Tag Archives: Guatemala

A whirlwind nurse keeps Lighthouse Medical Mission spinning

Lighthouse Medical Missions | GuatemalaAt the center of Lighthouse Medical Mission is a whirlwind named Alison Hagoski who performs triage, dispatches minor cases, tames the maelstrom and keeps the clinic cranking out patients efficiently.

The registered nurse doesn’t count how missions she’s been on. She counts the ones she’s missed: three of the 30 or so in almost two decades.

On Tuesday, Alison whipped through the pell-mell barking orders and sending patients to doctors or to pharmacy. The Guatemala clinic attended to 190 patients, about 50 of which she handled personally.

She’s an old school nurse who keeps her shift in order. She ministers with Christian love and a smile but with a firmness that lets you know who’s the boss. “What is this man doing here? He was here yesterday.” (Faced with poverty, more than one patient tries to get free medicine twice).

“This person needs to leave the clinic. She’s already received her meds.” “You’re blood pressure is fine. You’re medicine is working. Do you want some more medicines?” “You need to lose 10 pounds. No sodas. No rice. No bread. No tortillas.”

Her translator hustles to keep up with her in the school patio-turned-clinic. She interjects words in Spanish, with her thick New Zealander accent, sometimes correctly, sometimes erring. The words tumble out, even in French or Swahili or any random language of the nine countries she’s be to in Africa.

It is evident she enjoys working with people. She calls everyone, even grown men, “Doll” or ”Darling.”

Alison is 58 years but she works at a frenzied pace of someone much younger. Retired from UCLA, she practices privately rehab and nurse training. She lives with her husband, a cabinet maker, and youngest son in in a comfortable surfer’s house in Santa Monica. Read the rest of the article.

Medical Mission Impossible

Dr. Bob Hamilton on the medical mission in Guatemala of Sept. 2015.

Dr. Bob Hamilton on the medical mission in Guatemala of Sept. 2015.

Forget about Tom Cruise. The new star of Mission Impossible is Ludving Navarro.

The pastor coaxed a medicine shipment through Guatemalan Customs – a week-long process of frustrating and tedious paperwork that led to a heart-attack arrival at the church at 8:00 p.m. Sunday – literally just in time Monday morning clinic.

“We always have a challenge getting our medications out of Customs,” said team leader Dr. Bob Hamilton, a Santa Monica pediatrician who founded Lighthouse Medical Missions. “We literally got the medications the night before our clinic. We thank God for His perfect timing. It was last minute.”

Read the rest of the article about medical missions.

A developmentally disabled angel on a medical clinic

Lighthouse Medical Missions | Guatemala

Michelle in front, and Dr. Bob behind. Her sisters Christy (left) and Andrea (right) with their mom, Dal (far right).

Michelle Villasenor for 17 years has packed the meds but never been able to go on a medical mission with Lighthouse. That’s because she’s developmentally delayed. Her academic level is 2nd grade and her language skills are low.

Her mom, Dal Basile, has been one of the biggest supporters of Dr. Bob Hamilton’s medical missions. She works as a vocational nurse on the clinics, most of which have gone to Africa. And she does something incredibly important: she painstakingly packs millions of pills, hygiene kits, dolls, and other gifts to be handed out free of charge at the clinics.

Taking her daughter, who could get lost or suffer a migraine, has been simply out of the question — until now.

The trip to my church in Guatemala is closer to Santa Monica. It’s not as intense as Africa.

So to the delight of the other 18 team members, Michelle is here. She’s smiling and teasing her friends. Her mom calls her an angel, and I agree. Tomorrow we open doors and take care of patients. I thank God that my little friend will be helping.

The meaning of the long hug

Iglesia Cristiana La Puerta | Guatemala zona 1

Joe and me at the Door Church in Zone 1 of Guatemala City.

Joe hasn’t been to church.

He was once a stellar disciple in our missionary church in Guatemala. His mom enrolled him in our school, and he got saved. He had a spectacular voice and led worship. But then I had to leave Guatemala. Joe went from a delivery job to a bank job and married his high school sweetheart. I guess he got busy and also maybe a little discouraged. To my great sadness, he stopped being a leader.

On my trip to Guatemala recently, I visited him with a bunch of church members. We wanted to show him he’s still super important. He still has a call of God on his life. He still is useful in the Lord’s service. As we left, he gave me a long hug.

I thank God for that hug. It was full of meaning. It wasn’t a short, customary thing. It communicated years of love and appreciation and maybe a little bit of hurt.

I hope Joe can find his way back to church. I love the dude. He’s like a son for me.

English lessons for Spanish speakers

When I was a missionary in Guatemala, I taught English. In fact, I designed an English method. I am currently publishing that onto the Guatemala Christian school I left behind. You can check it out here: American English.

Here’s my first video:

Actually, it’s been fun using the cursor highlighter and the screen capture narrator. Ha! Well, if you know any Spanish speaker who wants to learn English, it’s good for middle schoolers on up.

The value of one soul

Liceo Bilingue La PuertaWhen she came to Christ last year, she was so excited that she began to rebuke classmates for their lackadaisical attitude toward God. She was the one salvation out of the school this year — until he accepted Christ just a few weeks ago when I visited Guatemala. Together, they are the fruit of this year at the Door Christian School in Guatemala.

The irony? We were considering cutting their studies program because of lack of funds. Why are effective ministries not funded? Why do Christians not pay their tithes and promises?

