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!

Pass God the Baton – Heaven Rules!

I prayed for my neighbors…  was over a year ago.  Subsequent posts chronicled the  neighborhood battles around Columbia University expanding into our street under the guise of a ‘community plaza’.  Meeting and working with our neighbors, we organized and researched, uncovering CU’s ultimate plans to expand their campus, shutting down a large part of our street and eventually taking over more of our neighborhood.

We fought the Community Board.  We won, we lost.  We fought harder, we prayed and trusted God.  As the deadline to file suit against the Community Board neared, I shared my findings with the group:  Without thousands of dollars for legal fees, it would be foolhardy to proceed pro se against NYC.

Thus, I officially passed the baton to the Lord.  We did our part to the fullest extent and now our hope lies in Him alone.  Amen!

When enough Community Board votes betrayed us and aligned with CU, the chairman congratulated CU and gave one caveat,  “Wait until the current NYC street repairs are completed in that area before you begin street closure…”  The execs gladly agreed. That was June 26th this year…

And this is today, October 31st….

Haven Ave Construction II

Although they have a direct line to City Hall, CU couldn’t speed up construction!

My neighbor and I met with an onsite engineer yesterday and asked about the work.  Even after 3 months of water main replacement and repairs, he sees the work continuing for another month and a half!  Columbia University wanted to close our street so their students can ‘socialize, meet, and have coffee, without any cars or traffic around’.  C’mon snow!!

As the largest land owner in NY and upon witnessing their wielding of political power and land grabbing, I began to refer to Columbia University as an empire – with taxpaying residents as their serfs!  But that oppressive scenario only reminds me of Daniel’s admonishment to dethroned King Nebuchadnezzar:  “Learn that Heaven Rules”!

And we, as citizens of heaven, need to remember and proclaim that too!

I passed God the baton and the ground didn’t open up and swallow my enemies…but the ground did open up!  Although we tried our best, it is God who is pushing back CU’s development plans.  Will He thwart them completely?  Will we regroup with this new allotted time and go forth with a new strategy?

All I know is this, God is at the helm of Haven Avenue.  Not that this piece of asphalt has any eternal value.  I believe though, that a ‘gate’ opened where neighbors finally meet and share their concern and outrage.  Hopefully one day living faith takes root with the assurance that, although this world passes away, God’s truth and salvation are forever…because Heaven Rules.

 

When God Allows Defeat

I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  and I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  describe how, after months of praying for my neighbors and our community, my husband and I were drawn into a calamity.  Columbia University, the largest private land owner in NYC, was pushing a plan to close down part of our street to expand their campus.  After demolishing apartment buildings across the street and erecting a huge conference center….

CU conference center

This gargantuan building looms over our small residential street!

…they want to expand their campus onto our street!

Although they are confident and shovel ready, CU could not proceed with campus expansion unless they obtained approval by the governing Community Board.

With Columbia’s ongoing pattern of displacing residents and shutting small businesses, our community was alarmed and, as we drew together, Bob and I came to know and more personally care about them.  We spoke out in public gatherings and united.

We won on 12/4/17, when the Community Board voted against CU.

But over the past 3 months, Board members changed and ‘temporary appointees’ strategically put in – suddenly CU pushed back on their agenda although they had no justification to appeal the last decision!

Once again, we canvassed and met with residents…petitions, signs, flyers…nothing left undone.  We prayed, especially to assure that we were in God’s will.   If “the nations are a drop in the bucket” to God,  could our little street have any significance to Him?  Is there anything of eternal value knitted into this issue?

Bob said, “I keep going back to Proverbs 31:8, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves..”  The NLT states, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”

 

Columbia had a small cluster of executives…but in their midst was our City Councilman!

The entire community was prepared to speak, many had done research on vital traffic issues that would preclude CU’s plan.  There were strong procedural objections from community representatives.  Many, if not most, came to express their outrage of CU’s ongoing neighborhood take over.

While public input is protocol, the ‘interim’ chairperson said, “You are all welcome to stay but will not be acknowledged to speak.  We are voting on this issue without public input.”   BAMBOOZLED!!

The uproar and outcry could not be stopped.  Almost unbelievably, an elderly Hispanic man came up to my husband and asked, “Sir, could you speak for me?  I cannot speak for myself.”!  

