Sunday, February 10, 2013

Our Final Day

Friday morning we donned our Luke 9:2 Ministries T-Shirts and posed for the official 2013 team photo.  Then, we said our “goodbyes” as we left our friends at Cofradia and drove down into Tegucigalpa for our free day.

Our first stop was a national park at the top of one of the mountains overlooking the city of Tegucigalpa.  Our bus drove through the crowded, busy streets of the city, then through the newer, wealthier areas of Tegucigalpa, on the way to the park to the Christo el Picacho, a giant statue of Jesus.

 The road led up from the hustle and bustle to a place of quiet tranquility.  Once at the top, we found all the elements of a great park - scenic overlooks, beautiful landscaping, a play areas for the kids, and bathrooms! (Although we did have to pay extra to get to the section of the park where the statue and the bathrooms are located!) 

When the bus stopped we unloaded and went straight to the scenic overlook high above the city of Tegucigalpa.  The city sits in a bowl, so we observed the entire city, including the airport right in the middle of the city.  We had been told the runways were short, but this view confirmed that fact!

The statue of Jesus, hands outstretched, is enormous.  It looks very much like the famous statue in Brazil overlooking Rio de Janeiro.  It is a rather surreal feeling, being there with Jesus, looking down on the city.  I can think of quite a few sermons that could come from those few minutes on the mountaintop, but I’ll save those for another time!

After leaving the park, we went to a very modern mall in the heart of the city for lunch.  Our group split up - some to T.G.I. Friday’s, some to Pizza Hut, and some to fast food places in the food court.  After our time in the rural towns and villages, we experienced a bit of reverse culture shock!  But, boy, did that pepperoni taste good!

Finally, we went on the Intercontinental Hotel Real, our lodging for the night.  This hotel is very American/European in appearance, and was a welcome respite after our week at the rustic retreat center.  The television picks up Latin American as well as American channels.  One channel even broadcasts in Italian.

Everyone was on their own for the afternoon.  Some took hot showers.  Some slept.  Some watched television.  Some went across the street to another mall and shopped.  This last option was my choice.  We walked around, mostly just to see what type of stores were represented.  This is a very upscale mall, and it has several coffee shops and 3 different places to buy Dunkin’ Donuts.  Yum!  Also attached to the mall is a grocery store that provides a place to purchase Honduran coffee, tea, and other goodies to bring home as souvenirs.

When we gathered in the lobby for dinner, we found two interesting surprises.  First, we noticed that there were some television crews around and a lot of people in very formal evening attire.  It turns out the hotel was hosting the Honduran version of the Grammy’s, and several members of our team were interviewed by a crew about their reason for being in Honduras.  The second interesting surprise involved our concierge who delighted members of our team with silhouettes he was cutting of our team member’s profiles - right there in the lobby.  And he was good!  They made wonderful mementos of our time at the hotel.

Then we rode to a restaurant called El Patio.  This restaurant is noted for its especially good pinchos (shish kabobs), and many of us took advantage of these. 

The food was great, and we were serenaded by a Mariachi Band that took requests.  We had to have “Happy Birthday”, and celebrated Michelle G’s birthday (it was that day), and JoAnne’s and Barbara’s birthdays that were only a few days before or after. 

And, of course, the celebration included dancing!

Close to 10 o’clock, we returned to the hotel for our final night in Honduras.  Our beds were very comfortable and we all got some much needed sleep.  By the time we loaded the bus to head for the airport the next morning, we were already reflecting on how particularly uneventful this trip had been.  And, with the exception of some respiratory issues, most of the team stayed healthy for the duration of the trip.

I write this final entry after being home for a week.  I was one of those who ended up with a respiratory infection, and it still lingers.  But, I am extremely thankful that I live in a place where I have ready access to doctors and medicines to treat my illness, and the financial means to purchase the medicine I need. Remembering the number of folks that we just served where those conditions are not in place helps me keep things in perspective.

Thanks to all of you who have given me positive feedback about the blog.  My goal is to help you feel as though you are on the journey with us, and many of you tell me that you indeed felt that way.  Your encouragement keeps me going and makes me want to do better.  So, thank you.

Our final numbers for the trip are:  Total Patients - 2132; Dental Patients - 295; Extractions – 531;
Glasses - 465; Food - 2853 lbs.

To view additional pictures from our trip, or to download them to help you tell your own story, go to and click on the “photos” link.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Five Loaves and Two Fish

As promised, yesterday was a LONG day!  Breakfast was at 6:00 AM, and we were packed and on the road to Guaimaca by 7:15 AM.  Most of the journey was on a paved highway, but it had more than its fair share of potholes, construction, and twists & turns to navigate!  Guaimaca is about a 1 hour and 45 minute bus ride from Cofradia.  Roughly 15 minutes away from our destination, the bus driver pulled over to the side of the road.  We had a flat tire.  Thankfully it did not cause him to lose control of the bus, and the bus was still drivable.  Henry, our driver, drove carefully the rest of the way to the church.

