Thursday morning I stepped out of my car into the sweltering heat. My glasses fogged as I walked into the office building where I work. Without effort, my thoughts headed down a well-worn path.  I rehearsed the why’s of my current location, the what’s of nature I’d rather be surrounded with, and the how’s of potential change. But the when is not now and the where isn’t settled, so I redirected myself to my work, grumbling a bit and enduring on.

Saturday afternoon I slid into the driver’s seat of my car – literally – slid – onto the seat as my legs were so sweaty the usual struggle of sticking was long past. My face was beat red from the couple of hours I’d spent walking on the concrete in the sun and heat surrounded by the buildings of downtown.

And what was that I felt?gratitude?

I was thankful for the option of turning on the air conditioner, blocking out the sun with a visor, and getting ice out of my freezer at home anytime I wanted to. It was hot, at least as hot as Thursday. But spending a couple of hours serving others who aren’t as fortunate as I am, made all the difference in my heart.  I’m sure the people we met appreciated the ice-cream sandwiches and cold water we shared. But interestingly, none of them were grumbling about the weather. And once again my heart told me it is true: It is more blessed to give than to receive.


May you find the blessings in your own life as well no matter your situation.


South America Jungle Travel Tips

I was going through some journals and found these tips from my trip to the jungles of Peru several years ago. Here they are:

You’re going to be wet and hot all the time. Bring a towel if you want, but whether you dry off or not, you’ll feel wet and your clothes will stick to you.

Check your camera and phone chargers. They probably will work on 220.

WiFi connection will probably be too slow for picture download or upload.

Data transfer is very pricey. Turn it off.

Must activate global service prior to leaving if you want it on your phone.

Be wise and careful when handing out free things. To avoid a mob, have them form a line.

Keep your hands inside the bus to avoid amputation.

Go in a group and stick close together.

In dangerous areas, keep your camera put away in a pack on the front of your torso.

Do not keep valuables in your pockets.

Most places won’t have heating or cooling in the rooms.

If you have running water, the pressure will not be what you’re used to.

Get the rabies vaccination … you never know (I got bit by a monkey and trying to find rabies shots there was extremely difficult and time consuming.)

Things to bring:

  • 100% DEET. The mosquitoes are huge.
  • Packable hammock.
  • Light weight, quick-dry clothes. Plan to layer if you’re going to mountainous areas.
  • Shoes you can wash.
  • T-shirts, preferably colorful ones, to give away or trade for souvenirs at the villages.
  • Forget about your blow dryer, etc.
  • Headlamp
  • Rope, clothesline, detergent sheets
  • Sleeping mat and sheet
  • Light-weight, easy toys and crafts for the kids
  • Crisp bills without any blemish for exchange. Lay them out and photograph each one in front of the exchange person before handing them over. The exchange rate will be lower if the bills are in poor condition (and they aren’t opposed to causing them to be in poor condition after you hand them over).
  • Rain gear
  • Flip flops are slick on wet, smooth cement or tile. Use caution or bring something with better traction.
  • Ear plugs – chances are there will be other people sleeping in the same area as you – especially if your travels include a hostel.
  • Garlic, Immodium, Laxitive
  • Germ X, Baby wipes
  • Ibuprofen
  • Bite relief sticks
  • TP

Bring an adaptable spirit. If you leave that behind, none of the other tips will matter.

Light Up the Dark

I accompanied the miniature ballerina down the hallway lined with blue styrofoam waves.  She carried an orange pumpkin on her arm. Her eyes were big.  “And this is where Moses led the children of Israel through the Red Sea.  God held the waters back so they could walk through on dry land.  I imagine they could see some fish in the water as they walked by.  Do you see any fish?”  She immediately pointed to a paper fish cut-out beside her on the wall.  “There’s a fish!” she exclaimed.  “And another one!  And an octopus!”  She was so excited as she started her journey through the Bible adventure land created in our church hallways and classrooms.

