Signs of Salvation: Nairobi's Story

Timid little Nairobi approached me after church to tell me that she would like someone to tell her more about going to Heaven. Since the bus was about to leave, I made arrangements to visit her as soon as possible so that I could continue our conversation.

After I arrived at Nairobi’s house, I asked her grandmother's permission to talk to Nairobi about trusting Christ. She gave her consent, and Nairobi took my hand, leading me to the drab couch in the tiny living room. I opened by New Testament to the Romans’ Road, beginning with Romans 3:23.

“Nairobi, do you know that you are a sinner? The Bible says that we all have sinned, done wrong things against God.” I was surprised to see tears stream down her little face. Although she was only nine years old, the Holy Spirit was convicting her of her sin. She nodded solemnly.

“That’s why I want to get saved,” she whispered. With great joy, I was able to show Nairobi the rest of the Romans’ Road and lead her in a prayer to trust Christ as her Savior. It was a happy day in Nairobi’s house.

As exciting as it was to lead Nairobi to Christ, I wanted to proceed with caution. In working with children, we must be careful when it comes to salvation decisions. One can talk a nine year-old into almost anything; they are usually very eager to please adults whom they respect. I wanted to be sure that I had the right balance of showing her the need to trust Christ, while making sure that any decision made was her own and not mine. It’s easy to lead a little child in a prayer, but if they are not ready or don’t understand the decision they are making, such a prayer can result in a false confidence. Many teens and adults doubt their salvation because they prayed a prayer as a child that they have little memory of. They’ve simply been told, “Remember? You asked Jesus into your heart when you were four years old.”

On the other hand, children certainly can come to Christ. They are capable of understanding their sinfulness and need of a Savior. And we must express to them the importance of trusting Christ at a young age, before the world has a chance to take root in their hearts. But in our zeal to lead them to Christ, we must not forget the necessity of each individual making his own choice.

Also, after a child prays to trust Christ, it’s often difficult to know whether his
profession was sincere or not. Marks of a Christian, such as turning from the world or confessing Christ before others, are sometimes more difficult to identify in a young child. Because they are not involved in deep sin, it may be difficult to see a lifestyle change. Sincere or not, they may simply lack the words to clearly describe their decision to trust Christ because of their young age. This doesn’t mean that we discourage them—“You must not have really asked Jesus into your heart!”—but that we simply wait patiently for the signs to appear, all the while encouraging them to know Christ.

I was pleased to see Nairobi return to my class the next Wednesday. We had a full room, over thirty boys and girls squeezed into a tiny space. On this particular night, I had to work harder than usual to keep the class’s attention. Then a teacher came running in from an adjoining classroom needing help. A sink had come off the wall, shattering on impact, and a geyser of water from the wall was flooding the 2-5 year-olds’ class. An usher was called to shut off the water and the teacher assistants were sent for mops and buckets. The 2-5 year olds were filed into our class to finish the Bible story about Elijah.

Amid all this chaos, a little girl sat on the front row, her shining eyes never leaving my face. Nairobi listened eagerly to the Bible story, hungry for every word. Amazingly, the mayhem around us didn’t seem to bother her a bit.

After church, she found me with Claire, cleaning up the classroom. “I want to give these toys to your little girl.” She carefully pulled a small plastic dish, fork, spoon, and hairbrush from her bag and gave them to Claire. She tried to downplay the magnitude of her sacrifice, “I’m too big to play with them now.” But I saw her look at them longingly. She was giving up something that was very special to her.

As I watched Claire hug Nairobi and examine the little toys one by one, I prayed that the Lord would one day work in my daughter’s heart in such a miraculous way. It's my desire for her that we would not see an empty profession that would later lead to doubt, but a real repentance resulting in a changed heart.

If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. -I John 1:7

How to Help Haiti

If you are like me, you've been watching the footage of the devastation in Haiti and your heart aches to do something. There are a lot of charitable organizations out there, but how much of your money really be used to help the Haitian people?

