U.S. Borders are Enticing Our Friends in Latin America

I am back from a recent trip to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador and am grateful for another fruitful trip!

Opportunities Abound

The Play. Story. Eat. groups are doing well—reproducing in several new areas. Opportunities abound in each of the three countries we visited. As new groups are starting, we are planning to ramp up training this year in four different regions—even talking seriously with our friend Rex Kelley about the potential of him flying us in one of his planes to cut down travel days by about half. (Check out the pictures below where Rex and our team see an airport runway right behind one of our newest works in Honduras!)

Border Issues Affecting our Work

Before I share more about the opportunities before us, I feel burdened to share some of the realities I am seeing in our work that arises out of our U.S. border problems. In recent months, multiple caravans have started out of Honduras, made their way through Guatemala and Mexico, and arrived at various locations along our southwestern border with Mexico. In my 19 years of coming and going to this region, I have never seen it as crazy as it is now. But from what I am seeing, it has little to do with caravans and more to do with individuals and small groups of people coming illegally in greater numbers.

These men took me down to their community water hole before one of our newest groups gathered for the first time near Quesada, Guatemala. After talking about their ideas for pumping water up to the community, I snapped this picture and asked the young man with the US flag on his shirt a question.

These men took me down to their community water hole before one of our newest groups gathered for the first time near Quesada, Guatemala. After talking about their ideas for pumping water up to the community, I snapped this picture and asked the young man with the US flag on his shirt a question.

‘Have you been to the United States?” I asked.

“Si,” he replied. “I was in McAllen, Texas, just last week.”

“Were you visiting relatives?”

“No, I was caught there at the border trying to get in.”

“Did the border officials treat you well?” I asked, thinking of some of the hot political debate I had heard before my trip down.

“Si. They treated me really well,” he replied. “This was my fourth time to try to get in. Each time I have been caught, they have given me plenty of food and a bed to sleep on and a ride home in an airplane.”

“How much have you paid to coyotes to get in?” I asked, knowing that the average pay for a “coyote” was $4000 to $6000. (To be clear, the term “coyote” is what they call the guide who often pays off the drug cartel controlling the region of the illegal crossing and gets you into the country—often through the desert.)

“All told I have spent about 60,000 Quetzales ($8,000).”

“Who paid that for you?” I asked, knowing that it was virtually impossible for him have saved that much by himself.

“My cousin who is there working. He pays and then I will pay him back when I get to work with him there.”

“If you had spent that money on a business here, do you think you could have a good life without having to go to the U.S.?”

“Claro que si! Of course!” he answered, smiling broadly.

“What are your plans then?”

“I’ll probably try again in a couple of months.”

Border Issues Affecting Our Kekchi Communities

On this trip alone, I had several similar conversations with at least a dozen people. While I have heard these stories for years, one of the newest twists is how the American dream has reached a fever pitch among some of our Kekchi friends in the jungles of Guatemala. Fifteen years ago, when I first met these people, we would take digital pictures and flip the camera around to show them their picture. They would laugh and cackle because for most of them it was the first time they had seen themselves in a photo. Back then, when we told them we were from the United States, most had no idea where that was. Today, when I go to those same villages, one of them pulls out a cell phone, takes a picture of me, and flips it around to show me my picture! And they are probably using that cell phone to stay in contact with a family member in the United States!

In January of 2004, on our first trip to the jungle, Jason Neland takes a digital snapshot of the children and then, to their squeals of delight, shows them their pictures!

In January of 2004, on our first trip to the jungle, Jason Neland takes a digital snapshot of the children and then, to their squeals of delight, shows them their pictures!

I took this picture last year of these Kekchi teens using their family cell phone to entertain themselves. These girls were taking pictures of what we were doing and showing their friends!

I took this picture last year of these Kekchi teens using their family cell phone to entertain themselves. These girls were taking pictures of what we were doing and showing their friends!

Most cell phone usage in the jungle is in areas where there is no electricity. But many huts are getting solar panels that can charge a cell phone and put out enough energy for a couple of light bulbs. This technology is now keeping them in touch with family members who are en route to the United States. Once the family makes it to their destination, they coach others how to come as well. In the past few months, word from their direct contacts has been to come with a child. That way, if they are caught, they are guaranteed to get into the U.S.

A Guatemalan Girl Dies

Shortly before Christmas, Jakelin Caal, a very sick 7-year-old Guatemalan girl was presented by her father to border agents that had caught them coming through the desert. The border agents resuscitated her twice en route to an El Paso, Texas, hospital. Jakelin died shortly afterward. She was from Raxruha, a Kekchi village we worked in about 5 years ago. Though we do not know this family personally, we do know this region quite well. And other friends in the area have told us their stories.