This year our church organized a community outreach activity on halloween.  We had no spooky houses, no creaking stairwells, and no grave stones.  Instead we shared joy, laughter and hope as we told stories of Jesus and other Bible characters.  Among other things the children were able to experience the story of the fiery furnace and the faithful three, go “fishing” at the Sea of Galilee, and help tear down the wall of Jericho.  There were bounce houses, balloon tying, and a live band.

A simple meal was served.  There were home-made caramel apples, nachos, hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, hot chocolate and apple cider. It was all very delicious – but it was not free.  No, it wasn’t.  It required a ticket.  I remember the look of disappointment that spread across a young mother’s face when she was told a ticket was required to feed her youngsters.  “But,” we added, “the good news is the ticket is free. All you have to do is go to the door and ask for one.”

You see, even the meal told a little piece to the story of salvation.  Getting to heaven really isn’t free.  No, it isn’t.  A big price was paid.  But the good news is, all you have to do is ask for it and it’s yours.  Use that news to light up the dark that surrounds you.

Word Power

On my way to Lima, Peru I started an experiment.  I wrote down some words to describe some of the things I expected to see and experience.  Then, after the trip, I went back over my list to see how the words might change.  The words that follow in black are the ones I came up with on my way.  The words in blue or the strike-throughs indicate the changes I made after the trip.

  • Climate: hot, drippy, humid, sticky, engulfing
  • River: Wide, slow, muddy, massive, swift in areas
  • Alligators: stealthy, beady eyes, jagged teeth, tough skin, powerful tail, stalking Never saw one in the wild.
  • Market: colorful, pungent, aromatic, noisy, confusing, raw, cultural
  • Sabbath: harmony, shoes at the door, music, their best, hard benches, Jesus, shaky building on stilts
  • Machu Picchu: massive, damp, cool in the morning, awesome marriage of God’s majesty and man’s workmanship, quiet, punctuation of temporary state of man’s earthly existence, bustling with countless tourists
  • Village clinic: inadequacy, language barrier, needs are so great, overwhelming, poor, dirt poor, tattered clothes, toothless smiles, gratefulness, hand fans, baby bottles, long lines, public breastfeeding
  • The Anaconda: ginormous, slowly slithering
  • Boat rides: an adventure in haphazard flotation devices (never felt that unsafe really), swinging on the top deck in a hammock
  • Orphanage: hope in the midst of hurt, a healing place, refuge
  • Insects: carnivorous, ravenous, herd mentality, bugs on steroids

    On the Amazon

There were other things I encountered that I never thought to mention prior to my trip.  With more research to prepare myself better, the words would have been even more accurate and the list more complete.  Despite the level of accuracy or inaccuracy, the depth of meaning for myself is entirely different now because I’ve been there and done that.  It is a personal experience now, not just information.  The same is true of a walk with Christ.  You can learn all about it and even have the words to tell someone else about Him.  But unless you’ve had a personal experience with Christ, the depth of meaning given to the words cannot be there.  I believe heaven will be the same way.  Even if we had the words to describe it, we’d miss the meaning entirely.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9

Peru Mission Rules

  • Don’t get too attached to tomorrow’s plans.  They will change.
  • The posted maximum capacity on a bus is twice the number of actual seats.
  • Keep your arms and head inside the bus to avoid amputation or decapitation.
  • You don’t have to walk completely off the road to be safe, just farther off the road than the person beside you.
  • In good parts of town, keep your camera strap around your arm.
  • In bad parts of town, keep your camera strap around your arm and hold your camera close to you.
  • In REALLY bad parts of town, place your camera on a silver platter and hand it to them to avoid injury.
  • There is always a toilet over the water somewhere upstream on the Amazon.
  • “See one – do one – teach one” applies to pulling rotten teeth.
  • Do not restrain a monkey against its wishes.
  • Anacondas sense the fear of the person holding them.
  • Some spiders attack humans.
  • If you are going to the jungle, forget about styling your hair.  It is what it is.
  • In the jungle, drying with a towel after bathing is optional.  You will be equally wet either way.
  • “Ancient ruins” = a bunch of steps and an occasional wheel chair ramp.

    Wheel chair ramp in the ancient ruins. Don't go too's a long ways down.

