Missionary couple looks back on lessons learned

There were two small bedrooms that the owner of the ferreteria* let them rent. One room had a window; the other one didn’t. The air smelled a little fishy. The bathroom was outside. The rats were inside, and so were they. Yet, they knew that they were in the right place.

They couldn’t find anywhere else to live because nobody trusted them. There were rumors that gringos, what the Guatemalans called Americans, would steal kids and sell them for adoption in the United States.

It took a full day just to live — that is, do the laundry, cook three meals, and homeschool the kids. Not to mention there was a new language to learn and ministry to do.

Drunks lay out in the street. Lying was seen as a feat. Children were beaten.

These were the initial experiences of Gary and Lily Stone during their first year in Guatemala as International Mission Board missionaries. The Stones are originally from Williamston, and they are currently a part of First Baptist Church, Williamston. When the Stones retire, they will have been serving as missionaries for 40 years (five of those years with Cross Vision International Missions).

Upon reflection, the Stones have learned many lessons through their time on the field.

Before moving to Guatemala, Gary and Lily Stone served in Australia doing church planting. In Australia, ministry happened quickly, and fruit grew fast.

Guatemala was different.

“Being in Guatemala, we came to do church planting and realized we had to break rocks the first year before we could even plant the seed. There was so much witchcraft. There was so much abuse. There was so much evil,” said Gary.

Gary explained how the first year was humbling. It wasn’t that they were bad missionaries; rather, Ixchiguan was a hard place that needed perseverance, he said.

The International Mission Board gave the Stones a choice of where they could live in Guatemala. Their choice was either a sub-tropical location with palm trees and an established town — or Ixchiguan, a cold village in the mountains. After visiting Ixchiguan, they chose the altitude to reach the Tajumulco Mam people of Guatemala.

“We felt that Ixchiguan, the high mountains, wasn’t the most pleasant place to live, but that was the center of Mam work,” said Gary. Though it was a terrible place to be, Gary said it was the place where the Mam were terribly broken.

The Stones are now serving their final missionary term. A lot has changed since their first year in Guatemala. Lily said that some of the people who were once the hardest to get along with are now some of their closest friends.

They have also had the opportunity to see generational changes. Years ago, when Gary traveled from village to village, Lily would stay home to take care of their two children. This gave her the opportunity to get to know the neighborhood kids. Though Lily couldn’t travel with her husband, her job at home was of no less value.

“Many of those kids heard the gospel [and] were saved as children. And if you stay on the field long enough, you see generational changes,” said Gary.

Now those kids from broken homes will call the Stones and send greetings, expressing their gratitude for the impact that was made on their lives.

Gary said these “kids” will now hold up a baby to Lily, saying, “You’re her grandmother,” because Lily is the closest thing they have ever had to a mother, so now she is like a grandmother to the next generation.

Though the Stones impacted other families, their priority was their own family.

“Remember that your family is extremely important,” said Lily. Gary said that their kids grew up really helping in the work.

Though the Stones have seen fruit on the field, they have also made mistakes. One thing the Stones said they would do differently is to do less.

One example Gary gave of a ministry mistake they made involved one of their church plants.

“We were there too much. We did too much,” said Gary.

Gary explained how over-involvement weakened the church and how it’s important to train leaders from the beginning to take leadership. Gary spoke of the importance of having expectations of the congregation.

Yet the Stones said they learned and changed tactics as they went along.

Another lesson the Stones learned was the importance of building relationships with people, having flexibility on the mission field, and doing fun things as you go, said Gary.

Yet the greatest thing they learned on the field is that God is always good and always faithful.

“No matter the circumstances, He will never leave us. The work is His, and with time He will bring it to fruition. We can try to give our best to the work, knowing that the work belongs to a loving, merciful God who wants to reach all the people groups of the world with His salvation,” said the Stones.

Gary and Lily are now working with a new people group called the Kanjobal. They are also working with a church called “Second Chance Church,” which began as a college Bible study with many who have experienced hurt in the past and have struggled with addictions.

The Stones are spending their last year seeking to train up leadership to step up and continue the work. Pray for them as they finish their final stretch on the field before they return to the States for furlough and retirement.

Prayer requests: 

  • Pray for a pastor to lead the Second Chance Church.
  • Pray for the two families, the Robertsons and Englishes, who will continue to work in the indigenous areas of western Guatemala after the Stones’ retirement.
  • Pray for the Stones as they seek to do God’s will in the coming year in Guatemala.

(*Ferreteria is the Spanish word for a hardware store)

— Mary Margaret Flook is a senior communication major at North Greenville University.