Goodbye, Guatemala!

Door Christian School | GuatemalaI got all kinds of annoying chores done, like paperwork and government requirements. But the highlight of my five weeks in Guatemala was the people. The kids at the school broke my heart.

Some of them are going through rough times at home. We try to show them the love of Christ. If, because they prefer sin, their parents show them they’re not important, we at the Door Christian School try to show these kids that they are, in fact, important for Jesus.

And my summer is gone! I teach in a private school in Santa Monica. How did I spend my vacation? Teaching.

I guess I love people.

I quit, and we lost

Colegio cristiano guatemala

Hanging out with the guys in Guatemala. (If you notice, only my feet are on the ground.)

The two things are absolutely related. It’s hard to beat Banner, even though his older brother Mario is almost as good at soccer. I was on Mario’s team, and we pretty much trailed Banner’s team by one goal the whole game.

But after two-and-a-half hours playing in the sun, having fasted breakfast, I suddenly found myself, somewhere between heat stroke and exhaustion, on the bench in the shade. I needed water, and there was none. I was breathing quickly.

“Pastor, come and play. This is probably the last time you’ll play in Guatemala.” Ordinarily these words would shot energy into me. But this time this 48-year-old body wouldn’t budge. I didn’t care any more. I was really dog-tired.

As poorly as I played (about 20 turnovers), still my presence on the field counted for something. I made it a little bit harder for them to score, a little bit harder for them to defend. My absence proved our demise by simple math: one less player favored them.

When you quit the church, you cause the team to lose. Keep playing.

Hygiene is costly

hygieneIn America, we take hygiene for granted. Why do Third World countries not get it? One reason is lack of money. Soaps and hygienic food is expensive. If you don’t have the money, you don’t buy it. You make do without.

People get sick. I’m in Guatemala right now, and I got diarrhea. We all got the runs. Lack of funds is to blame. They were trying to stretch a shoe-string budget to host a quince años — like a Sweet Sixteen but at age 15.

It’s a reminder of the blessings in America.

Spiritual hygiene will cost you too! Prayer, church attendance, Bible reading.

Personally, I think it ironic that people who are fastidious for external hygiene give no thought to internal hygiene. As Jesus said to the Pharisees: they are like whitened tombs, beautiful on the outside but full of death and decay inside.

A lot of Guatemalans don’t see the need for external hygiene. They think it’s all annoying and useless habits of gringos. But you can get sick if you’re not clean — physically and spiritually.

*Image Google search.

But I saw there was cake

chocolate cakeI wasn’t invited. I just popped in looking for an empty room to discuss future employment with a teacher.

But, hey, I saw there was cake — CHOCOLATE cake.

It was a surprise birthday party for one of the kids in the school. So I came in and sat down. They didn’t kick me out. And soon enough, they served me a slice of that yummy chocolate cake.

What fault do I have? I just hung around for a good thing. #PartyCrasherParExcellence

When you spy a good thing, it’s a good idea to hang around. Such is salvation. If you are able to discern (through the fog of confusion of lies in our current culture) the goodness of God, hang around. Go to church. Read the Bible. Pray.

They’ll be serving the cake SOON. At the marriage supper of the Lamb. This is another lesson I learned in the Guatemala church I started 20 years ago.

The cantina brought him back to Christ

Iglesias del Companerismo Cristiano | GuatemalaOnce drunk with co-workers in a cantina after hours, former Christian leader Otoniel Rodriguez began to defend the gospel against their trash talk.

“Don’t mess with the gospel,” growled Oto, who, despite being backslidden himself, respected the truth profoundly. “Men make mistakes. But the gospel is something that God has given and is perfect.”

The argument grew heated, and he and his boss fell to blows. The police came, and Oto punched a cop. They wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. If it weren’t for a friend who just happened to be a friend of the cop, he would have been carted off to jail.

Whew! What a way to come back to Jesus – by way of a beer brawl!

The next day he woke up hung-over and spied a dirty Bible in the corner of his ramshackle sheet metal and wooden post house in the poorest neighborhood of Guatemala, only four blocks away from the city’s dump. Over time, he managed to block out the repulsive stench wafting from the dump, he says.

All he got out of the Bible that day was more condemnation for his sin. He cried out to God. For two and a half years, he’d gone from being a respected church leader to a heavy drinker and womanizer.

“God, I don’t want to go to Hell,” he cried. “If You can give me a chance, do it.” Read the rest of the amazing testimony.

I’m finally going home

Door Bilingual School | Guatemala

The founder of the Door Bilingual School (that’s me) with a student of the new generation.

After more than a month in Guatemala, I’m going home Tuesday. There was a lot of paperwork to do. I have enjoyed getting to know a new generation of kids at the Door Bilingual School that my wife and I started 20 years ago. To be sure, there are plenty of things to fix, but to see all the kids enjoying an environment free of bullying, free of drugs, just thrilled me.

Because I couldn’t go back on the ticket date, there has been a $266 surcharge on my return flight. Obviously, I’m not getting any love offering here. To the contrary, I’m giving everything I can to them because of the acute poverty they live in. So if you would like to help me meet this payment, you can click here gofund.me/MikeToGuatemala Thank you!

Out of poverty and alcohol surfaces an avid evangelizer of Guatemala’s drug neighborhood

barrio el Gallito zona 3 ciudad de Guatemala | cristiano
His dad was a philandering dentist, who plied a young woman with alcohol to take advantage of her.

