3 September 2020
Was Gravity “Extra Heavy”?
I appeal to your imagination: Tell yourself, “This is the August newsletter, and it’s late because of gravity.” Yes, really! I had a bad fall four weeks ago, and the incident reminded me of a story Denise tells about her childhood friend, who, after a bad day of repeatedly dropping things, exclaimed, “Gravity is extra heavy today!” That’s my alibi.
Was anything broken in my fall? Well, yes — my pride, and over three weeks’ worth of meaningful productivity. Besides about eight hours in the emergency room, it has taken me considerable time to get back to normal in terms of daily routine, early-morning writing, our publishing schedule, and so forth. So my quick personal report is: “I fell down, got up, got patched up, and now I’m finally better.” (Oh, and the doctor tells me that there’s no miracle cure for “clumsy”!)
But never mind gravity being “extra heavy” — our brothers and sisters in Latin America need our prayer, because they’re facing “heavy duty” circumstances in everyday life because of the pandemic!
Empathy and Intercession
The results of my fall — the pain, embarrassment, break in normal routine, the struggle to focus on “business as usual,” etc. — moved me into a more empathetic mode in praying for and thinking about our brothers and sisters in Latin America. I’ve been corresponding with some of them and would like to share what I have (and haven’t) learned, so that you, too, can join us in prayer for them.
I was afraid I wouldn’t hear about how friends in… well, let’s be deliberately vague and say “the town where we have often ministered”… are affected in Nicaragua, and I was right. With good reason, no doubt, because to put it delicately: by government decree, there is… ahem!… “no COVID-19 problem in Nicaragua.” Medical authorities who disagree with the government about this have “disappeared,” according to some news reports. However, let me share this link to a recent Miami Herald article that came across my desk as I was gathering material for this newsletter. Once in a while, “hackers” do the world a favor.
I’ve not yet heard back from Pastor Francisco Olivo of El Salvador. We visited him back in March, as a side trip to our teaching time in Honduras. The object of the visit was to arrange our first leadership teaching seminar with Francisco’s churches. Three days after my departure from El Salvador, that country was among the first in Latin America to close its borders because of the pandemic.
Superintendent Javier Cruz sent me a brief report. Here’s my translation:
Blessings my dear pastor and teacher, Diego Cruz. [That’s my “adoption name” in Honduras.] [It’s] a pleasure to greet you and remember you much for your teachings.
Thank the Lord, we have not had [any] deaths among our pastors. Yes, we have had a lot of coronavirus patients, but thanks to the Lord already many [have] recovered. We already wait for the coming of the Lord very soon. Before that we hope to see you…. May God bless you and your family.
I wrote to Pastor Ángel Álvarez about the state of the fledging literacy work we started in Trojes almost six months ago. He gave me the corona-virus answer that I expected, but didn't want to hear: “Our” new program is shut down, as are almost all the schools in Honduras. And he reports that the pandemic “has affected us economically because there is no work; but God has been and will continue to be faithful.”
Superintendent Jorge Watanabe’s family has suffered the full-court press of COVID-19. Both Janine, his wife (an M.D./gynecologist who must work regular shifts at a major hospital in Lima), and his adult daughter, also Janine, contracted COVID-19 at the same time. They were quite ill but, praise God, have recovered. Dr. Janine still has regular hospital duties; many staff members are out sick, and so she remains “on the front lines.” And she has discovered that she needs very serious spinal disc surgery, and so far their insurance and accumulated funds cannot cover the procedure.
Two months ago Jorge described their church meetings something like this: “It’s like having missed the rapture. Most of the Christians aren’t there.” That’s due to many factors: lockdown, illness, fear, curtailing of public transportation, inability to pay for public transportation for those who are out of work, etc. And the growing unemployment problem affects Jorge and other pastors in another way: Even if a church has members who tithe, a tithe on no income is 10% of 0. Do the math. Jorge and others are looking for “tent-making jobs” to support their families in an economy where businesses aren’t hiring.
Churches in my adopted country of Guatemala seem to have been the hardest hit. Pastora Eva de Mazariegos, a sweet, quiet soul, died from COVID-19 about two months ago. Pastor Luis Monterrosa, a man of God with a quick smile, and a humble, servant heart, died last month. Members have died in each of three churches, including Atilio and Gladys Chávez’ own “Zona 6” congregation in Guatemala City. Pastor Rene Elías was almost lost to a diabetic coma because of COVID-19, but the Lord spared him. It seems that the majority of pastors have “passed through the fire” and recovered. But the families and churches of those who died are still processing their grief and needing God’s hand upon them as they move forward.
Despite all that, the work continues and grows! An opportunity opened up for the guatemaltecos to buy land for a congregation in Mazatenango. And pastors are still holding their weekly regional meetings via Zoom. In fact, Pastores Fermin and Lilian Chávez have asked me to “Zoom” with their pastors’ group sometime in October. I shall look forward to that — a little “taste of home!”
I’m not going to lay out an exact “prayer list.” But as you are reading, please stop right now and hold some of these dear saints before the Lord. If the Lord leads you, print out the prayer-related pages from this newsletter and keep them handy near your “prayer closet.” Thanks!
Re-cap of a Heavy-Gravity Month
We were able to accomplish a few things during the month, and most of them had to do with books, in one way or another:
At least I got some extra reading time in
during my recuperation!9
(No, we’re not selling these,
linking to them,
or getting a commission for them.)10
- As I write this, the e-booklet version of Leper in the Throne Room is just one edited sentence away from publication. To Solomon’s “writer’s complaint” in Ecclesiastes 12:12, I would add, “Of making many corrections and edits there no end!”
- Sister Inés Gonzáles reports that she has finished about 20% of the translation of Percy Gutteridge’s Logos & Rhema into Spanish.
- I finished reading The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History, the 2005 work by John Barry. It’s a sweeping, comprehensive, tour-de-force epic about the preparation for, the spread of, and the devastation caused by the deadly 1918 influenza epidemic. Of special note is the author’s final chapter, in which he writes of epidemics to come; read now, 15 years later during our COVID-19 pandemic, his words seem eerily prophetic.
- I’m always on the hunt for books about Spanish grammar, as well as works about Latin-American culture and history. I’m now a third of the way through Marie Arana’s Silver, Sword & Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story. This Peruvian-American author, who won my undying reader-devotion with her electrifying biography Bolívar: American Liberator, offers an insightful overview of the deep roots of violence, exploitation, and religion woven deeply into the fabric of regional history and culture. To pray more effectively and minister empathetically south of our border, I must absorb works like this that allow me to peer through peepholes into the soul of this people for whom Jesus died.
Thanks for your prayers and continued support. By faith we’re studying, writing, connecting with, praying for, and encouraging pastors in Latin America, and preparing materials to use on next year’s teaching trips. As soon as we get the “all clear” — from the Lord and from international authorities — we’re looking forward to seeing these our friends, these wonderful leaders, again in person!
Much love in Jesus,
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- Graphic by Jim Kerwin ↩
- Image of the flag of Nicaragua is courtesy of Wikipedia.org. ↩
- Photo by Jim Kerwin ↩
- Photo by Jim Kerwin ↩
- “Selfie” by Jorge Watanabe ↩
- Photo by Jorge Watanabe. ↩
- Photo by Denise Kerwin. ↩
- Photographer unknown; taken from Gladys de Chávez' Facebook page. ↩
- The book and its cover design are the product of Penguin Books. The copyright holder is the author, John M. Barry, ©2005. ↩
- The book and cover design are the product of Simon & Schuster Paper. The 2019 copyright is held by the author, Marie Arana. ↩