I met my friend Lisa Belcastro at our Wednesday Writers group at Cleaveland House in West Tisbury. She’s a terrific writer of Christian romance novels, and she’s turning into a pretty good fisherman too. What strikes me week after week in our writers group, though, is her strong faith in God and how she lets Him really take the reins in her life.
Not long ago she told me about a mission trip she’s making to Panama in February with her friend Gina Williams. Last weekend she invited me to stop by her house and meet some of the people who’re going, and to talk about the trip.
“I met Gina for the first time in August when she signed her daughter Kayla up for Vacation Bible School,” Lisa said. (Lisa runs the VBS.) The two then connected again during the first Darkness into Vineyard Light suicide awareness and prevention walk in September.
Gina moved back to the Vineyard with 10-year-old Kayla after living off-Island for a number of years, most recently in New Hampshire. She said she had gone on a mission trip to Panama with her church there. “I didn’t want to come back, and ever since then I’ve been trying to think of a way to get back there,” Gina said.
She contacted Manna Worldwide, a mission ministry that organizes trips throughout the world to support water projects, education, healthcare, and other challenges that affect children living in extreme poverty. They had another trip to Panama coming up, but Gina would need to put together a group of at least a dozen people. She’d just moved back to the Island, and wasn’t sure how she could pull that off. Of course when she told Lisa about the mission trip, she immediately said, “I want to go!”
The two women began to talk about the trip with other friends, and now they’ve got a group of 13 people signed up to go to Panama, 11 of them from the Island, and two others Gina knows from living in New Hampshire. I asked her why she was so inspired to go back. “I fell in love with the people there,” Gina told me. “Seeing the hearts of the people and how God was working there, I just wanted to be a part of it.”
I asked her to describe what she saw in the village she visited in Panama.
“Families of seven to a dozen people living in a one- or two-room 10-by-10-foot structure made of corrugated tin, plywood, and cardboard, with mattresses thrown around the dirt floors,” she said. Gina said the families take a long walk out of the woods to get to the bus to take a long ride to church.
“Look at where we live,” Lisa added. “For me, I’m so blessed, and I want to be a blessing to someone else. I’ve gone on other mission trips, and I always walk away being fuller from having served. It fills me even more than what I can give to them. You can’t outgive God.”
Gina said she’s always wanted to have a positive impact on others, and she accomplishes that to a degree with her career in massage therapy, but she said she’s growing deeper in her faith and realizes that everyone is called to give back.
“I want to step out into bigger things,” she said. “Our lives are a gift, and we’re called to give. I’m incredibly blessed. God has brought Kayla and me through some intense things, and I want to honor God in gratitude.” Gina will bring her daughter with her for this mission trip. There are a couple more young people going as well, Andy and Gabby Carr with their parents Sarah and Andrue Carr. Jamie Wasserloos, Renee Ortiz, and Lisa’s daughter, 20-year-old Kayla Goldman, and her niece, Laura Belcastro, will also travel to Panama. Kayla, Gabby, and Andy are giving up their school break to go on the trip, Lisa said.
Laura Belcastro recently left a successful career at IBM to find a better way to live her life, Lisa told me. She asked her niece if she wanted to make the mission trip, and it took a little while before Laura got back to her with the answer because she was a bit dumbfounded, she explained. Laura had just then been reading her Bible and asking God what He wanted her to do when she heard from her Aunt Lisa.
“I just saw that there’s a need for knowing what’s really important, and knowing Jesus,” Laura said. “I just want to help people now, now my eyes are open to all the possibilities, to all the ways God can use me.”
The group will be there for a week, visiting and serving at Iglesia Bautista el Faro in Dolega, and Iglesia Bautista La Gracia in Boquete. They’ll help at nutrition centers, orphanages, and a home for young girls and another for young boys. They’ll provide water filtration systems and clothes, shoes, and school supplies for children. The individual cost of their trip expenses is $1,750, but they have another goal of raising funds here on the Island that will benefit the children in Panama. A donation of $20 would go a long way in providing shoes, clothing, and supplies for the children, Lisa said.
