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.

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