Are you burdened to help the earthquake victims in Haiti but unsure of the best way to give? Please let me introduce you to Medical Missions Outreach, an organization that works with missionaries on foreign fields to minister to the hurting with the ultimate goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have been privileged to be a part of two medical brigades and a surgical team organized by MMO; these efforts allowed us to minister to people of our community as an outreach of our local church. Each patient who came through the clinic heard a gospel presentation and was given an opportunity to trust Christ; many of these patients prayed that week to trust Christ as their personal Savior. We missionaries then followed up on all these decisions, visiting them in their homes to encourage them to grow in their faith.

Medical Missions Outreach, unlike many organizations of its type, is not simply charity with a missions label slapped on. MMO ministers to the hurting just as Jesus Christ did—healing the body in order to reach the dying soul. This is medical missions done right.

MMO has assembled an emergency surgical team that will arrive in Haiti this Sunday for a week-long tour of duty. They will be working 12 hour shifts in order to keep the surgical center operational 24 hours a day. There are still some supplies that they need to purchase: narcotics for the anesthesia, surgical supplies in bulk, and overage fees on the luggage.

This is an excellent, reliable way to help the precious souls in Haiti whose lives are in ruins. For a list of needs and information for donations, click here. Above all, please pray for this team and the patients they will see this week. What an awesome opportunity to turn the worst day in someone’s live into the best day, telling them of the One Who died so that they might live!

Crossing with Confidence

Yesterday afternoon, like any Saturday in Honduras, we headed to church to General Visitation. After meeting at church and sending the kids to the nursery, nineteen of us piled into two vehicles and drove to a nearby neighborhood. As we headed down the road, I glanced out the window and saw a disturbing sight. A man was hiding behind the corner of a building; he was carrying a large rifle and peering around the corner. I pointed him out as we passed, and everyone sighed in resignation. "Oh no, another thief...I hope no one gets hurt." It's amazing to me what becomes "normal" in a third-world country.

We had a great time of knocking doors, and although no one trusted Christ, we found several who were interested and would be good prospects for follow-up visits. Once again we piled into our vehicles and headed back toward church to pick up the kids. But as we neared the paved road that led back to church, we saw a large crowd of people and many parked vehicles. I immediately remembered the armed man we had seen on the way to church and prayed no one had been killed. As we neared the bridge that led back to church, we stopped beside the road to ask what was going on.

"Protesters have taken control of the bridge. A lady in this neighborhood is planning on putting up a cellular phone tower on her property and the protesters don't want her to. Everyone is afraid of getting cancer from the tower."

In dismay, we stopped our vehicle on the edge of the dirt road and talked about what to do. Over half of us lived on this side of the blockade, but many of us had children at the church. I had to find a way to get to Claire. And the only way across was this bridge. No one knew how long the protesters would maintain control of the bridge, and it starting to get dark.

Robbie had to stay with part of the group and the vehicles; I had to go get Claire. He sent Oscar, an older teenage boy from our church, to walk with me and a couple of other ladies who lived on the other side of the bridge. We weaved through cars and bystanders, nearing the bridge cautiously. As we approached, we saw that the protesters had used large rocks to block the bridge, and no one was passing, not even on foot. I looked down at the swirling waters of the brown river below. I could cross easily to get to Claire, but was unsure of how I could manage on the way back, if I were holding her. Lord, please help us cross!

I decided to look confident and continue toward the blockade. No one looked very hostile, and I doubted they would stop a foreigner accompanied by a body guard (Oscar had shoved his hands into the front of his shirt to look like he was carrying a gun).

As I got within ten feet of the blockade, the police officers made their move. We froze in place, waiting to see what would happen. They grabbed the rocks and moved them to the sidewalks lining the bridge. A few delayed motorcyclists, frustrated with the blockade, assisted them. Some of the protesters grabbed rocks and raised them in defiance, threatening to throw them at the police. Thankfully, they eventually lowered them and moved to the road's edge to sulk.

