The Untold Stories of 2020

Our yearly picture of our kids, Karina & Jonathan, now 7 and 4 years old

Well, it has been a strange, crazy year…

Karina & Jonathan, now 7 and 4 yrs.

And so much has gone on with us!

…But we’re thankful that, even after everything that has happened, we’re still standing.

Anyway, for us the year has been marked both by some unusual situations in Larry’s health and, of course, by the rise of the covid-19 epidemic.

So get ready. The stories we’ve written here are unlikely stories, and the stars are unlikely stars. Be sure to enjoy them.

Daniel

Our first star is a guy named Daniel, who has been nice enough for over a year now to manage our Mercy Pantry out of his house, since we ourselves live in a different neighborhood from where the actual church is actually located.

Daniel is truly a very interesting person and doesn’t exactly have the credentials you would think of when choosing someone to manage your Mercy Pantry.

In fact, there is sort of something we have to tell you about Daniel… You see he was arrested, for car theft actually — since he was with a group of kids who were in a stolen vehicle. And though Daniel and everybody who knows him all swear that he didn’t have a direct hand in the incident, the long and short of it is that this young man was definitely running with the wrong crowd.

…And when we got to know him a few years ago he had just finished spending about eighteen months in jail.

Ever since then, though, he has been extremely interested in the gospel, and in everything that we were doing, and all we can say is that it didn’t take long for Daniel to become a Christian… and now he and his wife are some of the most committed believers we know.

Anyway, when we handed the Mercy Pantry over to him, Daniel was happy enough to hand out groceries to about 10 families a month, which is what we had been doing before the covid outbreak (and required quarantines!) hit our area of Mexico…

So like we say everything was going fine… Until after the covid outbreak, when Daniel suddenly found that he was giving out groceries to, well um… two hundred families a month. And they were all suddenly knocking at his door!!!

Needless to say this young man became just a little bit more busy after the peak in covid happened… And in fact our phone was ringing off of the hook in the middle of the night with phone calls from him asking about families standing outside on his porch. Meanwhile we were stuck in the states, getting medical treatment for Larry because of a funny tremor in his arm which we will tell you about below !

So we do have to confess that Daniel was a bit overwhelmed at first, and so were we.

But in the end the adversity of the covid situation gave Daniel a chance to prove himself to the entire neighborhood.

Certainly, we have to tell you that he kept every account for stocking the pantry right down to the exact peso.

….And of course there was the time he called us with a break in his voice, asking for the last sack of groceries after he had been searching all day to find a $5 job to feed his own family since he didn’t want to ask for groceries that would be a help to someone else.

So if you’ve ever considered having an ex-convict handing out groceries to two hundred families a month, we would highly recommend it, especially if the person is anything like Daniel.

Some folks, at least, thought he was good enough to do the job…

…And he did it so beautifully.

Jasmine

And of course it would be wrong to send a newsletter this year without telling you the story of how Jasmine fought for the life of her baby… and won.

Many of you know that the birth of this newest little girl was a miracle… but you probably have no idea how much of a miracle…

Anyway we won’t go into much detail, but we will tell some of the story to give you an idea of just how big a thing you prayed for, since the final weeks before her delivery were marked by some difficult situations which left us worried, and wondering about the lives of both Jasmine and the baby.

Ironically the challenges started when Jasmine refused to be talked into giving police bribes.  At eight months pregnant and struggling to sustain her other children in the midst of the covid quarantines, Jasmine had finally figured out a niche in the market and managed to build herself a business selling used clothes cheap to the middle class, who were also being affected by the economy. Unfortunately, though, her success did not last long, since when the police realized that things were going well, they stopped the business, wanting money, of course, to let her continue working.

Determined not to be subject to them, Jasmine made up her mind to obtain something called a “work permit” which turned out to cost $2300 pesos(!?). She had to talk to three different government officials who were familiar with her struggles, each of whom authorized a separate discount for the permit. Then she put in her own last dime, got the paper, and became official!

The day after that, however, she wound up going to the hospital in order to keep the lady she was living with from having her foot amputated — another long story, which we will not go into here…!  Anyway, the point of the moment is that on the way home from taking her friend, Jasmine fell and apparently smashed her tailbone… So doctors were worried about the baby and whether or not it would be able to get into position.

