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Prison ministry in Guatemala

11/04/2018

I have been in a couple of prisons in Guatemala.  It is an experience, so different than the USA.  Due in part to prison ministry I became an ordained pastor at Calvary Chapel of Asheville, NC in order to be able to minister to a young man and his family.   The two families are very close for several years now.  Ordination allowed better opportunity to counsel and disciple.  For Cindy and I this was strong evidence of God’s hand on the rudder of our lives.

Recently I went to Pavon Prison with Ernesto and Philemon to visit family and to teach.   Philemon goes weekly to preach.  Ernesto is considering active discipling ministry for believers.  So here is the routine. No pocket knife.  For a West Virginia country boy that is a naked feeling.  No belts.  With recent weight loss this was a problem, causing mirth with my pastor friends.  We found a small plastic bag (see photo) and tied a couple of belt loops together.  No shoestrings – easier process than the belt issue. I would here note that the men we visited had belts and shoestrings, but who am I to complain.  No wedding band. There were multiple searches, front gate.  Stamps on forearm times three.  Then there are multiple divisions inside Pavon each with additional searches.  The high security section has an xray unit to scan all bags.  Bibles, Mike Wells books and food we took with us were all xrayed.  Passport scanned and kept until we left.  We walked close to a mile by the time we left the parking lot and got to the section we were going to.  I got a bit of a tour.  I would be very claustrophobic if I had to stay there.

Pavon Prison has a terrible history of violence.  You can look it up on the internet.  But I saw some interesting things.  There are multiple churches ministering most every day.  As we were walking to the end of the line of men, we heard Ernesto’s name called.  A man with a huge smile said  “Do you remember me?”  It took a moment.  Ernesto remembered, he had preached in a prison to this brother.  They had a time of reminiscence (their hair had changed significantly).  Then the brother said, I am an example of fruit coming late and now I am here doing what you did for me.  I am grateful for your faithfulness to share the Good News.  That gives a lift to a pastors heart!

The prisoners themselves/with the guards have further isolated the imprisoned gang members to reduce the violence.  This is hard to understand in the USA, but the discussion was whether to kill the gang members or to isolate them.  The leaders of the prisoners and the guards discussed it and the prisoners asked for isolation instead of murder.  I asked where did that desire come from?  Without delay one of the prison section leaders said, “The grace of God.”  We had a small group teaching.  Both Philemon and I had opportunity to share from the Word.  We ate prison ‘farm raised duck’ offered by one of the leaders – a great honor in this situation.  Awesome meal, a blessing from our Father, duck, rice, and a dish of pickled vegetables ( cabbage, onions, carrots, JALEPENOS) table, chairs under the shade of a tree, while watching the inner workings of prison life.

We discussed doing intentional discipleship for some of the brothers.  There is an expressed desire to dig deeper in the Scripture, to bore into the transformed obedient life.  Briefly we are looking at making a frame with open sides and laminate overhead to protect us from the soon coming rains.  Between teaching times the space might be used to dry clothes, build hammocks out of the rain.  It will take approval from multiple levels of prison bureaucracy.  Also finances for the frame and laminate, details to be worked out by Pastor Ernesto and his team.  We see this as an opportunity to obey our Redeemer’s command to care for the hungry, naked and prisoner.  As part of the ongoing ministry Ernesto will collect clothes and food to take with us.  If the LORD lays it on your heart to give to this project please contact me.  It won’t take much for the building materials.  I suspect the labor will be ‘free’ in a manner of speaking.

Vine International will stay in touch and give a couple of wheelchairs, and provide some medicine and dressing materials over time.

Oh yes reverse the process for exiting… it took almost an hour to leave.  They were x-raying frozen chicken for supper, so we waited.

Meantime I need new pants.

Cindy is doing well.  She likes her surgeon.  Our dear friend Andrea helped on last doctor’s visit with translation so Cindy was certain about a few details.  Andrea injected into the translation that Cindy was to be off coffee for two weeks…. I heard the laughter in the waiting room.  They got Cindy good on that one.  High five Andrea!  We are so grateful for the many that have supported us financially and with prayer and kind notes.  May God return every blessing many fold.

