Not all heroes wear capes…

Just four years ago, Alex was a thief. He was pretty good at it, too. He stole regularly, mainly to buy beer or play pool in the neighborhood pool hall. Working in construction all his life, he learned how to run electricity to a house so that the electric company would never know. He stole from people in his neighborhood, and cut corners for those who hired him. Word of his dishonesty spread, and it was often hard to find work. He lived with his girlfriend Jenny and son Kevin in a tiny cinderblock house, barely big enough for their beds. They had been together since he was 17 and she was 14, never knowing anything but poverty, drunkenness, and dishonesty. Alex was the kind of guy that walked by and made you clutch your purse a little tighter and pick up your step. His baggy jeans and long ponytail made it clear—he was one of the “bad guys.”

Jenny, who began to attend our Bible study, got her life right and began to pray faithfully for her wayward boyfriend, the father of her son. We witnessed to Alex countless times. At first he avoided us; then, seeing we were persistent, he began to tolerate our visits; soon, he began to truly listen with conviction on his face as we explained what Christ had done for him. Once, his hands were visibly shaking so much that he gripped the edge of the couch. After he declined once again to make a decision, our hearts were heavy. Would he ever choose to leave his sin and trust Christ?

Nathan Massey (who would eventually join our team in 2009) came down for a survey trip in August of 2005. Although he spoke little Spanish, he had prepared and memorized a short sermon. God used that sermon to touch the hardened heart of a big construction worker in the front row—Alex prayed and trusted Christ as his Savior.

The changes that began to take place over the next few months amazed us. Alex got baptized a few weeks later. He then cut off his long ponytail and started coming to church in button-up dress shirts (which he’d never owned before). He decided to stop living in sin and marry his long-time girlfriend. He changed the way he worked, and God began to bless his construction business; once people saw he was honest and hard-working, he got more and more contracts. Alex eagerly went through our six-month discipleship program with Robbie, growing by leaps and bounds. He witnessed to his friends, neighbors, and co-workers. He taught a children’s class while we were on furlough. When we bought a bus, he was the first driver. Alex eventually became the foreman on our church’s building project, running a crew of twenty-five men on this site, with two additional crews on other projects across town. He purchased a vehicle for the first time in his life and used it to bring others to church. He then purchased a piece of land adjacent to our church property and built his own home. He and Jenny now have two boys and a third due in November.

A few months back, Alex was home for lunch when he heard shouting coming from down the street, where a little old lady ran a small store. “Get Alex! Get Alex!” they cried. A thief had broken into this store and stolen quite a bit of the lady’s merchandise, thrown it all into a black bag, and taken off down the street, heading toward the road. Alex yelled for a couple of men from his crew, and they jumped into the back of his pickup. He peeled out of his street toward the paved road; there was only one way out of this area, so they knew where to look. Sure enough, they caught sight of the thief as he hailed a cab at the side of the highway, jumped into the car, and sped off. Alex kept up the pursuit and forced the startled cab driver off the road before they got to the bridge. “You have a thief in your car!” he yelled. He yanked the guilty man out of the backseat, tied up his hands and feet, and threw him into the bed of his truck. Before taking him downtown to the police station, Alex drove back to the little old lady’s store, as neighbors lined the street and cheered. He dragged the thief inside and made him apologize to the lady and return her things one by one. The poor criminal was in tears by this point…he had no idea who he was up against!

Talk about changing sides! Alex is no longer one of the “bad guys.” He’s a hero to his wife, to his little boys, to the men on his crew, and to his family. But the biggest hero in this story is the One who took an empty life and turned it into something so beautiful. The Lord Jesus Christ gets all the honor and praise for this superman’s transformation.

Alex poses with DJ Groff (Beacon Baptist, Raleigh, NC) a few weeks after trusting Christ.

Alex holds up the permisssion from the city to build our church.

Alex goes over plans with one of his workers.

Alex (orange shirt) referees a game at a youth activity.

Alex and Jenny host people from church in their new home.

Alex, Jenny, Kevin, and Jonathan pose on their front porch with my parents, Ricky and Gwen Tippett.

Preserving Innocence with a Slice of Pepperoni

We turn on the television or glance at the newspaper in Honduras, and we are immediately confronted with violence. Although we have been here for four and a half years now, I am still shocked by some of the images I see on a daily basis. In this country, there are no laws about displaying pictures or video of the dead, still lying in their own blood. When we pass fatal accidents on the road, there is no rush to cover up the bodies with a sheet as there is in the States. We are constantly bombarded by haunting images of the victims of third-world violence.