“Nora” still has her foot but lost some toes

 …They quickly recommended a type of highly specialized back brace.  So at eight months pregnant (and with a messed up tailbone!) Jasmine walked all the following day to talk again to the very same government officials who had helped her the day before, explaining her situation, and to some other government service, and managed to get a discount on the back brace…! We were not sure exactly what had happened but somehow she managed to get the brace and even get her picture taken with a government official…! (We’re lucky it was an election year! )

So the next day (in her new brace!), Jasmine walked all the way across town to pick up an envelope with 20 dollars donated through our pantry so that “Nora,” the lady with the problem foot could make a pot of tamales to sell in order to pay for some of her medicines and continue her treatment… But they couldn’t find the guy at home, so the following day they had to walk across town again!  (Not sure if Nora went a second time!)

Then on the fourth day they made the pot of tamales, sold them, and presumably made enough money to cover the foot medications since as far as we know, this nice lady still has her foot(!).

On the fifth day, though, when Jasmine was on her way back to work to her clothing business, she suddenly began feeling some serious numbness in her face and arms. So, after having talked the doctor down to only the essential medicines, and not without stopping by a neighbor’s house to see if they needed any help washing clothes in exchange for a few pesos, Jasmine stopped by the Mercy Pantry again, asking for a little more help!

Now by this point we didn’t have very much in our Pantry, but we dipped into the bottom of our Mercy funds, and with the equivalent of $15 that her husband Carlos had earned that day cleaning windshields, we got Jasmine the meds.

From there ensued a series of tests in which doctors were wanting to do a different study on her almost every day for 2 weeks, and could not figure out exactly what was wrong with her…!

But after two weeks of testing which seemed like an eternity, and doctors voicing their concerns about some alarming results in her kidney function, Jasmine gave birth to a gorgeous little girl, “Yulaney,” born 2 weeks after her due date!

Anyway, we were just innocent bystanders sort of biting our nails off in all of this, but we know one thing is clear… Neither Jasmine nor the baby would still be here unless God wanted it that way.

And was little Yulaney worth giving everything that we had, and just a little bit more..?

..Yes.

“None other than…”

Ok., So this brings us to our third star.  He’s not as cute as the baby above, but he’s none other than the famous “Mr…” Larry Flathmann …!!!

Now we will have you know here that we wouldn’t normally be featuring Larry as one of the “stars,” in our letter, but it gives us the chance to tell you about his health situation and also lots of things going on in our ministry.

…So our third star’s story begins when we suddenly began noticing some strange, yet unmistakable shaking in his right arm…(?!)

We started seeing chiropractors, and yet as much as we found that they were able to mediate the problem, it just didn’t seem to go away.

So as we mentioned above, Larry was actually in the U.S. being treated by an upper cervical chiropractor when the Texas covid quarantines started closing in on us from all sides. Simultaneously, our Mercy Ministries started exploding in Mexico as all of our people found themselves out of jobs, and in need of medical ministry once the quarantining swept south, since hospitals in the Laguna closed in the effort to prepare themselves for the coming triage. …Anyway it was at that point when we found ourselves in the situation we’ve described above with 190 extra families a month knocking down the door of our Mercy pantry…!

… And speaking of those 190 extra families, somewhere along the way we began to realize that our new and improved, “very popular” Mercy Pantry was going to need, um… funding!

So we knew we needed to come up with a little income for the Pantry fast… and yet we also knew that in the middle of the covid crisis, it was not going to be easy.

The other thing was that we started to see so many other needs arising around us, even in the U.S., that we didn’t want to ask for more than what was absolutely necessary. We tried raising funds, but when that seemed to be going slow, Larry decided to ask his nephew who lived on a farm in small town (“Moravia?!’), Texas if he had any extra construction work, and promptly found himself digging ditches in the sun from dawn to dusk about two days later…!

…Now here we have to confess that initially we were a little concerned about Larry’s arm, and we do have to say that for the first few days Larry felt like he was about to pass out every day when he got home from work!

But do you know what happened…?  …Somehow, Larry’s arm got better.

We don’t know if it was getting up with the sun, or maybe building his muscles in construction, or maybe even the farm food, but something very special about the farm started to work in Larry’s favor. And we can now say that though his tremors haven’t gone away completely, they are almost insignificant a lot of the time now.

To be sure, we have seen a neurologist, and unfortunately there is talk of Parkinson’s every time we see her, but she also says it could just be a tremor, so that’s definitely what we’re hoping for!!!

Anyway, Larry took construction breaks, construction lunches, evenings, Saturdays, and even the time riding back and forth in his nephew’s truck to make phone calls and stay on top of everything that was going on back home in Mexico.