In Christ,

Cindy and Dennis

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Cindy is home – update

23/03/2018

Thank you all.  Cindy is home.  She is having some pain – expected, but is motoring around the front yard talking to the chickens and is now knitting.

So to update you – Cindy handles her Versed (preop medicine) quite humorously.  I could tell from talking with her and the repetitiveness of her conversation and questions she wasn’t all there so to speak.  The Tejeda-Harris family visited.  Sonia the mother, Lucia, Andrea came all gave hugs and kisses as usual Guatemalan greeting.  They gave a balloon, other gifts and a card.  Sonia the youngest sister sent a bowl that separates cereal from milk so the cereal stays crispy.  Cindy oohed and awed over the gifts and truly enjoyed the fellowship.  Chuckle.

When I returned on Wednesday, not sure what I said but Cindy looked at me and asked “you said something about Lucia being here?”.  Well dear yes I did – it turns out Cindy doesn’t remember much about Tuesday and part of Wednesday morning.  Now what this means is Cindy got to enjoy the balloon and bowl as gifts on two occasions.  hahahaha!  I was the coffee go getter.  The coffee shop ran out of cups and went to Styrofoam/small sized, still charged the same.  Oh well.

Speaking about charges, everything came in as the doctor said in original discussion just under 30,000 quetzalis and our supporters have generously covered all.  Actually a little over.  Cindy and I will put the extra away for the next health event here – may that be a long ways off.

We are grateful.  Our neighbor Lilly, a widow with five children and now a grandchild, has taken care of the chickens and house and has brought a vase of flowers for Cindy from her gardens.  Lilly cleaned the house, took care of the garbage, and stole my dirty clothes!  Brought them back clean this morning.  We are blessed with fabulous friends and supporters and awesome neighbors.

I need to go cook lunch.  Enough for an update.  Only real concern I have for Cindy is that when the pain is gone and she feels good that she will jump in and lift something too heavy, so Beverly Hill and others on her facebook you have my permission to NAG mightily.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

In Christ,

Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon

Surgery update

16/03/2018

Psalm 18:1-2  “I love you, O Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.  He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”

Ignacio, my brother in Christ, sent this to me this morning via Whatsapp.  He sends me (and Dennis) a portion of  his daily bible readings on most days.  It was a breath of fresh air for me as I had yet to open a bible, let alone have a first cup of coffee.  Ignacio is a bear of a man full of Christ and a treasured friend to Dennis and myself.  So I am thankful to him for this portion and my reading of the entire Psalm 18.  Such a joy.  God is good.

I would like to update everyone concerning my surgery (vaginal hysterectomy with an anterior repair of bladder).   It is scheduled for Tuesday, March 20 at Sanatorio El Pilar (it’s a hospital) in Guatemala City.  It will be an early surgery — 0700 so I will be admitted the night before.  We have been blessed by financial and prayerful supporters in the last few weeks — from the US and Guatemala.   If everything goes well, I hope to return back to our home in San Jose Pinula in a few days.  Dennis and I ask for continued prayer for the upcoming surgery and postoperative healing.  So I can regain my rightful place as the warehouse boss!!

Psalm 18:28-29  “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  With your help I an advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

I will not speak of chickens in this blog post — except that . . . broody hens are a forceful presence.  They are hard to stop.  And I have 5 of them.

Blessings to all and again thank you for all the prayers.

Cindy and Dennis

 

Onesimus 15 and surgery

17/02/2018

Philemon 10-11  “I appeal to you my child, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.”

