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)
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!
Missy mentioned our trip to Caye Caulker for Annabelle’s 7th Birthday. Here are some photos from that trip!
Annabelle had her hair braided!
Annabelle made friends with the snorkeling guides. they ADORED her!
Carlos called Annabelle over and let her have a turn at the wheel. She was elated!
Annabelle and Gringa
This dog adopted us and followed us every step of the way, even up to the door of the boat as we were leaving the island. She was special.
Our favorite breakfast spot
Carlos said Annabelle was the only kid who could really blow the horn. She made it so loud!
We walked everywhere
We went snorkeling with Carlos tours and had a blast.
This boat was amazing. Perfect for a long day on the water.
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.
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.
This message has a bit from both Evan and Missy. Missy’s update is first and Evan’s short update is at the bottom along with a video of kids singing that you don’t want to miss.
Hello, Missy here again. I spent Friday, June 7th and Thursday, June 13th conducting retreats for the soon-to-be high school students of St. Andrews, St. Barnabus, and St. Hilda’s Anglican schools. Thank you to everyone who prayed for these times, for me, and for the students. I felt it was a privilege to be able to lead the retreats. They were long days but fruitful in a variety of ways. And I am prayerful and hopeful that some of the things we discussed will continue to bear fruit in the coming years.
St. Andrews is certainly the largest school (around 400 students) and there are about 40 students in the graduating class. The other two schools did a combined retreat and there were about 20 students all together. We did everything together including taking breaks and eating lunch. There is no air conditioning at the St. Andrews Community Center so the first day (which was over 100 degrees) was particularly sweltering. The few fans that were there couldn’t keep up with the weather or that many bodies. The second retreat was significantly cooler (still in the 90’s) but there was a rain storm that beat down on the roof which meant we had to take some breaks, because no one could hear above the din. Needless to say, my voice was worn out after both retreats.
We primarily focused on deepening their understanding of the things they will experience as they attend high school. While primary school is highly subsidized by the government (although it isn’t free), high schools are all private and expensive. One student even asked what to do if their family was telling them not to go to high school. The struggles many of the students have faced – from not having enough food to eat, not having shoes that fit, not having much support at home for school work, etcetera – are significant and discouraging.
So many of them have faced real and significant social issues like bullying, being encouraged to skip school and steal, lying, cheating, doing drugs and so forth, that the conversations we had during the retreats seem long overdue and yet still essential for their futures. High school means even more autonomy and the peer pressure seems to increase. Of course, the high schools also tend to be much larger than the primary schools, because there are fewer of them which means that even if they did well in primary school they are now a little fish in a big pond and many students get lost.
After the first retreat, I changed some things for the second which proved to be helpful. At both retreats they conducted skits about how to respond in a variety of situations including everything from discrimination to bullying to being offered drugs. This seemed to be a highlight for most of the students. There was a lot of laughter which bothered the teachers, because the subjects were so serious. However, I think they still got a lot of value from the skits they prepared and presented, and often the laughter was just a way to try and cope with the magnitude of what they face every day and the enormous transition they will be facing soon. Most of them don’t feel they can talk to a parent about almost anything and certainly not the things we were discussing. Most of them have social media accounts and access to the Internet but their parents voluntarily don’t monitor them or the students hide what they do from their parents. There is a significant disconnect. It’s the opposite of helicopter parenting, for sure. During the second retreat I had the students write down any questions about high school or about mental health issues and tried to answer as many as I could throughout the day. This was an insightful practice for me and also seemed to be quite beneficial for the students. Some of their questions were quite sad, honestly. Hopefully, prayerfully, seeds were planted which will lead to growth and some more ideas of how to respond in difficult situations.
Anyway, I’ve droned on enough.
Please pray for Father David, Mary Beth, and Austin as they have returned to the States for support-raising. They will be away for several months. Please continue to pray for us here as we transition to summer and to the Alenskis’ departure. We aren’t really sure what things are going to be like but there’s a lot going on. Evan’s workload has increased, although not as much as if he were an ordained Anglican minister. Thank you for your support! We are grateful for you!
OK, now from Evan:
Hello all! This graduation season has been plenty full for me, but I’ll focus on the work I did with the same students Missy was working with. I was asked by two of the schools to teach the students a song and help them perform it at graduation. One of the assistant principals chose the song: “Great Things” by Phil Wickham. I hadn’t heard it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a fun song to play. Below is a video of the performance from the St. Andrews kids. There were around 200 people in the audience. I think they did wonderfully! They do something like this every year, and one of the parents said she thought this was one of the best performances ever.
Part of the culture here is that the teachers are often very hard on the students. When I first began working with the kids, teachers were yelling at them even while practicing. The kids expect this sort of thing, but I could feel their enthusiasm draining and ended up requesting that the teachers allow me to handle things my way. It was clear the kids liked the song and I did my best to make it fun for them, encouraging them in the things they were doing well. I think they responded to that approach very well. I know I had a blast. 🙂
“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.”
(Psalm 37: 5).
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This is a follow-up to the SAMS / Denise Cox’s letter of May 16, 2019 sent to our supporters.
