He Is With Us In The Storm

Greetings from Guatemala. We pray that you and your families are doing well and are in good health. Thank you for giving Paula and I the opportunity to follow the call of God to serve the people of Guatemala in and through any way He leads us to do so. We are blessed. We are grateful. We are thankful for your love, prayers and support.

 He is with us in the storm. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. We don’t always understand the reasons why God allows things to happen. However, God’s ways are always perfect. Although storms and tragedies occur in our lives, His grace is sufficient to carry us through.

 ~ The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2~

I begin this long awaited update letter with a heavy heart. A 22 year old young man from our village was tragically taken from us in a motor vehicle accident this past Thursday. He leaves behind a 3 month old precious little girl and a grieving family. His name was Jose Angel Amador Asmen. He had such a gentle and joyful spirt. His 6 siblings, mother and step father are heartbroken. This is a huge hit to an already struggling community. However, I know without doubt, God is with us in this storm.

It has been an incredibly tough year. Just under a year ago the world came to a screeching halt because of COVID-19. Loss of work, community, and spiritual connection with fellow believers has impacted this world greatly. Then for Guatemala would come the storm of all storms that would impact our families forever.

You have been a refuge for the poor, 
a refuge for the needy in their distress, 
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat…”
 Isaiah 25:4 

 Who could ever imagine? We could not even have begun to fathom what would take place in the early evening hours on November 5, 2020. Paula had returned to the States for a week to bring Canastas that our artisans had made to fulfill Christmas orders. Early that Friday morning I had asked our scholarship students to come to the Daycare in the village to help me clean, paint and prepare a room for our new village social worker, provided through Passion 4 Guatemala. On this day, Ligia was beginning her first day of work with our families. It took us all day to prepare the Daycare and the students had a blast getting this project completed. We had no idea what was about to occur!

Eta, a Category 4 hurricane, was already reaching peak intensity east of Nicaragua early on November 3rd. Here in the desert region of Zacapa, Guatemala, it had been raining for a couple of days. The Jones river runs along side the Hope of Life/Cause Life Village. A few years earlier, the government had widened and reinforced the banks of the river, placing Volkswagen Beetle sized boulders all along the banks to reinforce the walls. Prior to the hurricane, the river was all but a trickle, however it had now been raining for 3 days straight. At 5 p.m. when we finished preparing the Daycare, the river was still a good 20 feet below the top of the river bank on the village side. 

By 5:15 p.m. several family members were standing on the road that runs along the top of the river bank, looking down, watching as the waters rushed by. At 9:30 that morning, the families had been given a notice to pack a backpack in case the waters breached the bank and the families needed to be relocated to the medical center just above the village. I remember standing there, looking down at the river, thinking, “there is no way that river could breach this bank, no matter how much rain was falling, it’s way too fortified”. I tried to comfort some of the families that were standing there with me looking down. I told them, “God has this, don’t worry, it’s all in God’s hands. He will protect us”.

Between the hours of 5:15 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., behind the mountain the ministry is built on, the river winds around the mountain. Behind the mountain the river had been ripping away at the backside of the mountain. 3 rivers cascading down the mountains had now become one massive river. The banks of the river that ran alongside of the village were heavily fortified, it could handle the force and power of one river, however, it could not handle the massive 3 rivers that had become one behind Hope of Life. The waters carved out its banks on the side of the mountain of the ministry and was making a more direct path just above the medical clinic.

At 6:00 p.m. we got the notice that we would need to start rescuing the families because the banks on the backside of the mountain were destroyed and there was a potential for the river to breach this area. By 6:15 Carlos Vargas our founder and his team were rescuing families from the Causelife side of the village, while I was rescuing families from the Hope of Life side of the village. I must have made over 20 trips in our UTV, zipping in and out of the village, taking families to the school in Llano Verde to wait out the storm. Around 7:15 p.m. the last of the families had been safely evacuated to the school. I made one last trip around this time. I made it all the way to the gate that enters Hope of Life Village. One of the teenage boys, Carlos Abel, rode back down with me to make sure we didn’t see anyone else that was left behind. He ran to his house to get his mom’s small suitcase of clothing she had forgotten in the rush. Sitting there, I Could see the other team finishing their last rescue, exiting Causelife Village. Sitting there, I will never forget the horrible sound of the river behind me, down the banks beside the village, the smell of the water and it’s debris carries a unique scent I will always remember. At this point water had not entered the village. There was complete darkness lit only by the street lights and the porch lights left on in the homes. I felt peace knowing the families were safe, I remember thinking, “everything is going to be fine, God has this”! Sitting waiting for Carlos, alone on the Hope of Life village road, I was starting to feel a little anxious. Finally, Carlos got in the vehicle and we rode out of the village taking us up the hill into town and the school. I sat there and talked to some of the families, I could see the deep concern, their faces filled with uncertainty and fear. “God has this, you are safe, everything will be fine”.