 

Hey everybody – this is Cindy.  For the last 18 months I have been raising chickens.  The three original chickens were gifted to me by a ministry we serve in Esquintla, Guatemala.  Someone once told me the gift of a live animal in Guatemala is the most cherished and it has been that way with me.  Of course with hens and roosters come chicks and with chicks come the high probability of cockerels.  And I found out rather quickly there has to be a plan when your coop is overrun with 4-5 month old cockerels. They gain hormones quickly, they fight, they try and breed anything that walks by and they do not lay eggs.  To me they are useless or were …

 

Onesimus 15

A few weeks ago during church Dennis was teaching from the letter Philemon.  As we were discussing the slave Onesimus, Dennis told us Onesimus is Greek meaning useful.  He went on to teach that no one spent a lot of time naming slaves and there were many slaves with the name Onesimus.  Philemon is a beautiful letter of intercession from Paul for Onesimus to his master Philemon.  So what does this have to do with young roosters here in Guatemala?  It is only the name – Onesimus/useful.  I have several neighbors who are very poor and protein is hard to come by.  It is very humbling when an entire family pays you a visit at dusk to collect one Onesimus or in some cases two.  The gratitude they have is embarrassing at best and my young roosters have become quite useful to me and to those who need them.  I generally don’t name roosters, but now Onesimus is the name.  When chicks hatch they are well cared for by their mothers and me.  And now, I smile when I see the resemblance of a future hen or a future Onesimus.  Currently I have one Onesimus but he is a mere eight weeks old  with lots more time to grow and prepare to be useful.

 

On a more personal note that has nothing to do with chickens, I have learned that I need surgery.  I have a severe prolapsed bladder and a prolapsing uterus.  I have visited a recommended gynecologist surgeon here in Guatemala and will have a hysterectomy and bladder repair the 3rd or 4th week of March.  And I am having a hard time with all of this.  I always liked my uterus  – it held my sweet daughter till she was ready to make her way into the world. But I know the surgery needs to be done.  I have been banned from lifting by the doctor and Dennis – a hard thing to remember when you work in a warehouse and your call from the Lord involves lifting.  I don’t carry bags of chicken feed, corn, or propane tanks any more.  I don’t lift boxes of medicines or wheelchairs anymore.  If I try Ignacio, David or Dennis are quick to reprimand.  I am being obedient for the most part.

 

What is most difficult for Dennis and me is to ask for financial help and prayer.  As brothers and sisters in Christ it should not be difficult, but it is.  It is always easier and more comfortable to minister to someone than to be the one who needs ministering to.    The surgery is between Q17,000 – Q30,000 which in dollars is $2,400 – $4,200.  There are no separate fees like in the states – this is a total bill including surgeon, anesthesia, hospital.  The difference in prices depends on which hospital one goes to.  A smaller private hospital charges less than a larger private hospital.  The big difference according to the doctor is nursing care.  There are more nurses at the larger hospitals.  The doctor tells me I will be in the hospital 2-3 nights.  Like the family who arrives at dusk for Onesimus, we yield to your prayer and kindness.

 

May God always bless you and we are ever so grateful for your prayers.

Donations for this upcoming surgery can be made through www.vineinternational.org  or snail address of Vine International, PO Box 52086, Knoxville, TN  37950   (tag – Cindy’s surgery)

 

Philemon 7 – “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”

 

Love,

Cindy and Dennis

Her name was Rose

24/01/2018

I seldom look at this photo without tightening in my throat and stirring in my heart.  Simply it is a photo of a tall spindly rose after a rain in our front yard.  Camera angle and cropping emphasizes  the beauty of the flower and not that it is solitary five feet in the air, waving in the breeze about to break its thin stem.

Her name was Rose.  She was truly beautiful.  I met her once, held her hands once, prayed with her once, and three weeks later with a friend, helped pay for her funeral, maybe.

It was a short term mission trip to a distant continent.  To celebrate Mohammed’s birthday there were threatened missile attacks on the company planes we were flying.   We, prayerfully, went anyway.  The national ministry that received us benefited from financial and material support from the congregation backing this team.  I was blessed to be part of this group of friends.  We worked hard.  I split from the team to lead a pastors conference that final weekend.  The pressure to give more material, more money was getting offensive.  Too few at the top of that organization were living well.  On that last Saturday during a midday break, I was asked to go to a nearby home.  The financial officer for the ministry drove, all the while pushing the need for money for people such as the young woman I would meet.   The grandmother met us in the yard of a clay and probably dung hut, dirt floor, very dark room, single table, candle, two chairs…  Grandma went behind a partition and obvious struggle to get someone out of bed ensued.  I was invited to sit down.   The seldom moved candle holder sooted the wall black to the ceiling at one end of the table.

