Friday, April 14, 2017

Be ready

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.  But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into.  So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  (Matthew 24:42-44)

This is not the only place in the Bible that exhorts us to be ready, that Jesus will return without warning.  I don’t spend much timing worrying about the end times, however.  After all, Jesus said:  “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36)  So, I do the best I can to love and serve the Lord and hope for the best. 

Living in Honduras has brought a new, and immediate, meaning to “be ready.”   Two weeks ago I was puttering around in the evening when I got a text message from Suzy.  “David and Evelyn lost the baby.”  No warning, out of the blue.  Early the next morning I arrived at their church for the velorio (wake.)  Suzy had been there since 7 am, others all night.  The Hondurans knew just what to do.  They are always ready.  More and more people were arriving.  “How did they find out,” I wondered.  Most people don’t have internet at home so a group email was not an option.  I didn’t see Dulce and Gloria (Casa LAMB household staff) and I thought I should call them.  No need, they were already cooking for an indeterminate number of people.  I saw clients from our micro-credit program and Jose Luis and Ariel, construction workers from the Children’s Home, were there.  How in the world did they know?  Somehow the word is spread far and wide when a tragedy happens.  The Hondurans have an instinctive and immediate response of love and support.  They are always ready to drop everything and go.

It is not only in the sad times that the Hondurans are ready.  The children at the Children’s Home are always ready.    I can’t walk more than about 3 steps with something in my hands before a child, even a very small child, runs up and takes it from me, always ready to help.  The older children are always watching the younger ones, ready to rescue a child from danger or pick up a crying child.  I can’t count how many (microscopic) bites of food I have had, offered by a dirty, sticky little hand, always ready to share.   They are always ready to give a hug, a smile, or other expression of their love.

We were still reeling from the loss of the baby when another text arrived on Tuesday evening.  “Dony’s father was murdered.”  Again, I got a lesson on being ready.

Be ready to provide food and coffee for the people coming to the velorio.   Food arrived from many people.  The women, of course, knew just what to do.  Soon coffee and sweet bread were being passed around while another group of women were preparing a hot meal for later in the day.

Be ready to arrange flowers for the velorio.  Someone arrived with arms full of cut flowers.  A teenage girl and some women who live across the alley from the church hastily gathered empty coke liter bottles, cut them in half, and filled them with flowers.   They made an arrangement around the casket, the containers disappearing in the beauty of the vibrant flowers. 

Be ready to find and purchase tall candles for either side of the casket.   Karen B. had arrived to spend a week playing with the children and bonding with her sponsored teenage girl.  Instead, we were driving across town to find velorio candles which she contributed to add reverence and dignity to the deceased.

Be ready to leave vacation (all of Honduras is on vacation during Holy Week) to stand together with your friend and co-worker.  Spending the day and all  night keeping watch. 

Be ready to provide financial support.  C., a frequent visitor saw the terrible news and immediately wired money to me for Dony’s family.  She couldn’t be here so she did what she could.

Be ready to lead a memorial service at a moment’s notice.  Suzy, of course having no lead time to plan, got up and led a memorial service for everyone present.  We sang, she ready scripture, and Jackie, the principal of our school, led us spontaneously in a beautiful prayer. 


The next morning, we were in my car on the main street in Flor waiting for the funeral procession to start.  Dony came over and leaned into the car to talk.  Suddenly an older man, slightly drunk and reeking of alcohol, joined us.  He tearfully told us his story. He has no family, his mother abandoned him when he was young.  He thinks God loves him but he isn’t sure.  Sometimes he wants to “leave this world…”  He is afraid of death, but even more afraid of not being loved. Dony, on his way to his father’s funeral, began sharing the Good News with this man, assuring him that Jesus loves him, that He will never leave him.  Dony, even at the worst moment in his life, was ready.

Am I ready?  Are you ready?


