally, I’m trying to emphasize not just stopping bullying but being kind. Please pray for me as I try to work on getting this anti-bullying and kindness campaign off the ground and handing it off in the midst of counseling students, taking care of Annabelle, etc.
I have jumped back into counseling students more quickly than I anticipated. I have been calling parents and guardians and so far the vast majority still want me to work with their students unless they moved away. I was able to meet with 7 students last week at least briefly to get back into the routine. This is a different kind of work than I’m used to as my time will be so limited. Please pray for every student and every session that I have.

While I know you all care about Evan and me, I know what you really want to hear is how Annabelle is doing. As you can imagine, she had a wonderful time on the island especially with all the swimming and was a champ at snorkeling even though the water was deep and a bit rough in some spots. She is with the same classmates as last year. She still hasn’t really connected with anyone which she finds very hard. She is homesick and talks about how much she misses her friends. We have had quite a few video chats with her friends over the summer, but she says it is not the same because you can’t “feel” them. We continue to remind ourselves that making her life “easy” is not all it is cracked up to be and that learning resilience and coping and how to be loving and kind in the midst of challenges are more important than everything going her way all the time.

There are innumerable other things I could share: How there is a student going for his Master’s in Counseling who wants to work with me and take over some aspects once I leave (although we’re still waiting to find out the protocol and legalities on all this); how I’m attending beginning of the year PTA meetings about bullying and counseling; how the churches are faring while the Alenskis’ are away and given that neither Evan nor I are ordained in the Anglican church, about how we have now received one more piece of mail… By the way, don’t mail anything else unless you really don’t mind that we most likely won’t ever receive it. We have now received 7 pieces of mail. And I’ve been told of dozens of pieces that have never made it. Remember my post last time that included the stealing issue? I don’t know what people think is in the letters or what they are doing with them, but someone has all those letters.

We are so grateful for each and every one of you. Those who read these long communications and for each and every one of your prayers and kind emails. I truly sense that we are living here by prayer alone. So much of what we do feels like an exercise in futility (and there were times I had this sense in the States too) and it is futile without God’s work. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. To those of you who have financially supported us – we are deeply grateful. I have tried to write thank you notes and I know many of them have made it out. Hopefully all of them have found their way to you. At least some things in the postal service seem to be working. 😊
Hopefully Evan will send out an email with lots of photos soon.
May the love and peace and joy and hope of the Lord surround and fill you today and every day.

July update from Belize.

Evan here: I’m linking FOUR! videos at the bottom of this post. One is a longer video I shared on Facebook about our favorite jungle swimming hole. It features a lot of Annabelle. : )

Just before our last email, Fr. David and Mary Beth had left for home for the remainder of the year. The same week of the school graduations, our community experienced a great tragedy. A dear member of our church was stabbed and killed. A priest from Belmopan was able to come perform the the funeral and I arranged the music and slide preparations for the service. It was a sad but beautiful time. Please pray for our church as her close friends continue to mourn.

One day,  Missy and I were working at the rectory and a man walked up from the parking lot next to the church. I was on the phone, but when I got off Missy said he was talking about a fire at the church. She thought it was something that was already done, but as it turns out, a bag of burning clothing had been tossed over the wall and up against the back wall of the church. I was able to beat it down with a green branch until the neighboring business tossed a hose over the wall. No photos. 🙁

There is a Maya site near our house on the border of Guatemala called El Pilar. I have wanted to go there in part because you have get to drive 7 miles of really bad dirt road to get there. I haven’t gone because I was told it was too dangerous and that people get robbed at gunpoint there. I was telling that to a tourist one morning when Anabel Ford,  the archeologist who discovered the site 30 years ago, walked by. She started yelling at me. I calmed her down and she said the events were much more rare than people say and that she’s up there nearly every day. She was upset because no one comes to visit. So I went! It was amazing. I’ll add a video featuring the monkeys and anteaters I saw there.

I went to help some friends who are members of one of our churches lay out a deck and pour footers. When doing that, it rained and I caught it on video. Link at the bottom. Please pray for more rain here. This is the rainy season and we’re not getting as much as we need. (IT STARTED RAINING WHEN I TYPED THAT SENTENCE) Climate change is a VERY common topic of conversation here. Belize is feeling the effects.

Annabelle is in a summer program at the local library. She’s learning about plants and having a great time. We’ll get you photos later. In the meantime, watch a video of our family at our favorite swimming hole, Monkey Falls.

That’s most of what’s happened recently. The fall will be much busier for me and I’m preparing sermons ahead of time for the school chapels. I’ll be doing a series on the fruit of the Spirit. If you have any good and accessible resources for me as I prepare, please let me know.