We passed through without incident and arrived safely at the church. I took Claire in my arms and began the trek back to the vehicles. By the time we reached the bridge this time, all that was left of the incident was a long line of traffic (about an hour's wait on both sides). Robbie's face melted with relief as he spotted us turning up the street where the van was parked. We headed home with prayers on our lips and gratefulness in our hearts.

I wondered on the way home how many of our friends and supporters back in the States said a routine prayer for our safety that day, never knowing how the Lord would answer. Thank you to each of you that calls out our names to God each day; I know we are on many prayer lists. Please know that a simple prayer of "Lord, please keep the Ellis family safe," means the world to our family. We can cross barricades and face danger with confidence and peace in our hearts, knowing Who is in control.

Looking Back Part III: The Birth of a Ministry

Is this really going to work? I have to admit, this was my thought as Robbie, Matt Goins (our partner), and I got out of the truck on our first day of door-to-door visitation in Honduras. Years of preparation had led up to this day. Robbie and Matt had studied Pastoral Ministries with a Missions minor at Pensacola Christian College. I had majored in Spanish Education. We had learned from the best exactly how to give the gospel, plant a church, and disciple new believers. We had faithfully attended Mission Prayer Band to hear the wisdom of those who had gone before us. We had prayed for months over different countries, learning about their needs and talking with missionaries that served there. We had worked on bus routes and taught Sunday School classes. The Lord had finally led us to form Team Honduras, together with the Goins family, to reach this needy Central American country with the light of the gospel.

But here we were in the middle of a third-world country, in a city where we knew no one. We were outsiders, foreigners with thick accents and little knowledge of the culture. We didn't have a church to invite anyone to yet--we didn't even have a lead on a place to meet. We each held in our hands a little notecard with carefully-planned survey questions on it. We would ask, "Do you believe the Bible is the perfect Word of God? Do you believe in heaven and hell?" The series of questions would hopefully give us a good place to begin to share the gospel. I prayed I would be able to understand their answers. Would they even take us seriously? As we headed to that first door, I said a silent prayer and struggled against the doubt. Lord, is this really going to work?

How wonderful it is to know that God is faithful! Despite our initial trepidation, a teenage boy trusted Christ that first day on visitation, and many more followed in the weeks to come. We formed a small Bible study on the porch of a convert; the small study of six people grew and grew. We rented an empty house to accomodate our increasing numbers. A charter was drawn and signed to officially form the church. In five years of ministry, we have seen many precious souls come to Christ and grow in their faith. The church has grown (averaging around 200 each service) and is now in its first building program. We have staff in training to found a children’s home and Christian school so that young people can be trained to go into surrounding areas with the good news that Jesus saves. Plans for a Bible Institute are in the works for those who surrender to the call to full-time ministry.

We can now confidently say: It does work. The Lord has proven Himself to us again and again. The promises of the Bible are true and still change lives.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. -II Corinthians 12:9

Looking Back Part II: Set Up

A week or two after we arrived on the field in 2005, I got an email that said something to the effect of, "How many are y'all running at your church now?" I gasped, chuckled a little, and showed it to Robbie. "How many are we running? Are you kidding me?" Evidently we had not explained to this particular person all that was involved in setting up a new life on the mission field.

We were starting from scratch. We arrived with no vehicle, no housing, no prospects. We didn't know where the grocery store was or where to go to change money. We had to meet with a lawyer about obtaining residency. And we needed to go back to the airport to hopefully find the eight Rubbermaid containers that had not arrived on the plane with us. It's pretty scary to condense your life down to the bare essentials only to have it go missing at JFK!

Those first few months on the mission field are unbelievably crazy, especially if you are beginning a new work in a largely unfamiliar area. And let me tell you, culture shock comes right up and slaps you in the face...

After we had finally obtained housing and a vehicle, ordered major appliances, and met with a carpenter to have some furniture made, our new home was beginning to take shape. We just had not figured on everything taking five times as long in a third-world culture.

For example, we decided one morning to tackle the next item on the to-do list: a way to send and receive mail from the States. There is no system in Honduras that delivers mail to residences; that probably has something to do with the streets not having names. So in order to get mail, we had to go downtown to rent a post office box.