They Just Walked Out of the Village

One older couple we know told us that 5 months ago their 15-year-old granddaughter and a 19-year-old grandson (I saw both of them baptized a few years ago) walked out of their village one day without saying good-bye to their grand-parents. They headed for the U.S. When detained at the border, the 19-year-old was sent back to Guatemala. Since the 15-year-old girl was a minor, they held her in custody for 5 months until she was reunited with her father who has been in Pennsylvania for 8 years. All told, this father has spent approximately $20,000 in coyotes to get himself and his children into the U.S. To date, only he and this daughter has made it.

Our Friends Need Prayer

I could go on. But the reason I share this with you, is that this situation is affecting many of the communities we are working in. I’m concerned about their safety and for some of our newer groups that could flounder when a leader bolts for the border. Bottom line, our friends need prayer.

Even so, God is in Control

While I am concerned, I also see God working supernaturally in our spiritual friendships across these cultures. In the end, we see that the gospel is winning and that, as a ministry, we are in a no-lose position. God can and will use us on both sides of the border. And He always has a way of working through adversity and problems that the world cannot solve. In short, we are on an amazing adventure of joining Him in making disciples of all the nations. Here are a few more pics highlighting the places we visited during my 4-week-long trip, and I believe you will get a sense of how God is blessing.

In a closing prayer at a church near Rinconcito, Guatemala, the church prays for our partnership and a mission trip that their young people plan to take with us to the jungle in a few months.

In a closing prayer at a church near Rinconcito, Guatemala, the church prays for our partnership and a mission trip that their young people plan to take with us to the jungle in a few months.

Rex Kelley and Ray Gurney pose with the nucleus of a new church in the jungle. The pastor is not pictured here, but in private he told me that he was seriously considering joining a family member in the U.S. working on a roofing crew. Please pray the pastor stays to lead this flock!

Rex Kelley and Ray Gurney pose with the nucleus of a new church in the jungle. The pastor is not pictured here, but in private he told me that he was seriously considering joining a family member in the U.S. working on a roofing crew. Please pray the pastor stays to lead this flock!

A pastor’s gathering in Por Venir, Guatemala, met to pray with us shortly before we left that area for Honduras. Several of these pastors have been involved in soccer evangelism, and Cesar wanted to make sure that they knew to come help us train other Kekchi pastors in May.

A pastor’s gathering in Por Venir, Guatemala, met to pray with us shortly before we left that area for Honduras. Several of these pastors have been involved in soccer evangelism, and Cesar wanted to make sure that they knew to come help us train other Kekchi pastors in May.

Cesar speaks to a group of Kekchi pastors in Fray de las Casas, Guatemala. Leaders from this group are committing to help our Kekchi pastors in locations we have worked for many years to learn how to use Kekchi language Bible tools. In May we plan to come back for PSE training with this group. Because of a new road, this more mature group is much more accessible to our younger group of churches.

Cesar speaks to a group of Kekchi pastors in Fray de las Casas, Guatemala. Leaders from this group are committing to help our Kekchi pastors in locations we have worked for many years to learn how to use Kekchi language Bible tools. In May we plan to come back for PSE training with this group. Because of a new road, this more mature group is much more accessible to our younger group of churches.

Nola and I enjoyed a rest stop near the coastal town of Tela, Honduras. It was great having Nola come down and join us in our week in Honduras.

Nola and I enjoyed a rest stop near the coastal town of Tela, Honduras. It was great having Nola come down and join us in our week in Honduras.

At a restaurant overlooking the ocean near La Ceiba, Honduras, we enjoyed a meal with Adonay, our friend at the head of the table, who will be leading a new Christian Rancher group. As a leader in a Cattlemen’s Association, he later took us to their meeting.

At a restaurant overlooking the ocean near La Ceiba, Honduras, we enjoyed a meal with Adonay, our friend at the head of the table, who will be leading a new Christian Rancher group. As a leader in a Cattlemen’s Association, he later took us to their meeting.

For you food lovers, here was my steamed fish with rice, salad, and fried plantains.

For you food lovers, here was my steamed fish with rice, salad, and fried plantains.

At our hotel in La Ceiba, we were reunited with some friends we met a few years ago on the other side of Honduras. Fernanda, the girl across the table from me, and Junior, the young man sitting next to me, were students at the National University of Agriculture in Catacamas and part of a student-led Christian Rancher group. Now they are engaged and living in La Ceiba, where they grew up. In 2015, they visited Texas Tech University with a group of bull riders as a part of their exchange studies in agronomy. During one week, I took them around the Dallas/Fort Worth region of Texas, meeting with cowboy churches and friends. Here we are reminiscing and talking about starting Christian Rancher groups in their region.

At our hotel in La Ceiba, we were reunited with some friends we met a few years ago on the other side of Honduras. Fernanda, the girl across the table from me, and Junior, the young man sitting next to me, were students at the National University of Agriculture in Catacamas and part of a student-led Christian Rancher group. Now they are engaged and living in La Ceiba, where they grew up. In 2015, they visited Texas Tech University with a group of bull riders as a part of their exchange studies in agronomy. During one week, I took them around the Dallas/Fort Worth region of Texas, meeting with cowboy churches and friends. Here we are reminiscing and talking about starting Christian Rancher groups in their region.

