The life of the Wesley Chapel Guatemalan Missionaries During COVID19-Part 1

Written by Pam English, Missionary in Guatemala

At La Senda

 

March 13 put a super change and stop on everything in Colegio Metodista La Senda, Sumpango, Sacatépequez, Guatemala.   The first case of Covid-19 was diagnosed in the country.  With this the ripple effect began:  churches closed; schools closed; masks were suggested; public transportation was stopped; restaurants were closed; curfews began; faces masks were enforced; etc.

 

La Senda currently is a school to 200 students and a boarding house to 9 boys and 4 adult children who grew up there.  But with Covid things dramatically changed as no longer daily classes could be taught, devotions could not be given, and rooms and food could not be provided to the boarders. Initially it was believed that this would not last but a few weeks.  As it was evident that longevity was unavoidable, adjustments were made.   Buying internet happened for the students who live in rural areas and/or dirt floors.  Teachers learned how to use and perform zoom and the like classes.  Books were sent home. Computers were rapped up.  Pews and desks remained empty.  The walls and halls became quiet and lonely. 

 

At La Senda, Steve and I began advising and instructing our staff in how to move forward and not to give up.  We tried to teach parents to not live in fear but in calmness.  The country was in deep, frantic fear of the unknown.    

 

Ultimately, we initiated a continuation of the daily chapels and individual counseling sessions by grades.  I continued to lead teachers in staff meetings, classroom planning and scheduling and classroom online observations.   But overall, we tried to bring the Word of God and spread words of peace to each student and staff in this time of uneasiness.    II Thessalonians 3:16 became our shared and targeted verse to strugglers, “ .. May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.”


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Spin, Sink, or Row Ahead

Written by Rhonda Alstott

The alarm hit my house hard this morning. The first day of school for the 2020-2021 school season has begun and we’ve already messed up virtual period zero Latin before in person school for the first day. My huge anxiety has quickly turned to huge frustration that the Alstott household has been unsuccessful at getting this new normal down. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that it does not matter how badly I want something to succeed, if the team isn’t rowing in the same direction, the boat ends up spinning.  I can apply this to so many different situations in my life right now.  I’ve actually spent the last few months of my life letting go of some situations that I love because all the oars weren’t rowing in the same direction, the boat started spinning, even taking on water, and I felt my boat sinking.

 

Sinking… that’s a word that describes so many of my emotions right now. I think my lack of control over so many issues all at once gets the best of me at times.   When I look at the root of my control issues (or lack of control in my case), fear is the underlying issue that gets the best of me. Let’s face it, we’ve never been in a pandemic before. I’m 54 and I’ve never experienced such social unrest, our country so divided, high unemployment rate, blatant disregard for human life and a constant barrage of misinformation along with incivility amidst pain, loss and suffering…I could continue, but you get the point. In the midst of this sinking chaos, I’m supposed to make a decision for my child to either attend school virtually, home-school or attend in person. I know this has been on the mind of several of my friends with school age children as they’ve shared the same kind of emotions…And on top of that it could change at any moment…and there goes the lack of control, triggering my fear.  The decisions so many of us have been making in regards to school, work, worship and such are constantly being attacked by others with differing opinions, just adding to the sinking feeling.   Oh and information we’ve used to make our best decisions change daily… You get the picture.

 

Lucky for me, scripture is full of confrontations with fear and out of control situations. In Mark Chapter 4, Jesus and His disciples set sail on the Sea of Galilee. This would have been roughly two years into his ministry after the disciples had witnessed His great power and teaching. They had been witness to Jesus feeding multitudes with a few loaves and fishes, His healing of many sick and even raising the dead, but when a storm came upon them while Jesus was asleep in the stern, they become so afraid and wake Him up (v38) asking Him if He even cared that they were perishing.  After Jesus quiets the storm, He asks the question of them, “Why are you so afraid?  How is it that you have no faith?”   Those are two questions I think we all have to continually ask ourselves during this Covid season of life that we are in.  Sometimes the storm is overwhelming us and I feel like Jesus is asleep at the stern of the boat, while I am either spinning in circles or worse, sinking.

 

Why am I so afraid?

 

How is it that I have no faith?