Bob did speak and, while I truly seek to obey scripture (Submit to governing authorities), a deep lament welled up in me.  I did not speak on the material I had planned, but stood up and cried out,

“You’re betraying us!  You’re supposed to represent us!! You will nullify yourselves in this community – No one will trust you!!” 

They turned their faces from the public and voted, majority in favor of Columbia.

The cluster of executives walked away happy, in the company of our City Councilman!  The final step is approval by the General Board – CU does not look worried.

Should we press on to the General Board?  Are we totally defeated?

The only question that need be answered is this:  what is God’s will?  The Lord can lead us into what seems unwinnable – and we might be defeated!  But God is never defeated, never.  With Sovereign God, the ‘thing at hand’ isn’t always His focus.

Although pointing to our spiritual battles, this excerpt from Anchored in the Cross challenges us to endure in the battle….

“Great victories come from great warriors!  Great warriors are made from greatness of character!….Territory is always vital in war.  It’s a battle of turf and who will occupy the ground.  Has the enemy attempted to enter your home, children, family?…We must stand and defend the territory God has given us and not allow the enemy to overtake it…..

What does it require inside you in order to stand relentlessly?…God uses people in your life to build character that will make you a fighter for the Kingdom of God…

Outnumbered?…with God with you, you’re never outnumbered and have no need to retreat….It not only takes boldness to stand, but faith as well.  Numbers are irrelevant when God is with you.

Anchored in the Cross May 25th

We prayed for our neighbors,  met them and came alongside them into the battle.  I believe that boldness is strengthening my heart, enabling me to speak to strangers and in public forums with conviction.  If God is “training my hand for war; my fingers for battle” then I believe those skills will be used for God’s Kingdom.

Speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves?  Training my hands for war?  Go on to the General Board meeting?  Only God knows.  I pray that He will order our steps.  No matter what, His purposes will not be defeated, in His shadow we will  find victory.     

 

Progress at La Perla! (Pt 3)

empty shed PR

This is where it all started!

Many will recall the ‘recovery work’ of the Lord after devastating Hurricane Maria Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers  and the Lord’s faithfulness to His servant Pastor Ivan,  When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)  and then  The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2).

Forsaken and ravaged by drugs, rampant immorality and witchcraft, God launched a new thing in La Perla – the darkness a perfect backdrop to His shining light and new life.  God is preparing La Perla to bless His Kingdom – what an honor to witness and partake of this work!  

As previously posted, the Lord called Pastor Ivan from a comfortable church in NYC for church planting in this dangerous area of Puerto Rico.  While there was some gathering of believers, Hurricane Maria all but destroyed the seedlings of church.  But Pastor Ivan’s vision and calling did not waiver.  In spite of months of depravation, he stood and stayed the course, believing that God would finish what He started.

According Pastor Ivan, it started with a ‘shack’ and the faithful foresight of what God can do with a surrendered shack.

Introducing….

le perla progress               le perla progress pastor

                                                CENTRO DE ARTE BEZALEEL!

Bezalel Art Center – BAC – named after the man chosen by God in the Book of Exodus, to lead the work of building His tabernacle and all its furnishings.  In Exodus 31, God “filled him (Bezalel) with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts”.    Not only for Bible study and fellowship, BAC will be a place for gaining personal growth and valuable work skills.

“My desire is for people to come and learn and work at the Center and experience the anointing power and love of God.  May they experience the creativeness of God.  God is the Creator and has placed in His people His Spirit of creativity.”  Pastor Ivan

la perla seashore progress II

La Perla by the Sea…once a place for degradation, now where God’s beauty and love take root and grow. 

Wow.  I’m impressed by the hand of God.  So excited to think of the next postings!

 

 

Maggie and the Gospel Truth

Some folks already know that beloved Maggie passed away on Saturday, 3/3/18, after a long illness.  Maggie’s Corner are posts expressing God’s love and truths through His creation.  Here is Maggie’s story and farewell post.

While walking through Harlem in 2004, making home visits for Parole, I unexpectedly took a left onto a street where no parolee lived.  I kept walking and came across an abandoned brownstone.  Believe it or not, I found the building online!

harlem-abandoned-2

Maggie and her kittens were living under the stairs, 144 West 129th Street!

