Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
This verse kept running through my mind in February 2018 in San Pedro, Guatemala while my husband Rob and I sat in the home of Elena Rocche (the little giant) listening to her story of ministry to the mountain churches. She recalled to our mission team how my mother LaVonne Lautaret Ertz had brought the first flannelgraph set down from Alaska in 1998 to be used in the mountain churches for childrens ministry. My mother LaVonne had a passion for Christ and missions passed down to her by her parents Larry and Maxine Lautaret. Guatemala missions is a significant part of my family’s history, and this is our story.
My grandparents Larry and Maxine Lautaret started their mission’s ministry in the 1950’s in Kalispell, MT. They were affiliated with the Church of God Holiness Movement based in Anderson, IN., which is the founding organization of three Anchorage churches: Cornerstone Community Church, Oceanview Community Church and First Church of God. In 1963-1965 Larry and Maxine pastored the Kodiak Church of God filling in for Fred and Evelyn Mamaloff, founders of Alaska Native Ministry. Larry and Maxine then went on to be intern pastors for Wes and Jean Lancaster at Oceanview Community Church.
On my last trip to San Pedro in 2018, I sat next to Max Bolin on the 4-hour bus ride from Guatemala City to Panajachel. Max and Mary Bolin who are also originally from Kalispell, MT has been lifelong friends with my parents and grandparents even before I was born. He told me the story of how my grandparents Larry and Maxine Lautaret had mentored a young couple last name Kinsley from Canada who had a desire to be involved in Guatemala missions. After living with my grandparents for a time in MT they came to Guatemala and began planting churches. He told me that by 2001 there were 305 “Iglesias De Dios Galilea” churches had been planted as a result of my grandparent’s influence and mentorship on this young couple. As we traveled through the countryside, Max pointed out to me through the bus window, these church buildings with a distinctive blue banner across the entranceway. These churches he explained were the descendants of the original 1960’s church plant that my grandparents were involved with. It was deeply moving to see how the Lord had blessed the faithful efforts of my grandparents to share the gospel with the people of Guatemala nearly 60 years earlier.
My grandparent’s first trip to Guatemala City was in 1972 where they worked with Isaias and Sheny Calderon establishing and building churches, leading pastor training, and preaching in remote mountain villages. It was during one of these mountain village visits that the Lord performed a tremendous miracle for the people of Guatemala. Although my grandfather spoke Spanish, he did not speak any of the local dialects. it often required one or occasionally two translators to communicate effectively with the pastors and villagers. Due to the remoteness of the villages and unavailability of vehicles and roads, everyone usually had to walk great distances to come to hear my grandfather Larry speak. On this occasion, the translators were going to meet him at the village. When he arrived and all the people assembled to hear the message, he realized the translators were not there. He waited a long time for them and became very frustrated knowing the people were getting restless and tired. After praying he decided to go ahead and preach not knowing if anyone would understand. Much to his surprise, the people were quiet and attentive. After delivering his message but feeling discouraged that it had all been in vain, he saw the translator in the crowd. He walked over to him and asked, “what happened and where have you been?” The translator explained why he had been delayed and that he had arrived shortly after Larry began to preach. My grandfather then exclaimed, “why then didn’t you come up and begin to translate for me?” Imagine his shock when the translator replied, “there was no need for translation because the people all heard and understood you in their own dialect.” The other pastors confirmed that they had clearly understood the entire message. This special, one time, the gift of tongues was one of many miracles the Lord blessed my grandparents with during their missionary journeys. Over the next 30 years, they served as missionaries spreading the gospel, building churches, and assisting local congregations in Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Peru, the Philippines, Africa, Mexico, Thailand, and Ecuador.
