Rich Beyond Belief

We just celebrated an amazing Christmas...Robbie and I agreed that it's been one of the best ever. Even though we did not get to spend it with our families in the States, it was a sweet, special time with our own little family. I think what made this year so wonderful were the great opportunities we had to give. Honestly, I feel that some years it's easy for Christmas to veer out of control. Claire is the only grandchild on both sides of the family, and if we are not careful, the focus can easily become piles of gifts from our dear relatives who rarely see her. But this year we were able to be a part of quite a few projects that helped us stress to her the joy of giving.

I helped the ladies of Iglesia Bautista El Faro organize bags for needy new mothers who give birth at the public hospital. Hospitals here (even the private one where I had Claire) do not give out "freebies" like the ones in the States. You have to bring your own supplies: diapers, wipes, acetominophen, feminine products, etc. Patients at the public hospital even have to purchase their own IV bags from the pharmacy downtown. So we church ladies organized bags of supplies for the new mothers who arrive with no money to purchase what their newborn needs. It was a great privilege to present 84 bags to the maternity ward, along with a letter of encouragement from our church.

Our church people, young and old, gave toward a "Christmas Gifts for Christ" project that focused on two areas. First, they gave offerings to help build a fundamental church in El Salvador. Then, each age group was assigned a food item to bring to church for the offering. The little girls and boys brought dried rice and beans. The teens brought white and corn flour. The adults brought shortening and dried pasta. We put together fifteen large food baskets to take to needy families in our community on a special visitation, where we surprised them by singing Christmas carols outside their houses. Caroling is not a tradition in Honduras, but our people loved their first caroling experience! And Claire went right along with us, singing loudly at each house and shouting, "Feliz Navidad!" as we left.

Claire and I baked Christmas cookies into the wee hours of the morning to take to the families of our church on Christmas Eve.
We also told her she could choose one little girl in her class to buy a present for this year. She chose a sweet little girl whose mother had abandoned her when she was an infant. We took Claire to the store where she chose a beautiful baby doll dressed as a princess. I was gearing myself up for the "I want to keep her" comments, but they never came. She was truly excited about seeing Allison get her new doll. She wrapped it and placed it under the tree. When family members from the States asked Claire on the telephone how many presents she would have for Christmas, she always said, "One, the doll for Allison," thinking only of what she would be giving. I was so proud to see her little heart grow with love for others. I knew Claire would be opening her own presents, but thank the Lord, the joy of giving was taking predominance. When Claire took the doll to Allison on Christmas Eve, the little girl accepted the present then ran inside to place it under the Christmas tree; it was the only gift there. We were able to show Claire the joy of giving to someone who truly appreciated it.

Claire also chose gifts for me and Robbie. She was beside herself as I opened up a very colorful candle she had picked out--it looks like a big roll of lifesavers, but I love it because she selected it just for me. She also chose a red and white striped shirt with large, poofy sleeves because, "I want you to dress like a candy cane, Mommy!" I will wear it with pride.

I know some Christians adamantly shun gift-giving at Christmas, citing materialism and greed. But I believe gift-giving done in the right way can be a sweet, special experience; we just have to find balance.

Here on the mission field, we are surrounded by poverty and suffering. But we are also surrounded by stories of supernatural sacrifice, as new Christians who have nearly nothing scrape together what they can to buy a bag of dried beans to bring to church. One man whose flocks had grown this year tithed a sheep. No matter who we are or what we have, being a recipient of salvation necessitates sacrificial giving on our part. Our hearts compel us to give, and especially as we medidate in Christ's incarnation. I pray that the Lord will always help us to strike a balance in our family of giving. We've been blessed so much, it will be hard to keep up; but we are sure going to try!

Merry Christmas to all my Real Missions, Real Life readers and followers!

Through the Eyes of a Child

There is something about having a little one in the house at Christmas that makes the season magical again. It has been so much fun this December to celebrate traditions, bake favorite goodies, and sing old carols, because our three year-old daughter Claire is now catching the excitement. She oohed and aahed over each ornament we hung on the tree, examining them carefully with her tiny fingers. She squealed with anticipation when I pulled from the oven the freshly-baked gingerbread men that she had helped with. She belted out "Al Mundo Paz" ("Joy to the World") as she marched an endless procession of dolls past the manger scene to "visit with Baby Jesus." She carefully selected a doll for a little girl in her Sunday school class whose mommy abandoned her when she was an infant; she wrapped it, labeled it with a "C" (from Claire), and proudly placed it beneath the small tree in her room. She is eagerly awaiting Christmas Eve so that we can take it to her. And I've got to admit, I'm probably just as eager for Christmas as she is. I can't wait to eat our traditional big breakfast, read Luke 2, and see her open the gifts we chose for her. Seeing Christmas through a child's eyes has brought back a magic that I'd forgotten existed.

It reminds me of one of the most beautiful blessings of missions, one I never anticipated before arriving on the field. It came to me unexpectedly as I taught a small children's class during our first year in Honduras. Seeing quite a few more children had arrived than usual, I had asked a teen girl to assist me; she sat in the back and helped me quiet the unruly ones. But I noticed that during the story about the three Hebrew children who refused to bow to a graven image, she was listening just as intently as the children were. I explained how the wicked king ordered the men to be thrown into the fiery furnace, and a low gasp spread across the room. They leaned forward in their seats, worry on their faces, as I told how even the men who threw the Hebrews into the furnace were consumed by the flames. "But Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not burned!" They smiled and nodded, clearly relieved; but their smiles changed to puzzled looks when I told them, "But the king looked up at the men walking around in the fiery furnace, and realized that there were not three, but four men in the flames!" I paused dramatically, waiting for their anticipation to peak before I continued. But not everyone could stand it. The teenage girl shouted out from the back of the room, "Well, who WAS it?"

What an awesome privilege it is to tell someone a Bible story for the first time! Those stories that I had heard over and over since I was a child became new to me again, because I was telling them to people who had never heard them. I had received the unexpected blessing of a second dose child-like wonder for what God can do.