From that unholy union, Douglas Barillas was born. He can’t remember a time when he wasn’t hungry as a child. He grew up with his grandparents in the poorest neighborhood in Guatemala City, El Gallito.

Neighbors paid him five cents to carry the trash to the public dumpster. It was enough for him to buy a hot, thick drink made of grains, a chuchito (similar to a tamale), and a couple bananas.


When there was nothing to eat, he would walk a few miles with his grandmother to his dad’s dentistry office to ask for five or 10 quetzals (Guatemalan currency). His dad, with a look of disgust and sometimes an insult, would give it to him.

Pain piled up in his heart.

When he was 12, his dad had a client come out and look at him. “Don Guillermo, this boy is not your son. Look at his eyes. They’re different,” she said. It was a greater humiliation than ever.

“I threw the five quetzals in his face,” Douglas remembers. “I needed the five quetzals to eat. But I had my pride. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, but never again will I come here to look for you.’” Find out how Douglas got saved and changed his life here.

Please pray for Ricardo

Richard in GuatemalaHe’s my dear brother, who, because he slipped up with drugs, believes there’s no hope. He won’t even come to church.

Ricardo is the nicest guy. God transformed him once, and he was attending service. But he gave into temptation at some point and has been bottom-dwelling for about five years now. I know God has great things for him.

On this blog, I’ve asked for finances on my gofundme account. But today, I don’t need your money. I need your prayers — for my dear son in the Lord.

We won 43-10 at soccer

Guess which one is me.

Guess which one is me.

It was an incredibly lopsided score, a thumping to leave our opponents embarrassed for the rest of their lives. Their team was four players, and we were only three.

Actually, we were trying to get as many goals as years I’ve lived on Earth as of today: 48. But the other team quit.

To be fair, I personally made only three goals. And as best as I can remember, the 10 goals made against us were all my fault.

Yes, the victory was because of Mario and Banner Ajcip, exceptional footballers and brothers of the Door Church in Guatemala, where I pastored, where I learned to play soccer. Those two guys teach in our school, and we played against the students of our Christian school.

It felt like being on Jesus’ team. He lets you participate. He lets you feel like your doing something. You work hard. You make mistakes. But he brings the inevitable lopsided victory.

I’m glad I’m on Jesus’ team.

‘I married the guerilla’

I married the guerilla

With an old student at the Door Christian School in Guatemala City.

When the funeral hearse pulled up at 5:00 a.m., Gladys Barrios knew what it meant. She was a Christian teacher in Guatemala, but her husband fought for the guerrillas. He espoused atheistic communism.

“I lived constantly with the possibility that someone would come and tell me, ‘I’m sorry, but they just killed your husband,’” she said. “When I saw the hearse, I thought, ‘Well, that’s it. He’s dead.’”

Guatemala’s civil war lasted from 1960 to 1996. Just like America’s Civil War, it divided families. It was a bloody conflict of betrayal and treachery as the CIA and the former Soviet Union resorted to dirty tricks and massacres in their attempt to wrest control.

While the communists fought to win the hearts of the people, evangelical Christians made huge gains as people, fearful of death on all sides, considered their eternal state. Today, the country is one-third evangelical, according to some estimates.

For Gladys, the clash of ideologies took place in her household – but with a peculiar pre-marital agreement. “I knew he was in the guerrilla before we married,” she said. “So we agreed that I wouldn’t interfere in his activities, and he would let me go to church and raise the children Christian.

It turned out that the night the hearse arrived did NOT coincide with her husband’s death. Her husband, Luis Ernesto Donado, had been drinking with other high-ranking revolutionaries, and they had crashed due to intoxication. A friend died, and they asked Gladys to visit the morgue, identify the cadaver, and advise the wife who had just become a widow. Read the rest of her incredible story.

I love what I do

cute girl | Guatemala

What’s there not to love about this job? (Altruism).

In the USA, I’m surrounded by people who love to make money. I don’t. I love to help people. It makes for awkward conversations, like, “What do you do for a real job?”

Ummmm. Idk. This is what I do.

Fortunately, my wife supports me 100%. Praise the Lord! I’m very sorry to say this, but it seems to make that making money is so empty.

I’m in my old stomping grounds as a I write this, Guatemala, where for 16 years I was a missionary. We planted churches and a school. Just today, I got the chance to talk heart to heart with a kid who needed help. Hopefully, he’ll make some good decisions.

Helping people makes me hum with excitement. I really don’t know why I am this way. God made me this way?

I love these kids. All of them are in a (semi?) safe place, the Door Bilingual School in Guatemala. In addition to doing government paperwork, I’ve been teaching English and Bible. I’ve been helping strategies to help improve finances for the school. I’m making preparations for a medical clinic to be realized by Lighthouse Medical Missions in September.

This is what I love.

A street kid off the streets, only through the power of Christ

Iglesia Cristiana La Puerta Zona 1 Ciudad Guatemala

Daniel poses with me a few days ago.

He slept on the streets with only cardboard boxes for a cushion — and he slept well “as if it were the best hotel in the world,” Daniel Paz says.

This was the life. Rebellious, he had left home when he was 14, and now the 20 or so street kids who inhabited the Plaza Mariachi in Guatemala City were his comrades of the wild, “happy” life of no rules, no one to tell him what to do, or what not to do.