Standing at the back of the property of the Cattlemen’s Association in La Ceiba, Honduras, you can see the runway in the background for their international airport. Standing left to right is Cesar Gonzalez, Ray Gurney, Rex Kelley, and my wife Nola. Rex couldn’t help but be excited about the possibility of one day flying his airplane here! Please pray with him on that.

Standing at the back of the property of the Cattlemen’s Association in La Ceiba, Honduras, you can see the runway in the background for their international airport. Standing left to right is Cesar Gonzalez, Ray Gurney, Rex Kelley, and my wife Nola. Rex couldn’t help but be excited about the possibility of one day flying his airplane here! Please pray with him on that.

In our meeting with the leadership of the Cattlemen’s Association, they were enthusiastic about what we are doing with Christian Rancher groups and asked if we could help them start a group on their premises. You might notice Adonay seated to my left.

In our meeting with the leadership of the Cattlemen’s Association, they were enthusiastic about what we are doing with Christian Rancher groups and asked if we could help them start a group on their premises. You might notice Adonay seated to my left.

At the back of the association property is this picnic area, and when Cesar asked the leadership group if they would allow a group to meet there, they enthusiastically agreed. So we took a moment to pray that God would do great things from that spot. Again, you can see the runway in the background.

At the back of the association property is this picnic area, and when Cesar asked the leadership group if they would allow a group to meet there, they enthusiastically agreed. So we took a moment to pray that God would do great things from that spot. Again, you can see the runway in the background.

On what was supposed to be our last day in Guatemala, this group of friends came over to Cesar’s place to visit and wish us well. During this meeting, we got word from our airline that our flight was canceled! One of the volcanoes near Guatemala City spewed some ash in the air and shut down the airport for a day. We got home one day later than we had planned but with no other catastrophes!

On what was supposed to be our last day in Guatemala, this group of friends came over to Cesar’s place to visit and wish us well. During this meeting, we got word from our airline that our flight was canceled! One of the volcanoes near Guatemala City spewed some ash in the air and shut down the airport for a day. We got home one day later than we had planned but with no other catastrophes!

10:02 PRAYER

When you hear border news or debate, let that prompt you to pray for our friends in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Thank Him for His blessing of the PSE groups and the growth that they are experiencing. Also pray for Rex as he is beginning to network with a missionary aviation group and other pilots to investigate the possibilities of flying in Central America.

ENGAGE

This Thursday, February 28th, Cesar and Elba will be arriving in Kansas City for a month of visiting our friends here in the states. The following week we will be in Nebraska. If you are from Nebraska and haven’t heard if we are coming to your church, please contact Bill or me. We have a couple of free days while we are there. Note, too, that in the middle of March we will be in the Kansas City region. At the end of March we will be in Oklahoma. The first few days of April we will be in Texas. If you have a desire for us to schedule time with your group, please let Bill and/or me know right away.

INVEST

We have been traveling a lot lately and will continue to do even more with Cesar and Elba in the next month. Your gifts these days are extraordinarily strategic and appreciated. Thanks!

CLICK HERE FOR THE EASY BUTTON TO INVEST.

See below for more pics!

Love y’all!

Steve

PS…These are some amazing pics of Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras.

Nola and Rex listen to the guide tell how this stella chronicles the history of one of the Mayan kings.

Nola and Rex listen to the guide tell how this stella chronicles the history of one of the Mayan kings.

Ray, whose name in Spanish means “king,” stands in front of the area under the arch where the king would sit and rule.

Ray, whose name in Spanish means “king,” stands in front of the area under the arch where the king would sit and rule.

Nola and I are overlooking the giant field and stands used for a soccer-like game where the captain from the winning team was sacrificed to the gods so that the Mayan nation’s crops would be fruitful in the kingdom.

Nola and I are overlooking the giant field and stands used for a soccer-like game where the captain from the winning team was sacrificed to the gods so that the Mayan nation’s crops would be fruitful in the kingdom.

This stone, in the shape of a turtle, was used by the Mayan king to cut himself over the indented bowl area and let the blood flow down the groove to the ground. The blood of the king was thought to be sufficient to appease the gods for the sins of the people.  Mayan preacher alert… Oh, but there is the King of glory! The King of all kings who shed His blood, so that no one would ever have to make another sacrifice to appease the God of the universe. One perfect sacrifice offered one time for all! (Hebrews 10:8-18) Man, these Mayan rocks can preach! Can I get a witness?!!

This stone, in the shape of a turtle, was used by the Mayan king to cut himself over the indented bowl area and let the blood flow down the groove to the ground. The blood of the king was thought to be sufficient to appease the gods for the sins of the people.

Mayan preacher alert… Oh, but there is the King of glory! The King of all kings who shed His blood, so that no one would ever have to make another sacrifice to appease the God of the universe. One perfect sacrifice offered one time for all! (Hebrews 10:8-18) Man, these Mayan rocks can preach! Can I get a witness?!!