Monday Burton, Paula and I left to head South. We had the idea to see our current ministry partners and make a concerted effort to meet new ministry partners.
The trip exceeded every expectation that I could possibly have had. The Lord saw the step of faith that we took in driving south, met us, and blew our minds. Pastors confirmed what others had said. This ministries, these faithful servants, heck just the people of the villages felt abandoned, alone. They were left some time ago but rogue missionary groups doing unhealthy ministry and some were jaded. Others haven’t ever been helped in ministry so the idea of a partnership was extremely foreign. Praise God for these, sometimes tough, conversations.
Spiritual Warfare – We stopped in Dangriga, a Garifuna town (Garifuna info), where spiritual darkness, witchcraft, and the occult are prevalent parts of the culture. I sat with Pastor Evans in his yard about the stories of demonic activity specifically related to the Dugu. However, all is not at unrest. Pastor Evans finished our conversation by telling us that Sarah the most influential shaman, leader of the Garifuna faith, came to the know the Lord as the evangelical community in Dangriga took steps of faith to pray for and minister to her. They looked past who she was, her condition, and looked to who The Lord created her to be. She died knowing the Lord and since her passing, the Garifuna community has not found an acceptable shaman to take her place. The battle is raging but Satan will not prevail!
Pastor Leonel and Bella Vista – We continued to the immigrant communities surrounding south Stann Creek District. Here we met Pastor Leonel, pastor of Iglesia Emmanuel. He told us about the community of Bella Vista. Bella Vista is a community of Central American Immigrants fleeing violence, drugs, or simply a better life as day laborers in Belize. Psator told us about the primary school in the village with 1000 kids. The school was over-crowded and in disrepair. But the thing that broke me was seeing in every house in the village 2 or so kids who were not in school. Families literally had to choose who could go to school and who had to go to work. Pastor Leonel shared his heart for those who are hurting, those who are working in the farm, those who have kids working farms. He shared how they met a family from Salvador who fled because of an attack on the man’s brother. The man now sells Pupusas as a fundraiser for the church, for his family’s income, and as a ministry to the village. He leads the evangelism group and prayer ministry for Pastor Leonel. AND, he had us, me Burton and Paula over for Pupusas on our way back from Toledo! He is a man of God. The Lord is using him and his family with Pastor Leonel to outreach and minister to Bella Vista. The steps of faith we take.
A story about Pastor Pop – Finally we reached Toledo and stopped to see Pastor Ustaquio Pop. We first met him about two years ago, not even 30 years old and pastor of one church and planter of 4 others. We had a great trip last year in his village of Silver Creek, a small Mayan Ketchi community at the foot of the Maya Mountain range. It was his village where a team focused on evangelism saw the largest spiritual explosion I have witnessed in Belize, as 250 people responded to God’s grace in His Gospel and surrendered to the Lord. Pastor Pop is a man of God. As we met with Pastor Pop, he shared with us that he desired for his family to participate in his outreaches when he went to visit the 6 churches in his network. He had a motorcycle but that wasn’t really working, as his whole family couldn’t go and not to mention it was a little soggy during the rainy season. Anyway, Pastor Pop said he couldn’t wait any more and he took out a loan for 7000 BZD from the bank. He used 5000 of it to purchase a vehicle and 2000 to extend his shop at his house to help more quickly recoup the loan amount. He took a step of faith and told me “Brother, I don’t know how I am going to pay this back.” He said I just know my family needs to be united as we do God’s work. I reached into my bag and pulled out a donation someone had given for the direct purpose of Pastor Pop purchasing a vehicle. Here I was with Pastor Pop telling me his need was 6000BZD to pay off the loan or get close, and I handed him a check for the same amount. God saw and rewarded Pastor Pop’s step of faith. But that wasn’t all, Burt’s nephew organized a fundraiser some time back, a variety show with all proceeds to go to Pastor Pop and his ministry. Gabe, Burt’s nephew, had served at Pastor Pop’s church in 2013 and heard his heart and vision and wanted to help. He couldn’t do much so he did what he could. The amount the variety showed raised…1000 BZD. From a donation and a variety show, Pastor Pop’s loan is taken care of. The steps of faith we take….