After Claire was born, I began to realize the impact these images could have on her. When I see a beaten, naked alcoholic staggering down the road, I quickly try to point out the birds on the power line or the cows in the field. We don’t turn on Honduran news when Claire is in the room—it is simply too graphic. Last week, we learned that someone we know (I am not allowed to give his identity for safety reasons) has been kidnapped; his release is still in negotiation. I know we won’t be able to shelter Claire forever; this is just life in Honduras. But I am very determined to preserve her innocence as long as I can.

Childhood innocence is a precious gift that no one gets twice. Claire will certainly face “the real world” at some point, but for now, she still lives in a world of make-believe. She sets out her Cinderella dress-up gown each night “so the mice can come clean and sew it.” We make up stories about Gary the Gecko that lives above the air-conditioning unit in her room and comes out to play with her toys as soon as she leaves.

A couple of weeks ago we arrived home late from an unexpected call. It was nearly bedtime, but we had not yet eaten supper. As I hurriedly made sandwiches for dinner, I heard a slightly whiny voice proclaim, “But I don’t WANT sandwiches for supper!”

My impatient response was: “Well, when you start making your own supper, you can decide what to have!” The rule in our house is “If you don’t eat what Momma fixes, you don’t eat at all,” and I was sticking by my guns.

However, my heart softened a few moments later when I heard a little clatter and found Claire filling up a pot with water from the dispenser. “What are you doing, sweetie?”

“I’m making pizza!” she declared, her eyes brimming with excitement. She carefully placed the pot of water on the stove and informed me that it would be ready “in just a few minutes.” Then she headed off to the living room to play.

I showed Robbie what she had been up to, and he grinned, “You should let her think she really made something.” As luck would have it, I happened to have a few slices of leftover pizza in the fridge. I quickly warmed one up in the microwave, dumped the water from the pot into the sink, and replaced it with the slice of pepperoni. I scooted her kitchen stool in front of her “creation” in preparation for her return.

Her satisfaction at the finished pizza was well worth breaking the rules for once! She put the slice onto her plate and headed to the table to proudly enjoy the supper “she made.”

Let’s not be too quick to let our children leave the world of make-believe and charge full-steam ahead toward reality. There is something beautiful about these early years of wonder that can never be regained. We’ve decided to relish every moment!

Now you’ll have to excuse me. Claire says Gary the Gecko has put in an order for some graham crackers and milk—his favorite snack (and hers, too!).

Evil eyes, red bracelets, and sweaty shirts

“Hermana Cristina, you need to be sure to put a red belt or scarf around your belly tonight. There is a full moon, so if you go outside you might miscarry!” I looked at Jackie like she was from another planet.

“What in the world are you talking about? Why would I miscarry because of a full moon? And how would a red scarf prevent it?” A few months pregnant, I was learning my first lessons in Honduran superstition.

Learning the beliefs and superstitions of other countries has always fascinated me. While in language school in San José, Costa Rica, I studied some of their country’s beliefs for the first time, as well as their origins. Then after coming to Honduras, I learned more, this time first-hand from the people.

One superstition we see here in Honduras every day is the belief in the mal de ojo or the “evil eye.” They believe that there are certain people (many times those with lighter colored eyes) that can make another person sick, tired, or simply cursed by giving them a certain look. Many babies here wear red bracelets on their wrists to protect them from the “evil eye.”

I got quite a few admonitions from other mothers in our town, and even a few in our church, for not putting a red bracelet on Claire when she was a baby. “She’s going to get sick!” they warned me. Thank the Lord, Claire has always been a very healthy child. If she had been sickly, I would have been subject to a flood of I told you so’s!

It surprised me how deeply ingrained some of these beliefs are, even in Christians. I met a lady from another area who had been a Christian for years, attending her local Baptist church, who insisted that the stories of the mal de ojo were true. It seems everyone has a story of some family member who was cursed, or a friend whose chickens all died after being gazed at. My lengthy explanations of germs and bacteria seemed to fall on deaf ears.

And that wasn't the only superstition I heard. I’ll never forget the time I took a couple of teenagers to the salon to have their hair blown dry and styled. Since few own or use blow dryers here, it was a special treat. But as we prepared to leave, the girls refused to walk the few feet to the car, since it had begun to drizzle outside. “It’s okay, just a few drops won’t mess your hair up,” I told them. “No, it’s not that!” they assured me. “If you have your hair blown dry and then it rains on your head, you’ll have a stroke!” It took me a l-o-n-g time to find enough plastic bags to cover them adequately to walk to the car.

Another time, a young mother in our church called me one day when her six-month old baby was sick. “He’s got a fever and some congestion. My mother-in-law told me to wrap him in a man’s shirt that was wet with sweat from work, but it hasn’t helped.” Oh my. I took her some Tylenol.

