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  • Writer's pictureSteph

2023: The Highlight Reel

In my former career as a finance manager, my main job was to condense large amounts of financial information into a month-end finance report with highlights, variances and commentary. It took years of experience and plenty of schooling to be able to do this effectively and it still wasn't always easy to get the right amount in digestible detail. Too much and it becomes data overload. Too little information and executives don't have the full overview of the business.

In the mission field, and in many careers, there's a lot of data points to condense into a story. How many Bible studies did we hold? How many people came on short term missions? Do you want to know our vision for the church? Do you want to know how many students are enrolled in the school? How many lives are transformed? It can be overwhelming to know how to summarize your life into a newsletter or a blog post and sometimes I lack the data or the pictures to do so, but I do my best in our bi-monthly newsletters. But WOW, in 2023, God has worked marvelously in our ministry and personally in my life. I want to share my personal highlights with you all - the good, the bad, and mostly, the beautiful. But also know that we can never full encompass or accurately tell the most perfect story of what goes on in a year. A popular quote seen around social media is to never compare your behind the scenes with someone's highlight reel. And it's true, because people may romanticize my "exotic," "ministry-filled" life, but the reality is that most of the time, I wake up, and I spend my time loving my family and those around me in my community and (imperfectly) following Jesus, my Lord and Savior, just as many believers do around the world! So here is my highlight reel for 2023!

Spanish Abilities and Guatemalan friends: This is the first year I feel I was able to build deep relationships with non-English speaking people. A lot of this had to do with my level of Spanish; in order to develop deep meaningful relationships, having a common language is important. I am so thankful for the wonderful women of God I have been able to spend time with, learn from, and support one another! This year also marked starting a women's ministry and preaching (in Spanish!) at our women's breakfasts! Thankful to 2023 for having time for coffee dates, playdates, prayer walks, gatherings and deep conversations. After years of feeling like it was challenging for me to make friends here (mostly due to language), I am so thankful to be able to easily befriend folks!

Transformation Program: In partnership with International Care Ministry, Iglesia La Gracia participated in a 15 week transform program aimed at improving the quality of life of the ultra poor in our area. For the length of the program, we learned entrepreneurial skills, how to grow home gardens, started a community bank/savings program, studied the Bible together and learned about health and hygiene. As a group leader, I was able to build relationships and support the 6 women in my cohort through weekly visits. As a group of 34 women, we saved over $1,000 US dollars which was divided amongst the savings club at the end of the program! At our graduation, it was a joy to see proud tears in the eyes of these women, many who had never even graduated from middle or elementary school.

Guatemala is home: This year brought an unexpected blessing, as we were able to purchase a home in Guatemala! It is literally next door to the ministry center! It has been a big highlight to make this home our own this year as well as afford us a place to truly relax as a family. We have also used it to host events, guests and even house people in need of temporary housing (as it came with 3 guest apartments!). Additionally, this was the year we finally received our Guatemalan residency papers as well as our ID cards and drivers license. Lastly, this year was the first time that I truly felt like a visitor when visiting the US. Guatemala now feels like home for our family.

Teaching Kindergarten: Since I was a little girl, I have always been passionate about reading and writing. My absolute favorite part of teaching is seeing Kindergarteners going from barely knowing the alphabet to being able to read in both English and Spanish. Through large group and small reading groups, I've loved teaching and seeing my students learn and grow into confident readers (in ENGLISH too!)

God continues to send us English teaching angels and an associate pastor: God ALWAYS provides. Our biggest prayer request is always for English teachers for AMI International School, because luring great English teachers to a semi-rural part of Guatemala is not easy. This year, God sent us a 2nd year intern, Kaylin, as well as a new teacher, Zack! We also have 3 other interns that we are so grateful for. They have fit in and are doing an excellent job teaching! While Jon and I still teach, it is the first year that we only have to teach 1 grade each (instead of 2-3 grades). We keep praying for more English teachers and continue to focus our efforts on recruiting, but please pray with us. Additionally, God opened the door for us to be able to hire an associate pastor which has freed up Jon from preaching every single Sunday!