I tentatively followed an employee through a padlocked metal gate into a small grimy room lit by a single dim bulb. A large, bored-looking man sat behind a desk that looked like it had survived a war only to be covered by tattered letters, ratty packages, and dried up ink pads. This is where our mail would be coming?

"Excuse me, sir, I'd like to secure a post office box, please."

"We don't have any available," he gruffly replied before returning to the soccer game on the radio.

"Excuse me?"

"They're all occupied."

This was the only post office in the whole town. Not looking good.

I glanced at the wall of small boxes stuffed full of letters. It looked like he was telling the truth. Then I spied some larger boxes on the other side of the room. "What about those?"

"Oh, those are commercial boxes. They are too expensive."

"How much?" Visions of care packages were dancing in my head.

"Nine hundred lempira for a year." I pulled out the calculator that had been glued to my hand since we arrived...about fifty dollars.

"I'll take it!"

He sighed heavily and pulled a worn receipt pad from the desk drawer. "You need to buy a lock for your box."

"Where do I get a lock?"

After he pointed me in the direction of nearest hardware store, Robbie and I set off to find it. After getting turned around and asking for directions from several suspicious bystanders, we finally found a dingy hardware store with rusty, antique-looking locks. I pulled the sample the post office worker had given me from my purse. "I need one of these." She removed a small box from a drawer, took out the lock, inspected it for a seemingly endless amount of time, then quoted me the cost. I dutifully negotiated for a deal and we finally settled on a price. I reached for the lock, but she withdrew it quickly.

"No, you go pay over there at the register first."

I waited in a "line" (literally a mass of sweaty people shoving their way to the front to hand their money through the tiny opening in the bullet-proof glass), collected my receipt, and took it back to the first lady.

"Oh no, you still need to get it stamped. Go over there to that counter first."

I was beginning to feel like a rat in a dark little maze that smelled like rust and paint remover. After another wait, I handed the frowning manager my receipt which he scanned repeatedly. I saw that the first lady had given him the the box containing my lock, which he held up next to the receipt to be sure they matched. Then he removed the lock and inserted each key, opening and closing it to show me it worked. Finally, he pulled the receipt back out and checked it one last time.

I was wondering if I was going to be asked for a blood or urine sample, when he finally handed me the bag with great flair and motioned toward the door. Finally! But as I started to leave, a large security guard stepped in front of me and held out his hand. Are you kidding me? What now?

"Receipt, please." I dug the receipt out of my purse and showed it to him. He opened the bag with my two-dollar lock and inspected it carefully. Finally satisfied that I had received exactly what I had paid for, he motioned for me to leave.

Like Jason returning with the Golden Fleece, I strode into the post office and proudly presented the gruff man with the lock. He looked it over and said, "The man who installs the locks isn't here today. You'll have to come Wednesday at noon." Install the lock? Are you serious? I looked down at the simple brass object in his hand. Give me a screwdriver!

But I held my tongue, remembering he was the one who would be handling our care packages. "Oh, well, while I'm here, can I buy some stamps?"

"We're out."

A whole morning gone and nothing had been checked off our list! And the Honduran scavenger hunt was just beginning. We were so desperate to start our ministry, but many days we felt like we were spinning our wheels!

So my dear readers, please remember, if you ever email a missionary a couple weeks after he arrives in a third-world country and ask him how many doors he's knocked, just be prepared. He might just fly back home to slap you!

Thank the Lord, after a few more weeks we were set up and ready to go! Be sure to return next week for "Looking Back Part III: The Birth of a Ministry" to read about how we got started.

Looking Back Part I: The Making of a Team

This month Team Honduras celebrates an anniversary of service on the mission field. As we give thanks to the Lord for all that He has done, I have been sentimentally recalling the exciting journey we embarked on just five short years ago. I know that some of my readers are missionaries (who can relate to the story I will tell), some missionary candidates (who may learn from our experiences), and some supporters back home (who may be interested in the ins and outs of our journey to arrive on the field). Whatever category you may fall into, I pray that you will rejoice with us in how the Lord brought our team together and prepared us for the journey ahead.