It’s easy for us Americans to chuckle and think, How silly! Believing you could protect yourself with bracelets, charms, or a special color! But we too have our own unique ways to “protect ourselves.” Most of us sleep well at night if we’ve managed to pay all our bills for the month and still have a little left over. We think our children’s future is safe as long as we’re contributing to that Roth IRA faithfully. We will be okay down the road if we have a thorough health insurance plan or our 401K is in good shape.

Over the past year of economic crisis, we’ve learned exactly how easily our safety net can come unraveled. It’s time to stop trusting in our own amulets and charms. Let’s remember Who is in control.

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. –Psalm 20:7

DON'T tell me to shush!!!

This coming week we celebrate my daughter Claire's third birthday. So like any mother, I've been replaying the events of that week in my mind...

After much prayer and research, we decided to remain in Honduras to have our first baby. I found a great OB-GYN in San Pedro Sula (a larger city than Progreso, located about 45 minutes to the west). He was trained at the University of Miami and even practiced in the States for awhile before returning to Honduras, where he grew up. He was able to outline for me the major differences between having a baby in the US and having one in Honduras. He said that the nurses were not as well-trained as the ones in the States; the advantage to that was that my doctor would be with me more, turning less responsibility over to the nurses. We took a tour of the hospital where I would deliver. Although the hospital was old and a little behind the times as far as equipment went (maybe the equivalent of an old country hospital in the States), it was very clean. The infant nursery was on the first floor, just around the corner from the main lobby and much too close to the exit for my liking (no fancy sensors to prevent stolen babies here!), but he assured us that we could keep the baby in our room and opt not to use the nursery.

The doctor also told me that natural births were much more common here, but that if I wanted an epidural, I could get it.

Another advantage to having Claire in Honduras would be that she would have dual citizenship. Having just completed our own lengthy, expensive process to obtain residency in Honduras, we saw this as a huge benefit.

So we eagerly awaited my due date, August 7. I prayed that I would not deliver early...we had a youth group of 34 people coming down from July 31 to August 7! We are extremely busy when we have youth groups down, translating, preparing meals, running Bible Clubs. I hated to have to throw all of that on our partners the Goins. But thankfully, the Lord answered my prayer, and we were able to host the group without a hitch.

A few days after they left, we returned to the hospital for another checkup. The doctor decided to keep me, since I was dilated to 3cm. After I got settled in the room, he gave me some oxytocin to speed things up.

He checked back a half hour later...still at 3cm.

Another half hour later...still 3. He let me eat lunch, much to my surprise. I took that as a bad sign. This was going to take awhile! If they were letting me eat, they didn't plan on seeing this baby any time soon!

A half hour later, he checked me again, and still no progress. This time, he bumped up the oxytocin drip and broke my water. Then things really started going fast!

I began to have very strong contractions that would take my breath away. I thought, I've seen women trying to walk when they were having contractions, maybe that would help. So Robbie helped me to my feet and I started to walk. But when the next contraction hit, I collapsed! We were WAY past the walking stage! My lunch was lost somewhere in the middle of all that.

The contractions starting coming so hard that I begged Robbie and nurses to get the doctor, who had just left minutes before. I thought, I must be at 4 or 5 cm now. What will ten be like? I'll never make it! I need an epidural! The nurses kept saying, "Honey, this is labor, you'll be fine!" But I knew I couldn't do several hours of such intense pain. The contractions were very close together now. Since I wasn't hooked up to a monitor, like they have in the States, no one had any idea how much the labor had progressed in just a few minutes. They thought I was overreacting.

Finally, Robbie got the doctor, who decided to examine me again, even though he had examined me just a few minutes earlier. He took one look and said, "That's it! Get her up to the OR!" I had gone from 3 to 10 centimeters in less than 15 minutes! No time for any pain relief now!

They tried to move me from one bed to another that they could wheel up to the OR, where he would deliver the baby. But my hands seemed to be atrophied around the bed rails! I tried to relax them, but they were frozen in place. Robbie somehow managed to uncurl my fingers and they lifted me onto the other bed.

I was very confused at this point. I had no idea where I was going, and was a little delirious from the pain. I was also trying not to push, because I didn't want to have the baby in the hallway, but not pushing with contractions that hard was nearly impossible! When we finally got to the OR, I thought, Oh good, they're going to do a c-section! Get her OUT! Robbie had disappeared somewhere along the way, and I had no idea where he was. He was the least of my concerns at this point.

He had gone with the doctor to put on scrubs and a mask in a separate room. The doctor got ready faster than he did, and quickly exited. Robbie followed him out the door, but didn't see where he had gone. A few nurse pointed to an open OR, and Robbie rushed inside to see a woman lying on the table in stirrups, ready to deliver. He froze for a moment and realized, That is NOT my wife!!! He said he was SO thankful to be wearing a mask!