On the mission field, we definitely miss being around seasoned Christians who are mature in their faith; I sometimes ache for the church family and leadership we left in the States. I know that one day we will have people like that in our church here; they have already made leaps and bounds in their walks with the Lord.

But even as we see Christians here grow to maturity, I pray that the Lord will always allow me to have the privilege of working with new Christians as well. There is nothing like leading someone to the Lord and watching them learn in awe of what their Savior can do.


I grew up in Sunday school,
I memorized the Golden Rule
And how Jesus came to set the sinner free.
I know the story inside out
I can tell you all about
The path that led Him up to Calvary.
But ask me why He loves me
And I don't know what to say.
But I'll never be the same because
He changed my life when He became...

Everything to me.
He's more than a story,
More than words on a page of history.
He's the air that I breathe
The water I thirst for
And the ground beneath my feet.
He's everything, everything to me.

-Chad Cates

A Christmas Caroling Adventure

Christmas in Honduras! Forget the turkey, piles of presents, snow, and Santa--those are American traditions. Here we have tamales, fireworks, and of course, the usual heat! But there are some things about Christmas that are universal. As I remember the great variety of Christmases I've celebrated, both near and far, one particular memory always comes to mind.

It was Christmas 1997. I was a senior in high school, and we'd just finished our annual Christmas Concert at Raleigh Christian Academy. I'd gone with a group of friends to Miami Subs afterwards. As we finished eating, we realized we still didn't have to be home for a few hours. What should we do?

We discussed a number of pranks on teachers and fellow classmates. But then someone suggested, "Hey, since we're all dressed up, why don't we go Christmas caroling?"

We stopped off at the Dollar Tree to purchase taper candles and matches, then excitedly drove to the first house. We arranged ourselves in front of the porch steps and began to belt out: "Joy to the World!" The family hurried to the door to enjoy our repetoire of familiar carols. This was fun! What a great idea!

We stopped at house after house, some family members, some church friends, to wish them a "Merry Christmas" in song. One of our last stops was Pastor Rabon's house. As we were leaving, our curfew quickly nearing, he commented, "You know, you should go sing for Mr. and Mrs. Thiede."

"Do they still go to our church?" I had not seen them in quite awhile. Don and Audrey Thiede were an elderly couple that had been friends and neighbors of my grandparents for years, but their health had declined greatly; they didn't get out much anymore.

"Yes, they still live over there on Folger Street," Pastor said. "I think they'd really appreciate a visit."

When we got back to the car, we discussed going to their house. "But we need to be home soon!" "Isn't it too late? They probably go to bed really early." Finally, we agreed to make the Thiedes' house our final stop that night.

A few minutes later, we nervously positioned ourselves in front of the front door and began to sing, "O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!" After the first stanza, the door slowly opened, and there stood Mr. and Mrs. Thiede, arm in arm. I almost didn't recognize him. He was pale and thin from sickness. They were both beaming however, and listened eagerly to the familiar carols.

As we finished the last song, someone shyly asked, "Do you have a request?"

Mrs. Thiede replied, "Would you sing 'Silent Night'? That's my husband's favorite."

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright,
'Round yon virgin, mother and child,
Holy Infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Mr. and Mrs. Thiede thanked us with tear-filled eyes, and we quietly left. How glad we were that we had stopped by! It was the perfect end to a special night.

The next morning at school, we excitedly told our classmates about our Christmas caroling adventure the night before. Then the bell rang, and we busied ourselves with English Literature. Toward the end of first period, the announcements were read over the intercom: Christmas parties, exams, special events. We began cramming our literature books into our bookbags, ready to head to second period. But the final announcement halted our hasty exit. "Please be in prayer for the family of Mr. Don Thiede, who passed away last night in his sleep. The funeral will be held...."

We looked at each other in shock. He passed away last night? But we just saw him! Our hearts were heavy for Mrs. Audrey, and we wondered how she was doing.

But as I reflected on that night's events, I was so thankful that we had gone to see him. I prayed that on his final night on earth, Mr. Thiede had truly been able to "sleep in heavenly peace" only to open his eyes in the presence of his Savior, the One Who had come as a baby for him.

The Outsider

Christmas at Grandma and Granddaddy Tippett's house was always a special time in our family. After eating a huge meal prepared by my Grandma, we would gather around my Granddaddy's leather recliner while he read the Christmas story from Luke 2.

Then we would begin opening the huge pile of presents under the small Christmas tree by the front window. It was one of those rare times my sister was glad to be the youngest grandchild, because she always opened the first gift. The rest of us grandchildren followed, from youngest to oldest, we girls squealing with excitement over the baby dolls Grandma had chosen for us.

Then we would scurry off to the next room to play with our toys, while the adults opened their presents. The older grandchildren were given the task of counting out all the coins Granddaddy had saved all year, and dividing them into seven piles, a gift to each grandchild.

As I think back to these long-ago Christmases in Raleigh, a face comes to mind. Mr. Robert Strickland, an older gentleman who was a friend of my grandparents, joined us for several of these celebrations. I never questioned his presence at the time, but years later asked my mother, "Was Mr. Strickland related to Grandma? Why was he always there at Christmas?" My grandmother's maiden name was Strickland; I figured he was somehow kin.

"I think maybe he was somehow distantly related," she replied. "Grandma and Granddaddy met him when he started coming to our church; when they realized he had nowhere to go at Christmas, they invited him to join us."

Mr. Strickland was a gruff old man with an abrasive personality that some found hard to tolerate. But he was always welcome at my grandparents' house and we just considered him "one of the family." There were even a few presents for him under the tree.

My grandparents, Elbert and Kathryn Tippett, had set a beautiful example for me of what Christmas is really about. So many times we think Christmas is simply about being with family.

But what about those who have no family to be with during the holidays?