Monday, April 3, 2017

Jesus in this world

It has taken me several weeks before I could write this blog.  My life in Honduras is filled with joy.  So many adorable children, loving Hondurans, supportive team members, actual miracles and countless experiences of God's hand at work in day to day life.  I often write about them and my facebook page is full of joyous, funny, inspirational pictures.

What I don't often share are the hard times.  The times when my heart is breaking, when I have difficulty putting one foot in front of the other.  Just as we are surrounded by joy, we are confronted with pain and desperation. 

Recently, I had encounters with 3 women: 

Ernestina 
I saw a tiny little lady slowly walking up the path to our offices at the children's home.  She didn't belong there, neither a member of our staff nor a vendor delivering goods.  I greeted her and gave her a hug.  I could feel the sharp shoulder blades in her back through her thin dress.  She was painfully thin.  I asked her how I could help her.  In a tremulous voice, Ernestina asked if one of our social workers was in the office.  We walked in the building together and found Jenny, whose nickname is "Pastora."  As Ernestina's story unfolded I learned she is 70 years old.  Her only daughter died of cancer and her son-in-law took off with her only grandchild.  She lives alone.  She was looking for help.  There are countless people like Ernestina in Honduras, elderly with no family for support, no government programs to help, living a desperate life. Even churches, with their own impoverished congregations, have little they can offer.  It hurts your heart to see them and to ponder what their lives are like day in, day out.  We see this sadness everywhere, every day. It can be overwhelming.  
However... As we were talking, Maria, a staff member, passed by and offered Ernestina the knit hat Maria had just received as a gift.  Debbie, a new missionary who is in charge of the "bodega" where we keep all the donated clothes and supplies, gently took Ernestina in the bodega to pick out some clothes.  Debbie asked her if she needed a bath towel.  Ernestina shyly nodded.  "What color would you like?"  "Yellow," she whispered.  Pause.  As Debbie was closing the wardrobe door, Ernestina said, "Maybe violet."  Debbie opened the door and handed her the violet one.  "Which do you think is prettier?" asked Ernestina.  Debbie smiled, "I like them both.  Why don't you take both of them?"  Ernestina nodded and smiled.  I love that moment.  Like each of us, Ernestina longed for something beautiful in her home.  Through the love and generosity of LAMB and its staff, she left with many beautiful things - a hand knit hat, some pretty clothes, a pair of sandals, a blanket, and two soft, pastel towels.  She also received a stove that she desperately needed.
Maribel and the Anonymous Woman
Recently, Maribel, a young woman with a long and sad history, asked Suzy to meet with her for an unstated reason.  I went with Suzy to meet Maribel in a small bakery.  We chatted, while her 3 young children smeared cookies on every table and display case! Finally, she explained the reason she wanted to see us.  They live with her boyfriend, a much older man and drug addict, and his mother.  Periodically the mother throws Maribel and the kids out and burns all their things.  This happened a few months ago.  We outfitted the kids with clothes from the Children's Home and the ministry bought them new beds.  Well, yesterday the mother told Maribel she was going to throw out the beds and burn them.  Maribel asked Suzy to pick up the beds.  So we drove to the house.  Her boyfriend was loading the beds into the back of Suzy's truck when a woman carrying a plastic crate on her head stopped at Suzy's window in the truck.  She was hot, obviously exhausted, and very sad.  She started desperately trying to sell us the produce she had in the crate.  We each bought manzanilla (fresh chamomile.)  Normally, the street vendors move on when you buy something or say no thanks.  Not her.  She got more and more desperate.  Her face got sadder and more beaten down.  She waved bulbs of garlic, offered us limes and avocados.  The desperation in her face and voice increased.  I gave her 100 lempira ($5) as a donation.  Again, vendors typically move on after this.  She bagged some avocados and shoved them at us.  "No thanks," we said.  I said I wanted to buy all her limes.  As she was bagging them up she said, "My mother is in the hospital.  She needs medication."  In Honduras, in the public hospitals, they literally have no medications.  The families have to go find the meds and then purchase them.  She was obviously too poor to buy meds and had no transportation to go from pharmacy to pharmacy looking for them.  "Why is your mother in the hospital?" Suzy asked.  The woman got tears in her eyes and her voice shook.  "They cut off her foot.   She has sugar (diabetes.)"  Her face dropped even more and tears filled her eyes.  I handed 500 lempira to Suzy who handed it to her.  When she saw it, she burst into tears.  "God bless you!  This is from God!  God will multiply your blessings! Blessings on you and your families!"   Imagine, $25 caused her to burst into tears of relief.
As we drove off, she hoisted the heavy crate back on her head and shuffled off looking for her next customer.  I couldn't get the image of the Maribel's 3 babies sleeping on the hard concrete floor.  I thought about the woman who may have received a short respite from her desperation but will still suffer and worry, with no end in sight.
Sometimes the Lord gives us a big dose of sad. It is an opportunity to be His hands and feet for someone. Our ministry in Honduras believes that when the Lord places someone in your path, He expects you to act. To do an "accion de gracias" - the Spanish word for thanksgiving, literally an action of thanks, .  As Suzy says, it is a form of prayer.  Giving thanks to the Lord by helping others. It is a time to double down on serving Him by serving the least of these.