Rose came.  I stood.  Her thinness, the long stem, accented her height.  She was beautiful.  She sat on her side of that narrow table.  We were formally introduced.   Grandma and the ‘pastor’ bantered on about they didn’t know what was wrong with Rose.  They needed money for food and to take her to the hospital.  I wish you could have seen the eye roll Rose gave.  It was like a bubble came down over Rose and I.  As far as I know those two never quit talking but neither Rose nor I heard them.  I smiled, reached out my hands for hers.  She drew back… I waited.  It took a few moments.  I said, “Rose, you know what is going on don’t you?”

Half a smile and she leaned back in.  “Yes.”

“Rose, you know Jesus don’t you?  I can see the light in your eyes.”

Unfolding her arms, laying hands on the table, “oh yes, sir”.

She told me her story.  Her husband, a promiscuous truck driver, brought the ‘wasting disease’ (HIV/AIDS) home to her.  He died the year before.  She knew her death would soon come.  She told me of her faith, a truly holy moment, missed by those talking, only for the one listening.

“Rose, you will not give me this disease by holding my hands.  It would be a blessing to hold your hands as we pray.”  As rain on that rose in the photo, tears came.  She allowed me to hold her hands and we prayed.  Both of us.  I don’t remember what was said.  I do remember as I prayed for her, she in her final days prayed for me to be blessed, no thought of self.

Three weeks later a phone call from that ‘pastor’ asking for money to get Rose’s body out of the hospital so they could bury her.   I strongly doubted the claim, but praying and believing some of the funds would get to the grandmother we agreed and wired the money.

Tears on a beautiful face hovering above a long thin body, soon to die on this earth and forever to be in the presence of her Redeemer…. It seemed unholy to take a photo of THAT Rose in that moment.  The photo above is in the upper right corner of my computer, I open it now and then.

I will never forget Rose.

2017 in the can

18/01/2018

Well 2017 is in the can ( film terminology Joe Leier ).  You who support us have contributed to a record year for donations through the Vine International ‘Pipeline.’  I was at a Technical Exchange for Christian Healthcare (TECH) conference in Tampa Florida (I think).  I saw the following demonstration years before Cindy and I were part of Vine International.  Woody Woodson our founder was trying to think of a way to impress on TECH members just what Vine International did.  He came up with the idea of pipeline.  You put stuff in the top and it flows out the other end.  The upper end is in Knoxville TN and the lower end is in Guatemala.  OK now he had a good idea – how to demonstrate it?  Most of us laughed when Woody pulled a folded card board toilet paper tube out of his shirt pocket.  Our smilin’ Woody showing how to pour things into the top of the ‘pipeline’ and seeing it roll out the bottom was most memorable.  I didn’t know until years later that toilet paper tube cost Vine International just south of 10$/yes 10 dollars.  Apparently the cleaning lady found the toilet paper that Woody had discarded so he could have JUST THE TUBE.  She turned him in to management and some way accounting came up with 10$ for a roll of toilet paper.  We have not been back to that hotel.  The toilet paper wasn’t that good.  In fact as I recall neither was the food.

The statistics for 2017 are 23 containers of wheelchairs, medicines, medical and surgical supplies, and medical equipment given to over 100 medical ministries with 250 visits in our bodega in Guatemala.  A great deal of our ministry ‘partners’ carried these donated materials into every department (think states if you are in USA) in Guatemala.  Some of the assistance crossed borders into Mexico, Honduras and I think El Salvador.  Most of these use medicine to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Some containers were direct drops to ministries where we provide shipping expertise.  MAP medicine containers are always a blessing.  Bruce White director of Vine International Collection Center provided 5 or 6 containers last year out of our home base in Knoxville TN.