 

I was so drawn to her and immediately bought food from a nearby ‘bodega’.  The desperate eyes of this nursing mother locked into mine…she followed me as far as she dared leave her babes on this rough street.  I promised her, “I’m coming back for you, girl!” and soon brought her and a kitten home.  (the others went out for adoption)

Perhaps like Maggie, God rescues us from desolate and hopeless places.

 “Do not be afraid…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father….you are worth more than many sparrows.”

 

Maggie lived a good life.

Maggie in suitcase

She enjoyed traveling…

maggie reading

Reading in bed

Maggie and Bible 2

Psalm 91 was one of her favorites

During personal times of turmoil and trial, even betrayals in my life, Maggie was a constant loving companion.  I saw the hand and providence of God in His creation and am still so grateful.

 In January 2017, Maggie was diagnosed with significant conditions, I was sure the end was near.  As the perfect patient, Maggie received all necessary treatment and, surprisingly, lived on.  The Lord gave Maggie another good year and during it, prepared my heart for a future farewell.

I finally prayed, “Lord, let her live until the ground thaws.”

On March 3rd 2018, I held Maggie at 4am, giving her a last gentle brushing, knowing that this would be her last day.  The ground reserved for her was thawed…. 

 

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Maggie rests under the birdhouse….in prestigious Wellesley MA

…but covered with snow on March 8th! 

Friends, if the Lord could hear the cry of a mother cat and rescue her and her kittens, won’t He hear our cry?  Deliverance may not be immediate, but won’t it be sure for those who trust and wait upon the Lord?

From Psalm 91, “He  who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…..I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Maggie was a personal blessing from the Lord, one I could not have found on my own.  I saw God’s faithfulness in bringing her out of a dangerous place and into loving arms.  But I also saw a steadfastness in Maggie, through difficult ailments and lonely times of absences.  Did she have more fortitude than me?  Maggie never waivered in cuddly love.  She always came when we called, met us at the door, and retired to bed at the right time.

From Harlem NYC to Wellesley MA….almost likened to the Lord’s way…bringing us out of the world’s darkness and into His marvelous light…and securing us into a most prestigious place – His everlasting Kingdom forever!

maggie-at-window-1

Farewell, Maggie.

 

 

The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2)

pastor Ivan TSC

Pastor Ivan, before La Perla, with a call upon his heart…

 

If the Lord is seeking a soldier that will stand his post, a shepherd who will stand with the sheep – however few remain,  and a beacon that will bear light through the storm… He found a Pastor in La Perla.

Six years ago, God called Pastor Ivan out from a vibrant NYC ministry into a neighborhood in Puerto Rico described for years as “decrepit” and “dangerous”.  Please see:  When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)   Over the course of 40 years many ministries and churches have staked a claim in La Perla, perhaps hoping to be the shining vessel through whom God will bring deliverance.  But they did not last.   God is not looking for our enthusiasm, He’s seeking steadfastness….

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the  work of the Lord, since you know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.  ( I Corin 15:58)

Although working alone in La Perla, the presence of God never left.  A remnant of believers arose and Pastor Ivan opened Iglesia La Perla.

But when the eye of the storm swept through Puerto Rico, many in La Perla fled.  The small flock of believers dwindled,  leaving behind those who would live without water, electricity or food supply for two months. 

“Not having electricity and water for 2 months was not easy.  And going out each day seeing where to get something to eat was not easy.”  Pastor Ivan

How many American pastors are praying for running water?  A light?  Even a sure meal…for two months? 

Pastor Ivan likened Hurricane Maria to “a bomb” hitting the island, “apocalyptic”.   I pressed him to share his feelings and challenges during that time…

“You try to understand your place as a Christian in the newly devastated world…I had the opportunity to go back to New York, many friends and family members were telling me to go back and it was tempting but I didn’t.  Even though my mind and flesh wanted to leave I knew I needed to stay and be there for others…. Like Jesus said, leave everything behind and follow Me…Learning to live a day at a time was challenging, but isn’t that what Jesus taught us?  To let go of everything and rely on Him.”   Pastor Ivan

The Lord strengthened Pastor Ivan and, at the right time, brought a mission team to encourage, provide and share in God’s plan.  Renovations for Iglesia  La Perla and plans for a youth workshop and Bible study building are already underway!

pastor ivan outside truck

Pastor Ivan – a shepherd with a calling and vision…and a truck with lumber!

truck by shore

Le Perla by the sea…God rebuilding upon what Maria blew away…

There is an active work of God moving throughout this world and our call is to join in.