No Need to Advertise for AMI International School: Since our school is only 4 years old, we used to spend time having to advertise and explain our schooling system each fall. Thankfully, we now have a reputation of being a rigorous, truly bilingual, state of the art school that focuses on building children of good character that love Jesus as well as prepares our students for international universities. Without any sort of advertising this year, we've had over 40 applicants for only 12 slots in our pre-kinder for the 2024-2025 school year (all other grades, except 4-5th grade, are full, so we can only admit new pre-kinder students, or 4-5th graders that are able to pass our entrance exams).

Elder Kim cancer free & AMIIS Christmas Party

One of our dreams for AMI International School has been to hold a large event for 100% of our student body + their families. Unfortunately, for many years, due to COVID regulations as well as space and time constraints, we weren't able to. On December 15, we held our 1st annual AMIIS Christmas Celebration and it was a touching time of seeing our students perform Christmas music, skits and even a poem in Q'eqchi, as well as the other 400 adults and children in the audience that watched our students with so much joy and pride. It was even more special because Elder Kim found out he was cancer-free a week before the event and he rushed to Guatemala to be a part of the event!

A heart of thanksgiving and contentment: Jon and I were talking about what word sums up 2023 the most - and that word for both us was "joy." It was indeed a joyful year, but I think the joy that came from this year was less to do with what happened to us this year, but more about crafting a heart of thanksgiving and being content in our circumstances. In 2022, what God kept calling to my attention in scripture was to give thanks in all circumstances, and for the past year, this is an area of my heart that I have been exercising (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and giving to God more. This has brought so much more joy and contentment in my life!

Seeing people passionate to know and serve the Lord at Iglesia La Gracia: For years, getting people to get involved with serving at Iglesia La Gracia felt like we were pushing a rock uphill. People were happy to listen to sermons and partake in Sunday service and events, but when asked about serving, they were too busy, not qualified or it wasn't the right time. Our hardworking staff and interns at Iglesia La Gracia were the ones who prepared, hosted, and cleaned up after every event. They also managed all our community programs - teaching, tutoring, music classes etc. To be fair, our demographic at Iglesia La Gracia for many years was children, youth and young adults. However, this year, we've had a huge inflow of folks that were passionate to serve the Lord and know Him more! Not only did they want to fill the Sunday school classes and life group, but they wanted to serve food at events, volunteer in the children's service, tutor the local kids and lead Bible studies. We have over 20 volunteers at our children's service, which we are now able to hold synchronously with our adult service!

Growing into our family of 5: The first year of life is such a special time; a child grows from being a little nugget to a talking, walking, thinking human. What a blessing to get to experience this for the third time with baby Olivia. The third kid truly gets the most chilled-out parents. We are enjoying our baby/toddler without a lot of the anxiety that comes with being a first or second time parent (though we take a lot less photos!). Also, seeing our boys being more independent and learning how to love and take care of Olivia has made me a proud mom!

Thank you for reading my reflection on the year! I hope December/January allows you the time to meditate on how God is moving in your life!

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Lilah Adeline
Lilah Adeline
Jan 15

I sympathize with what you said about data overload. Reminds me of Horton's writing on hyperobjects, things so complex you can't really understand them as a single "thing" (his somewhat unimaginative example is climate change). I'm learning to develop on a system called Urbit and it's a bit overwhelming sometimes. But I'm finally starting to get the hang of it.

To give thanks in all situations, what a beautiful feeling. I'm so grateful that Christ can vanquish my fear. Sometimes, though, I deceive myself into imagining that I can do it all by myself. Often when discussing "the enemy" with fellow Christians I find myself thinking this: I hardly need an enemy, as I'm more than capable of convincing myself…

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