The phenomenon of street children is widespread in Latin America, and governmental agencies have been largely ineffective in their efforts to rescue and re-incorporate into society the millions of minors who make their beds on cement. A large-scale effort in Brazil that institutionalized half a million street kids in 1985 failed, according to Wikipedia.

The key for Daniel, who spent 15 years on the streets, was Christ, and his story speaks to the church’s need to be the answer.

While his friends inhaled wood alcohol and shoe glue, Daniel kept the party life low key – mostly drinking beer and smoking. This was God moving in his life because the  cheaper drugs they consumed burned brain cells.

Daniel had accepted Christ once when he saw Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in a church in his neighborhood when he was 12.

“Before that, I had never heard anything about Christ,” he says. “I knew nothing about the devil, about sin, about the world. I knew nothing about salvation.”

Unfortunately, Daniel didn’t keep attending services beyond two months. Rebelliousness won out – for a while.

After turning his back on his emerging faith, Daniel made his home in the streets. Most of the time, he made money selling plastic roses to romantic couples in restaurants and bars. A lot of his clients were the guys who fell for bar girls, who moonlighted as prostitutes.

Daniel was affable and flirted with these girls. They liked Daniel and would turn their charms on patrons: “Aw! Buy me a roooose” they would whine romantically. If the patron liked the girl, he would pay for it and give it to her.

For a brief period, Daniel fell into robbery. He and four street kids would strike at night surrounding any person who was walking home alone. They never used a weapon but would intimidate and demand the victim hand over wallet and cell phone. Read the rest of the article.

I’m still in Guatemala

Mike Ashcraft

With the 4th grade in the school my wife and I founded almost 20 years ago.

Pushing paperwork is slow and tedious in the Third World, so I really had no idea how long it would take and rather arbitrarily bought a round-trip return flight for July 23. Now, I’m going to have to miss that flight, and there is no end in sight.

Because of government requirements for the school in Guatemala, I have to get the national identity card called DPI. To get this, I need to update my permanent residency. That is half done. But they just told me the other half will take at least a week. I’m not crying, though I do miss my wife and kids. I’m taking advantage to preach in the church and encourage the brethren.

All this means costs are rising of this trip. You can contribute by hitting my gofund.me/MikeToGuatemala.

Christ brings color to your life

color to your lifeTired of drab? Jesus will take your black-and-white life of money or sin and paint something beautiful out of it. He made me a person who helps other out of self-destruction. First I was a missionary in Guatemala. Now I work in a Christian school. You can have a purpose in your life!

*Photo Credit: James M. Berry, photographer extraordinaire, and a great friend.

Faith girl

Iglesia Cristian La Puerta | GuatemalaWhen her husband wasn’t doing well, she continued serving the Lord. When her friends counseled her to leave the church, she counseled them to come back to church. When her children didn’t do so well, she kept encouraging them to come back.

Blanca has been an amazing woman of faith. When others around get discouraged, make poor decisions and spout negativisms, she remains steadfast with her God. She’s a hero, as far as I’m concerned. I want to be like people like that.

Here are the rewards (People are the best reward)

Liceo bilingue La Puerta | GuatemalaYou give your life. You help people instead of helping yourself. You wonder is it worth it?

Here are the results. She became a dentist. He is becoming an architect. The other sister is in charge of a call center. The English I taught them helped them all. They attended our Christian school in Guatemala.

It has been many years since I have seen them. To see them achieving success in Guatemala makes me satisfied. My wife and I did all we could to help. God and their parents did the rest.

A big shout out

And the kudos are for you too! There are those who gave to my fundraising campaign and those who will give you. But the Bible says you share in the fruits. We put the ticket for me to come down her on the credit card, and we still have not raised up full support. So thank you for pitching in! Here’s the link to contribute gofund.me/MikeToGuatemala

Iglesia Cristiana La Puerta | GuatemalaJohn Mira preached and I translated. He already returned to the United States, and I’m staying here to move paperwork with the government for the school. I’m preaching the regular services. God moved powerfully last night.

People are the best reward.

The beauty of children

colegio cristiano guatemala

The smiling faces at the Christian school El Liceo Bilingue La Puerta in Guatemala City

One of the strong points of the ministry in Guatemala is the school and its children. If you save a 40-year-old, he will serve Christ for 40 years (supposing he lives to 80). But if you save a 12-year-old, he will serve Christ 68 years.

Of course, it’s good to get the old guy saved; he needs it as much as the young guy. But there are certain advantages to working with youth. You also help them avoid so many sins and destruction if they learn to live wisely from a young age. Well, that has been our philosophy behind the Christian school, El Liceo Bilingue La Puerta. We’ve seen some great testimonies through the years.

John Mira, man of God

John Mira, man of God, with the pastor in Guatemala.

There’s great joy in seeing the smiling faces: so many kids needing and receiving love. My friend, John Mira, is here with me. He’ll be preaching, and I’m translating. He preached to the junior highers in Bible class. It gives them the chance to accept Christ and point their lives in a positive direction.

A bit nervy… Need to keep trusting Jesus

John Mira | Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica

Mike Ashcraft and John Mira, members of the Lighthouse Church in Santa Monica.

I’m writing this from LAX. We put the ticket on the credit card, and so I’m off to Guatemala. My fundraising campaign has been a bit hair-raising. Hahaha. JK. What I mean to say is that you can still donate because I haven’t raised all the funds yet. Gofundme is convenient gofund.me/MikeToGuatemala

Taking this trip is moving by faith. I’m praying and believing that God will bring in all the finances. It’s easier for me to just stay in America and not risk, but there are critical needs now in the church I founded 16 years ago — paperwork that only I can do as the owner of the school, el Liceo Bilingue La Puerta.