After talking to some of the families for a few minutes, I decided to drive to the top of the hill that descends down into HOL village, when I arrived families were screaming at me, “Chris, don’t go down, it’s gone, it’s all gone. Don’t go, it’s not safe, you will be killed.” A man named Ramon said, “Chris, my house is gone, there is nothing left”. He was horrified. The massive river that surged behind the mountain found a two new paths to unleash it’s force and power. These were directly through the village. The village was completely destroyed.

Early the next morning as I made my way down to the village, countless people from our town and the families of the village were trying to salvage what they could find. Upon entering the village, the massive horror was realized, I started to bawl, looking at the sheer and massive destruction. Rony, a young man from our town, saw me and ran over to me. He said, “Chris, keep it together, you have to be strong for them, don’t let them see you cry, they need you”!

Pictures do not do it justice, you would have to see it first hand to realize the devastation. Ramon was right, his house was completely gone. There was no foundation, nothing. There were huge trees, boulders and mountains of sand that stretched the length of the village all the way to the highway which is a good half a mile away.

It was a true miracle that no-one was injured, no lives were lost and the families were safe. God was with us and he protected each one. Half of the families remained at the school in Llano Verde, while the other half were moved to a church in Pata Galana, in a neighboring village. The families remained there for several days until a better solution would present itself. 

That night 50 homes and everything they had worked so hard to obtain, along with our church, daycare, leather shop, our supply of medicine, medical supplies, school supplies, shoes and clothing, and our future computer lab/library was all destroyed by the forces of the storm. Everyone was devastated and scared and the future was so uncertain.

By November 10th, half of our families had been slowly moving out of the school and church into rooms and homes they found to rent. The remaining half of our families who didn’t have the resources to pay rent moved into an abandoned school down the road in Rosario. Everyday we could see God strengthening them and assuring them that He is with them.

The Mayor of Rosario opened the doors of the school for the remaining 24 families who needed a place to live. The families remained there until the end of the year. There was 3 buildings in the school. We had one building large enough for women and small children. A second building for the older boys and the men. The women would work in groups, taking turns cooking for all the families every day. The kids had a soccer court. We had a storage area for donations and a full kitchen. A large portion of the food that the families received during this time was supplied through your generous donations to Passion 4 Guatemala. Since the Covid pandemic in March 2020 and the closing of Guatemala’s borders, businesses suffered greatly here and lead to a loss of work and shortage of food. Because of you Passion 4 Guatemala was able to stand in the gap and provide our families with bi-weekly food deliveries. Thank you to all who gave!

I know many of you wanted to come and help during this time. Unfortunately it was impossible due to the difficulties of getting in and out of the country and the closing of Hope of Life. Your love, prayers and finances have helped tremendously and continue to do so to this day. It has also been wonderful to see the Guatemalan community reaching out to help during this time! Churches, families, restaurants, towns, businesses and individuals have come to the rescue. They provided food, clothing, mattresses, medicine, toiletries and toys! It was a blessing to see Guatemalans helping Guatemalans! They also brought entertainment!

November 15th Iota, a category 5 hurricane formed outside of Central America. It moved across Guatemala dissipating on November 18th. Several days of rain once again poured down on Guatemala.  What wasn’t destroyed in our village by Eta, Iota destroyed. Dale Trotter, an American missionary serving here who also served in Kuwait in 1990, visited the village and said, “I haven’t seen destruction like this that wasn’t caused by  bombs, absolutely horrific”.

During the time the families were in the school, there were many wonderful memories and good times shared. Paula and I continued to have children’s services on Friday afternoons with the help of our youth and Friday nights we would have youth services. Thankfully were able to rescue the projector and movie screen from the church in the village. They were the only things we were able to retrieve. It turned out to be a great blessing because we would have movie nights several nights a week and also had the projector and screen for church services.