My mother LaVonne Lautaret Ertz was greatly influenced by her parents and their love for missions. She too served mostly on family mission trips to Africa, Peru, Chile, Guatemala, and Ecuador. After seeing the poverty and difficult conditions of the local people, she wanted to find a storytelling medium to spread the gospel into the villages that could be easily be transported across cultural and language barriers. She remembered the Sunday School classes of her youth when flannelgraphs consisting of a large flannel board, set on an easel with brightly colored flannel cutouts and vivid scenery were used to illustrate Bible stories. The cutout characters and scenes were then placed on the board and moved around as the story unfolded. This became her gift to all the communities she traveled to. As a teenager, I remember mom always carried several sets of scissors and a couple large plastic bags filled with printed flannel covered with Bible characters and landscape. Everywhere she went she enlisted the help of anyone around her to cut out the flannel scenes. It was a tremendous labor of love to cut out even one flannelgraph set consuming close to 100 hours. To make the sets more portable to remote villages, she carried only the flannel and would create the board and easel using whatever materials were available at the location when she arrived.
In 1998 after hearing Max Bolin’s testimony about the Lord’s call to him to serve in Guatemala and help build a school, my late husband Brad Wainwright, my mom LaVonne and my brother in law Dan Hollingsworth all caught the vision and excitement of this new mission. They traveled with Max and Mary to San Pedro to work on Colegio Bethel’s courtyard and foundation. Much to their surprise, there was no heavy equipment or gravel. Boulders were brought in and had to be broken up by hand using sledgehammers to create the gravel to make the cement courtyard. All the cement was mixed by hand and hauled in 5-gallon buckets. It was back-breaking work.
1998 boulders that had to beaten with sledge hammers to make gravel for courtyard
My mom of course brought her flannel graph set to contribute to the mountain ministry. This was our family’s first trip of many to San Pedro and the beginning of our involvement with Colegio Bethel. In 2001 my 87-year-old grandfather Larry, my late husband Brad and Dan Hollingsworth all returned to celebrate the dedication of the school. Several of the mountain pastors walked many miles to participate in the dedication. After visiting with the pastors, my grandfather decided he wanted to walk back with them into the jungle to the mountain villages and asked Max for permission. Max was shocked, about fell over, and exclaimed “we would never see you again!” Larry replied that he spoke their language and he would be fine, but Max had to tell him he just couldn’t let him go.
1998 – late husband Brad Wainwright and Ester
In 2018 my husband Rob and I were in San Pedro on the 20th anniversary of my family’s first trip. I was reflecting on my family heritage of faithfulness and service by all those family members who had already passed away: my grandparents, my mother LaVonne, and my husband Brad Wainwright. I was so humbled and grateful to hear Elena tell the story of my mother and the first flannelgraph set. It was such a blessing to know that the mountain churches were still using it and due to the growth of believers, there was a tremendous need for more of them. Rob and I heard the Lord’s call to participate in a small way in this flannelgraph ministry started by my mom so long ago. It has been a true joy to see all the volunteers that stepped forward to cut out all the flannel sets, distribute them, and conduct training for the teachers. I look forward to seeing how the Lord uses this tool for his glory to spread the Gospel in the mountain ministry.
2018 Robert and Lonita Fisher on chicken bus
In 2010 my mother LaVonne returned to Guatemala for her last trip with my sister Tamie Hollingsworth, my son Dakota Wainwright, and niece Jordan (Ertz) Teselle to construct houses and install stoves in some of the villages neighboring San Pedro.
2010 mom -LaVonne Lautaret Ertz, sister Tamie Hollingsworth, son Dakota Wainwright, and niece Jordan Ertz Teselle.
I thank the Lord for giving me a Godly family heritage and pray that I will faithfully pass this on to my children and grandchildren in the future.
With much love,
Lonita Wainwright Fisher
From Proyecto Fe:
“We are so grateful to the Lord and to you for the great blessing of the Flannelgraphs. It is wonderful to see how the Lord moves hearts in so many different ways in order to bring forth such an amazing result. Last year 24 churches received a new flannelgraph package and helped to bring thousands of souls to the Lord. Last Vacation Bible School had such a great impact on the mountain churches. 5276 children received the Good News, the flannelgraphs are such a great tool for reaching our children in the Mountain Churches.
Thank you, to God be the glory!”