The group plan an Island fundraiser where you can get your holiday packages wrapped while you wait, or you can drop them off and pick them up later. For $20 you can get 10 presents wrapped, $40 for 20 packages, or $50 for 25 gifts wrapped. Drop them off at 175 Lagoon Pond Rd. in Vineyard Haven, from 1 to 5 pm on Monday, Dec. 17; 2 to 6 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 18; 10 am to 2 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 19; 9 am to noon on Thursday, Dec. 20; 2 to 5 pm on Friday, Dec. 21, or 10 am to 4 pm Saturday, Dec. 22. Call Lisa at 508-560-3678 if you have any questions about the fundraiser. If you’ve already wrapped all your gifts, you can still visit their fundraising page online at bit.ly/FundPanama.
Lisa said she’s thrilled with the way all the parts of the puzzle aligned so that the group came together to make the trip. Gina wants to keep it going; she wants to build a regular contingent of Islanders who will travel to Panama to help with the projects started there.
“It’s His timing,” Lisa said. “He put this on Gina’s heart, and because her heart is so filled with love, of course He’s going to bless this. God opens that door and you jump.”
I’d love to talk with them when they get back from the trip, because chances are it will be life-changing.
Join the folks at the West Tisbury First Congregational Church for Advent Evensong at 5:30 pm on Wednesdays, Dec. 12 and 19. It’s a contemplative service moving out of the darkness and into the light of Christmas. The church’s annual Christmas Pageant is Christmas Eve, Monday, Dec. 24, at 5 pm at the Ag Hall. Lessons and Carols is the same evening at 10 pm, and on Christmas Day there will be Caroling at Windemere at 3 pm. Lots of options to get you into the spirit of the season.
The Federated Church in Edgartown offers a special Advent program for children in kindergarten through grade 8 during the 10:30 am Sunday worship service. The theme Dec. 9 is the Gift of Peace, and on Dec. 16, the Gift of Love.
On Sunday, Dec. 9, from 2 to 3 pm, the church hosts an Old Fashioned Carol Sing. Music minister Peter Boak leads the voices, and even takes your favorite Christmas carol requests at this special event that takes place during Christmas in Edgartown.
PeaceQuilts will sell their unique handmade gifts from Haiti from 1 to 4 pm at the parish house on Sunday, Dec. 9. Folk art, quilts, bags, jewelry, and more will be for sale.
Advent and Christmas at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church includes a traditional Anglican Advent Choral Evensong on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 4 pm. Saturday, Dec. 8, from noon to 2 pm, the church will open its doors during Christmas in Edgartown for a carol sing and refreshments.
Christmas services include a 4 pm family service on Dec. 24, and a service at 9:45 pm. On Christmas Day, join the church for worship at 9 am.
The Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard holds its annual Candlelight Service on Sunday, Dec. 9, at 5 pm. The Rev. Bill Clark says “If you have always wondered how a Unitarian celebrates Christmas, come and join us for carol singing and storytelling as we celebrate ‘The Qualities of Christmas.’”
There are two more Sundays of Music and Light at the Chilmark Community Church, Sunday, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16, at 5 pm. There will be a variety of performances of song, dance, story, and pieces for the piano and strings in celebrating the hope, love, joy, peace, and light of the holiday season.
Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols takes place at the church on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, at 5 pm with guest harpist Sandra Atwood.
The Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center hosts its Hanukkah Celebration on Friday, Dec. 7, at 5:30 pm. Rabbi Caryn Broitman leads the service with live music from Eric Johnson, Anthony Esposito, and Peter Boak guiding the Shirat Hayam Choir. Sing Hanukkah songs, light Hanukkah candles, and eat potato latkes. Bring your menorahs, plenty of canned goods for the Food Pantry, your friends, and fruit or dessert to share. Everyone is welcome.
Advent and Christmas at Grace Church in Vineyard Haven includes an Advent gathering on Saturday, Dec. 15, from 4:30 to 6 pm. There’s a Blue Christmas service on Thursday, Dec. 20, at 6 pm. Then on Christmas Eve there are three services to choose from: Festive Holy Eucharist at 5 pm, Traditional Carols at 9 pm, and Holy Eucharist at 9:30 pm. Christmas Day service is Holy Eucharist at 9 am. On Sunday, Dec. 30, visit the church for Holy Eucharist at 8 am and then Lessons and Carols at 10 am.
I know I’ve missed some holiday celebrations here, so I’m hoping I get some emails with more information that I can pass along in the next Have Faith.
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