Just by God’s grace and your sacrificial support we have served as full-time SAMS missionaries in Central, South and North America over the past 29 years. During these past years we saw our chil-dren grow and get mature, and we could experience Jesus’ won-derful grace touching us and many other people’s lives. Join us, please, in giving thanks to God for the accomplished ministry through SAMS. Now it is the season to retire from full-time formal commitment, but not from ongoing normal Christian ministry. To ‘re-tire’ seems to us like being given a new set of ‘tires’ to con-tinue serving the Lord in a creative way wherever we are and go.
We just moved to Jacksonville, FL., where we have many friends, our home church (The Redeemer Anglican), and from where we would be able to keep in touch with our children and grandchil-dren. By the way, Bernardo lives in Charlotte, NC. He and Katie have given us the first two grand-kids -fraternal twins- Abel and Leo. Praise God for these beautiful 3-year-old precious boys! Sebas-tian moved to Chicago, and he is engaged with Shaina; God willing they will be married at the be-ginning of 2020. Tomas, just moved recently to Argentina to work. Please join us in prayer for all of them. Also pray for wise and prayerful discernment about Maria and I eventually moving back to our home country, Colombia, after two years.
Now, Maria Isabel and I are navigating through a major life change. Her health has been long threatened by fibromyalgia, which causes her a lot of pain, mainly in her feet and knees. On the other hand, I have graciously survived two big illnesses, prostate cancer and Guillain Barré Syn-drome (progressive ascending paralysis). Praise God! The challenge for Maria is to find the right treatment that would allow her to find a suitable work to help make ends meet and glorify God through that. My challenge is to continue serving the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in what-ever possible capacity. Please pray for Maria’s health and suitable work that would come with health benefits. Please pray for me, the gray-haired retired priest, so I can get a good Medi-Share plan (because I do not qualify for medicare* yet), and abundant opportunities to be a pastor and friend, both in person and in virtual space (Skype, Messenger, WhatsApp, Zoom, etc.).
As you heard from Denise, we will still be under SAMS’ wings during this transition period until December 31st, 2019. Your prayers, as always before, would be quite important for us now and be-yond December 31st. Your generous financial support will also be crucial for the remaining of the year to make a smooth transition into this new season of life.
We are looking forward to seeing you, if possible, and also to interacting with you by any virtual means.
May God keep blessing all of you in your family life and in your never-ending commitment as dis-ciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, while we get ready for His return,
Blessings and hugs,
*Technically I have more than enough age for Medicare, but I will only qualify for part B af-ter two more years in this country. I do not qualify for part A.
Juan B & Maria Isabel Marentes Juan (805) 427 6165;Maria (323) 617 8125 8550 Touchton Rd, Apt. 1131 Jacksonville, FL 32216
Maria Isabel y yo estamos en transición hacia ‘jubilación.’ Seguiremos vinculados por el resto del año a SAMS, la agencia misionera que nos ha acompañado durante los últimos 29 años en diversos paises. La idea es quedarnos un par de años más en los EE.UU., y luego regresar a nuestra querida Colombia. Las ideas sin buscar la voluntad de Dios no progresan, por eso pedimos oración para hacer decisiones correctas y para agradecer a Dios por todo lo que ha sucedido en estas casi tres décadas de ministerio.
Por ahora nos hemos mudado de California a Florida. Hay muchos retos en este cambio. María Isa-bel lucha con problemas serios de fibromialgia (dolor en todo el cuerpo, pero más concentrado en pies y rodillas). Ahora no tenemos seguro médico. Ella aspira a encontrar un trabajo que le permita obtener beneficios de salud y también ayudarnos a redondear nuestros ingresos. En cuanto a mi (Juan), debo buscar un plan de Medi-Share (una especie de cooperativa de mutua ayuda), que esté más a nuestro alcance, pero que tendrá muchas limitaciones. Por favor únanse a nuestra oración por la salud plena de María Isabel y por fortaleza para mí, a fin de que pueda ser útil en la exten-sión del Evangelio de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo. Nos estamos jubilando de una posición formal de tiempo completo, pero nadie debe ni puede jubilarse de su ministerio diario y normal de un Cris-tiano a pie.
La foto nuestra la tomamos hace un mes antes de salir de California. La foto familiar fue tomada en Charlotte, NC., el primero de enero de este año. Las damas que algunos de ustedes no conocen son Katie, la esposa de Bernardo (pareja de la izquierda), y Shaina, la prometida de Sebastián (pareja de la derecha). Los mellizos son Leo y Abel, los nietos que nos ‘enloquecen.’ Tomás (a mi lado) recientemente emigró a Argentina para seguir trabajando con la empresa que lo contrató hace un año.
Bernardo y Katie, padres de los nietos, viven Charlotte, NC. Sebastián vive en Chicago, IL y se va a casar con Shaina al principio del 2020. Tomás vive en Buenos Aires. Estamos dispersos, pero nos queremos mucho. Por favor oren por nosotros. Nosotros también los tenemos cada día en nuestras oraciones a ustedes, queridos amigos y familia.
También le hemos dado gracias a todos quienes nos ayudan, y les hemos pedido seguir apoyándonos en finanzas hasta diciembre, y en oración hasta que ‘San Juan agache el dedo.’
Abrazos y bendiciones sin medida. Que el amor de Dios y su gracia penetren sus vidas mientras aguardamos la gloriosa venida de Nuestro Señor Jesucristo.