When my older 3 children were small and afraid of the dark, I posted Psalm 56:3 above the light switches of their rooms, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you”.   Why on the light switches? They were terrified of the dark when I turned the light off…Why the dark? We cannot see in the dark and all of those unknown monsters threaten to grab us by the ankle and pull us into the unknown.  It’s no different for me today as I send my precious Mary into the dark of the unknown.  Will she get Covid? Will she get really sick if she does? Will she give it to me, to the others that live here in this safe space we designate as home? I know statistically the chances for her well being maintained are 99%. I also know that if she’s in the 1%, it can be devastating. That 1% is the monster in the dark that I’m afraid of.  Psalm 56:3 will be ever on my lips this day.  I might add that my oldest child is a teacher and has been in her classroom with students for a week now…she’s got a heart condition, and asthma and there’s already positive students in the building…see there’s a monster in the dark there… there’s a monster in the dark for everyone I love.  Why do I keep forgetting that “The Lord is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear?”(Psalm 27:1). Jesus is my light and the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5). It doesn’t matter what shade is thrown my way or whether I, or someone else is doing the throwing, Jesus has enough Light to overcome all of it.

 

When I am afraid, I will trust in you…

Tony has traveled a lot in the past ten years of his ministry. When he’s gone overnight I let Mary sleep with me, stuffed animals and all. She’s always been anxious when her dad travels, but especially when he flies. You see we have lost a lot of family in the past few years. She has seen her cousins her age lose their 42 year old dad unexpectedly. She has lost her grandfather in a sudden car wreck. The list of family losses has jolted her into a reality that no one is immune to loss. The last time Tony flew, she told me she was so afraid something would happen to him. I usually shrug it off and tell her he will be okay, but I didn’t this time.  I told her the truth. I told her the truth that chances are nothing will happen to her dad, but if it did, it would be okay, we would be okay. I told her it would be hard, but that we have Jesus and his Spirit and all would be well because we have faith. 

 

Death….Isn’t that the answer to what most of us are afraid of? Isn’t the death of what we love and hold dear including our homes, businesses  and our way of life, including worship, on the table during this pandemic? Isn’t death and losing someone we love the biggest monster in the dark? As so many of us are grappling with this fear as we send our kids to school (or not), my prayer is that we remember that God promises us that no monster in the dark will overtake us that we cannot handle with Him (1 Corinthians 10:13).  

 

We’re all making decisions for what is best for each of us, our families, our workplaces and our churches in the midst of this pandemic.  My prayer is that we offer love, grace and support for these decisions with one another, even if we have different opinions, after all they are just that, differing opinions. The love and care we’ve made these decisions with can be the direction we all are rowing in and that can keep all of us from spinning circles in our boats, or worse, sinking in them.

 

Shalom-

Rhonda


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Parting Ways

Written by Rhonda Alstott
One of the things I’ve personally been working on during this pandemic is my health by focusing on adding healthier foods and more steps to my day. The benefit of this is I have been losing weight. The baggier fit of my clothes, renewed energy and my bathroom scale have been my positive reinforcements in this. The past two days I’ve had my scale give me a hard time. It has told me I have dropped 20 pounds in two days. Now I love good news, but this is great news. Almost too good to be true, so I changed the battery. Same weight…hm… I go to the kitchen and grab a 5 pound bag of flour. I learn my scale has decided to give me faulty information and seems to be lying. My scale and I are parting ways after an 18 year relationship because it’s broken and can’t give me accurate information. I usually donate my belongings to the Salvation Army when I get something new, but sadly I cannot do this with my scale. It will lead the next unsuspecting person astray as well and it might not be for just a few days.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like every day I experience whiplash from hearing something different from the day before…don’t wear a mask/wear a mask, children don’t transmit COVID/children can transmit COVID, don’t trust the numbers/trust the numbers… the list goes on and on. What I do know is that misinformation and conspiracy theories travel faster than the virus itself. I’ve decided that when it comes to deciding whether something is a truth or a lie, I better wait before I post, like, or share because real understanding comes with time. That was true of the prophets and prophecies in scripture. Time showed whether a prophet was telling the truth and time showed whether the prophecy was true. Scripture gives us plenty of examples of what happened to those that were involved in falsehood.

 

When I go back to Genesis and see the story of where sin entered the world (Genesis 3), the serpent enters the scene questioning Eve regarding God’s instructions. When looking at this I’ve always focused on how the serpent took God’s instructions and manipulated them in a way that caused Eve and Adam to partake from the tree causing sin to enter the world, but recently I’ve realized there’s another issue I may have overlooked. A lesson for me is to pause and think that maybe a broader issue than eating the fruit is the issue of who they chose to listen to. Who we listen to is important. Listening to the serpent as authority cost them everything.

 

My question for all of us is this, whose voice are you listening to as your authority?

