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
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