In 2005, Robbie and I spent our first Christmas away from family; we had arrived in Honduras as missionaries early that year. Eager to celebrate, I bought decorations, played Christmas music, and decorated cookies; but with temperatures in the 90s, no parties to go to, and the house empty, it just didn't feel like Christmas. After a simple program at church on Christmas Eve, the Alvarado family invited us and our missionary partners the Goinses to their home. "Are you sure?" we asked them. We didn't want to impose.

The Alvarado Family

"Oh, please come!" they insisted.

As we awkardly sat down in the tiny living room with its concrete floor, we listened to the kids laughing outside the door lighting sparklers and firecrackers, a Honduran Christmas Eve tradition. We were given shredded chicken sandwiches, with apologies that it was a simple fare. "No, this is great!" we insisted. The family squeezed in among us, some perching on the arms of tattered furniture, others choosing to sit on the cold floor. We laughed and chatted easily, with small brown children and the lucky chickens that had escaped the hatchet wandering under our feet.

As I looked around the room, I finally felt that familiar warmth I had been craving. Now it feels like Christmas! This time I was Robert Strickland, an outsider who had been taken in. But Christmas is just not about being with your family. It's about celebrating our Savior's birth. As I gazed on the smiling faces of my Honduran brothers and sisters, I knew the reason we had gathered together. That tiny baby in the manger had come to save us all from our sins. Most of them were celebrating their first Christmas as believers; the joy in our hearts was the same.

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. -I John 4:14

A Life with a Purpose: Oscar's Story

A tiny newborn lay discarded among banana peels and milk cartons, struggling for breath inside a plastic bag. His mother had lost her mind and decided to kill the baby boy; she would die days later from loss of blood. His father, an orange peddler, found the infant, and took him to the woman he was currently living with so that she could care for him.

Oscar was raised in a home full of wickedness and sorrow. His father eventually left and set up a shack, squatting on a piece of land near the hospital where he would push a cart to sell oranges each day. Oscar would bike the five miles to visit his father and look for work. He was greatly disturbed by the crime and evil he saw daily: people robbed at gunpoint for cell phones and pocket change, girls beaten and raped, angry quarrels ending in bloodshed. In anger and desperation, he purchased a gun, which he hid in his room while he plotted. He decided to form a posse of teens to rid El Progreso of crime. His plan was to find thieves and gang members and kill them execution-style in order to bring safety back to the city.

One day while he was looking for work, he noticed that an American couple had moved into a house near the hospital. He inquired there about work, and the man hired him to cut the lawn one day. Although he was at first frustrated by the foreigners insistence that he pay attention to detail and leave the yard clean and neat, Oscar soon learned how to pass the “inspections” and was able to earn good pay each week. He got to know Pastor Robbie and his wife Christine; they fed him lunch and made small talk with him when he finished the yard. One day, Pastor Robbie sat down and explained to Oscar that he was a sinner and needed to trust the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive his sin and be his Savior. Oscar listened with interest. He admitted that he did indeed have a sin problem, but was not willing to trust Christ. He already had his own secret plan for justification: become a vigilante. He shook his head and told Pastor Robbie, “No, not for me.”

It took four years for Oscar to finally realize that he was as wicked as those he plotted to kill. After washing the pastor’s truck one morning, he sat down on the front porch with Robbie and talked of his need to trust Christ. He bowed his head and repented of his sins, trusting Christ alone to save him.

Excited to grow in his new faith, Oscar began taking the one-on-one discipleship course with Nathan Massey, his youth pastor. As he began to grow, he realized he needed a place to serve. He joined the church’s set-up crew, now arriving on his bike an hour before each service to arrange chairs, sound equipment, and furniture on the outdoor porch where we hold our services. After the porch is ready for service, he hops on a bus and assists the driver in maintaining order on the route. When he gets back to church, he dons his usher badge and greets people at the door as they arrive.

The baby who once lay dying in a trash heap is now a young man serving the Lord in every way he can. Oscar recently testified in a Wednesday night prayer meeting, “I thought I could change Progreso by violently ridding the city of evildoers; but then I realized the only way to change Progreso is by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can truly change a life.”

Are you thankful for what the Lord has given you? Take a tour of what has been Oscar's father's home for the past twenty years:

Oscar enters the land where his father lives as a squatter.

The make-shift shack where he keeps his belongings.

Oscar's dad's kitchen

Oscar's dad's bed

How It All Began...

A famous comedian recently interviewed people walking down a busy street, asking them about the best and worst “pick-up lines” they had ever heard. Their answers ranged from the classic, “Your dad must be a thief…because he stole the stars and put them in your eyes,” to the overused, “You must be tired…because you’ve been running through my mind all day,” to the corny, “If I were to rewrite the alphabet, I’d put U and I together.” One favorite was, “Do you know how much a polar bear weighs? …Enough to break the ice! Hi, I’m ____.”

As I laughed at the silly lines and wondered who in the world had ever fallen for one, I thought back to my freshman year at college. Before even arriving on campus, I had heard the standard jokes about going to college to get an MRS degree or “find a man.” I had responded with disdain, “I’m not dating anyone seriously until at least my junior year, maybe my senior year. I’m going to focus on my grades.”

I had decided that since I felt the Lord was calling me to the mission field, I would only date someone who also was called. That ought to narrow it down a bit, I thought. And I definitely won’t date much for a couple of years; I’m here to learn! My major would be Spanish Education. I wanted to learn the art of teaching in order to help in my future ministry. Studying Spanish would help improve my language skills; I had already had two years in high school and had worked in a Spanish ministry back home, but I wanted to become more fluent. I chose English for my minor because not only did I love grammar and literature, I also knew that English teachers can get into just about any country. I decided to take as many hours as I could handle in order to graduate early. Yes, the plan was to study hard and not date!

The plan went out the window exactly two days after I arrived on campus. I went to lunch with my best friend Summer and her brother Kevin, who brought along his roommate, Robbie Ellis from Kentucky. We all chatted easily, but when lunch was over, the upperclassman with the big brown eyes suddenly caught my attention. Summer asked Robbie what he wanted to do when he graduated. “I’m going to Peru to be a missionary,” he responded without hesitation. Hmmm, I thought. That’s interesting.