 

In John 8:44, Jesus tells us himself that Satan is the father of lies. I have spent the past few years of my personal study with scripture in the gospels because it is there that I see the very words of Jesus, a savior I choose to follow. It is in the gospels I see Jesus speak grace and truth into his community where political and religious systems had misrepresented His Father. I see Jesus confront the lies that had been perpetuated by the father of lies and dismantle some strongly held beliefs of his time. Did it cause some discomfort? It sure did. That, along with God’s plan of redemption for us, is what got him arrested, beaten, and killed. God’s plan for redemption was for all nations and people. He has invited us into that work when He invites us into a personal relationship with him. It was his charge to us from the mountaintop in Matthew 28 in giving us His Great Commission.

 

Confession time… there was a time in my personal life that I valued the acquiring of knowledge over my relationship with Christ and those around me. Why? Truth be known, I’ve always had this misconception that knowledge is power. Arguments can be made for or against, but my faith journey has painfully taught me that doing what Jesus says is the real power, not knowledge. Following his voice and doing what His Spirit shows me is the truth I cling to these days. It’s the only comfort I have on some days when I see so much pain and heartbreak inflicted on social media. I ask all of us these two questions:

 

Whose Voice are you listening to?

 

Could I be participating in misleading others in what I share?

 

So for now, I am seeking and setting my mind on things above (Col 3:1-2). I’m focusing on my life that is hidden with Christ and not on the special knowledge some claim to have on social media (Col 3:3). And I’m parting ways with anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk and lies with the help of the Holy Spirit (Col 3:8-9). I’m reading, fact checking, and parting ways with the misuse of knowledge and lies on social and mainstream media, just like I’m parting ways with a scale that can’t tell me the truth, even if I like what it’s saying.

 
 
 

Peace-

Rhonda


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Humility or Defensiveness: Racism and the Human Reaction

Written by Pastor Tony Alstott
 

If someone asked you if you were a racist, how would you respond?  Most of us would respond from a position of defensiveness.  We are taught that being a racist is a bad thing so we have worked hard to not be a racist.  While working hard not to be racists, we have well-developed arguments as to why we are not racists.  Our arguments to defend that we are not racists are developed from a position of defensiveness. 

If you would have asked me if I was a racist when I was 20 years old I would emphatically have told you no.   Denny and Reggie were some of my best friends.  We often met at the elementary school which was between our neighborhoods.  As kids, we played on the playground.  As teenagers, we played basketball on the outdoor goals at the school.  In middle school, Jamie and I became friends when we played football and ran track together.  When we were able to drive we went to the park, to baseball games, and to King’s Island.  When I was 19, we even took a trip to New York City together just because we could.  We freely went into each other’s homes.  I was invited to gatherings where I would be the only white person.  I never felt uncomfortable or out of place.

A racist is someone who hates black people.  I do not hate black people.  A racist is someone who kills black people because they were black.  I do not kill anyone.  A racist is someone who joins the Ku Klux Klan and terrorizes black people.  I did not join the KKK nor do I terrorize black people.  I was not a racist because I had black friends that I would love and defend.  I did not have a prejudiced bone in my body.

When I was in college, a history teacher challenged me to reflect on my views and discover my prejudices.  I told the teacher I was not prejudiced.  He pushed back with questions that led me to discover stereotypes that I held about groups of people. Rich people were smart.  People who went to college had ambition. Of course I had never said any of this out loud before but the conversation forced me to self-reflect.  My realization that I believed rich people were smart also led to an underlying belief that poor people were not as smart.  By thinking that people who went to college had ambition gave me the false belief that people who didn’t go to college didn’t have ambition.  These stereotypes were prejudices.  Unconsciously these prejudices impacted my attitudes, words and actions.  It was one of those “a-ha” moments that changed my life.  I would never be able to work on my prejudiced thoughts, words, and behaviors until I was willing to admit that I had them.  I had prejudices.

So the question I had to ask myself wasn’t, “Do I have racists thoughts?”  The question I began to ask was, “What racist thoughts did I have?” 

Today I’m 57 years old.  I have spent a lifetime trying to remove prejudice and stereotypes from my life.  I believe that if I humble myself, I can learn something from any other person on the planet whether or not they are rich or college educated.  I can learn people’s stories.  I can discover that we all have hopes, fears, and feelings.  I have also discovered new stereotypes that emerge in my life that I need to ponder, identify, and confront. 

