Monday, September 19, 2011

Rays of Hope......

Awesome things are happening in Yanamayo! I don't just see glimmers of hope for this community, I see rays of hope! Let me share with you some of the stories.......

First, let me brag, brag on our Lord, because He provided us with awesome church attendance in Yanamayo on September 18th, we had 18 people in the church! This was our largest church service yet, not that numbers are the goal, but it is an awesome indicator that God is working in this place. It's crazy to think that 9 months ago Franci and I knew not one person in this community and now we have a group of people coming to church! Of the 18, there were 8 adults, 3 youth, and 7 kids. We had a great time of fellowship and prayer and I shared the message (God is continually stretching me!).

For over three weeks now, Guillermo has not had a drink. This is incredible as he had been an alcoholic for years. He was not the typical Puno beer drinker, he was drunk off whiskey on a daily basis. Months ago you may remember a blog on how disappointed I was after we visited him at 10 am and he was drunk and had peed his pants. His yellow eyes, a sure sign of a failing liver, also confirm he was a victim to this dangerous disease. But now, Guillermo is more interactive, he's coming to church every Sunday and Tuesday in Yanamayo, he's eating more and he just looks healthier even after such a short time off the bottle. God has worked in him and changed him. This is obviously the work of our Lord in his life. And even more awesome, is that this change in Guillermo is spreading. First of all, now Petronila is happy, joyful, and no longer frustrated with her alcoholic husband. Secondly, I'm so glad Elvis, their grandson, is being raised in a better environment. And, Guillermo and Petronila have been sharing their love for God with their friends! Because of their excitement about this new life, they invited their friend Felipe to church a few weeks ago. Yesterday, Felipe hopped on a combi, came up to Yanamayo, and started lessons with us in Guillermo and Petronila's house! Not only is this family changing, but they are bearing fruit!

Yovanna and Richard......
Yovanna and Richard are a young couple with two adorable little kids. We first started meeting with this pair back in May. We met them through Carmen who had been 'preaching' the importance of God in our lives to her neighbor Yovanna. We went over to Richard and Yovanna's house and started discipling them and struck up a great friendship. It's refreshing to spend time with contacts closer to my own age. But, meeting with them on a weekly basis has proven to be difficult. They are often out and about on Richard's day off, Saturday, at the time and hour of our appointment. We hadn't seen Yovanna and Richard since June when my parents were here. We kept knocking on their door weekly and trying to call them. But we never heard anything back from them. I was sad and frustrated, thinking that we had lost them. But, two weeks ago we ran into them on the street in Yanamayo and Yovanna promised us they would be home the next Saturday. And they were! We have been able to reconnect with this couple and have seen them two weeks in a row. The best part was last week when we were on the lesson "Knowing our Heavenly Father". It's a lesson that talks about certain characteristics about God. We talk about His mercy, love, power and more. But as we were chatting before and during the lesson, Yovanna has been exploring God and knowing Him all on her own! It was incredible, we would talk about God as our Healer in the conversation, and then, in the lesson, there it was, God is our Healer. Yovanna said she no longer feels alone while Richard is off at work because she knows God is by her side. Another part of the lesson, God is omnipresent. We went through the Bible and looked at verses to confirm all that Yovanna is already learning on her own through prayer!

Things with Carmen and her family actually haven't been awesome lately. Carmen and her family have seemed distant and disinterested in the past few weeks. There was one day especially where we went into Carmen's tienda to chat with her and she was very short with us, telling us she was busy. I knew something was wrong at that moment and then we knew something was really wrong when we walked by later in the afternoon to find the tienda closed. Carmen's tienda is the biggest with the most traffic in all of Yanamayo. Her tienda is always open. But recently, we along with the neighbors find the doors closed and locked. Franci and I had been praying especially for this family, not knowing what was going on but knowing something was trying to tear them away from God and from us. So one day last week, Franci was ready to head home one day as the rain poured down on us. But I told Franci we still had to go say hi to our friend Ines. Franci hates being wet and cold. She's a slow mover until there's rain and then I can hardly keep up with her! We rushed over to our friend Ines' house quickly only to find out she wasn't home. Then Franci tried to hail a combi. I told her 'not yet', that we still had to go to Carmen's. (Out of my own stubbornness, I push Franci when she's tired and done for the day.) So we went to Carmen's tienda. We walked into the shelter of the tienda to find Godofredo, Carmen's husband. I asked if Carmen was around and he said 'no'. I chatted with Godo for a few moments while Franci waited impatiently at the door ready to jump on a combi and go home. But then, Carmen walked in the door. I hadn't seen her since that day she was short with us and told her we were praying for her. I asked her if there was something specific we could pray for. She broke down crying. She said her son Dante has been drinking again, her daughter Aracely was in a car accident last week but is okay, and she told me she's being treated for arthritis. I asked Carmen if we could pray together right then and there. I was just expecting to pray right where we were, with the tienda open and some neighbor would probably come interrupt us. But, Carmen had another idea in mind. She closed the store, turned off the lights, and us four, Franci, Carmen, Godo and myself went into the back room, held hands and spent a very special time in prayer together. I love that Carmen realized the importance of prayer, that she understands God is the One who can help us. She took this prayer time seriously, she didn't want to be interrupted, she wanted to be focused on God and lifting everything up to Him. Things are still rough for this family as they struggle through what I truly believe is a spiritual battle. But, through it all, this family recognizes the power of God and prayer, that's an awesome start, and awesome weapon against satan in this battle for their souls.