I believe, as my Honduran friends tell me so often, that the next, perfect life awaits Ernestina, the anonymous woman, Maribel, and her children, and that He weeps with them and walks each step with them.

I also know that for a brief moment, all 3 women experienced the love of Jesus.  A beautiful towel, a friend to count on in emergencies, gringas who buy fruit they don't need to provide medications for a sick mother.  This is what Jesus looks like in this world.   Will you be Jesus for someone?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Soplando vida - Blowing life


The Lord sends Ezekiel into a valley of dry bones, a symbol of the exiled Israelites who have lost hope and faith, and commands him to blow life, or the life giving Spirit, into the bones.  He obeys God and the bones come to life.
"I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord" (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Angel, one of the construction workers, lives in the village of San Buenaventura, near the Children's Home.  When he isn't working, he often goes out into the mountains with Pastora Juana and others from his church, Paz y Reconciliación (Church of Peace and Reconciliation) to minister to people in very remote, inaccessible places.  

Last Wednesday, Jen Clarke, Mia from Denmark and I accompanied them.  It started as a grand adventure...and ended as a beautiful Spirit filled experience.  We rode horses and mules 2 hours over a mountain to visit a small home.  It was a treacherous ride, especially for us who had little to no experience riding horses/mules!  My inexperience extended to mule logistics.  We were bringing food for 6 families.  As I was leaving the grocery store the day before, I called Angel.  "Angel," I said, "there is a lot of food!  How are we going to get it to the families?"  He replied, "Don't worry, we are Hondurans. We have ideas!"  I laughed out loud but he was right.  Hondurans are very creative and resourceful.  
Jenny
Mia with Angel
Me with my mule!
Angel after walking
the whole way
Pastora Juana




We loaded up the mules and horses and took off.  We walked through the village of San Buenaventura until we turned off onto a trail to the mountains.  Soon, we were navigating a very narrow trail, about mule width.  Thanks be to God, the mules and horses had more experience and confidence than we did as we rode down steep, hairpin turns on a trail that was slippery and rocky at the same time.  As the animals were watching their steps, we were watching the beautiful scenery. 