“Do you speak Spanish?” I asked him.

“No. But you’re going to teach me!” he declared with a twinkle in his eye.

I felt my face burn, and I quickly changed the subject. But the deal was sealed. This country boy from Kentucky had called his shot. It was the best pick-up line I’d ever heard; and although I didn’t let on, it had worked like a charm.

After a few months, I realized how much I looked forward to lunch with a group of friends every day, because that’s when I’d see Robbie. He would walk me to my box to check mail afterwards, and we would talk about our day. We were “just friends,” but it was becoming clear that there was more to it.

Every week during college, my dad would write me a letter and close with a list of “Do’s and Don’ts,” his fatherly advice for the week. One week, when I received the letter, Robbie said, “What’s on the list this week?” I had finished reading the main body of the letter, so without glancing at the list I said, “Here, you read them out loud.” He read through the “Do’s” and then chuckled when he got to the list of “Don’ts.”

“What is it?” I asked. There in black and white was Don’t #3: “Don’t get stuck on Robbie like a band-aid. Date around.” Oops.

“Well, I guess I wasn’t supposed to let you read the list this week!” I said with an embarrassed laugh.

Later that night, I was still cringing, thinking of Robbie reading that particular piece of candid advice. I pulled a 3x5 card out of my desk drawer and wrote him a quick note to send with that evening’s campus mail.

“Dear Robbie,
It’s too late.

I then found a band-aid, attached it with great flair, and sent the note, giggling and briefly wondering if it was too forward of me. Almost as soon as I got back to my room, I began to feel sick to my stomach. I shouldn’t have said that! That’s way too bold! How can I get it back? I wondered what on earth had possessed me to write such a message. It was very uncharacteristic of me to express my feelings that openly to him. I had been very tight-lipped up until this point. I watched the clock and imagined him getting my note, shock on his face. He would be appalled by my candid confession and wonder why in the world he had ever considered me ladylike.
I was so busy worrying that I almost didn’t hear the mail slip under the door. I was surprised to see a small envelope with my name on it. The last mail I'll ever get from Robbie Ellis, to be sure. He had written it hours before getting mine...

That Robbie Ellis sure knows how to call his shots! Eleven years, thousands of miles, and many Spanish tutoring sessions later, I’m still stuck on him like a Band-aid and having the time of my life!

Mommy, where am I from?

As I reflect on Veteran's Day this week and my heart fills with gratitude for those who have paid a high price for my freedom, I also consider my little girl's future. Claire was born in Honduras and has dual citizenship. She is what is known as a "third culture kid," a term used to refer to children who grow up in a country other than the one on their passports. Many times, these children fail to develop a sense of belonging to either country; the mix of cultures and traditions forms a "third culture" in the child. Even as adults, these children may not completely identify with any one culture; they can truly become men and women "without a country." Today I want to relate my thoughts and feelings concerning our choice to allow our daughter to grow up in a third-world nation and how our choice may affect her level of patriotism.


After we had our daughter Claire in 2006, I had a recurring nightmare. We were back in the States at a basketball game at my old high school. Claire was 5 or 6 years old and was seated in the bleachers next to me. When we rose in unison and placed our hands over our hearts to sing the national anthem, Claire stared at me blankly. She didn’t even know to put her hand over her heart, let alone how to sing the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner.” My face burned with shame and disappointment. I had forgotten to teach my daughter how to be patriotic.

I was determined this dream would never become a reality. Even before Little Claire could sing along, I began teaching her patriotic songs and pointing out the American flag. She began calling it the “Grand Ol’ Flag” because of one of her favorite songs. Every time we passed one, we would put our hands over our hearts and sing together. It wasn’t long before she became giddy with excitement whenever she saw the stars and stripes.

One of Claire’s favorite things to tell people is that she is special because she has two flags: the Grand Ol’ Flag, and the Honduran flag. It occurred to me one day that I should spend as much time talking about the Honduran flag as I do the American flag; she is, after all, a citizen of both countries. I want her to love and respect both nations. Robbie and I must be careful to not criticize or demean the culture in front of our Honduran daughter. If we have a critical spirit of Honduran ways, Claire will sense our distaste. It’s easy for missionaries to find fault with a foreign culture; many times our thinking patterns and customs are drastically different. But we never want to communicate a spirit of American superiority to our daughter. After all, she is just as Honduran as she is American.

But then, I’ve also known missionaries who have gone to the other extreme. One teenage missionary kid I met could barely speak English because her parents had neglected to speak it at home. Others show disdain for the United States. “That’s not my country,” they declare. “I only go there to visit.”

One of my biggest prayer requests for my family is that God would give us wisdom as we strive to teach our daughter a love for both of her countries. I pray that tears will one day fill her eyes as she sees a fallen soldier laid to rest. I pray that she’ll listen with interest as the President gives the State of the Union Address. I pray she’ll sense a deep obligation to vote in every election, even when she must do so by absentee ballot. I pray she'll stay informed of current events, forming opinions with a discerning mind and a biblical worldview. I pray her heart will swell with pride when she visits the grave of her great-grandfather who served in the Navy for 32 years. But I know that none of this will happen unless we her parents consciously work to instill patriotism in her heart. Claire doesn't have to be "a girl without a country." May God help me to instill in her a passionate love for both the United States of America and Honduras.

Do you have ideas for practical ways to teach patriotism to children? I would love to hear your ideas and family traditions and share them with other missionaries! Please post a comment to contribute.

Team Honduras 2009 Fourth of July Celebration

The Little Girl with the Corkscrew Curls

A little girl I had never seen shyly approached me after Sunday morning class and extended her paper for me to see. She was about 6 years old with big eyes and dark hair full of corkscrew curls. I ooed and aahed over her picture and started to hand it back, but she shook her head. “For me? Oh, thank you!” I hugged her and told her goodbye.