Livia is a new contact from a movie we showed in Yanamayo a few weeks ago. She lives about a block away from Guillermo and Petronila in a district called 27 de Junio. Livia is adorable and sweet, I liked her from the moment I started chatting with her after showing the Felix Vargas film. Franci and I have been to her house to visit her a few times since the movie and have had the chance to start lessons with her. In the first lesson I asked her if she had a Bible and she assured me that she did. Then yesterday, before I got started on the second lesson with her, she told me that she liked my Bible better than the one she has, she said she understands my Bible better. I asked her to bring out her Bible and she brought out a giant 'Coffee Table Catholic Bible'. We talked about the Bible and different versions, we talked about religions and denominations. We had a great conversation and I believe she has some clarity on a few of these topics now. I promised her to bring an NIV Bible to her this week. We use the Catholic Bible with some contacts, its actually a very clear and understandable version which I like. But what we discussed with Livia yesterday is that she needs a Bible that she can use on a daily basis. This giant yet beautiful Bible is not conducive to daily reading. But, how incredible, she was reading her Bible during the week! And more than that, she lugged out that giant Bible to read! That is exciting and empowering, its wonderful to see new believers with true interest in learning more!

The Jail.....
Franci and I go to jail every Saturday morning. Nope, its not because I'm breaking the law. Its because we basically hold a little church service with the inmates weekly. With a jail right there in Yanamayo, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to take God's Word literally, like when Jesus talks in Matthew 25 about visiting the prisoners, and that compassion is truly shown to Him or in Isaiah 61, we can take literally the action of being anointed to bring the Good News to the prisoners. Saturday mornings are one of my favorite parts of this job. I hate wearing a skirt and walking the 3/4 mile on dirt roads to get to the jail. And I don't like the whole process once we get there, we get stamped and marked on, go through the pat down and all our stuff is gone through. But, then we go into the jail and see our friends. I work really hard to remember all the guys names. They feel special when I know them by name. We hug and kiss, we greet all these guys who know us as the "hermanitas", little sisters. We all get together upstairs between jail cells there is a sewing room where we meet to sing and share a special time in The Word and a few minutes of English lessons as well. I love joking around with these guys, laughing with them and chatting with them. I hope to change their view of "chrisitanity", I hope to show them the love, compassion and mercy God has shown me. After our service last week I was able to spent a good time chatting with three of our friends there, Ricardo who is an Adventist along with Elias and Virgilo who are beginning an interest in the Word and our Lord. We chatted about everything, from the States to the Bible, we talked about what this 'road with Christ' looks like on a daily basis, and I was able to share my testimony with these guys. Now they know I'm not a perfect little Christian girl, they know I have a history, they know I turned my back on God but that He took me back. It was incredible to be able to open up to these guys and through my testimony show that our God is waiting for us with open arms. We consistently have about 10 - 15 guys come into the sewing room and share in this time with us. It's a great opportunity and awesome to see growth in these guys as they take hold of the Word and prayer.

So, I know this was long. And I hope it all makes sense! But I just can't hold in all the cool stuff that's going on in Yanamayo! I want you guys to know about these blessings and miracles! Keep praying for Yanamayo, God is doing great things but there is still a battle for these souls as they begin this new life with Christ.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Baptisms on the shore of Lake Titicaca!

We are so blessed to live right by Lake Titicaca here in Puno. I seriously look at the lake daily as we leave the house, as we ride in combi's, and as we walk atop the hills overlooking the blue waters. But the part of the lake we see from the city here is only a small part. The lake extends North and South of us for miles and miles. To be exact, it is 3,315 square miles, stretching over 109 miles long and 31 miles wide. We drove about an hour and a half South of town on Tuesday morning to a town called Juli, also known as the 'Rome of the Americas' because of its' four beautiful and elaborate catholic church buildings. Past the Plaza and the farms, you can walk onto a beautiful sandy beach, hardly occupied, and enjoy the view of this enormous lake; this is where we held our second baptism service with the church in Puno, the first baptism in which Franci and I had contacts being baptized.