Pastor John Mira is going with me. He was born in the Philippines and got saved in the United States. He became a lawyer, works with stocks, but his real vocation is preaching the gospel. He’s passionate about it.

He was one of my first friends when I returned to the States five years ago from the mission field. His son was in my class, and I reached out to him. And he always encouraged me. This is the first time I’m tag-teaming up with him for some spiritual warfare abroad.

I ask you to pray for us! Thank you!

Souls are crying

Gautemala mission

My Korean missionary friend at left, my Egyptian Christian friend at right.

I hear their cry, their agony. People need Christ. I’m heading back to Guatemala on a 3-week mission trip to restore and work in the church and school I planted there five years ago (I was there 15 years).

You can help in this project. You can donate by clicking http://www.gofundme.com/MikeToGuatemala. A lot of my blogger friends already have, but I’m still not halfway to the goal. When you give, when you pray for me, you participate in this mission, and you share in the Heavenly rewards.

I’ll be writing soon from Guatemala about all the adventures, challenges and victories. Thank you for supporting me!

The adventures continue

Mike Ashcraft to Guatemala

My brother at left is an engineer. He likes to smirk.

Pathos is my passion. Wherever there are humans involved in a titanic struggle to alleviate the evils of our world, that’s where I’m helping and writing. God has given me a gift for communication.

Now, I’m going to Guatemala, my old stomping ground. I raised up a school to help the poor in the Capital City. They pay only a fraction of costs. Recently, the government has cited an audit, and I need to hurry down to  take care of paperwork.

Of course, while I’m there, I’ll be bringing to this blog some of the great stories of struggle and triumph, of the humans spirit almost breaking under pressure, like I’ve always done.

Why am I telling you this beforehand? I need a little bit of help. Fund my trip to Guatemala. Whatever you can pitch in is greatly appreciated. I’m “scheduling” this post ahead of time because I don’t think I’ll have internet access. So far Carmen Lezeth Suarez has very graciously donated. I want to encourage you too to pitch in. Click the link to go directly to my campaign. Thank you! http://www.gofundme.com/MikeToGuatemala

Fund me, please

Mike Ashcraft | Guatemala

I’m visiting my brother in Idaho Falls

Hey hey! to all my loyal followers. This blog has been a spot for inspiration, for gently challenging atheists, for encouraging Christians. I’ve brought you tales from all over the globe. I’ve incorporated my reporting for GodReports.com

As much cool stuff as I’ve done, I don’t get paid to blog. I also don’t get paid as a high school teacher at a small private Christian school. So I’m asking for a little bit of help to get to Guatemala, to the church my wife and I founded starting 20 years ago. I haven’t checked airfares yet, but it’ll probably be $750.

I’m asking you to support me http://www.gofundme.com/MikeToGuatemala. I totally understand if you don’t have any spare cash to help out (that’s the way I am! :D). But maybe some of you guys can help. I really appreciate it!

Hi! Fund my trip to Guatemala!

mikeHey everybody! I’m translating a revival in Guatemala, my old stomping ground. If you want to help pitch in for the airfare and taxi and food and stuff, here’s the link: http://www.gofundme.com/MikeToGuatemala

Saved from the mara salvatrucha

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta

Mario, second from left, with the youth he now ministers to.

His fellow gang member thrust a pistol into his hand. Go ahead and kill the kid, he was instructed.

Wedged between the dangerous Mara Salvatrucha and the Dieciocho gangs in a neighborhood where even police feared to go, Mario Ajcip’s gang had successfully fended off rivals to keep their turf in one of the most violent neighborhoods in Guatemala City.

When a rival dared to make incursion into Mario’s neighborhood, there was only one gang-inflicted punishment — death. This time it was Mario´s turn to execute the cornered kid on the dark dirt alley.

Never shy to physically beat up a rival, Mario balked at murder. A leader himself among the 100 gang members, he began talking about teaching the guy a lesson and letting him go. Read the rest of the story.

Love, serve and sacrifice

love, service, sacrifice

With the kids of my disciples.

From across the street, he called me. On the bus, she almost threw herself on top of me to give me a hug. A couple grew teary-eyed in the market when they saw me.

People everywhere were greeting me and thanking me. Four years ago, I ended abruptly a 16-year mission stint in Guatemala. On my New Year’s trip to Guatemala, old friends were popping up everywhere.

I’m no celebrity. But I did one thing: I served people tirelessly. I walked 10 miles to do Bible studies in their house. I handed out scholarships left and right for our school. I visited people in the hospital, in jail. I gave time and again.

Then the wonderful mission life came to an end. I returned to the States, where I serve in my mother church. I teach in the school, and I write this blog. Every once in a while, I get the chance to visit Guatemala again.

I can see that all the love, service and sacrifice were worth it. People have been impacted for Christ.

Soccer saves souls

soccer | soulsWhen Mario and Banner first met these guys, the noticed how much their buddies acted like gang-bangers: trash talking, threatening, being disrespectful and boasting about alcohol and drug abuse.

Then Mario and Banner, skilled streetballers from the church, played soccer with them and shared their testimonies. Today these guys no longer hang with the downwardly-spiraling crowd. They haven’t exactly come to Jesus yet, but they ask questions, and their choices in pastimes are positive, not negative.