After the buses had left, I tidied up my class and prepared to leave. When I walked out to the porch where the adults meet, I was surprised to see the small girl waiting on the bleachers. “Nayeli, did you miss your bus?” She nodded and looked a little embarrassed. But her expression changed to excitement when I motioned her toward our truck. “Okay, we’ll take you home.”

We figured out whom Nayeli had come with—her grandmother, who had been attending our church for some time. “Do you live with your grandmother, Nayeli?” She nodded solemnly. “Where does your mother live?”

“En los Estados Unidos,” she answered, hanging her head. In the United States—she must have gone to work there.

“Your daddy, too?” She nodded again.

“When did they leave?”

“El año pasado.” Last year. And there would be no hope of seeing them again anytime soon. Those who go mojados (illegally) don’t come back to visit, for fear of not being able to re-enter. This little six year-old was basically an orphan. And even worse, her parents had left her by choice.

When dropped her off at her grandmother’s house, no one came out to meet us. I wondered if she’d even been missed. She smiled and promised to return the next Sunday, and we waved goodbye.

As I glanced down at the picture she’d drawn, my eyes filled with tears. “For the most beautiful teacher who is so beautiful.”

My heart hurt for the little girl who missed her mommy so much. I wondered if anyone took time to read her stories, or teach her to make tortillas, or brush her hair after her bath.

There are so many children that come to our church every week who are just like Nayeli. They arrive in tattered dirty clothing that they’ve clearly outgrown. Some have lice or parasites. They eagerly wolf down the cookies I hand out, and I realize that this is probably their breakfast. Just this past Sunday, I cleaned and bandaged an oozing burn that looked days old, on the leg of a little three year-old girl. But much worse than their physical condition, their little hearts are hurting for love and affection. Sometimes I can hardly sleep at night for thinking about them. I’d take them all home with me if I could.

But one thought brings hope to my heart. In 2011, Team Honduras plans to begin a children’s home for little girls like Nayeli. Mark and Amy Coats, a couple from North Carolina are currently in training and are raising support to come and direct this home. They will become parents to little boys and girls who have none. These children will be fed, clothed, and educated. Most importantly, they will learn of the Heavenly Father Who loved them enough to send His Son to die for them. These forgotten children may be the pastors and teachers who take the gospel throughout Honduras one day.

So we are praying and working to see this dream come true.

The Hardest Day for a Missionary

The goal of my blog is to communicate on some level the reality of the field in order to dispel romantic notions that so often confuse the American’s concept of foreign missions. In doing so, I must honestly address some of the difficulties missionaries face. But it is in those moments the Lord’s presence is most intimately felt…

What is the hardest day for a missionary? Yes, we go through difficulties here on the field. There are robberies, kidnappings, and physical dangers. There are strange tropical illnesses and parasites. There are problems in the ministry at times; no one volunteers to fill a need, gossip runs rampant, or new Christians succumb to old sins. There are power and water outages. There are cultural frustrations. But really, that’s all just a part of life.

The hardest days for a missionary are those in which he realizes once again exactly what he has given up by going to the foreign field. For a missionary wife, it's being pregnant and not going shopping or decorating the nursery with her mom. It’s getting a phone call that your sister has miscarried, and you aren’t there to cry with her. Or it might be like the day one year ago, when my dad called me and told me he had cancer.

I felt like I was walking through a fog for days. I kept functioning, but could think of almost nothing else. I just wanted to be with my family and felt guilty for not being there to support my parents in the way that my sister was. I was numb with shock and grief, and helpless to do anything.

I had a big event planned for the ladies’ of our church that weekend. We had invited the ladies from another church to attend a meeting, and their pastor’s wife taught the lesson. The whole event ran smoothly. I smiled, shook hands, led the singing; but I felt dead inside. I was just going through the motions, getting through another day until I could go home in November for the surgery.

As I was saying my goodbyes after the meeting, Jenny Alvarado (wife of Alex from "Not All Heroes Wear Capes") slipped something into my hand. “I don’t know what this is, but Kevin was working on it all afternoon. He wouldn’t let me see it.” Her ten year-old son Kevin was in my children’s class and his little brother Jonathan was Claire’s age.

After the ladies had filed out to the bus, I glanced down at the hand-made envelope she had handed me. I pulled out the letter written on notebook paper and read:

Christine, I am very sorry for what your dad has but I know you trust and have faith in God. If you have faith in God, God is going to help him and do a miracle so that everything will be all right. And I am going to pray that your dad is healed. Also, I am going to pray for your trip that it goes well for you, Pastor Robbie, and your Princess Claire.
We love you very much and we are going to miss you too much. God bless you.

With affection, Kevin and Jonathan

For my friend Christine

I smiled at his thoughtful words and started to put the note back, when I noticed a drawing he had done on the back side of the envelope. There was a series of stick figures standing hand in hand, labeled “Dad, Mom, Kathleen, Christine, Andres (Robbie’s Honduran name), and Lissi (Claire’s Honduran name). Over our heads hung dark clouds, symbolic of the cancer looming over our lives. But descending down out of that last cloud to grasp Dad’s hand was la mano de Dios, “the hand of God.”

Tears streamed down my face and joy filled my heart. I was not alone. God was holding our hands, joining us across the miles. He had used a child to remind me of a simple yet profound truth. He just wanted me to cling to His hand.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I’m weak, I’m lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home.

Carolina's Persistence

It was Ground-breaking Day at Iglesia Bautista El Faro. We rented tents, set up chairs, and held a special service to dedicate the property the Lord had given us. After some special music and the sermon, Pastor Robbie explained that we would be signing a special Bible to bury in a time capsule beneath the site of the first building. The Bible was placed on a table in front, and we were instructed that one representative of each family should come to the front and line up to sign the Bible in turn.

A line began to form as Pastor Matt played his guitar. Robbie assisted in the signing of the Bible, but noticed that a mother, her teen son, and her two school-age daughters were all in the line.