  • “It will just take 5 minutes.”  Peruvian time.  Don’t take your watch.
  • Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way when crossing the road.
  • If you wait for all the cars to go by, you will never cross the road.
  • The largest vehicle with the boldest driver goes first.
  • Don’t drink the water.
  • If you won’t drink the water, don’t eat the ice either.
  • WHERE did you find ice?!?
  • You never know what is hiding behind a simple-looking closed door.
  • Always be prepared for a step or a hole in the sidewalk – if there is actually a sidewalk.
  • Liquid on the streets or sidewalks is NOT water.  Avoid stepping in it.
  • The number of lanes on a road is inversely proportional to the size of the vehicles on the given road.
  • Don’t bring more luggage than you can carry, push or pull while walking several blocks uphill at 13,000 feet.
  • A “shower” might mean a bucket of cold water, bar of soap and concrete slab.  And you’ll be thankful for it.
  • “Hot” in the jungle cannot be described.  It must be experienced.
  • If you visit Monkey Island, you will be mauled by…. well… I’d hate to spoil that surprise.
  • Made with “Baby Alpaca” usually means “Maybe Alpaca”.

    Vendor in Cuzco, Peru

  • However little you think you have, you will find someone with much less than you wearing a smile.
  • You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you – which is a whole bunch more than you thought you could do.

Any of my readers who would like to add their own mission-field rules are welcome to share them by clicking on the “conversation balloon” at the top of this blog.

A Big, Big House

“Come and go with me, to my Father’s house.  It’s a big, big house, with lots and lots of room.  A big, big house, with a big, big yard!”

It was hot.  Thank heavens for the shade of the one-day church structure.  There were no sides on it to block the wind that made miniature tornado swirls of dirt from the ground, but it provided shade.  Over two hundred kids came that day.  It was the last day.  We had sung our songs, said our welcomes, and now it was story time.  The story was about Jesus coming back in the sky to take us to His home.  It took twice as long to tell since it had to be translated into Spanish for the Honduran children.  But it was a good story.  It was a story full of good news.

We were in a small village.  I’d seen what they called “homes” in the village.  They might have cement floors – or dirt.  They might have metal siding – or cardboard walls.  There were usually lots of people and no beds – just a hammock.  Interior walls?  None.  Bathroom?  Outside.  Chickens?  Inside.  Personal space?  What’s that

The missionary volunteer was telling them how God’s house is sooo big.  They’ll each have their own place!  And there will be food – lots of it.  Everyone will have everything they need so no one will steal from anyone else. 

That means something to them! I thought.  I think it means more to them than I will ever appreciate.

We have so much. Do we sometimes forget there’s something much more?  much better?  more fulfilling than all our stuff?  Do we forget what we’re really here for?  Do we forget about His big, big house?

“Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live.”  John 14:1-3 The Message

Dear God, I can’t wait to see my room in Your house! 

You’ll even get to hold a…

“So, what’s new with you, Sylvia?”  The bank teller was making small talk as I deposited my tax refund.

“I’m going to Peru!”  I answered, grinning from ear to ear.

“Oh, really?  With family?  or friends?  What’s the occasion?”

“A mission trip!”  I’ve come to love that word.  I love the conversations that follow.  I think it’s in my blood.

The tax refund was the same amount I’d just left with Pastor Rich – plus a $56 bonus for me.  This is a last-minute deal.  It’s one of those happy surprises in life.  The trip isn’t until June but everyone else had their tickets a while ago.  Mine is being purchased today.  I just happened to see Pastor Rich at church this weekend.  I don’t usually attend the church he does, but it was alumni weekend and I went to see what visitor from days-gone-by I might happen upon.  I didn’t find any visitors from days-gone-by, but had a nice chat with Pastor Rich in the hall.

“Hey, if you want to go on a mission trip again, let me know,” he offered.

“When are we going?”  I asked.