In other news, many of you know that one more shocking thing which happened to us this year is that Larry’s mom contracted covid late this summer and after she’d had a long hard fight with it, we lost her early this fall.

…So it wasn’t always easy working in construction these past months.

No, it wasn’t easy…. When you are on the edge of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and when all you want to do is stand outside a hospital window and try to see your mom through the cracks in her mini blinds, since she is on a ventilator and breathing her last, it isn’t easy working in construction all day to provide extra funding for groceries for 200 families a month.

But it’s what Larry did.

…And it’s what made him a hero, especially to all those families.  And you know something?

It’s probably exactly what his mother would have wanted him to do.

…And she would have been so very, very proud.

And “Grandma Ginny!”

Which brings us to our final star, who just happens to be Larry’s own mother, a.k.a. in some circles as “Grandma Ginny.” We had to feature her here because of the way that she taught us about covid-19, since otherwise we confess that after everything that has happened this year we might have held some resentment towards the disease(!).

At any rate, the first thing we should probably tell you about Grandma Ginny is that she was not the kind of person who would let being a little sick or having aches and pains get her down. And hers is not the story of an already physically weak person! No, in fact the reality is that Grandma Ginny left us all of the sudden… with empty tupperwares sitting on the counter from the last time she had made cookies — and painting projects that she used to do with the kids sitting all around her room.

The other important thing we need to tell you about Grandma Ginny is that she had grandkids.  And we mean grandkids! Seventeen to be exact, and she was already working on 14 great grandkids… with three more on the way!  …And counting.  (Only grandkids are pictured here!)

So of course you can only imagine the shock that went through the family the day Grandma Ginny came down with covid.

At first, everything seemed fine. Grandma did have to go the hospital for a few days, but she was actually released home after her treatment!  The problem came when pneumonia came on, and within a couple days she started having oxygen levels so low that she couldn’t stand up.  So suddenly we found ourselves back to visiting the hospital again. And this time we found ourselves standing outside of an ICU window.

…Now we have to say that here is where things got to be difficult. And we ourselves began to lose faith as we saw that one by one, the beds in that ICU unit were turning up empty all around her.

Even so, Grandma Ginny showed such heart. Unable to sit, she would still make sounds of joy through her breathing machine whenever grandchildren came to stand outside her window and sing hymns to her as someone on the inside held a cell phone to her ear. And of course just like always, the visits from her grandchildren seemed to provoke much more enthusiasm than the visits from the rest of us !

But even the grandkids were not the reason why Grandma Ginny was fighting so hard.

You see, the real reason she was fighting was that her dream had always been to be part of the rapture. In fact, she even had an experience in one of her “conversations with God” which made her think that she was going to live until the rapture, so that she could see Jesus’ coming firsthand!

…So the hard part of this story comes when we got to a point where it became clear that Grandma Ginny wasn’t going to make it to be part of the rapture… At least not as she had hoped.

Still, we don’t know what your spirit, soul, and body theology is, but according to our reading of 1st Thessalonians, if you have already gone to be with the Lord, then you get to go first on the day that we’re taken up!

Anyway, somewhere along the line Grandma Ginny must have figured that out, since when her oldest daughter whispered to her over the phone being held to her ear that it was okay for her to go if she needed to, her sweet heart stopped beating just 45 minutes later.

… And it’s no wonder.

Because the truth of things is that nobody, nobody would have wanted to be first in the rapture more than she would have.

And God was wise once again, since He knew better than any of us that if your heart is yearning to be in the rapture, you might be more comfortable as you wait if you are waiting in Heaven…

So because of Grandma Ginny’s fight, and most of all because of her hopes and dreams, we learned that even in the midst of this seemingly powerful epidemic, life is not about some strange new virus having the victory over people, but that it is still about God, about Him being in control… And it’s still about God bringing people home, and to Himself, in His perfect timing.

Still, though…, Things are not the same without Grandma around.

…But we have memories.  So we will never forget Grandma Ginny talking about how the Lord had told her specifically that at the rapture she was going to be with Him…

And He was right.

She also said she would be in good hands… And she was right.

…And of course we can’t help but smile when we think of her there at the end, forever telling all of the doctors and nurses not to worry…that she was going to be just fine.

 And she is.

Oh, yes.

…And very fine indeed.

Stay tuned for more prayer requests, updates on Larry’s health, and news on plans that we have to start a carpentry workshop in the barrio from all that Larry’s learned construction !!!

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