They were sweet people from a very poor family; Carolina was an uneducated and simple person, but one of our most faithful attendees. He whispered to her politely, “Hermana Carolina, just one of you can sign for the whole family. Tell the children to sit down, and you can sign the Bible for them.” To his surprise, she looked rather irritated at his comment, and grudgingly ordered the children back to their seats. Robbie drifted back over to the table to continue assisting those who were signing.

Just a few minutes later, he noticed that Carolina’s children had once again joined the line, this time in a different place. Puzzled, Robbie once again approached the lady. “Just one representative per family, please, Carolina. The children don’t need to sign.” He received the same irritated look and hesitant response.

When the children got back into line for the third time, Robbie was sure there must have been some kind of misunderstanding. Why does Carolina keep sending the children back to the line?

It wasn’t until the next day we realized why this dear lady had been so persistent. Another lady in the church confided in us that Carolina had been standing beside her during the burial of the Bible. As it was lowered into the ground, Carolina whispered, “You know, if your name is in that Bible, you are going to heaven.”

“What? What do you mean?” the other lady asked.

“You have to have your name in that Bible to go to heaven!” explained Carolina, her eyes wide and serious.

“No, no, it’s just a time capsule to commemorate the new building,” the lady assured her.

“Well, I don’t think so. I think you have to have your name in the book!” Carolina replied. Poor Carolina was convinced that we were burying some sort of Lamb’s Book of Life. And that wicked pastor had been trying to keep her children out of heaven!

Yes, it’s silly to think that we could get to heaven because we signed our name in a Bible. But this is not an uncommon mistake. Tragically, millions go to hell because they are trusting in what they have done to save them. They need to hear the truth: the debt has been paid in full. Christ did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. He made a way for us to receive eternal life. We can’t add to or take away from what He has done; we simply need to accept it.

Victory for Honduras!

Soccer is King in Honduras. Every little brown, barefoot boy kicking a tattered ball between two rocks in the street dreams of one day playing for the Seleccion, the Honduran national team. On game days, nearly everyone, from toddlers to middle aged men and elderly women, proudly don Honduran jerseys and hang flags in anticipation of the big event. When the game begins, the streets are deserted. The only people who are not at home watching the game are those who decide to watch it at the mall or local bar on the big screen. Then, for ninety minutes, life in Honduras stands still. They agonize together over missed goals, and scream with joy when the team scores. Even if you are not watching the game, you know when Honduras scores; fireworks sound and shouts ring out after each goal.

Last night was a big night in Honduras. It was the last chance for their beloved Seleccion to qualify for the World Cup, something that they had not been able to accomplish since 1982. In order to make it to the 2010 tournament (which is held every four years), two things needed to happen: Honduras had to beat El Salvador, and the USA had to tie or beat Costa Rica, the team that was competing with Honduras for the final spot.

All of Honduras watched both with nervous anticipation. Honduras played well and beat El Salvador 1-0. But Costa Rica came out fighting hard, and scored two goals against USA. Team USA managed to score one point, but the game was quickly coming to a close. In the final seconds, they managed to head in one last goal to tie the game! Shouts and fireworks erupted all over the country, celebrating the USA's goal. Honduras was headed to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years!

On our way home from church, we watched in amazement as the streets filled with people shouting, dancing, and celebrating the victory. Cars blared their horns and pedestrians banged on our roof and waved flags in front of our car.

When we arrived at the house, we turned on the television to watch more of the celebration and catch the replays of the game. Suddenly all the channels went black, signalling the start of a government broadcast. We turned to the Honduran channel in time to see the President make a live announcement, congratulating the team and yelling, "Viva, Honduras!" Then he declared the next day a national holiday!

The country is united in a way it has not been in months, all because of a soccer game. Honduras has taken some hard hits this year; unemployment reached 30%, a 7.4 earthquake struck, and the removal of the President tore the country apart. But today, we celebrate!

Next month's elections are quickly approaching. Please pray that the results of November 29th's election will be recognized internationally and that Honduras may begin to heal, one victory at a time.

Five Feet Tall and Bulletproof

This is a follow up to August's story "Not All Heroes Wear Capes..."

As Alex drove toward his building project one Friday morning, he reflected on how the Lord had blessed him. This site was one of three where he had crews working; he was becoming known for his honesty and quality work. It was payday, and his workers would be glad to see him coming.

He glanced in his rear view mirror and saw a taxi speeding along, quickly closing the distance between them. He shifted slightly and motioned the vehicle around; it passed him and continued to speed down the road, but then pulled off onto the left hand shoulder. As Alex passed the now parked vehicle, he was horrified to see the windows were down, and two men were aiming guns directly at him. He slammed the accelerator to the floor and heard bullets ripping into the side of his truck. He lowered his head as glass shattered and the firing continued. He drove like a madman, until he finally reached safety a few minutes later.

After he was sure he had not been followed, Alex got out to look at his vehicle. Bullet holes peppered the driver's side panel of his Mazda. Two entered the driver's side window and exited through the winshield at an angle. He could not figure out how they did not hit him in the head. Then he looked at the driver's seat--there was a bullet hole in the uphostery right where he had been sitting. Shocked, Alex reached around to touch his back in the spot where the bullet should have hit him. His skin was untouched, but the bullet had burned a hole in his shirt.

The men who tried to rob and murder Alex that day were surely mystified to see him keep driving after they had showered his vehicle with gunfire. They don't know the One who shielded Alex from their bullets.

Alex has told of his miraculous escape to give testimony to the goodness of the Lord; but the miraculous change in his life gives the greatest testimony of all. The Lord can take a alcoholic, thiefing, drug addict and use him for His honor and glory.

...he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
-II Corinthians 5:17

To Bribe or Not to Bribe?