Please join in the Lord’s work here through focused prayer.

  • Pray for Pastor Ivan, that the Lord encourage him and minister to him through His word
  • Pray for the Youth Workshop, that the Lord’s design and plans prevail and bear fruit
  •  Pray for the souls of La Perla and for others to find deliverance and salvation, entering into the freedom and promises of God.  May Iglesia La Perla grow and be a shining star to exalt the glory of God.

What God is doing here He can do in your life, in your home, in your community – no matter how devastated.  Pray for God to raise up leadership, stand together on God’s word and be steadfast.  Let’s see what the Lord will do!

When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)

La Perla ( “The Pearl”) is a historical shanty town established in the late 19th century outside the city walls of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.  As the site of a slaughterhouse and cemetery and a catchment for former slaves and homeless servants, La Perla was, by law, established outside of residential communities and business areas.

La Perla’s claims to fame….

Areas to Avoid in San Juan

1. La Perla
Tourists are advised to avoid the area known as “La Perla,” one of San Juan’s most dangerous places. “The Pearl” district in Old San Juan is a slum area where a lot of drug trafficking takes place. Despite recent law enforcement crackdowns, it remains one of the most dangerous places in Puerto Rico. It isn’t difficult to spot, as it is decrepit and quite run-down.  (AOL.com 10/4/2010)

 

In the 1970’s, Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon launched La Perla into world view with Calle Luna, Calle Sol.   Described by some as ‘gangster salsa’,  the song was intertwined with the tragic and tormented life of beloved Hector Lavoe and lives on as part of Puerto Rican culture.   Lavoe knew the streets of La Perla well….(English translation)

“Put your hand in your pocket,  take out your knife and your keys and be careful, Listen to me, in this neighborhood, many gangsters have been killed

Listen Mister, if you want your life, avoid this neighborhood or you’ll lose it

In a neighborhood of gangsters, you don’t live in peace.  Be careful with your words or you’ll be worth nothing.

Your pockets have been ripped out.  Since you went to La Perla, they left you broke and beat up…”

Notoriety, danger, fame  – “No Go Zones” – are powerful allurements for many seeking excitement and/or drugs.  The vastly popular music video, ‘Despacito’ made La Perla a ‘must go’ spot for island culture, excitement and sensuality.   With nearly 4 billion views, this music video gave La Perla international spotlight in early 2017, until Maria came and ravished all worldly hopes of fame and prosperity.

la perla after maria

Hurricanes Strip but Jesus Covers  testifies of God’s presence through the rubble in Puerto Rico.  As part of that mission team, my husband met with Pastor Ivan in La Perla.  Much of the pastor’s work seemed to wash away with the hurricane, as did the folks who were able to leave the area and the island.

But Pastor Ivan has a vision for La Perla that goes far beyond the notoriety of folk songs and sensational videos.  The thoughts and plans of man established a slaughter house and place for social rejects.  Man then turned these dangerous dark streets into a sensual allurement.

But when God arrives in the storm, what He builds has eternal value.  He turns ‘slaughter houses’ into places of new life, ‘social rejects’ into beloved saints, and brings light and song to ‘dangerous streets’.

By faith we see…

empty shed PR

A godly center rise up with a workshop for youths and Bible study for all.

 

The work begins…

 

wheelbarrel PR

 

As the Body of Christ teams together under His calling…

 

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Pastors have come and gone from La Perla over the years.  One told my husband, “Satan has thick chains around that place.”  That man is now part of the building team!  We believe that the power of God will break those chains and make “La Perla” a “Shining Star”!

The Kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field…the Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls…”

Pray for the people to find this great ‘treasure’, this ‘pearl of great price’.  Please pray for Pastor Ivan.   May the Kingdom of God advance with power to break chains of drugs, witchcraft and despair, and exalt the name of Jesus!

Excited about posting Part II, III….and IV!