In spare time Cindy and I do other things.  Cindy is now the local Chicken Lady.  In addition to MFEs (Mighty Fine Eggs), Cindy seems to have a higher than average yield of ROOSTERS who at about 4 months become somewhat intolerable, fighting, crowing, disturbing the hens.  So they get a night ride to a neighbor who converts them into fresh protein – soup that is.  I have helped an orphanage move lock stock and barrel closer to the city as part of an Orphan Resources International project.  A couple of Guatemalan friends and I did a few site visits.  We are hoping we can do this more routinely.

Discussing plans with a pastor friend to start a yearlong active discipleship course with a group of leaders among our friends.  Excited and studying for that.  I expect to learn as much or more than the ‘students’.

We had a delightful visit with our five adult children and three granddaughters.  We were blessed to see the oldest two Sarah and Olivia in their Christmas Pageant.  Enjoyed table fellowship at all three houses, East Village Deli and of course Hot Dog King.  Brief visit with our pastor was too short but a blessing.

The new year – will be as busy if the support is there.  Woody and Brady are discussing seriously doing medical teams again, so add that to the schedule.  Cindy and I are still praying for the family that is called to step into our shoes.  Several of the groups that use Vine International shipping services have new building, or remodel/expansion projects in the works.  Vine International continually look for ways to improve quality of donations, not just quantity.  We are called on by many of these groups to counsel on many aspects of their projects.  I continue to believe this will grow.

We were blessed this week to give a wheelchair to a friend, as he has worn out the one we gave a few years ago.  A notorious group here tried to murder him.  He was in the national health system.  A mutual pastor friend had been witnessing to this brother, went and prayed for him while unconscious.  He asked the nurse to give a Bible.  The nurse essentially said he is going to die, take the Bible with you.  Ahhh, our friend insisted that she give it to him when he wakes.  Crazy Jesus people.  Our brother lived.  The pastor had to provide a second Bible.  The first Bible, stolen.  A persistent pastor, second Bible, a multiple amputee that was to die – now sharing Christ with those who shot him, friends only the True God our Creator can call into the deep dark of that brother’s failing life and massage it into good for one that loves the LORD.  For that brother to seek us out to thank us for a small gift is humbling beyond words.

May that stolen first Bible be a spiritual grenade in someone’s life for the glory of the Kingdom of Christ.  Father protect our friends and family in the LORD here.  While giving boldness, keep them safe.  Let them see any threat in time to avoid it.  Let them live to see their grandchildren marry and start yet another generation, if Jesus’ returning tarries that long.   Give Cindy and I discernment for the work ahead.  Give success to our many friends, particularly Tejeda-Harris family and business for years to come.  May the work we do make You smile.  We pray this in Jesus name amen.

Cindy and I thank you for your support.

We had a record year in deliveries to Guatemala…

27/12/2017

But the ladies below out do us every year.  This is our executive directors most recent newsletter about a small maternity clinic.  I was first introduced to them about 12-14 years ago by Dennis and Doris Rice.  I think Todd Poor and I looked at some of their equipment.  But as we were winding down a lady came in that shortened the goodbyes.  We loaded up and headed down the hill before we crossed the bridge out of Olintepeque, Dennis Rice’s phone rang.  In five minutes they had delivered a healthy baby boy.  Brady Green’s newsletter captures their work pretty well.  This is what Vine does.  We serve some of the LORD’s most precious servants like these.  Thank you for your support.      In Christ,

Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon

For one thing, the doctors don’t speak K’iche’, Mam, or Tz’utujil.
For another thing, a lot of them are men. And then on top of that you’d have to go into their office, which will cost real money. If you’re 30 and this is your seventh baby, you don’t have the money. If you’re 15 and this is your first, not only do you not have the money, but the staff speaks a foreign language, and you may not be ready to acknowledge that you’re pregnant in the first place.