Matt Goins, Dallita Clay, Christine Tippett, and Robbie Ellis (1999)

Robbie Ellis and Matt Goins became friends as freshmen at Pensacola Christian College, due to common interests in worldwide missions and Kentucky basketball. Then at Mission Prayer Band one Monday evening, they were challenged by a missionary named Brian Burkholder to pray about working as a team instead of "going solo." He cited many advantages such as accountability and encouragement. The Lord began to work in both of their hearts about forming a missions team; they began to pray for one Central American country each week. When they began seriously dating their future wives, Dallita and me, we joined in prayer and study of various countries.

The Lord used several different people and situations to lead us to Honduras. Robbie had a roommate from Honduras, who continually spoke of the need in his country. I had a close friend from Honduras, and I spent two weeks at her home one summer, teaching in a Christian school. Matt and Dallita were asked by their pastor to pray about going to Honduras, having been made aware of a need there by a Honduran he had met. It seemed that God kept bringing this small Central American country to our hearts in a variety of ways.

The Ellis and Goins Families

The Goinses graduated and were married in 2000; they then joined the staff at West Florida Baptist Church in Milton, Florida, where Matt taught sixth grade and Dallita assisted in a kindergarten class.

Robbie and I graduated in 2001, married, and joined the staff at Beacon Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, where I had grown up. He taught third grade and I taught middle and high school English. Both families also served in various ministries at our home churches: teaching a children's class, working on a bus route, attending soul-winning visitation. Yes, we were in transition; we would not arrive on the mission field for a couple more years. But that was no excuse not to serve. We needed to train and learn from these two great churches before we arrived on the field. He who is not willing to serve at home will certainly not serve abroad. Ministry is not location; it's a lifestyle.

Saying goodbye to some of my former English students just before we headed to the field

Robbie and I met with Pastor Tim Rabon of our home church about our desire to be sent from Beacon Baptist Church to the Honduran mission field. A few months later, we prepared a presentation which we nervously presented to the Deacon Board.

Robbie and I with Pastor and Mrs. Rabon shortly before leaving for Honduras

Once we had Pastor and the board's blessing, we began contacting churches to schedule meetings. Also during this time, Robbie and Matt flew to Honduras to conduct a survey trip to help them decide where to plant the first church. I continued to teach English at RCA; Robbie worked part-time at the NC Credit Union. On the weekends we traveled to churches to present our work and hopefully be taken on for support. We slept little and logged many miles on our Ford Contour, but the Lord blessed and we were able to raise our support in just nine months.

At a missions conference in Las Vegas with the Pattersons, missionaries to Mexico

A third-grade Christian school class (RCA, Mr. Barker) gave us a going away shower of many gifts, such as luggage and our first digital camera.

Meanwhile, Matt, Dallita, and their infant son Joash had raised their support as BIMI missionaries and had headed to a year of language school in Costa Rica, where their second son Jadon was born.

Having had some previous Spanish classes, Robbie and I opted for a two-month intensive course; we joined Matt and Dallita in Costa Rica in August of 2004. The men bussed up to Honduras to conduct one last survey trip before the final semester of language school. They hit ten cities in fourteen days, talking with missionaries and national pastors to find out where the biggest need for a fundamental church was.

As soon as they returned, we plunged back into study.

My classmates and teacher at language school in San Jose

Shortly before our departure, we took our first Staff Retreat, traveling to a beautiful resort at the base of a live volcano, Arenal. Here we decided on the organization of the team (Robbie would function as the team leader) and the details of the first church plant.

The active volcano at Arenal, and the cabin where we met to plan our first-year and five-year goals.

We finished our Spanish training and arrived on the field within a few weeks of each other, Matt and Dallita just before Christmas and Robbie and I in the second week of January. Our hearts were filled with excitement, nervousness, and even some apprehension; but were were eagerly anticipating what the Lord could do through our ministry. We could never have dreamed all that lay ahead...

Be sure to check back next week to hear about one of the most exciting times in our lives--our first few months on the field!
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