Guimaca is a big town with a population of over 20,000.  As I mentioned previously, the pastor and his family visited our clinic on Tuesday to see what our set up looks like and what we need in order to stage a successful clinic.  It was then that he informed us he had advertised Thursday’s clinic on the local television and radio station, and that he expected a huge crowd.  Though not located in the heart of the town, the church is still in a populated area.  As we pulled up to the property, we could see the mass of people already in line.  

The line stretched up the block and around the building.  We had no idea how many were around the corner!  Later that night, Dr Ponce told us he had received a phone call from the pastor at 6:00 AM that morning saying folks were already in waiting in line for the clinic.  That means many of those folks stood in line 3-4 hours before they ever got in the door!

The pastor had recruited more than 35 volunteers to help us during the course of the day.  Many were teenagers and young adults who spoke excellent English. Their help made set up happen quickly, and after a time of prayer and singing “This is the Day” (English and Spanish), the doors opened and we were off and running! 

All day long the line continued up the street and around the corner.  Over and over, I heard our team members whisper, “We are running out of ...”   Or, “We are almost out of….”  About mid-day, more food was purchased in town to be distributed – we’d already given out all we had brought.  And, the people continued to arrive.  Usually we finish clinic between 3:30-4:00 PM, but not this day.  We didn’t even close the clinic for lunch…we just took turns taking a few minutes to eat a quick bite. 

 Four o’clock came and went.  Five o’clock came and went.  We registered the last patients and let them in the gate about 5:15 PM.  The last patient was seen and the bus loaded for the long ride home just as darkness descended, about 6:15 PM.  The only thing we completely ran out of was glasses, specifically reading glasses.  Some medications gave out, but comparable substitutes were available.

The stars are beautiful in the Honduran countryside.  I know this because it was 8:15 PM when we finally arrived back at Cofradia.  Supper featured a traditional Honduran selection of tacos, taquitos, tostada, and pupusas (thick, fried corn tortilla with a cheesy center).  It tasted ever so marveloso!

After dinner we had a special debriefing time and wrap up of the week.  The final numbers were tallied for the day:  total patients-642, dental patients-93, teeth pulled-163, glasses given-119, and 975 lbs of food distributed!  After hearing those numbers, Caleb felt compelled to read us the story of the Five Loaves and Two Fishes.  We felt like we had relived that miracle on Thursday! 

Then came fun time!  Margaret and Michelle shared with us this year’s version of  “Ode to Cofradia”.  Though it might not be funny to you, to us, it was hysterical.  Then, M&M recruited 12 of the team members to participate in a carol they wrote for the occasion - “The 12 Memories of Cofradia”, sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”.  We laughed until we cried.  Watch for these special antics to appear on the web when we return to the States and have enough bandwidth to upload video.  J

Finally, Doug and I shared a “Memories” slide show we put together for the team.  This show is our attempt to provide a look-back for the team members along with pictures to prompt them to tell you their stories.  So make sure you ask to see it, or click on the Luke 9:2 Ministries website to see it for yourself.  We hope to have it posted sometime Sunday.

We fell into bed at 11:30 p.m., exhausted by the day, but thrilled at how many people we were able to serve.  Friday (today) is our day of rest and time of site-seeing in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras.  Look for a wrap up of the week post to come to the blog on Sunday.

Thanks for your prayers for safety and health.  With the exception of a few minor irritations and discomforts, all team members are healthy and enjoying our day off.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

What a day!

Today we travelled to the village of Charcos.  This is community was new to me, but Luke 9:2 Ministries has been there twice before in the last 10 years.  Team members who had been there before kept talking about this village they remembered visiting. The thing that kept coming up was their memory of so many special needs kids in this town.  Beth Anne said she was told it was due to an outbreak of viral meningitis in the village some 15 years ago.  These patients hold a special place in the hearts of some of our long-time care providers who were hoping to see the children (now young adults) they remembered.

Charcos is about 1 ½ hours north of the retreat center where we are staying.  So, our morning began before the sun was up.  We were in the bus and on the road by 7:00 AM.  When we arrived, there were easily 100 people waiting to be seen.  From the outside, this school building looked like so many others we’ve used before.  However, there were some very distinct differences once inside.  For one, each room had electricity and working light fixtures (and they had light bulbs in them!).  Also, this school had a computer lab with computers, tile floor acoustic tile ceiling, and air conditioning!  Most rooms have a cement floor, maybe one electrical outlet, a tin roof with rafters exposed and windows with no screens.

For those of you unfamiliar with the flow of our clinics, let me take a moment to explain.  All patients begin with registration outside.  Here personal information is collected from each patient such as their name, age, and if they wish to see the doctor, dentist, or need glasses.  All this information is recorded on a pre-printed, white, lunch-size paper bag which is presented to the provider at each station.  This way, the medical providers quickly address needs and prescribe medicine. 