But: the women in Olintepeque will see you now.

They dress like normal people (hand-woven huipil and corte), they talk like normal people (Take your pick: K’iche’, Mam – even Spanish), and they can help. They’ll welcome you like family, they will tell you what’s going on inside your body, and when the time comes, they’ll deliver that baby.

In 1999, Aniseta Bate and her daughters saw how bad it was
for pregnant women where they lived, and they felt like God was calling them to do something about it. The mayor of Olintepeque gave them temporary use of a vacant property near the town square. Aniseta’s husband built a little building before he died. Somehow, the women heard about Vine. They called Dennis and Doris Rice, who were then responsible for our relationships with medical providers and for the distribution of supplies. If you were part of Vine in the last 17 years, you gave these women their first exam table. Then another one when the clinic grew, and another two after that. They’re all still in use. You helped stock their pharmacy. For a few years around 2008, some friends of Vine paid for a production run of vitamins, and Aniseta and her daughters were able to distribute them. In an area where there is not enough food, and not enough nutrition in what food there is, vitamins decrease the incidents of birth defects.

Aniseta still comes to the clinic every day, welcoming and helping and getting things done. Her daughter Rebeca is trained and certified as a midwife, and as an midwife instructor. Astrid and Johana help, they see patients, and they run the pharmacy.

Mothers come from all over, down from the mountains and into town. They take the bus, most of them, after they’ve walked to the road. A few come on the back of a motorcycle, or in a family member’s car, or on a work truck. A consult costs 85 cents; a delivery is $6. Every other Friday, a gynecologist comes up from the city to see the complex cases. She charges as little as she can, so it’s only a few dollars, and she’s really volunteering.

I asked Doña Aniseta the name of the clinic, and she grabbed my arm. “Everybody knows what we do! Why would we need a name?” Rebeca laughed when she heard her mother’s answer.

“Oh, we have a name. We had to make one up years ago for the health department, and to be a legal nonprofit. Nobody uses it except on official documents.”

Doña Aniseta at the women’s clinic
The maternal mortality rate
in this part of the world is outrageous. Girls become mothers too early; they don’t have enough to eat; an education is hard to come by; most won’t see a healthcare professional.  Too many die. I was afraid to ask Rebeca about their outcomes, knowing how difficult things are. But she was proud to answer:

How many babies do you deliver in a month?

Thirty, forty. Sometimes fifty or more. 

How do you handle emergencies? I’m sure you see your share.

We send them to the hospital down in the city. 

I know there’s no ambulance – how do you get them there?

We chase down whatever car happens to be close by. Sometimes a taxi will take them. Sometimes we just beg someone to do it. 

You’ve been working for 17 years. That adds up to something like 10,000 deliveries, right?

That’s probably right.

How do you deal with losing a mother?

Rebeca smiles. That’s never happened.

These women aren’t making any money. I’m not sure how they make a living. They’re just trying to take care of their fellow mothers, as they were called by God to do. They found Dennis and Doris all those years ago. The Rices represented Vine, and Vine represented you. Now Dennis and Cindy McCutcheon live near Guatemala city and keep up with the little maternity clinic in Olintepeque, along with more than a hundred other medical providers serving people in poverty.

All the medical equipment they have, they got from you through Vine. They don’t have a website, they don’t know people with money, and they don’t want to expand and start clinics all over Guatemala. They want to keep taking care of the women who come to them.

The Vine community has supplied them and encouraged them for a long time. (And if you are interested in restarting our vitamin production, let’s talk!) I would call it great luck to get to work with women like this, but I know it has more to do with a quiet calling from God, just like it has for them.

So thank you! Doña Aniseta, Rebeca, Johana, Astrid, and the staff of AMUPEDI (there’s that official name) all thank you. Dennis and Cindy in Guatemala thank you, Bruce White and I thank you. Woody, our founder, is so busy coordinating the year’s last shipments that he couldn’t get a word in. But he thanks you too.

Brady Greene

Executive Director