Soccer saves souls.

Actually one these guys never hung out with a rowdy group. He was shy, quiet, and mostly watched T.V. He didn’t even know how to play soccer. After Mario and Banner with done with, he became an expert.

I had the chance to play. We won, and we are winning.

The man of 1,000 jobs had to leave…

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

Relaxing with a leader on my recent visit.

… in order for 1,000 workers to rise up and do those jobs.

When I was the pioneer pastor of a church and school in Guatemala, I did everything.

I was intense. If I didn’t know how to direct worship, or something, I learned and did it competently. As members trickled it, it was hard to delegate. I was unwilling to relinquish ministry.

First God allowed my voice to unravel (somewhat) and forced me to seek a substitute (even if he sang out of tune).

Then He got rid of me altogether. Threat of kidnappers forced me to return to the States, and then EVERYTHING was handed off to others.

Jesus handed off ministry after 3 1/2 years. I took almost 16.

This is God’s pattern. The only way to raise up a future generation of leaders is by letting them lead.

Hard lesson: to cast your burdens on Jesus

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta | Guatemala

So when will I ever learn?

I’ve been a Christian for so many years that I have to pull out a calculator. And I still can’t grasp the fundamentals. I’m a worrier, and my greatest fear (now) is that the church I left in Guatemala will collapse (because I am no longer there). This is ridiculous. It’s Christ’s church, not mine. He’s got this.

Any time some “bad” news gets to the U.S., the worrying kicks into high gear. Imagination goes to worst case scenarios. Just recently, the school I left behind had a “deficit.”

It turned out to be more of cash flow problem that one panicky leader reported to me — and so I guess I’m panicky too. But when I went to Guatemala, everything I saw and every person I talked to had only good things to report. That doesn’t mean there weren’t trials. It just means that my fears were unfounded.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you — 1 Pe. 5:7 NIV.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus — Phil. 4:7

Si le quedó grande el traje, pues ni modo

photo (24)Translation: If the suit was too big for him, well, of course. = If the shoes were too big for him, well, of course.

Four years ago, I handed off ministry abruptly to Pastor Ludving: a main church, a couple of church plants and the huge task of administering a financially-struggling Christian school. Previously, Pastor Ludving had only pastored a small pioneer work.

Suddenly, he found himself thrust into a situation where he was promoted among colleagues who inevitably questioned and compared his every decision to what I would have done (I was their pastor for 16 years). Sometimes, he didn’t get a fair shot because people sometimes didn’t give him a chance for a learning curve.

Yet, there he is still. Four years later he has won over most everybody. He has refined his dealings with people. And he has managed to succeed in areas that I never did: The accounting is up to date, and the building is immaculately clean!

He’s “grown into the suit,” despite being much shorter than me.

My trip to Guatemala came to an end yesterday with a huge sense of gratitude to God for what He does. You may find joy in some other achievements in life, but I love serving God.

(Sorry about the Spanish title. I don’t mean to put anyone off. I used it because nothing in English corresponds precisely and because I thought it was a nifty pun, given the stature differential. I hope you can overlook it. :D )

She cried at her graduation

photo (23)It’s a beautiful gesture, but usually I ask bluntly: Why are you crying?

Jenny graduated from our Guatemalan school in November. And I just found out that she cried because I wasn’t there to celebrate it. I founded the school and opened the doors for her, and many other Guatemalans without a whole lot of money, to attend.

Finding out about the reason for her crying makes me want to cry. It melts my heart to see good produce good. It motivates me to keep on serving Jesus and people.

Teachers who inspire

inspiring friendsIn 2007, Marcelino de Leon saw kids in the his neighborhood who didn’t sign up for first grade. Illiteracy is high in Guatemala, where people struggle to survive and have a hard time supporting their kids in education.

So Marcelino decided to teach them himself. Every Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 he taught nine kids first grade materials. When the next year came around four of those kids tested into second grade.

Nobody paid him for this. No one applauded. Marcelino didn’t get any awards. A professional teacher, Marcelino just wanted to help where he could. He lost track of those kids when he moved, but we expect them to find him one day and report on their success at college.

Marcelino helped us at the Liceo Bilingue La Puerta. As always, it was voluntary, since we were/are strapped for money. We charge most students a minimal fee, and it doesn’t cover expenses.

I was so impressed by his willingness to pitch that I offered to teach him English. Extraordinarily, after I left Guatemala, he continued helping our school.

It’s people like Marcelino who inspire me.  Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds — Heb. 10:24. He came to visit me today. I’m wanting to do more for God.

Hospitality, not hostility

hospitality | Guatemala

With my wife and the pastor in Guatemala.

They eat beans and tortillas six days a week, and on Sunday — their only day of chicken — they would give me the best piece. I felt as guilty as a convict but knew that I couldn’t refuse their hospitality.

I learned hospitality in Guatemala. In the United States, I learned self-sufficiency, every man for himself, get ahead of the other, only invite to eat if they invite you back.

When you’re in a house with dirt floor and sheet metal roof, it’s time to learn something new when people so poor give so richly. In the Bible, it is a great honor to receive strangers/guests into your house and provide them protection. The guests get treated even better than children.

When was the last time you invited someone to eat who stands no chance of paying you back? When have you given love to the unloveable? When have given to the point of forgoing once-weekly chicken yourself?

I am in Guatemala, delighting in its incomparable hospitality with the brethren of the church I founded.