November 26th, Momma Paula made Thanksgiving Dinner for our Canasta team. They always look forward to this time of year when they get to spend “Día de Gracias” with us and enjoy a typical American Thanksgiving dinner. Paula always fills them up with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes with marsh mellows, Mac N’ Cheese, green beens, and rolls. This Thanksgiving each of us sat and gave thanks for the fact that although the families lost pretty much everything they had, they still had each other and their families! After lunch they all laid around afterwards, laughing and watching “Home Alone”.

On November 30th, with the Canasta shop left unusable, the ministry gave us another location for the Canasta team to start working again within the ministry. The team was so happy to finally get back to work. Because of COVID, they are only working two days a week. We rely so much on sales to groups that come to serve at HOL and it is difficult to get their products to the States without the help of groups bringing the Canastas back for us. However, we are using this time to set up a website to purchase canastas and to get inventory to the states to fill website orders.

December 4th we had Liberty High School  graduation. We are so excited for the 6 graduates and for their future ahead of them. This year Belsy, Karla, Juan Daniel, Jaime, Veronica and Sulmi graduated. Thank you to all who participate in the golf tournament and for those of you who individually sponsor a scholarship for a student! It would be impossible for the teenagers to continue to study without your help! You are changing lives for generations through the gift of an education. You are also changing a culture! 

Paula and I canceled our flight back to the States for Christmas. There was just too great a need for us here. This was the first Christmas we spent away from Family, but it was a blessing to be able to share Christmas with our Guatemalan families. When we moved here, we brought a Christmas tree from the States, but have never put it up. We brought it to the school and the children made ornaments and helped us decorate it. This was the first Christmas tree any of them had ever decorated. On Christmas  Eve, we had the privilege of celebrating our Savior’s birth with our Guatemalan family. All of the families from the village were invited. We ate all kinds of typical Guatemalan foods. Unfortunately the Christmas hope sacks we distribute each year have not been shipped from the US because of COVID. But because of your donations, Paula and I were able to go to a store in Zacapa and buy a Christmas gift for each child. The kids received soccer balls, toy trucks and cars, stuffed animal pillows, dolls and baby toys. We bought several fireworks as is the Christmas tradition in Guatemala. We had an hour long fireworks display and the kids had tons of fun playing with sparklers. It was amazing!

At the beginning of this new year, the families that had been living in the school had moved out and had now all found homes and rooms to rent for them and their families. Hope of Life purchased land further up in the mountain behind the ministry and far away from the river. The old village is now deemed too dangerous for the families to live. Soon they will have a new land, a new hope…“New Hope Village”. It is a beautiful location. A few weeks ago, the ministry started building the first two homes in this new location. We are beyond excitement and anticipation for the day when the families can reunite and have a safe, secure and beautiful place to live.

January 8th, we had the privilege of participating in our first Guatemalan wedding for the village. We took a young couple from the village to get married at the courthouse through a civil ceremony. We were impressed the way the ceremony was conducted. The Bible was quoted often and the lawyer counseled them on the principals of a biblical marriage. Then on January 17 they had a church wedding with all their family. Our little “Pollitos” or “Baby Chicks” as I call them, have now grown up!  Juan and Debora who both work in the Canasta Project, came to us a year ago. They said they were in love, wanted to move in together and see how it worked out. Through counseling we encouraged them to wait and get married when they were able to make the commitment to be together forever.  We talked about the Lord’s design for marriage and the blessings that follow when we honor the Lord in marriage.  We realized this was not an easy decision because many in these impoverished communities don’t have the means or the necessary documents to legally get married. Many families and communities then support them in their decision to move in together. Juan and Debora agreed to wait and they dated for another year.  We are so thankful they relied and waited on the Lord and were joined in holy matrimony. We are so proud of them!

 Our scholarship students have just started the new school year.  School begins in January and ends in October.  Because of COVID, the Liberty middle and high school students must study virtually. Due to their impoverished situation, they cannot afford to buy computers nor do they have the means to pay for internet.  So, we turned a storage room in the ministry into a classroom.  Through your sponsorship and other donations, we were able to buy 10 laptops, tables, chairs, fans and even a microwave so they can heat up their breakfast or lunch.  We provided a new tutor, Rosselyn, who works with our students throughout the day. 