Am I a racist?  If I take a position of defensiveness I would give you an emphatic no and tell you all the reasons why I am not a racist.  The result of my response would be that the conversation is concluded.  A direct question was given a direct and decisive answer.  However, if I take a position of humility, I’m prepared to discuss with you how I may be holding some racist views that are systemic in the society I live in.  With the position of humility, I may be able to self-reflect and remove some unconscious racist stereotypes so that I may be less racist than before.  Today if you ask me if I’m a racist, my response is, “I’m working toward the goal of being anti-racist.”  An anti-racist is someone who is against racist ideas and systems, first from within himself or herself, and then in society. 

Are you a racist?  If you answer no and give me a wonderful list about how you are not a racist, then I know you are answering from a position of defensiveness.  If you answer, “I hope not,” and are willing to self-reflect to discover if you hold any racist views, then you are answering from a position of humility and you are ready to identify and confront racist views you may be unconsciously holding.

If you would like to be join me in the journey of becoming an anti-racist, Dr. Erica Lawrence and I will be leading a four-week discussion on “Becoming an Anti-Racist.”

Each session will begin at 6:30 p.m.

August 6: I live in a racist society

August 13: I am not a racist

August 20: The Real Message

August 27: Becoming an anti-racist

Click here to register for the class.


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Praying for a Miracle that isn’t Coming

Written by Ahnya Evinger
 

A verse that God placed in the forefront of my life four years ago this summer is Romans 5:1-5. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into the grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

I heard a gentleman deliver a message on the passage at our Indiana Annual Conference, and the words were seared into my heart and mind. Hope does not disappoint.

This is the verse I clung to that fall when I was diagnosed with a heart condition called sick sinus syndrome. Although this syndrome has affected me my whole life, I did not have a name or diagnosis for it. My entire life, I would experience syncope where I would lose consciousness. Every time I woke up, I was confused and tired. I learned how to recognize the signs before I would drop, but I was not always able to prevent it. One Christmas break, I had to go to the emergency room to get seven stitches above my eyebrow because I cut it open when I fell. Doctors throughout my life had different suggestions about why I was passing out, but it wasn’t until I was 28 that we finally had the data to make a diagnosis.

My heart stopped. “Paused” was the word used by medical professionals, but from the flat line on the printout my cardiologist was showing me as he explained what happened, I concluded it meant my heart stopped. Sometimes, it was only part of my heart that didn’t beat, but really, you need both parts to beat in order to stay conscious (and alive). My heart is strong and healthy, but the electric current that runs through it is faulty.

Fortunately, there is medical technology that corrects this problem my heart has. It is called a pacemaker and is actually very common (in people over the age of 28 apparently….not under). Unfortunately, my cardiologist did not want to insert a pacemaker based on the little data he had. He had only witnessed one of these incidents. He implanted a loop monitor to record the data on my heartbeat and instructed me to live life as normal.

Do you know how hard it is to go about life as normal when you find out that your heart has a problem with it that causes it to randomly stop? My mind reeled. Fear gripped me. I quit exercising. I had anxiety about every weird feeling inside of my body which usually had more to do with indigestion than heart palpitations. I tried to focus on work, school, and family, but I was usually too distracted overanalyzing my predicament. I had prayed for a diagnosis and a fix, but God answered it with wait. Wait for the wisdom of the doctor and medical team. Wait for the pacemaker. Wait.

I prayed for the miracle of life. Joe and I had been talking about children, and I wanted to be a mom so desperately. With the diagnosis of sick sinus syndrome, my doctor was very stern about pregnancy prevention. My cardiovascular system would put the baby and me in danger. Wait. Wait until we figure out the severity of the heart pauses. Wait until a pacemaker is inserted. Wait.

The following spring, enough data had been collected for a pacemaker to be inserted. My doctor cleared me of any restrictions except scuba diving too deep and shooting a rifle left handed. (Who knew the perils?) That was over three years ago. It feels like an eternity to me when you are praying for the miracle of life and the miracle isn’t coming.

Waiting is hard. Waiting has turned into four years. Waiting has become a rollercoaster of hope and disappointment every month. Waiting has turned into frustration and tears. This is so contrary to the verse I whisper over and over again, “Hope does not disappoint.” I am afraid to hope because the disappointment is so hard to face. Hope. Wait. I’m tired.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Lord, I continue to pray for miracles, but I realize that my hope is not in this life but rather the eternal life you provide. May I put away my selfish ambitions of this world and be renewed in You for Your purposes. Lead me. Direct my path. Comfort me in my waiting. Equip me to serve you. Please let me not lose faith in your miracles, and may I recognize your miracles each day. Amen.