And so the conversation started just two days ago.  And I’m going!  I didn’t ask anything about the place we were going.  It didn’t matter.  In fact, I told my friends that evening I was going on a mission trip.  They wanted to know where I was going.  I wasn’t sure.  “I think he said Peru, but I’m really not certain.”  It was Peru.  He told me more about it today.  He showed me pictures of the bugs the people eat for protein.  And pictures of dead rats for sale in the market place.  And he said, “You’ll even get to hold a…”  I held up my hand like a traffic cop and stopped him.  “If it’s a snake, don’t tell me!”  He paused the rocking of his chair, tapped his fingertips together, and smiled like only Pastor Rich can.  “OK, nevermind then,” but his eyes twinkled the answer.

I’m going on a medical mission trip, and I’m giddy!  Jealous?  Don’t be.  Adopt the Nike slogan instead.  Just do it!

Here’s where we’re going:  If you look at the pictures and see a snake, please don’t tell me about it. 🙂

Wrong Side of the Gate

Our bus arrived at the deserted clinic building in the small village.  There was a tall fence with a gate surrounding the building.  A long line of little children with parents or grandparents was forming inside the fence in the hot sun.  Their faces were expectant.  Their clothing was worn and tattered.  They didn’t have much.  But they had smiles.  They had excitement.  And they had some anxiety.  What would this be like?  Was it going to be all they had anticipated?

We made our way through the crowd and into the building.  Some volunteers were already there.  The bags of clothing and toys were spread around in different areas.  Several of us took a spot near each collection of bags.  Each bag had a tag.  A child’s name and their age was printed on the tag.  Our job was to match the bag with the child as their name was called.  They entered the building one at a time, searching for the team who had their bag.  I imagined what it must have been like for them.  A child, small, young, maybe shy, frightened, walking into a building they’d probably never been in, looking at a group of strangers, mostly adults, who had light-colored skin and spoke a different language, in hopes of finding something good in that bag they held out to them.  Surely that memory would be burned into the pages of their mind forever. 

One by one the bags were handed out.  We’d open the bag and show them what was inside, communicating mostly with smiles and gestures.  “Para ti!”  “It’s for YOU!”  we’d tell them.  Included was a set of new clothes, shoes, a coloring book explaining the plan of salvation and the great gift of God’s love, a toy, personal toiletries.  We’d show them briefly how to use the toothbrush.  “Ah!”  They would nod.  Many would put their new shoes on right away.  Then we’d put their things back in their bag and send them on their happy way with a hug and a smile.

The clothes were certain to fit.  Dress a Child has a great system in place.  They come to the village a few weeks ahead of time and go door to door getting measurements of the children and telling them where and when to gather to get their things.  What a wonderful gift!

As we left the area on the bus my daughter turned to me and said, “Mom, did you see those people on the outside of the gate?  Those were the people who didn’t believe them.  They thought it was all a trick.  They wouldn’t let them take measurements.  Now their kids don’t get a bag.  Wouldn’t that feel awful?”

I looked down at my daughter.  “And that, my dear, is the story of salvation.  That is heaven.  Wouldn’t it be awful to be on the outside looking in, knowing that it could have been yours if only you’d let Jesus in?  If only you’d believed Him?  He’s coming back and He’s got a whole lot more waiting for us than a bag of toys and clothes.”

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”  Revelation 3:20

“Dear God, I open wide my door.  Come in, take measurements, and fit me for Your kingdom today.”

Great Expectations

Author’s commentary:  What am I saying here?  That God was not at work on our trip to Honduras?  Not at all.  I know God can work in mighty ways.  He parted the Red Sea.  He brought the walls of Jericho thundering down.  He has moved internal mountains in my life in a very short time span.  But more often we see God speaking in His still small voice.  More often He quietly lays manna on the grass to feed us in the morning.  More often He is gentle and patient as He tends His garden.  I was dreaming of thunder on the mountain.  Instead God gave me extra flour in my bin to sustain me and my children another day.  On with the story…

“Anticipation is greater than realization.”  I tell my patients something to that effect as they sit white-knuckled bracing themselves for a shot.  “It won’t be as bad as you think.”  And usually they agree with me after it’s over.  My dad – he tells it to me in reverse.  He means, “Hey, this is LIFE, you know.  Feel free to dream, but it’s not going to be as great as you think.”  If you were to compare me to a Bible character, I would be Joseph – “The Dreamer”.  Only difference is, his dreams came true.  Minor detail.