Two hours later, we arrived at Cordelia's house. It is a small, adobe home with a kitchen in a smaller building in the back.  To the left was a corral with several cows and chickens, all of whom were checking out the unexpected arrival of gringas!
Cordelia's house
The kitchen


The calf was very guarded
The rooster was too 
Walking into the kitchen, I exclaimed, "Me encanta su cocina!" (I love your kitchen!) Really, I thought it was so charming.  Cordelia was bemused and responded, "Well, it is the kitchen of the poor."  I imagine in her mind she was shaking her head at the gringa!
The kitchen with mugs hanging on the wall
The cooktop, "fogón", heated with wood fire
All Hondurans, no matter how poor, are wonderful hosts.  They 
immediately served us coffee with homemade bread and "rosquillas" (a savory donut.)  We sat and chatted for awhile as people began to arrive.  Finally, there were 21 of us gathered in the living room and the worship service began.  You see, that is why we were there. The food delivery was simply an add-on to the monthly visit from from Pastora Juana and the others.  As Angel explained, many of the people have never heard about Jesus.  "We are going to "soplan vida." (We are going to blow life...in other words, bring the Word of God to the people.)

The living room. The curtains provide
privacy for the "bedrooms"
Receiving food

  


Once everyone arrived, we gathered in the living room.  We started with song and prayer.  Hermano Ramon (Brother Ramon) led us in prayer and Angel led the music. Some of us sang with all our hearts but others didn't know the songs.  They were politely listening and, we hope, soaking in the message.

Pastora Juana began her homily with, "We are not here to bring you religion.  We are here to bring the power and the love of Jesus Christ."  She went on to emphasize the power of God's love and Jesus' promise of forgiveness of sin, unconditional love, and eternal life.  Then Cordelia stood to give her testimony.  She had a very serious heart condition.  She was taking tons of medications and was always short of breath. Her doctor told her she needed surgery.  Cordelia burst into tears, not because she didn't have money to pay for the surgery (she didn't) but because she was sure she would die during the operation.  The church came alongside of her and prayed.  Hondurans pray with an energy, faith and fervor I have never seen elsewhere.  At her next doctor's appointment, no surgery was scheduled.  She was cured!  Her heart is in perfect shape!  As she wiped away tears, her face was aglow with the power and love of Jesus.  We were all moved by her story of how Jesus blew life into her heart, both physically and spiritually.  Now, she makes the two hour trip by mule every Sunday to attend church.   That is why they come, a grueling trip there and back, to answer God's call to put off their dreams of living in comfort and ease and go into the valley of bones to blow life into these precious children of God. 


I want to live where the air is pure and healthy
Close to heaven, close to God
Where I can breathe the same sun
But not yet, no.

I want to live where the river is abundant
Close to heaven, close to God
I want to live wherever one day takes me
Where I can breathe the same sun
But not yet, no.

Here I am in this valley of bones, 
I am blowing life and breath 
Here I am
In this valley so deserted
so thirsty for your love
Here I am

Thursday, March 2, 2017

On his way



He was the oldest of 5 brothers.  Sometimes they had food, sometimes they didn't.  Most of the time their clothes were in tatters.  For some reason, his father didn't love him.  When he was 8 years old, his family gave him to another family to work.  He worked for that family for 3 years when that family gave him to another family about 4 hours away.  He worked with cows and pigs on their farm for a couple years when he escaped and returned to Tegucigalpa.  His family would not take him in so he lived on the streets and did odd jobs - selling tortillas, working on a public bus, whatever he could find to survive.  At 13 he started working with a mason, learning the trade.  He never went to school, never learned to read or write.  


I met Jose Luis about 4 years ago.  He is a happy go lucky guy. I remember him laughing about not sending or receiving text messages "porque no puedo leer ni escribir!"  (because I can't read or write!)  This did not hold him back in the construction world, however.  He is a natural genius at construction.  He oversaw the construction of the new medium boys home.  He managed up to 8 workers, calculated and ordered all the supplies each week, designed and built several architectural elements such as archways, "wood" pillars, etc., taught younger workers how to do the more sophisticated building techniques, and, despite language barriers, taught many Northamericans how to lay blocks, make concrete by hand and just about every other job on the work site.