Guillermo, Petronila and Elvis, this family of three from Yanamayo, all made decisions to tell the world through not only words, but actions, that they believe in God, they believe in the Son and His sacrifice, they have decided to follow a life with HIM, and they want to walk down this narrow path with HIM. Their names might sound familiar from past blogs. Guillermo, Petronila and Elvis are all very near and dear to my heart. They were the first family to complete the first discipleship class of 7 lessons in a record 7 weeks, they are 3 lessons away from being the first to finish the second discipleship book of 13 lessons, and they are the first of our contacts to be baptized.
Petronila is loved by all. When she greets you, she does not gently push her cheek up to yours in a traditional greeting, but she pulls you in for a hug, squeezes your body, and slaps a kiss on your cheek. This woman does not know how to read, but holds onto a Bible like she is holding a brick of gold. If its raining out, or even looks like its going to rain, she carries her Bible to church in a plastic bag. And she is at church every service we have. She is our most faithful contact, always eager to listen, eager to pray, eager to know more.
Guillermo is a tiny little man who has a drinking problem. He does not drink beer which is the common choice here in Puno, but goes straight for the liquor. His eyes are yellow indicating liver problems and I truly don't expect him to live very much longer. But from day one, his understanding of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Gospel, has all amazed me. He is very knowledgeable of the Bible and is quick to recognize God is our Creator, Jesus our Savior. He truly wants to live a life pleasing to our Lord, but he struggles to break the chain of alcoholism that ties him down.
Elvis is not actually Guillermo and Petronila's son, but grandson. His father, their son, passed away when he was younger and I'm actually not sure what happened to his mother. He lives with his grandparents, goes to school two combi's away, and runs their tienda daily while he does his homework. Elvis is a sweet young man but he doesn't want anyone to know it. He tries to act cool and roll his eyes at his parents and even at me. But deep down, he's searching for acceptance and love as he tries to discover himself.
This family is far from perfect. In fact, exactly a week before the baptism, Francisca and I were at their house around 1o in the morning. Guillermo and Petronila were fighting, Guillermo drunk on liquor already. Guillermo refused to join us for the weekly discipleship lesson so we continued on with Petronila. After another discipleship lesson on what might be considered basic or even common sense to us, but new and eye opening to this baby christian, Franci wanted to pray with both Petronila and Guillermo about their problems. Guillermo was lying in his bed in his room at the back of their property. Instead of forcing him to come to us, we went to him. Francisca calmly talked to the two adults as if they were children having a petty fight over a toy, but it was necessary to speak to them in this manner. We discussed the vicious cycle in which they are in.....Guillermo drinks and that makes Petronila upset so she yells at him and in his words, 'doesn't respect him', so that leads Guillermo to drink which in turn starts the whole process over again. We told them to forgive each other, to 'kiss and make up', we told them to start over, a blank slate. We tried to stress the importance of forgiveness as well as the importance of putting God at the center of their relationship. Franci put her hands on Guillermo while I held onto Petronila and Franci prayed aloud. Crying and pleading to our Lord, Franci lifted this couple up to Him. It is rare that Franci cries; this couple, this situation, really moved her. I know she has much love, care and compassion for this family as do I.
We don't know how their daily lives are going, they are probably still fighting, probably still arguing, and Guillermo still drinking. But, that's the beautiful thing about baptism, we don't have to be perfect to declare to the world we are followers of Christ. He takes us as we are here and now. He will work in us and mold us in this process of life.
The baptism was beautiful and joyful. I rolled up my jeans and stepped into the water to take pictures. My jeans got a bit wet above the knees as I tried to get closer to Pastor in the lake. At one point we were waiting for the next person to walk through the waters, Pastor asked me if I would help him baptize our contacts from Yanamayo. I told him I hadn't planned on getting wet and didn't bring any extra clothes. He gave me a snickering look as he noticed I was already quite wet and told me he highly doubted Franci would enter the cold water. I thought for a moment, in my head I calculated....wet clothes versus the opportunity to help baptize our contacts. I looked back at Pastor Herman and said, "Ok, I will do it, I'm already wet, what's a little more!". So when it came time to bring Elvis out in the frigid waters, I handed my camera over to Trevor and escorted Elvis out to Pastor. I did the same with Guillermo and Petronila. It was an incredible opportunity, to be able to be side by side with each one of them as they make a statement with their actions. Luckily, I have the best brothers in the world and when we were done with all the baptisms, both Trevor and Garren had extra pants they offered for me to borrow. I put on a pair of borrowed pants, laid my jeans out to dry on a nearby rock and we all had lunch. Petronila, in true Petronila fashion, opened up her blanket to reveal an incredible amount of potatos, chuño and chicken, still hot and steaming from her kitchen earlier that morning. She yelled out to everyone, people she knew, didn't know and one's she just met......"Brothers, come eat!". Petronila is always teaching me how simple God's commands are. How beautiful it was to watch her gleam as she shared her spread of food. And it was even more precious as others came over dumping more food on the blanket to share as a group. I ate some lunch and with a satisfied stomach, heart and spirit, I laid down on the sand and took a nap on the shore of Lake Titicaca.

Pray that Guillermo, Petronila and little Elvis would continue to grow and be molded. Pray for Guillermo's drinking, Petronila's inability to read, and for Elvis' future after an already difficult 12 years of life.