I have always had an aversion to missionaries who come back from the mission field carrying the message of guilt in order to make their point that third world countries have so little and Americans have so much and accordingly we should step up to the plate. However, having just finished my first mission trip, it’s difficult for me to curb my enthusiasm! Part of what they say is true … we can do more. But the bigger picture is the wonderful opportunity God gives us for spiritual growth as we step into action, lifting little children who can not fend for themselves.
Now, I am not saying everyone should go on this mission trip. What I am saying is, if you think it might be nice to enlarge your perspective of humanity … if you want to meet God at the mountaintop … if you desire to see Jesus Christ touch lives in the midst of impossible circumstance … if you long to feel the hand of God at work … without that pesky numbing haze of American privilege … then, and only then, should you consider a trip like this one.
On April 12, 2005, nine very different women (Denise Howell, Lisa Sapp, Laura Arrington, Deb Anderson, Teresa Erickson, Ann Mahoney, Solveig & Mandy Theis, and Mia Hinkle) from eight different churches and five different states, set out on a ten day pilgrimage to the impoverished nation of Belize, Central America. Returning home on April 22, though still very different, we are now tied together on a deep and spiritual level. Pilgrimage #10 was Cornelius Foundation International’s first trip to Belize featuring women only. And what a trip it was! Our tasks were as varied as the talents represented by these interesting women. It goes without saying that what we received was one hundred fold greater than what we gave.
In Boom Creek, a tiny village deep in the rain forest on the southern edge of country near Punta Gorda, we delivered school supplies and taught in three classrooms at the Living Word Primary School. The children were precious, so attentive and bright and beautiful. We also painted the school’s outhouse … complete with blue sailboats on the boy’s door and pink daisies and hearts on the girl’s door. The pre-schoolers helped out with the artwork and it turned out to be one of the most delightful points of the trip. Boom Creek’s school now has the prettiest potty in Belize! Another highlight there was the women’s boutique and tea party held in a thatched-roof tree house on the banks of the Moho River, just 20 minutes by canoe from the Caribbean Sea. We brought dresses, shoes, and jewelry for women who are not often able to have nice things for themselves. Girls are girls everywhere, we discovered. The mothers were like giggly school girls at the sight of all the pretty things donated by our friends and church families in the States. We served cake with pink icing, sandwiches, and lemonade in a tree house decorated with banners and streamers and tea light candles. We took photographs of mothers and their children, and left them with the prints.
The next day some of the women invited into us into their homes which revealed that the way of life for these Kekchi Maya Indians is not much different than it was a thousand years ago; a little hunting and fishing, a little farming, no running water, no electricity, cooking over an open fire, and doing their wash in the river. One exception would be that a thousand years ago, there was no Christianity in the area and today there is a Christian school and a tiny thatched roof church, financed incidentally by the sale of Discipleship Walk rosewood crosses. Texas missionaries, Bob and Rhonda Farley, along with a local man of God, Pastor Sanchez, oversee the church and school. These leaders have drawn the village together by preaching the Gospel. Principal Rhonda Farley, Miss Ruth and her daughter, Charmany, along with a young Garifuna man, Stephen Polonoi, devote themselves to teaching the children at Living Word. Stephen is only 20 years old, and is surely destined to become a church and community leader as his testimony is powerful and authentic.
Cornelius Foundation is currently helping to nurture the children at Boom Creek and two other Belizean elementary schools by providing school supplies, underwriting school lunch programs, and sending missions groups to complete school improvement projects. CFI’s mission is driven by the concept that if children can learn to read, they can make better lives for themselves, and more importantly they can study the Word of God. We attended a midweek church service at Boom Creek where Communion was given for only the third time in three years. What an honor to worship with these children of God; we discovered that we really are more alike than we are different.
The entire team was blindsided by the depth of sorrow we felt leaving the people of Boom Creek. Village leaders came to see us off at the municipal airport. As the plane left the ground, we watched them waving to us, and we dissolved into unexplained tears that lasted the duration of the flight.
In the village of San Marcos located in the central farming region of Belize, we painted ceilings glossy white in the San Marcos Primary School — which really helped to brighten the room and keep it a little cooler as there is no electricity for lights or air-conditioning. We also painted a brightly colored mural across the front of the school featuring animals and birds indigenous to Belize. We stenciled and painted a sign on the front of the school, which will go a long way to instill pride and ownership within the village for their children’s school. Again, we distributed school supplies to each child … new crayons, new markers, a glue stick, and pencils. Here we also taught in the classrooms, learning way more from the children than we taught them. David Cobb is the principal of the school, and was a great sport in helping out with the boutique for the mothers of his students. Again we provided dresses, shoes, and jewelry for deserving mothers who work incredibly hard day in and day out just to provide the basic necessities for their children, under the weight of poverty we would find impossible.
At the end of the day, the children of San Marcos performed songs for us and the mothers proclaimed their appreciation for our visit. “Open The Eyes Of My Heart” sung to us by the first graders brought us to our knees in tears, as the Holy Spirit truly did open our eyes to the vastness of His glory in the face of adversity. Here again we were blindsided by the depth of emotion we felt, seeing these little angels minister to us — after all, weren’t we there to minister to them? Shoulders shaking, hot tears streaking down our cheeks, their words fell on us like soothing balm directly from the Father above … “I want to see you, I want to see you”… their little hands pointing toward heaven. And see Him we did!
The Santa Familia Primary School was the largest school we visited at about 280 students. The lunch program was recently lost at this school, which is a huge problem because little ones can not learn if they are hungry. It only takes $10 US per month ($120 US per year) to provide lunch for one child each day he or she is in school. It occurred to me how very doable this is. I can take responsibility to help one hungry child get the food he or she needs, to stay in school, to learn to read, to discover the Word of God, and to make a better life.