A couple years ago, Jose Luis shared his dream with me for the first time.  I had been watching him singlehandedly place a guideline for the future roof so they could lay block on the outside wall.  That guide has to be precisely correct or the roof will fall.  I commented, with much admiration, "Man, you ARE an engineer."  He looked at me with a melancholy expression, "I always wanted to be an engineer but I could never go to school."  Soon thereafter, Julio, whose senior service project was adult literacy, began teaching him how to read.  


Last month, Jose Luis confided in me that he was going to school.  He found a program that teaches grades 1&2 in one year, then 3&4, then 5&6, then "I will go to high school and then to university to get my engineering degree!"  A few days later, he told me he would take a test to see if he could skip grades 1&2 and enter directly into 3rd/4th grade.  He had 3 days to study for the test.  Kathy Kelly and I took him to the prayer wall, placed a prayer in the wall and prayed over him.  He took the test and passed!  Now he studies all the time.  He wolfs his lunch down and studies, he records himself practicing material to learn for a test or his teacher giving a lesson and then listens to it while he works.  He already helps Julio with his architecture projects.  "The plans just have numbers on them.  I know how to read them." He is determined.  Nothing will stop him.  "I will do better than the other engineering students because I know how to build buildings." I cannot wait to attend his university graduation ceremony!

Jose Luis is one of the most inspirational people I have met.  Best of all, he thanks God for every step forward he takes.  





Friday, January 6, 2017

He's here!

Happy Epiphany!  For me this is a time to reflect on the incarnation of our Lord Jesus.  When the wise men arrived to see the baby Jesus, everything changed.   Jesus was now manifested beyond the Jews to the whole world.  This is a time of year I reflect on His presence, His incarnation and what an amazing thing that is.  Imagine, the Creator of the Universe, our Lord and Savior is here, now, in our world, in our lives.  Every day.

I returned to Honduras right after Christmas in time to attend a huge concert at which our LAMB Worship band from the Children's Home performed.  It was a big deal and hundreds of people attended, and cheered, our kids!  I was so proud of them I thought my heart would burst.  These teenagers, composing their own songs, practicing hours on end, brave enough to get up in front of a sea of strangers to worship the Lamb through their music.  Sublime.




Before the concert we visited the “Mega Nacimiento” or huge Nativity village.  A nacimiento is more than the traditional nativity scene.   I love the various Honduran holiday traditions.  Some are delicious like the nacatamales at Christmas.  Some are amusing like the "Año Viejos" which are effigies filled with firecrackers lit at midnight on New Year's Eve.  The nacimiento is the most charming tradition with Honduran pueblos (villages) built at the foot of the nativity scene.  The “Mega Nacimiento” was more like a bustling city!  

Nice house!
Joseph's carpentry shop
Marketplace
Pinata to celebrate!
If you don't have a donkey...
They went to church too
Bar with Coke and pool
Local gas station
When ya gotta go...


Some of the scenes were amusing but a wonderful reminder that the Risen Lord is with us...in Bethlehem, in Tegucigalpa, in your town, everywhere, every day!  

So, look around.  See Jesus. He is everywhere. Take Him by the hand and follow the Lamb wherever he goes.

"And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."












Thursday, December 22, 2016

Hopeful Waiting

My favorite verb in Spanish is Esperar.  Esperar means to wait.  It also means to hope.  To me, esperar means hopeful waiting.

Waiting is hard.  Waiting can mean suffering.  13 years ago, a 2 year old boy was found wandering the streets.  Social Services sent Jose David to us as an orphan. For years, as he grew up with no one at visiting day, no family to call his own, he fell into a depression, feeling unloved.

Waiting can mean hope.  When he was 13, a young couple, Ashlee and Ryan Graham came to LAMB on a mission trip.  When they mentioned they wanted to adopt, I introduced them to Jose David.  It was love at first sight!  They immediately began the adoption process!
Where the love story began in 2014...