A story about Guatemala – As I was sitting in Pastor Pop’s living room, a distinctly “mayan village” to my eyes I asked him “what villages are close to the border.” He said “brother, we have it great compared to those villages. Those people are in NEED.” I asked him how far and after a caldo lunch and pastor harvesting and frying 3 plantains for road snacks we were off. We past the last village on the map and kept going past where the road as good. We passed beauty heading into more beauty and we quickly realized that “we weren’t in Kansas anymore.” While the dress was not necessarily “traditionally mayan” the village life was. We eventually made our way to the village of Jacate, where there is no running water or electricity. Homes are dark and smokey. It sits about 20 minutes walk from the border. The villagers are almost all farmers and the local currency is that of Guatemala instead of the Belize Dollar. We were there and honestly I was sick, really sick. We saw a little girl at well getting water for the evening and Paula went out to talk to her. Pastor Pop and Burton were out searching for the pastor of the church we stopped in front of. Paula and the girl start talking at the well and Paula motions for me. The little girl is the pastor’s daughter. We shuffle off to the house, carrying her water and I hear the familiar laugh of my friend Burt. We sit and listen to Pastor as he shares about life, ministry and his challenges. We are humbled, as always. But that wasn’t the step of faith that I wanted to highlighted. We asked Pastor what he ate he said “corn tortilla with dried chile (meaning pepper)” He explained that’s what he had once a day, period and continued that only rich people eat rice. Then a boy not more than 10 and his father came over and talked to Pastor. They had been looking for work and Pastor was quite worried about that. He told them to stay and that he would feed them and find some work for them to do. This man had nothing, literally, and he was giving to these who to him were in need. The steps of faith we take.
LOL – Laugh Out Loud. Often on our trips we search for existing ministries to augment our local church partnership. Often we look for orphanages, children’s homes or something of that ilk. I had known that there was an orphanage (laugh out loud ministry) in Toledo and seen their bus around the airport from time to time. I never knew where it was. We were heading out of town and Burt asked for information about the orphanage from one of the 100 women in Toledo who he calls his mom (note: it seems Burton needed a lot of moms). Anyway, we head out and show up to the gate. The gate to the orphanage is awesome! We head into the orphanage and all I can say it that it was the first children’s home I have ever been to in Belize that felt like a home. Literally it was a large home, kids adults babies teens, workers, all living in harmony, unity. I had the amazing opportunity to hear Jervis (he and his wife founded LOL) share his story. To summarize briefly, Jervis grew up in Belize City, at 8 he was involved with drugs and gangs, shortly after he had to flee the country due to legal charges against him. He went to the States and the Lord grabbed a hold of him. Eventually he was shown grace and mercy through the Lord, mentors in his life who forgave numerous screw ups, and Belizean police (unheard of). Each person or group of people couldn’t come down on him because they saw the Lord had great plans for him. He with his wife and kids eventually took the step of faith to leave Colorado with a car and not enough money for gas (I say foolish, others say faithful!…Ahh to walk in that faith). They came (back) to Belize and started LOL. I sat for two hours and listened to him share the passion of allowing the kids to shine God’s glory through them as they discover, develop, and release their God-given talents/skills in His service throughout their country and the world. This was NOT an orphange, not an institution. This is a place of hope. Hope born out of faith. A family taking their steps of faith….
Those are just some of the stories we heard while in Toledo / Stann Creek. This I know, the Lord sees our steps of Faith and rewards them. I left some of my heart in Toledo with Pastor Pop and others. But I left encouraged to take my steps of faith in great boldness. I am encouraged that in my life, I look to them for inspiration as I take my own steps of faith and know that together as co-laborers in Christ, we are all working to bring God’s glory to Belize.
My prayer for you all is that you look at your life and consider the steps of faith that God is calling you to. Is it a new ministry? A new location? A new job? Maybe he is calling you to have a hard conversation? Forgive someone who has wronged you? Or maybe just maybe he is calling you to be a missionary, local, domestic, or internationally, hopefully to Belize? 🙂 The steps of faith we take….those steps are ones we each take separately but together. We are walking out our faith into a great understanding of Christ, ultimately striving to bring more of His Glory more of His Heaven and His Will to Earth! The steps of faith we take. Where are you walking?