So I went to Honduras with dreams.  Big dreams.  My daughter wanted an iTouch.  I was pretty sure she would come home feeling so grateful for what she had that she would be happy with her Sony MP3 player.  She has an iTouch.  My son never likes to work up a sweat.  He prefers to think.  I was pretty sure he would like building a mission school.  He discovered where the skunks, bats, iguanas and geckos lived but never laid a brick.  I was pretty sure I would come home with some touching personal witnessing story of interaction with a local.  I handed out crayons. 

I was lamenting over all this on the bus ride back from VBS one day.  And the dear volunteer next to me spoke truth.  Oh, how refreshing it is to hear truth!  She said, “You know, it’s our job to plant seeds.  The Holy Spirit waters them.  We are not the Holy Spirit- not even for our children.  Expose them to this experience and you never know what little gem they will tuck away.  God will pull it out for them some day when they need it most.”

I haven’t written any grand stories of my great outreach work to the locals of Honduras because I have none.  We met wonderful volunteers and made some dear friends.  We more than survived our “first” Christmas while enjoying very memorable and different experiences.  We were exposed to new cultures, languages and living conditions.  We ate some local fare.  We walked on the beach and toured Tiger Island in 3-wheeled carts.  We went to a foreign country without knowing anyone we would be with and melted right in with them.  There are stories to tell.  And they are important stories.  Just not the grand ones I was dreaming of.

Was it all I expected?  No.  It was life.  Am I glad I went?  You bet.  Would I recommend it to someone else?  Absolutely.  Will I go again?  In a heartbeat.  Will I have more reasonable expectations next time?  I hope so, but only God knows.  He’s in charge of the work in me and in Honduras.  I just have to surrender and be available.  If the extent of my participation is handing out crayons, well, SOMEBODY needs to hand out crayons, why shouldn’t it be me?  I’m glad I could do it and share a smile with the children who were so grateful to receive them.  We were blessed by having been there.  God willing, we’ll go back.  You should go with us.

Oh for Ears that Hear

First morning of our Maranatha project we gathered up our gospel-proclaiming hard hats, work gloves, eye protection and boarded the school bus for the job site.  We were going to BUILD!  Mission work.  Ahhhh!!!  After a short trip down littered streets with numerous pot holes we arrived at the “site”.  It was barren.  Hot.  Dusty.  Windy.  Noisy.  Lots of people we didnt’ yet know.  A band playing to welcome us there.  Scorching sun.  A short speach translated to thank us for coming.  “How long do I have to stand here?”  The questions were coming already.  “I want to leave.”  “How about we lay one block?”  I suggested.

A large group shifted over to where the foundation was poured to get instructions on how this was all going to work.  The band started playing again.  How were we going to hear the instructions over all the commotion?  “I’m hot.  Can we go now?”  There was a bus boarding for the people who had come just to see the welcoming ceremonies.  We got on.

That was one silent, sad ride back for me.  How had I let this happen?  How had I come so unprepared?  Why didn’t I prepare my children better?  Why hadn’t I prayed more and talked less before coming?  Why hadn’t I paused and listened for God?  What was I doing here anyway?  I wanted to cry.

Back at the hotel I wandered with my children.  We ended up back at the meeting hall with a few other moms with little kids.  I tried to smile.  Shelley came to the door a short time later.  “What did you and the kids think of the building site?”  “Hmmm… I don’t think it’s going to be a ‘go’ for us.  They didn’t think much of it.”  “OK.  Come with me.  I want to talk to you.”

I went to the office with her.  There was Vickie- smiling.  “We’d like you to be in charge of the volunteer kids.  Organize something for them to do in the mornings.  We’ve been praying for a person like you to come along.”  And then I cried.

“Dear God, Thank You that You are so good.  Thank You for Your grace that You pour out.  Please, God… I believe I was born spiritually deaf.  Give me Your spiritual cochlear implants.  And, God, if You could remind me to recharge the batteries every day so they work right, that would be awesome….otherwise, I bet I’ll forget.  Thank You!”