Typically, teachers in Belize make less than $6,000 annually (by the way, a jar of peanut butter is $11 and a pack of 6 markers is $9). Out of their after tax salaries, teachers often provide supplies, curriculum, and books for their students. Most classrooms have no lights and no air-conditioning even though temperatures can reach over 100 degrees during the hotter months. Without school lunch programs, children may walk home for lunch but often they are too weary to return for the afternoon session. That is why CFI’s support to these schools is so vital. Lunch is, in many cases, the main reason kids come to school and stay there.
David and Antonia are brother and sister, and are the principals of two schools in the neighboring villages of San Marcos and Santa Familia. The first evening we met Antonia, she described some disturbing new developments in her community regarding the teenagers, and mentioned that she was saving up for a soccer ball so that she could introduce team sports to the youth in her village. Little did she know that Heidi in Indiana had sent with us a soccer ball for them! When we handed it to Antonia, she was surprised and delighted to say the least. The following day we saw some boys playing with the ball at David’s school some miles away in San Marcos. He told us he and his sister had come to an agreement that the ball would be shared by the two schools … he would have it on Wednesdays and Fridays and she would have it the rest of the week. [As I write this I am sheepishly looking out my window noticing five or six balls lying around my yard shared only by my two children.]
In the rural area outside the tiny village of Tea Kettle, we delivered a prosthetic eye to a little boy named Minor. This was a follow-up to the CFI Pilgrimage in November 2004, when a total of four prosthetic eyes were delivered to children in remote areas of Belize. An angel disguised as an Ocularist, had custom fashioned the artificial eyes and donated them free of charge, a CFI team delivered them and trained the parents in their installation and care … and the futures of four children were forever changed!
Along the way we visited many sites that enriched and educated us about the country of Belize and the wonderful blend of cultures there: in Dangriga the world famous Garifuna painter Ben Nicolas and drum maker Austin Rodriguez, the squatter community of Port Loyola and Mrs. Lamb, the ancient Mayan Ruin Xunantunich, Chaal Pech at San Ignacio, Pig Tail Boil-up dinner at Lenny’s, The Hillside Clinic meeting the needs of community of the Toledo District, The Spa and Butterfly Farm at Chaa Creek, and snorkeling the world’s second largest reef at San Pedro … just to name a few.
And the wealth of information and help we received from our guide, driver, and new best friend, Jason … PRICELESS … as the commercial says. We continue to pray God’s blessing on this young man. Not only did he drive us safely from one project to another, he answered our bazillion questions with incredible patience, he painted ceilings and murals with us, made tortillas with us, handed out school supplies with us, did daily devotions with us, his grandmother even sang to us and his mother baked buns for us. Jason was a true example of the genuine and easy going generosity of the people in this land.
I came away from this pilgrimage (which technically means a journey led by God) with a couple of realizations. The canvas of human suffering is large. Christ told us, “The poor will always be with you”. Turns out He was right. The majority of the inhabitants on this planet live in conditions like we witnessed in Belize. A very small percentage of the world’s population live the way we do in Carmel, Indiana.
So, the questions becomes … what exactly did I do to earn being born in the USA … in this century … to the parents I had? The answer is nothing … nothing … and nothing.
Why then did God choose where and when in history to place me? I could have just as easily been born in Belize or China or Africa or Iraq, right? So why me … why here … why now? Could it be that God’s will is done when I reach out to just one other individual with His Spirit and His hands? I think that God created us with a heart of compassion for an express purpose. He knew the poor would always be with us, so he intentionally put in us a heart that beats in sync with His, when we see a child in need. And then he gave us strong minds and capable hands and adequate resources to lift just one or two others who can not fend for themselves. I now believe one person CAN make a difference!
So you might ask … is a mission trip for me? Here is what I think. To stay home from such an experience based on fear of heat & humidity, bugs, unusual foods, small aircraft, or third world living conditions, is much like staying home from church on Sunday morning because you are afraid of catching cold from someone sitting next to you. I think we might agree that the benefits of going to church to grow in Christ far outweigh the health risks involved. Whether it is Belize, Appalachia, Nicaragua, Mexico, or some other mission field at home or abroad, listen for God’s still small voice calling you to move outside your current confines and take one step closer toward Him.
We acknowledge, however, there are many among us who perhaps are in a season of life that will not permit travel. That’s OK. There are still many ways we can touch those in need. First of all, we can ALL pray for the children, their parents and teachers, CFI teams and their projects. And secondly, many of us can find a little financial support for something as basic as buying lunch for a child who may not otherwise eat that day. CFI school lunch programs can help facilitate just that. It was truly astounding to me to find how little in US$ it costs to feed one child school lunch in Belize for an entire month. The mothers, grandmothers, and teachers in these schools have agreed to prepare the lunch if we can help them purchase the ingredients. It’s that simple. Buy a child lunch. It really is just that simple!
Just one aside: This group went to Belize with the intention to be a blessing to those we would meet there. Of course the reality was one hundred fold the reverse … WE were the ones blessed. The women on this trip were part of two Discipleship Walk Accountability Groups and some of their sisters. If you are looking for a way to make a deeper connection with the dear ones in your life, you might consider this awesome experience. It was pink icing on the cake!
So again I say, I am not suggesting that everyone MUST go on this mission trip. What I am saying is that if you want to meet God at the mountaintop … if you wish enlarge your perspective of humanity … if you desire to see Jesus Christ touch lives in the midst of impossible circumstance … if you want to feel the hand of God at work … without that pesky numbing haze of American privilege … then and only then, must you go a trip like this one.