We  have 20 Liberty students and we are also so proud of our 17  students who are going to school on the weekends and working during the week. That is a total of 37 young men and women who are receiving an education! Many of the students studying on the weekend were not able to go to school when they were younger. They are realizing the importance of an education and have decided to study and receive an education. They tell us how much they enjoy their classes and are excited for their future. At the end of January we dug out the old Canasta Shop, cleaned it, repainted and are now using it to store Canastas.  On Sunday we hold Sunday night youth services there!

~Not only are your donations for scholarships changing the lives of our Liberty students but you are changing a culture and a mindset.  We are so excited for our students that have decided to return to school. ~

Our elementary school students were scheduled to return to school February 15 but have not been able to return yet.  The school in Llano Verde is making plans to have in-school classes one day a week with home work for the rest of the week.  However, our area is in “condition red” for the vast amount of COVID cases.  So, the school year has been delayed once again. This is a huge problem because many of these students have not studied in school for a year. Although they have been doing homework at home, it is very different as you know from going to school and learning in the classroom. The public elementary schools here do not have the infrastructure to have virtual learning.  We are working to provide new uniforms and shoes for all the children to be ready to go to school because they lost all of their uniforms in the storm. We hope to be able to provide work for some of the mothers that can make the uniform skirts for the girls.  Please pray that these children will be able to return to school very soon. 

We had only planned for Ligia, our social worker to work with our families through the end of the new year.  However, with the loss of the village and the displacement of the families, it was necessary to keep her on to continue her work with our families. Ligia, Paula and I have been closely working together. We visit the families in their homes to make sure they are safe and have everything they need. Ligia works on collecting the family social, economic, and health situations. This gives us the ability to pray with the families, as well as, provide food, medicine and basic essentials like toiletries, shoes and even tables and chairs. This also gives us the opportunity to make sure they receive Doctor and Dental visits if necessary. Ligia has been a tremendous blessing.

January 26th, we broke ground in the “New Hope Village”. The new homes will be twice the size as the previous homes with two or three bedrooms depending on the size of the family.  It will also have a bathroom, kitchen area and family room. The new homes are $12,500. The plans for the new village include a church, education center, soccer court, workshop for canastas, leather and sewing. We are so excited and I know the families are so ready to move into their new homes and rejoin the community of family and friends they miss so much!

Families that have their own land outside of the village prior to the storm will have the opportunity to have a home built on their own property. This was the case for the Zabaleta family. They had purchased their land several years ago and a month before the flood, they asked if they could be put on a list to receive a home. It was the dream of Freddy Zabaleta and his family to one day have their own home.  It is very hard for these families to save enough to buy land and even harder to be able to build their own house.  This family worked diligently to buy their property.  Then the storm took their home and everything they had worked so hard to have.  But God is faithful to bring beauty from ashes for those who put their trust in him. The Zabaleta’s now have their new home on their own property. Thank you for donating to the Passion 4 Guatemala disaster fund. You provided this home for this family and made this family’s dream come true. 

As we continue to rebuild, please keep our Guatemalan families, Paula and I in prayer. Please pray for Hope of Life and Passion 4 Guatemala as we work together to take on the enormous project of rebuilding.  Please pray for wisdom and discernment as we seek each day to do the will and work of the Lord. 

Please also pray for how God is asking you to help. As the body of Christ, each of us plays an important role to do and complete the work He has set out before us.  We are truly grateful for what each and every one of you have already done and we look forward to continuing our partnership with you in the future.

If you would like to sponsor a child, provide a scholarship or have questions about our ministry or how to help, please email us through:  passion4guatemala@aol.com

If you would like to help us in our efforts to rebuild the community and/or provide necessities for these families, you can donate by check: 

Passion 4 Guatemala

Send to: Passion 4 Guatemala

445 Abbitt Branch Road

Appomattox, Va 24522

Or visit our website at: www.passion4guatemala.com Click Donate to Passion 4 Guatemala under menu tab.

~Together we will not only be building homes and a new community, we will be building lives~

Walking through the remains of the village the other day, I came across this Bible laying in one of the homes in the dirt and debris. I was curious to find what scriptures the flood left the pages of the Bible open to. I picked it up and began to read :

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”

    and you make the Most High your dwelling,

no harm will overtake you,

    no disaster will come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you

    to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,

    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

You will tread on the lion and the cobra;

   you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

Psalm 91:9-13

The Lord was their refuge, no harm overtook them in the flood. Disaster came, but they were not in their homes. He was with them in the Storm!