Friends, fun and revival

futbol guatemala

I got one assist. That’s kinda amazing because I’m 47 playing against teens.

I learned soccer while being a missionary when I was 35 years old, a late breakout into the sport. It’s not easy to outrun those kids but a lot of fun.

I’m visiting the church my wife and I founded in Guatemala. By playing soccer with the kids, I realize we have the seeds of revival. Even though not all these kids attend church, they come for soccer. They have a strong mental association with their school, a ministry of the church. When they get to a moment of desperation, they’ll know where to go to find God. They have a strong reference point of God.

colegio cristiano guatemalaSome of the kids come to church, which is extraordinary because kids don’t want to have anything to do with God, typically.

After playing for a couple of hours, I gave them all my testimony: raised in the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley in relative comfort but lonely and empty. Only Jesus filled my heart.

Old friends, new works

Guatemala churchFor years, these guys were among my closest associates in the pioneer church of Guatemala. They preached in the streets, did dramas, tithed, attended services and became pastors.

Sometimes life slams us. Can we survive?

I’m in Guatemala again seeing the church my wife and I started 20 years ago. At its height, it had a K-12 school and oversaw four start-up churches. Then gunmen convinced me my time was over in Guatemala, and I returned to the States. We’ve passed some difficult trials. Will we grow bitter or inactive?

Or will we rise from the ashes to do fresh works for God?

Ex-Pacoima tagger turned his life around with Jesus

Junior Cervantes in Guatemala

Junior Cervantes preaching the gospel in Guatemala recently.

Born into a family beset by drugs and gangs in Pacoima, California, his future prospects seemed dim. Junior Cervantes displayed athletic promise on the soccer field, but depression dragged him down. His uncles were shot in front of the house. There were family arrests, fighting, and chaos.

Junior decided to run away from home and drop out of his beloved soccer. He opted for hanging out with friends, robbing houses, smoking marijuana and tagging.

“I was a stealer. I was a liar. I was angry. I was depressed. I was lonely. I was an outcast,” Junior recalls.

His uncle, Edgar Cervantes, kept insisting that Junior move in with him in Santa Monica – about 25 miles away — and straighten up his life. In and out of jail for most of his life, Edgar had two “strikes” under California penal law and was scared of getting the third, so he turned to Jesus to clean up his life. He worked a restaurant job in Santa Monica and preached on the Third Street Promenade every week.

It was through Edgar’s influence that Junior prayed to receive Christ as his Lord and Savior. But because of Junior’s background and some of the influences swirling around him, he faced a rocky road to maturity in Christ. Read the rest of the story.

We felt your prayers pushing us forward

prayer powerFour guys from LA, young guys, rebels who have turned to God, went to Guatemala believing they could possibly be used. What happened at the Door Church in Guatemala was extraordinary: people were healed, faith was restored, forgiveness came back between brethren.

And I’m happy. That was the church God used me to raise up. I was troubled by some negative trends happening there now in my absence. God used Arti Cedillo, a former Satanist, to preach. Pastor Steven Fernandez, a former street thug, was their guide and body guard. Junior Cervantez, a former graffiti artist, and Johnny Huerta, a former partier, went along for the fun of it and wound up making a great spiritual impact also.

Junior was skate-boarding the the marijuana-smokers who frequent the church’s street in front. Johnny bought McDonald’s for all the kids one night, a treat so rare because of poverty it’s usually reserved for only for a kid’s birthday.

Arti said when he got back: We felt your prayers literally pushing us forward. And that’s how I was reminded of the power of prayer.

Generation outbreak

Arty Cedillo, Johnny Herta, Steven Fernandez and Junior Cervantes

The L.A. guys, around 25 years old: Arty Cedillo, Johnny Herta, Steven Fernandez and Junior Cervantes

Four young men realized revival in my (old) church in Guatemala.  People were healed. People got excited about Jesus. People were restored. Revival services brought what they don’t always bring: revival.

As I sat listening, I realized God was with these guys. God delighted in them. The report they gave impacted my congregation in Santa Monica, the Lighthouse Church. But to me, it transcended. This was a watershed. The new generation of young disciples was breaking out. No longer would they wait for the older generation to lead. They would bring God themselves.

May the younger generation arise and take the reigns of His church!

Our band in the newspaper

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta

The copy of Nuestro Diario Sept. 16 page 4 featuring the band of the Liceo Bilingue La Puerta.

The Guatemalan school my family and I started got into the newspaper today for its courage marching through drenching rain. Their courage, sacrifice and service to Christ is an example to us First World Christians who find all the reasons to NOT soldier through. And they make me proud. I see that 16 years of labor on the mission field was not in vain but left hardcore disciples.

The Liceo Bilingue La Puerta‘s marching band competed and won a spot in the national Independence Day parade (Sept. 15 for Guatemala). And they marched on despite rain that got them wet to the bones.

The miracle band

We didn’t have money to buy instruments. But God raised up finances through the sale of candies (!). We didn’t have know-how to teach the kids to play them. But God sent us a trained band leader, who free-of-charge offered his service.

I stood in awe of what God did. The instruments came out of nothing. This man, patiently and expertly, taught each kid and then the group to coordinate. We got into the Guatemalan Independence Day parade and on national television with the message of Christ that first year, and we’ve been there ever since.