 


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Being My Best Self

One of the phrases I’ve overheard myself saying a lot to myself and friends lately is “there’s not one of us at our best self right now”. What do I mean by that statement you might ask? We’ve all just spent the last 4 months experiencing things that most of us have never experienced before. I’ve never experienced a pandemic with a novel virus in my lifetime. I’ve never had to oversee eLearning of my children while the church office is at my kitchen table. I’ve never had a major surgery and not had any of the standard post op checkups to make sure all is well, and I’ve certainly never witnessed a man being suffocated by another human being on video as he begged for his life. Protests, riots, shootings…the list goes on and on. All of this has given me all the feels and I definitely have the time right now to sit in those feelings and process them. A whole lot of sadness tempered with anxiety. So much pain and suffering on so many levels. My friends have too. Conversations with my friends and my family show me that they too are having similar emotions and have had trials in their households and relationships. That’s when I say, “there isn’t one of us at our best self right now…”

 

So what are we to do in the midst of the times where we are experiencing such pain, sadness, and anxiety, when we are not at our best selves right now?

 

*Try and respond instead of react to everything. This takes intentionality, patience, and time. It’s so easy to blurt out your first thought or emotion or to hit post with your initial comeback, but pause, pray, reflect and decide what kind of a witness you want to show. Others are watching. If your first response is anger, ask yourself, “why am I so angry about this? Let Jesus be our lead on how we are to handle others and ask for the Holy Spirit to give us the right spirit in how we respond to others. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are great places to get a glimpse of how Jesus responded to others.

 

*Take time to reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and reactions rather than focus on the other person. I say this not to encourage narcissism, but instead to get us to focus on what needs adjusted about ourselves. It’s easy to shift focus on the other person’s weaknesses instead of looking at the issues within ourselves. Start asking WHY? Why does what my spouse has said get me so bent out of shape? Why does that person’s post make me so angry? In the field of mental health where I spent my career, we are taught to ask the question, “What is that really about?” I’ve had to ask these questions on a much more personal level when I’ve been in a personal crisis. Being able to reflect on this question helps me to see if my emotions and thoughts are really in check. Can I consider another view? Can I change my mind about something? Is what I think? Is my mind a reflection of Christ? Or are they old patterns and thoughts I’ve been taught? You can still love your parents, family, and friends and acknowledge that they have taught you something contrary to Christ’s values along the way. These are questions that help me muddle through my own personal chaos and struggles.

 
 

*Take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This is hard for me to do, but I have to constantly set myself up for success when it comes to self-care. Am I eating things that will help my body heal? Am I getting in my steps for the day? Do I get enough sleep? Do I need to see a professional about anxiety? I know what I’m supposed to do, but doing it is another thing. Have I used my time wisely in this area or as Tony likes to say “let the COVID19 turn into the 19 pound quarantine?” Recently, I’ve been giving myself permission to sit on my back porch and relax while I listen to the birds. This small thing alone has helped me be my better self.

 

*Stay in love with Jesus. Being my best self cannot happen when I’m disconnected from Jesus. It just can’t. My end goal is to be like Him. This encompasses so much for me. I’m a much better version of myself when I love Jesus and let Him shape me into the person He desires me to be. Right now online worship, prayer, study, and meditation are practices I rely on heavily. I pray for God’s wisdom daily and then I try to lean in to it. I ask for courage to act on what God tells me to do. When I say study, I mean specifically the reading of scripture. I see so many Christians only want to read books, but for me, scripture is the goal. With the Holy Spirit as the shaping force, I try and apply what the Creator of the Universe has shown me in the sacred texts. I’ve grown tired of hearing what this radio, TV commentator, or author has to say about what’s going on around me. I can gain real peace when I read scripture and realize that God’s wisdom is the real treasure. When it comes down to it, what God thinks is what I need to focus on. Not an opinionated bully on Facebook. God’s Spirit is also the force that can ensure that I’m not the bully on Facebook. His Spirit can also make sure I’m loving my family well and that I’m having the hard discussions with them during this unprecedented time and that those conversations point them to Him. My life as a clergy spouse allows me the Holy privilege to speak into the personal pain and circumstances of others. Personal pain is at an all-time high right now. Relationships are broken and so many are hurting right now. I want to speak God’s grace and truth. I want to point them to the author and finisher of their faith. I want to model to others the gift of grace in these hard times. Our connection to Jesus is really the only way I see through the messes because striving to be like Him is the only way any of us can truly be our best self.

 

“Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.” Ephesians 5:1-2 the MSG

 

Love extravagantly,

Rhonda

 

 

 

 


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