Recreating the scene 2016
Waiting can mean heartbreak.  Soon after Jose David met the Grahams, Social Services gave us a phone number that led to his birth mother!  Jose David was overjoyed.  “Amanda, will you call my mother and give her directions to visiting day on Saturday?”  That Friday, we learned that the mother had been beaten up by her boyfriend and had run off.  Jose David was stricken when he realized he would spend yet another visiting day alone.

Waiting can mean doubt.  Ashlee and Ryan were working hard on the US side to move the adoption along.  On the Honduran side, a year passed with no progress at all.  Jose David all but gave up.  Twice now, it seemed, he was within reach of having a family, only to lose it.

Waiting can mean frustration.  Finally, earlier this year, things started to move in Honduras.  The birth mother agreed to sign over her parental rights but had lost her national id card.  Our social worker, Oneyda, drove 2 hours to take her to the registrar but… the mother wasn’t home.  When Oneyda returned a few days later she was there. At the registrar the forms were filled out…but there was no toner in the printer.  A week later, Oneyda picked the mother up, and drove her to the Tegucigalpa registrar.  Yes, they had toner!  But, they didn’t have the paper to print it.  Finally, on the third try, she did get her id.

Waiting can mean God's hand at work.  Ryan and Ashlee finally got the first court appointment.  But... Ashlee called me from the airport, "Ryan's passport expires 1 day before our return!  They won't let him on the airplane.  What should we do?" I told her to get on the plane (I couldn't bear telling Jose David that no one was coming.) I also told Ryan that there are express passport companies that will give him a new passport that day.  A few minutes after Ashlee took off, Ryan called back, "I called Passport Express.  They told me they were booked solid for 2 weeks...(my heart sank) but someone had just called to cancel.  I have my new passport!"  (My heart soared with joy and thanksgiving to our merciful Lord.)

Waiting can mean growing closer.  When Ashlee arrived, she and Jose David were both nervous.  They hadn't seen each other since the first meeting.  To break the tension, I stuck a name tag on him labeled, "Jose David Graham."  The next day, Ashlee and Ryan took him clothes shopping.  I noticed he had folded over the edges of the name tag and had it in his pocket.  Every once in awhile I would see him glance at it.  Later that day, he asked Ryan and Ashlee, "Is it ok if I call you my parents?"  They answered, "We would love that!"  Jose David stepped away for a moment to compose himself privately and came back grinning.  It was on this trip he took on the new name, JD.


His new family in Pennsylvania was growing closer too. For his birthday, his extended family made a video.  "Hi, JD!  I am your grandmother."  "Happy birthday, JD, I am your cousin" and so on.
His little brother and sisters were excited to have a big brother too!

Waiting can mean fear.  As time dragged on, again stuck in Honduran bureaucracy, I was consumed with fear that the adoption wouldn’t go through.  I filled our prayer wall with prayers.  I showed Jose David a positive face but inside I was falling apart.  His 16th birthday was fast approaching which would have ended his hopes for a family.

So, what is hopeful waiting?  It is soldiering through all the challenges of waiting… with faith, believing that God will provide the family JD had prayed for all his life. Sometimes that faith is an act of will.  Repeating with conviction that God WILL provide, despite evidence to the contrary.  It is knowing, that somehow, someday all will be well.  It is remembering all the miracles God has delivered and asking, “Why would He stop now?”

At LAMB, we have seen over and over during hopeful waiting that God is faithful.  On December 9th, JD Graham stepped off the airplane and into his new family’s arms!

As Paul wrote to the Romans: For in hope we are saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 

So, we wait patiently, expectantly, hopefully for His provision, for His redemption, for His love for us.  All of us.  Each of us.  Amen.

Signing the final adoption papers and celebrating JD Graham's first birthday!

JD Graham and his parents!

Celebrating JD Graham's first birthday!


Traveling to his new home and taking his first flight
Seeing him off

Praying before takeoff
Family reunion at the airport
Life in Pennsylvania:

JD's whole family:


Happy family, JD!