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.

 

‘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……

 

Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies

We’re waiting on the Lord to reveal His will in this battle, remembering that, with God, the ‘thing at hand isn’t always the thing He’s after’.

haven avenue photo

God is not concerned about the asphalt and tar but the souls upon Haven Avenue.

The reporter from the NY Times that interviewed us, story here, is a Rhodes Scholar, here in NYC from Oxford, perhaps just for the summer.  Was this a divine appointment?  Will his report come forth with passion – come forth at all?

As believers in our community group, we fervently pray to share and demonstrate faith in God and worthiness of trusting Him.  May the Lord be exalted apart from every fleshly effort and plan!

But we are also strongly praying for our ‘enemies’, the executives of Columbia University who have forged a trail of expansion through NYC, currently staking more claim upon our street, Haven Avenue.  We’re praying for our Community Board members – those who turned their face from the outcry of the residents to align themselves with a power source.   And, we’re praying for our City Councilman who betrayed his constituents while sitting amongst the executives of CU,  championing their conquest in our neighborhood.

What is my outcry to heaven for my enemies?  It is for their souls.  “Lord, bring them to a place of shame, to their knees in godly sorrow, quicken their conscience and take away their false peace.  Lead them to true repentance, the doors of life.  (not sure if this qualifies for ‘loving my enemies’ but hopefully my heart is moving in the right direction!)

I am not a Bible teacher, but today while reading II Kings 6:8-23, I saw a true display of godliness toward ‘enemies’.  As the King of Aram dispatched an army to capture Elisha, I am reminded and refreshed by the revelation that God dispatches His own army (as given in Hebrews 1) to defend and protect His people.  Elisha’s prayer for his servant is akin to mine for my neighbors,  “Open their eyes Lord, let them see”.

Moreover, Elisha’s prayer for his enemies, “Strike these people with blindness” was not at all to conquer or crush them but rather, to steer them in an unexpected direction, away from their wicked path.  Once blinded and led before the king of Israel, they were helpless captives, easily positioned to die.  But God’s prophet Elisha prepared a great feast for them!…and “Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory”.

And so I pray for my enemies.  May the Lord disarm them, lead them to His Kingdom where they may eat and drink, and go forth surrendered to His will.

Please pray for my neighbors and my enemies!  May the Lord forge ahead through your trials and battles as well.

 

When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion

Will this be the last of these articles, I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What HappenedI Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  and When God Allows Defeat ?

After a lengthy time of praying for our neighbors, my husband and I stepped into a neighborhood battle as Columbia University fought to close down blocks of our street for their campus expansion.  United with neighbors, whom we had never before met, we fought to keep our street open and, in December 2017, we won!

However, with unlimited wealth and political power, somehow CU’s plan resurfaced for another Community Board vote.  This time, the public was disallowed to speak.  Moreover, ‘temporary changes’ were made to this subcommittee….On June 4th this subcommittee approved CU’s plan.  On June 26th, it would be voted on by the whole Community Board.   Scan0082

My husband and I once again worked diligently with our neighbors to organize and reach out to the neighborhood and Community Board members.  We were able to share our faith and, honestly, I truly hoped that a victory would be opportunity to openly praise God!  At one point, we learned that a high appointed city official is a brother in the Lord.  He assisted and encouraged us greatly.   When this became known within our group, the leader said, “Although you and I don’t share the same faith, I have to agree, this is a divine appointment!”

We were ready to exalt the Lord upon our victory on June 26th!

On that date, I gave a presentation to the Board and before community members, as did several others, highlighting again the indisputable issues against closing our street.   However, in the end, our city Councilman rose up and championed the plan of CU.  I did not know that this councilman appoints half of these Board members and determines their ongoing service!  CU lobbyists also circulated to ensure votes.

No matter!  If God intervenes, victory is ours!

But we lost.  Our elected official betrayed his constituents…as a ‘lame duck’ he is undoubted beholden to CU for some position.  Not all, but enough Community Board members turned their face away and approved CU’s plan.

Defeat….and confusion.

Entering this battle was not an impulsive act, we prayed and continued to pray throughout the process.  While we are not called to ‘fight the world’, we are called to love our neighbor.  Truthfully, we never knew these neighbors, only working alongside them did we come to have love for them.

Defeated?  “Defeated” was prematurely written over Joseph’s prison cell, Daniel’s lion’s den, over all of Paul’s life threatening attacks…..“Defeated” could have been posted over Christ’s tomb!  But GOD holds the victory for His people for His glory – how He chooses to establish that victory is His divine providence.

Confused?  God does allow confusion and upheaval….disappointments and loss.  None of us are exempt, even beloved spiritual hero John the Baptist asked Jesus from his cell,  “Are you the One who was to come…?”  Confusion brought me to my knees,  crying out to the Lord, for His supernatural peace and clarity.

I deeply lamented after that vote – but not for my street!  To literally witness bold betrayal of officials and grassroots representatives dismissing their oaths to serve – caused me to weep.  Many of them gathered around CU executives with smiles….as the residents put away their signs and hung their heads.  So shameful! When did their conscience drop dead?

Our group leader came up to me and my husband, “One good thing came out of this – I came to know you!”

Some are already rising up to pursue opposition to the Board’s vote.  There are ways, but my husband and I agree – we will not continue without God’s leading.  If there is no eternal value within this work, “Lord, count me out”.

All I know is this:  We prayed for our neighbors – even though we hardly knew them!  God engaged us in a battle, we came to know them and develop a true concern and love.

God allows “defeat” – but that’s never His last word!  He allows “confusion” – to draw us nearer to His heart, to receive His peace, His clarity. 

May the Lord encourage us all in these last days, to walk in His shadow and keep the faith – no matter how defeated and confusing our circumstance seems.

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them….For the Lord your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  Deuteronomy 20:1-4 excerpt

 

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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!

 

 

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!