This video, which was taken of a practice run, is a bit rough around the edges. But I can’t help but feel warmed with joy to see what God does. I can still praise God. When He does something, our best efforts pale by comparison. The Liceo Bilingue La Puerta continues to glorify God.

One of the last things I did in Guatemala…

It was the fountain, seen in the background as this young girl explains why she likes the Liceo Bilingüe La Puerta, the school I founded and worked for 14 years. Whew! What a labor of love!

As I think back now, it is almost hard to remember the blood, sweat and tears invested into this place. The fountain is symbolic, a splash of beauty and tranquility to crown more than a decade of untiring work.

The beauty heals. To see children still being ministered to, to see the school functioning as a safe place, to see kids be raised up in God’s gold standard, is rewarding.

Even if you don’t understand Spanish, I invite you to watch this video, in which the girl, unprompted, unscripted, shares naturally what flows from her heart.

Just passing by turned into a miracle

“You know we just can´t pass by without stopping in to say Hi.

It is considered the height of rudeness in Guatemala to not dutifully greet EVERYONE. No being too busy.

So Dianna went in to see Surama, and I waited. Apparently the Holy Spirit took over. She asked Surama if she had spoken in her heavenly language lately. The question provoked panic which brought repentance. Surama, who had lived years as a deadened Christian, came alive with a vibrancy with which she is still serving Jesus. She works at the school I started.

When you serve Christ 24-7, you never know when God will use you. Now God is using Surama.

New and old followers of Christ

It has been four years since I was missionary in Guatemala. As the years pass, there are old dear friends still in the work — and they warm my heart. Then too, there are new friends, also a joy. The video is of Andrea, who shyly explained what she liked about the school, el Liceo Bilingue La Puerta, that I left working in Guatemala. I’m proud of her.

Comparisons are the worst: Part 2 on self-esteem

Discov ering self esteem

Unperceived by parents, teachers, friends, aptitude tests, my giftings were perfect for what God designed me for. I’m posing with kids in the Guatemala Christian school, Liceo Bilingue La Puerta.

My gifting was not appreciated by anyone in high school. I wasn’t that smart, wasn’t athletic, wasn’t socially adept. What was I? I was overly sensitive. In high school being overly sensitive is not a good thing because you’re no good at the interchange of crass teasing that especially goes on among boys.

I actually thought I lacked a special trait.

Then I discovered my call: to pastor, to be a missionary. And being very sensitive (to God and to others) was a premium. But when I was a kid and took aptitude tests designed to surface giftings, nothing registered.

colegio GuatemalaComparisons are the worst because God made you absolutely unique. This uniqueness is reflected in your fingerprints, in your DNA, in your emotional makeup, in your interests and passions. It flouts comparison. To compare yourself to others is to ignore your God-given talents.

There is only one you on te planet. God made you special to do something nobody else will do. Only you can get the job done. It’s pointless to desire somebody else’s job. ?God didn’t design you for that.

It’s an insult to God to wish to be someone different, to have their beauty, their intellect or their wit. If you are young, take it easy on yourself. Don’t criticize yourself harshly. Wait and see what comes of your life. Strive to do well in everything but don’t panic if others do better in you in many areas. Because in one area, you’re going to blow them away. That’s where you’re a winner.

Great time in Guatemala

Thank you for your prayers.

Mike in GuatemalaMore than 40 people were healed miraculously. Pastor Charlie Forman has an anointing for praying for the sick. A lady with stage-4 pancreatic cancer got up and went to her daughter’s wedding. A lady with a walker doesn’t need her walker. One leg grew out 3 inches. A 75-year-old with back pain got down on the floor and did three pushups to check if he was in fact healed.

Iglesia cristiana La PuertaPeople got saved in almost every service. Youths came! The discouraged were encouraged.

We played soccer and enjoyed the best of Guatemala cuisine (beans and rice with Jesus Christ forever! oh, and they gave me some tasty cinnamon buns.).

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta

The Liceo Biliungue La Puerta school is doing well too!

The best thing was just the sense I got that 16 years of labor were not in vain. There are people who thank me for changing the direction of their lives. People are still getting saved.

It makes me want to keep going for Jesus.

Really? Marijuana?

Christian Fellowship Ministries

This is obviously not Tom. Dozens of youth are challenged yearly to go the way of God, not the way of perdition, each year.

At the time, I had no idea that Tom* smoked pot. He just seemed like the sweetest kid. He fervently loved God. He even sponsored a friend to go to camp. At Q300, such “fruit” showed genuineness.

I had no idea of the tempest swirling in his background. The only sign of trouble was that quickly a room-renter in his house complained of being robbed. The amount? Q300.

Liceo Bilingue La Puerta

El Liceo Bilingue La Puerta teaches youth to avoid alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, crime and other ways people look for happiness. We’re not official a reform school, but we have a decent reforming record.

It seemed clear to me who stole it because the amounts were precise. What was weird was that the money was not used for self.

Not long after, I fled organized criminals in Guatemala after almost 16 years of missionary work. I tried to eke out a life in the States and find meaningful ministry. After being away for four years, I visited the church and school we had pioneered with my wife.

Tom tracked me down to thank me. He gave me his testimony. He had been smoking weed when he came to our school, and God had challenged him to come out of a lot of confusion. I didn’t ask about the Q300 though. I forgot.

He had heard I was back in Guatemala, and he personally came to thank me. Praise God for what preaching the gospel can do. Next time you sponsor someone to camp, Tom, it has be your own money.

* Name changed.