He finally found the right room, where I was still screaming in pain. He rushed to my side and tried to calm me down, "Shhh, it's okay, I'm right here."

I looked up at him with fire in my eyes and gasped, "DON'T tell me to shush!" He also claims I had a few other choice words for him, that I will not include! (I'm sure I wouldn't have said such things!) All I could think was that they were going to do the c-section soon, and this would all be over!

To my great surprise, they put my legs into stirrups and told me to start pushing! "Push? I'm supposed to push?"

"Yes! Push now!" the doctor yelled.

They didn't have to tell me twice. Seven minutes later, we had a beautiful baby girl! She weighed in a 6 pounds, 10 ounces, and was 19 inches long. They showed her to me briefly, then rushed her off to be cleaned up and checked by the pediatrician.

I had been in labor for less than 4 hours! Now that it was all over, I felt surprisingly energetic and couldn't wait to hold my baby for the first time. I had no pain medication in my body to make me drowsy, and had not suffered through long hours of labor as some do. After what seemed like an eternity, they finally brought her to my room for me to hold. It was definitely love at first sight.

We took her home the next morning, after being in the hospital less than 24 hours. It's been three years now, since that eventful day, but we have relished our role as parents and have thoroughly enjoyed each stage of our daughter's life so far.

We are so thankful that the Lord has entrusted us with our little girl, and I pray that we walk worthy of this task He has given us. It's the most important one we'll ever have.

Happy Birthday, Claire!

The Great House Hunt

Did you ever get an unexpected blessing from God that made you feel special?

When we moved to Honduras four and a half years ago, we had quite a few prayers going up all at once. We needed to obtain a vehicle, housing, appliances, furniture—all within a very short time period. After we bought our truck, we tackled the housing situation. We need to find a safe place to rent in Progreso, the key word being safe. The city can be dangerous, especially for foreigners. Our house, like most Honduran houses, needed to have a wall surrounding the property and bars on the windows. We wanted to purchase a big guard dog, as well; I was hoping to find a Rottweiler, having wanted to own one for a long time, but any intimidating dog would do. We looked at quite a few places in Progreso, but I was discouraged by what we found. Many houses were in dangerous neighborhoods or were in very bad shape. The “amenities” most new homes boast here are “Running water! Electricity! Sewage System!” The few nice homes we found were for sale only, and we were not in a position to buy, since we did not have residency in the country or a way to get a loan in Honduras. We were starting to wonder if we would be able to even live in Progreso at first; our partners, the Goins, had arrived two weeks before us. They had not been able to find anything in Progreso either, and had decided to rent a place in San Pedro in the meantime. With the 45 minute drive to San Pedro, we were really hoping that at least one of our families would be able to locate housing right in Progreso. We continued to pray, and many prayers went up on our behalf.

We decided to look in an area up on the side of the mountain, near the public hospital. We had heard that there were some nice homes there, and that it was a safe place to live. Sure enough, as we drove around the area, we thought, This is perfect! There has to be a home for rent here! We saw one sign that said “For Sale,” and we talked with the owners to see if they would be willing to rent. They were not, so I dejectedly headed for the car…another closed door. Frustration was starting to set in as I realized we had looked for housing in all of the safe areas of the city now and had found nothing. We headed down the street to leave the neighborhood, but noticed that some construction workers had blocked the road ahead, preventing us from leaving by that street. We had to put the car in reverse to leave the way we had come in. As we headed back, we noticed a man had come out of a white house and was waving us down. We rolled down the window and he asked, “Are you Americans?” We nodded. “Are you Christians?”

Robbie and I gave each other puzzled looks. “Yes, we are missionaries moving here to start a church.”

“Well, the guard from the house on the corner said you are looking to rent. I might like to rent my house to you. Do you want to see it?”

We excitedly entered the house and learned that this family had decided just days before to move to Florida because of a death in the family. They would be leaving in two weeks. The house needed quite a bit of work, but the size was perfect and it had a very large yard, which is a rare find here. The owner offered to show us the back yard and storage building, so we followed him around back. To my great surprise, I saw a beautiful Rottweiler tied up under a tree!

“Is the dog for sale?” I wondered.

“Sure is!” We bought Roxy on the spot. The Lord had not only given us a safe place to live, but He had even put my dog in the backyard for me!

The Lord delights in providing for his children—always for our needs, and many times for those extra little requests that make us feel special and loved. We have seen His provision time and time again since our arrival in Honduras, and I am so thankful for His care.

Robbie and I have lunch on our faithful Rubbermaids shortly after moving in--we flew into Honduras with these things, and they have served as dining room furniture, end tables, nightstands, you name it! (Dallita and I joke that we are on a five-year furniture plan to completely eliminate the Rubbermaids).

The front gate of our home in Honduras. We were so thankful to find this house!

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