Back to La Perla! (Pt 4)

There’s progress at La Perla!

La Perla is a ghetto neighborhood in Old San Juan, famous for its danger, drugs, and witchcraft.  But that reputation is fading – God has been tilling the soil and, even with the destruction from Hurricane Maria, there’s life rising up.  Our part began in January this year, posted in When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)  and progress was posted here, The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2) and here, Progress at La Perla! (Pt 3).

So what’s new?

la perla mural artist

The Goodness Tour landed in La Perla!  Find out about them ( http://www.thegoodnesstour.org/) Here’s the mural artist Benjamin Swatez with Pastor Ivan

la perla mural

Still working on this portrait of hope and light!  Was too vast to capture in one photo!

Pastor Ivan’s workshop, planned for youth to create marketable art and express the Gospel truth outside of church walls, still not completed! 

la perla work crew

This team from Servants for Christ International, worked to help finish the second floor

I thought our trip would include a ribbon cutting!  But Pastor Ivan shared some of the bumps along this road.  Modern day ‘Sanballats’ – like the one who opposed Nehemiah’s wall building, arose to sabotage and steal.  One man, masquerading as a Christian, joined to help yet once he saw the value of the project he produced some kind of paperwork to the town hall, attempting to prove that he himself owned the land.  The scheme failed but halted construction for some time.

With the great drain of professionals and skilled laborers out of Puerto Rico, finding real construction workers is a big challenge.  Many unemployed folks exaggerate or fabricate skills just to get work.  This creates unstable structures and do-overs in the work.

But in all this, Christian groups have stopped by and worked.  There’s been fellowship and camaraderie.  In ways we may not know, with the Lord the process is as valuable as the finished end!  

la perla window work

While there we installed a window (OK, my husband installed it but I passed the tools!)

The beautiful part of the trip was the fellowship with families in La Perla and especially with Pastor Ivan.  Puerto Rico is in trouble.  Residents and businesses are abandoning their property and moving out in droves.  Corrupt government, unemployment, and despair are unraveling the island.  But God is there.  And if anyone is looking, they might just find Him at La Perla!

la perla ravelin

La Perla Ravelin built in the 1700’s by Spain.  A military concept, “defense in depth”, designed to repel attackers from the shore.  May the Lord be their defense, may He push back the darkness, may He bring victory to La Perla!

Passing God The Baton

Junctures, crossroads, and detours come in the course of many fiery trials.  Believers, followers of the Lord Jesus, have access to God’s strength, wisdom, and leadership to forge ahead.  However, God can lead even His sheep to what seems to be a dead end.

Previous posts such as  Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!, Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies, Time to Quit or Go Deeper,   ‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed describe the ongoing battle in our neighborhood to save Haven Avenue from Columbia University’s plan to close it.  Under the guise of a ‘pedestrian plaza’ they are aggressively forging through our neighborhood to expand their campus.  At the same time outside developers won their conquest to rezone an adjacent neighborhood, with the sure result of gentrification and displacement.

But the defeat of our street, Haven Avenue stung the deepest.  Over the past year, our neighbors strongly rallied together, petitioned, canvassed, and presented to the Community Board not only our opposition but the inevitable hazard and hardship street closure would bring. While we understood ‘backroom deals’, what was most grievous was the forefront of corruption, in our face.  Betrayal and deceit and finally total dismissal of the community – live streamed and undeterred!

Even worse, all this at the behest of ‘an elite institute of higher learning’, one that even quotes Biblical scripture in their mottos.  The expressions of triumph as they defeated us – their neighbors – revealed the lowest of morality.

SO, we conferred as a group and committed to take legal action, an appeal with the State Supreme Court as procedure allows.  I myself poured into this, researching and writing, to present the case pro se.  There were definite grounds to appeal.  I started with such gusto, but found myself trudging through wet cement.  It became evident that,  without an attorney, at $15,000+,  we were surely jumping into a pool of sharks.  Their team of lawyers would happily eat us for lunch.

I have now conceded that it’s over…at least my part.  I believe I’ve come to a dead end. 

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Even deflated and defeated, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  With your help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

The Lord answered our prayers for our neighbors – we now know them enough to share our faith and pray for them.  He led us into a battle and girded us to stand and present the truth, exposing shameful and corrupt tactics, calling us to pray – not just for our victory but moreso for the depraved morality of those before us.

I believe we have run as far as we are able under God’s guidance.  Like King Jehoshaphat we cry, “O our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

runner passing baton

The battle is totally in His hands. 

The ‘next step’ is sometimes the hardest….”Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.”

Yes Lord, keep my lamp burning…..

 

‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed

In Time to Quit or Go Deeper , a looming social and political threat hung over our neighborhood at large.  The same villainous City Councilman who championed Columbia University’s takeover of our street, now spearheaded a major rezoning of the neighborhood at large, opening floodgates of opportunities to big developers and real estate moguls.  Without exception, ‘rezoning’ = ‘gentrification’ in NYC, always resulting in the eventual displacement of thousands.

protest sign

We were, indeed, sold out!

Yesterday, August 8th, I joined a large gathering at City Hall, planning to attend this fateful public vote but found we were all shut out.  Nonetheless we stayed and voiced our opposition on the steps of City Hall.

The City Council was well aware of the residents’ vehement objection to this pervasive plan.  None the less, they voted  43-1 in favor.  Even Councilmen who previously expressed objection changed their vote. 

If pressing in with the Lord, going deeper, results in such a devastating defeat, why bother?  Because the ‘issue at hand’ is usually not God’s focus.  I prayed for my neighbors, whom I hardly knew and found myself alongside them in battle.  Personally, I do not subscribe to the ‘social gospel’ or ‘felt needs gospel’ and never believe, ‘together we can change the world!’  But as our hearts were charged with the issues at hand, the Lord did a work that eluded me for all these years living here.  I came to know and love my neighbors, enabling me to care and truly pray for them.   

Going deeper into fellowship with the Lord, through worship, prayer and His word, will not guarantee any worldly victory.  But a sincere heart, determined to meet with sovereign God, will hear from Him.  All else becomes inconsequential in His presence as His word brings clarity, light, and understanding.  Moreover, as we present ‘our heart’s desires’ to Him,  the Lord may refocus and redirect us to His desires, His focus, and His plan.  He is, after all, our Commanding Officer.

Amid the earthly defeat – and there will be many more and worse in these last days – there is one sign that I will never stop ‘carrying’.  I posted it in my young brother’s hospital room.  Soon, nurses and attendants were taking photos of it to share with those who suffer.

My brother died in that room, but the sign is still here…

faith-is-sign.jpg

May we, as the Body of Christ, lock arms and go deeper – not into the world but into His presence.

Still praying for my neighbors……