Many times on the mission field we are faced with questions we never had to ask ourselves back in the US. One of those is whether or not to employ mordidas or bribes in our everyday interactions. Anyone who has lived in a developing country knows that bribes are a part of everyday life. Missionaries basically fall into two categories in this area. There are those who say, "Well, it's just part of the culture," and proceed to pay the tips and bribes; then there are those who have strong convicitions against giving bribes and refuse to participate. We know missionaries in both schools of thought; reasons could be given for both sides. Many "bribes" that one is asked for are not illegal; we are simply asked for money to expedite a process like applying for a driver's license (a two-day process if you do not pay a "tip"). So the missionary is left to decide based on his conscience which way is best in a given situation. Of course we would never employ bribes to get around a law or do something illegal. But many times we are asked for "tips" in order to actually get someone to help us; one thing we have learned in Honduras is that no one is in a hurry. Other times, we have been threatened by consequences if we refused to pay a bribe.

One day we were returning from our monthly bulk grocery run in San Pedro Sula, a larger city to the west of Progreso. We had the car packed with groceries, and little Claire was propped up in her carseat between boxes and bags. Just after leaving the city limits, we ran into a police checkpoint. Honduran police do not typically patrol as police in the US do; there are not enough vehicles for them to do so. Instead, they set up police checkpoints across the city, pulling over random cars for inspections and license checks. On this day, we happened to be one of the cars pulled over; Robbie grabbed his license and registration and handed them to the officer as soon as he arrived. The officer checked both, then began to peer into the windows of the backseat.

"Do you have a receipt for that milk?" he asked.

"A receipt for the milk?" Robbie was incredulous. I, on the other hand, began to dig through my purse in search of it. I was acting on a respect for law-enforcement officers that that been ingrained in me since I was a child. Robbie, however, was beginning to smell a fish.

"Yeah, do you have a receipt for that milk? I need to see it."

"No you don't. You are supposed to look for traffic violations. Not milk." Robbie wasn't budging on this one.

Feeling the milk was a dead end, the officer said, "Do you have any traffic triangles?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You know, those triangles you have to put in the road if you break down. You have to have those; it's the law here."

"No, we don't have any, and no that's not the law here. I'm not driving a tractor trailer. This is a normal truck and we don't need triangles." Robbie's patience was wearing thin.

"Yes, this is pretty bad, not having traffic triangles. I'm going to have to fine you and take your license, and you'll have to go downtown and pay it."

When he got no reaction he continued, "Yes, you'll have to go downtown. Since you're not from here, you probably don't even know where that is. Hmmm, what are we going to do about this?"

Robbie just stared back at him, not concealing his disgust.

"I tell you what! I'll help you out. I don't want you to have to go all the way downtown to pay a fine. You give me the money and I'll take care of it for you!" He looked at Robbie expectantly, hand outstretched.

This was the moment we had dreaded. Lord, what do we do?

"Fine me," Robbie said, and smiling widely at the officer for the first time.

"What? No, you'll have to go downtown, they keep your license, it will take you all day!" The officer looked confused.

"I know. I want to pay the fine. But do me a favor, before you write it, go back there and get your chief. I want to talk to him first." Robbie jerked his thumb in the direction of the older officer who was apparently in charge of the post. Then with great flair he began writing down the man's badge number.

"Uh, well, ah, I guess we could let this go this one time," the officer stammered, backing away from the car, hands raised. He shook his head as us as we drove off. Dumb gringos, don't they know how things are done here?

The Lord gave Robbie the wisdom he needed to navigate this situation well. There have been other occasions when we believe He directed us to pay a person in order to get service. I read a great explanation of this rule by another missionary: "Paying a bribe to convince an official to break or avoid a law is always wrong. Paying an official to convince him to follow a law or do his duty is acceptable."

The most important issue here is protecting the name of Jesus Christ. We may have to jump through some hoops and stand in long lines because we don't pay illegal bribes. But you simply cannot put a price on testimony.

Missionaries: Jacks of all Trades

One of my favorite things about my life is that there is no “normal” on the mission field. We stay incredibly busy, but we are not usually doing the same monotonous task all day long. Before we started the church here, I never knew all that was involved in making a ministry function. I took for granted all the “behind-the-scenes” work that made our home church run smoothly. We members of Team Honduras quickly learned that we could not opt out of tasks because it was not in our job description. Regardless of what degree we earned in college, we had to be willing to learn new skills, many times out of our comfort zones.

Since becoming a missionary, I’ve had to learn how to keep books and careful records of finances (and I am not a math person). I teach a class of 30 two to five year-olds, even though I got my degree in secondary education. I learned how to pour cement and tie rebar at the site of our new church building. I recently got to scrub into surgery during a medical brigade. I communicate with our supporters and help maintain our website. I’ve learned to organize and prepare a meal for over 100 people. At church, I can scrub a toilet and wring a mop with the best of them. I’ve had to brush up on my piano skills to play in church, something I would never do in the States. But on the mission field, you don’t say you’re not qualified. You just roll up your sleeves and get in there! In the early years of a ministry, if you don’t do it, it won’t get done.

Robbie now knows quite a bit about architecture and construction from our first building project; he’s learned about photography and videography to improve our promotional material. Matt learned how to play the guitar and lead music in church, because there was no one else able to do so. He also taught himself how to produce videos so that we can send our supporters a Year-in-Review DVD each year. We’ve all had to stretch ourselves here on the mission field, because there’s so much to be done.

I once read a book for wives that included a “Standard Dumb Cluck Test.” I was immediately convicted about my hesitancy to learn new things. The author admonished women for not being “crowned with knowledge.” She warned that all too often we don’t learn to do things that don’t fall under the job description we’ve envisioned for ourselves. She asked questions like, “Have you ever checked the oil in your car?” and “Can you use a hammer, saw, tape measure, and screwdriver?” I was challenged to be my husband’s helpmeet in ways I had never considered, because, as she said, “Any good woman should be able to fix a screen door.”

I definitely struggle with flexibility. I like to know what I’m supposed to do ahead of time, make a list, and get to it. And heaven help the person that tries to add to my list! Being on the mission field has taught me not to say, “That’s not my area,” or “I’m not really comfortable doing that.”

Let’s forget our job descriptions and comfort zones. The Lord doesn’t accept such lame excuses! To opt out of opportunities such as these is to miss a great blessing. Let's allow the Lord to stretch us and use us in new ways. He always makes it worthwhile.

…the prudent are crowned with knowledge. –Proverbs 14:18

A Night that Changed His Life

Jose Hilario woke to cold metal being pressed against his temple. "Don't move or talk," the stranger warned. Masked men tied up Jose and his wife Ismenia, rendering them helpless. "We've been sent to kill you; lie still." Sheer terror gripped Jose's heart as he heard the men break down the door of his only son's bedroom. Sixteen year-old Christian was just down the hall, but Jose couldn't see or hear him at all. Would they kidnap him? Or kill him? Jose prayed as he had never prayed before.

Just three years before, an American missionary couple had knocked on Jose's door and invited him to a neighborhood Bible study they had just begun. Ismenia had trusted Christ as her Savior years before, but Jose and Christian had never been very interested. A little curious about these foreigners, Jose agreed to go visit Pastor Robbie's Bible Study. A few weeks later, Jose trusted Christ has his personal Savior, and Christian soon followed his example. Things began to change at the Rodriguez household.

The family attended church together faithfully and all took the personal discipleship course in order to learn more about the Bible and grow in their walk with the Lord. It was exciting to see changes in their lives.

On this terrible December night, bound and gagged in his own home, Jose reflected on what the Lord had done in his own heart and in the hearts of his family. Pase lo que pase, estamos seguros de nuestro destino final. Whatever happens, we are sure of our final destination, he thought. He prayed for courage and strength as the masked men ransacked his house and continued to yell profanities at his family. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally escaped into the night.

After struggling for some time, Jose and Ismenia were able to free themselves. They ran to Christian's room, where they found him safe and sound. They thanked the Lord together that they had made it through this ordeal and that He had spared their lives. The men had stolen jewelry and some cash set aside for their business, but the loss was minimal in comparison with what could have happened.

Over the next few weeks, changes became evident in Jose's life. He began to attend soul-winning visitation for the first time. He had realized in his darkest hour the value of the gift of eternal life; how could he not share this with others? During the following months, he led person after person to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord had used a horrible situation to create a determination in Jose's heart to share the good news he'd been given. So many in Progreso still have not heard...

Have you realized the value of what you've been given? Our eternal security offers us not only a home in heaven, but also guarantees us peace here on this earth. What are you doing so that others may receive this gift?

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. -Matthew 6:19

Ismenia (Jose's wife) talks with Joey Goins at a church activity.

Christian and Jose both serve as ushers at Iglesia Bautista El Faro.

Searching for a Way Out: Maria's Story

There are countless stories of lives changed because of the Medical Missions Outreach Brigade hosted by Team Honduras this past week. As you read the story of Maria, will you pray about how you can be involved in world missions? There are many more Marias still waiting for help.

Maria (name has been changed) was desperate. This was not what she had planned at all. She knew Christ as her Savior, had attended church faithfully, and loved her husband. However, somehow along the way, problems began to creep into her marriage. Discouraged and backslidden, she had dropped out of church; things began to spiral downward from there. She and her husband separated for two months, and she was absolutely miserable. She knew it was wrong, but during this time, she sought comfort in the company of another man.

She and her husband were back together, trying to reassemble the pieces. But Maria began to feel the familiar nausea and tiredness that could only mean one thing. She was pregnant. Instead of turning to the Lord, she sought advice from her friends. "Take this pill. It will take care of everything, and he will never know," she was told. Her conscience burned, but she could not bear the thought of facing her husband with what she had done. She took the pill and waited. Nothing happened.

"Oh, if that didn't work, you need to go get an injection," the unsaved friends advised. Maria once again silenced the Holy Spirit and tried to erase what she had done. Still nothing.

Finally, she went into her room, locked the door, and physically removed the life growing inside of her. In agonizing pain, she hid the bowl of evidence under her bed, praying no one would find out. She had never been more ashamed of anything in her life.

Maria developed a high fever, continued bleeding, and was in great pain. She told her family members only that she was sick, and they began to worry. Her brother told her of a Medical Brigade that was being hosted by the church where he faithfully attended with his family. "It's right down the road, Maria, at the school. Why don't you let the nurses there examine you? Maybe they have some medicine that would help."

Maria reluctantly went to the clinic and spoke with Michelle McPhillips, CRNP, about her symptoms. Not having the full story, Michelle was puzzled. She knew something was wrong, and she was not getting all the information she needed. She asked Maria to return the next day. This time, Michelle directed her questions toward Maria's spiritual condition. She recognized the agony on this lady's face; it came from something deeper than physical pain. The more they talked, the more of the story came out. Michelle sent Maria directly to the hospital to be treated for the sepsis related to the home abortion. She needed blood, an ultrasound, and a DNC. Late that night, Michelle and Lauren Kubik, RN, headed up to the hospital to visit Maria. After checking with her nurses and inquiring about her progress, Michelle took Maria's hand and sat on the bed next to her. "Do you know you could have died this week?"
Maria's eyes filled with tears as the reality hit her. "Yes, I know."

"Where would you have gone, Maria?"

The weight of Maria's sin had caused her to even doubt her salvation. Michelle led her through the Roman's Road verse by verse, wanting to be sure that Maria knew her eternal destiny. When Maria assured her that she had indeed repented of her sins and trusted Christ, Michelle continued by telling her of her own testimony, sharing personal hardships and battles that the Lord had brought her through.
"You know that the Lord is there for you when no one else is, don't you Maria?" Maria nodded, her heart heavy with the knowledge that she had failed Him. She knew she needed to ask for His forgiveness. As they prayed together in the dark room, she felt a burden being lifted. No, she didn't deserve His love and forgiveness. No one did. But she knew He did love her. Why else would he send these sweet nurses to care for her exactly when she needed it most? They were proof that He still cared.

She would start over. It wouldn't be easy, but she would seek her husband's forgiveness, she would go back to church, she would move on. Most of all, she would guard that precious relationship with her Lord. He had reached out to her in her time of greatest need.

But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? -I John 3:17
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