After registration, each patient receives a dose of de-worming medicine and one-month supply of vitamins.  Prenatal vitamins are given to those who are pregnant.  From there, most patients proceed to the line to wait for their turn to see a medical professional.  By this time, many may have already waited two or more hours!  It could still be another hour before they are seen.  There are never any complaints.  They wait patiently.

As each person enters the medical area, they are greeted by a "crowd control" volunteer.  Every adult has his or her blood pressure taken.  Then, they see the next doctor or nurse who is available.  Any medications recommended by the doctor are written on the paper bags.  Then, it’s just a short walk to the pharmacy where they receive their medication and careful instructions.  The medicines are pre-packaged and labeled (in English and Spanish) for rapid, efficient dispensing.  If they need to see the dentist, they go stand or sit in the next line and patiently wait their turn.  Finally, those who need glasses (prescription strength for the first time this year) are examined and fitted with the best pair available, and bags of food are given to the head of each household.

Today, as we started setting up the stations, Doug Nally recognized one of our special needs patients.  Her name is Nelson, but she goes by Nelsie.  The first time Doug saw her she was about 10 years old.  She is  19 now, but Doug recognized her immediately.  Apparently it wasn’t that difficult, because Doug said she was holding the same pair of beads she had when she was ten year old!  Nelsie’s mother and father were with her (her dad carried her through the clinic), and they recognized Doug, too.

We saw more patients today than any of our previous clinics this week - a total of 477 patients!  The size of the crowd and the severe needs of some of the people drained us physically and emotionally.  And yet, it was reassuring to realize that this community had come together to make their school and their town a place where everyone was given a chance to learn and to be their best.

Thursday looks like it could be an even busier day, and it is almost 2 hours from our lodgings.   We learned that the pastor there has advertised the clinic on local television and radio!  Please pray once again for our stamina.  So far, every team member is healthy. We are so grateful!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

People Matter

Several times this week, we were reminded that people matter.  People matter because they matter to God.  Sometimes during the hectic pace of a large clinic we fall into the “gotta see as many people as I can before we leave” trap.  Meaning, we fail to “see” the very people we are here to serve.  Yesterday and today, God blessed us with a light patient load.  Not only did that reduce our fatigue, it provided a more relaxed atmosphere where we could spend a little more time with the folks who came to see us.  I thought you might like to hear about some of them.

Yesterday, an older woman watched our clinic from across the street.  All day long she worked in her yard and watched the comings and goings.  Finally, near the end of the day, one of the volunteers gave her a pair of sunglasses and a handmade sunhat (made by ladies in Oregon).  She donned them both and then proudly proclaimed “Now, I’m the most beautiful woman in the world!”  She was beaming!

Sunday an older man with a partially amputated leg, came into our clinic on crutches.  It was late in the afternoon, and only a few patients were waiting to be seen.  Janet gave him his medical exam, but then sensed something was bothering the man.  Through an interpreter, she learned that the person he had been living with had died recently. Since he had only one leg, he was unable to work and had no food.  We weren’t doing food distribution that day, but Janet took the time to ask if we could make an exception in his case.  She collected a pound of rice, beans and corn, and took them to the man.  As he made his way on his crutches out of the clinic, he turned back to her three times and said “Gracias. Thank you.”

Barbara worked with a woman today who had a heavy wax buildup in her ears that affected her hearing.  Patiently, Barbara flushed the wax out, causing some discomfort to the woman.  Once the process was complete, they went back to Barbara’s medical station.  Through an interpreter Barbara took the time to pray with the woman before she left.  Both women were moved to tears by the experience.

Doug, our dentist, worked on a young boy today who needed several teeth pulled.  The boy was upset and big tears were coming down his eyes.  After the teeth were out and the blood was wiped from the boy’s face, Doug picked up the youngster and gently stroked his back to settle him down.  The boy left with a smile on his face (and a stuffed animal in his pocket)!

And then, there was Fransesca.  Fransesca is 82 years old and came to our clinic barely able to walk because of the arthritis in her knees.  James gave her injections in both knees. Not only was she able to walk, but right there in the elementary school classroom turned doctor’s office, she started to dance!      Missy gave her one of  the handmade sunhats and Fransesca wanted music (and it had to be fast music!). Missy played a couple of songs on her iPhone, but they were too slow.  Finally, Dr Ponce came in and sang the song she requested.  She danced alone. She danced with James. She danced with Joanne.  She was joyful!  And, her joy was contagious.  We all left the clinic with smiles on our faces - the beneficiaries of her joy and delight.

People matter. That’s God’s grace. That’s why we are here. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

It’s all about Prayer

All day long I prayed asking God to show me what today’s blog should be about.  I waited and wondered, “What will He show me?”  His answer to my prayer was just that – it truly is all about prayer.

We prayed before we came that we would be God’s servants.  We asked you to pray for us while we are here.  We have prayed while we are here.  It’s all about prayer.

We prayed for travelling mercies and for medicines to clear customs without incident.  We all arrived safely, all our medicines and bags arrived except for two, and they arrived the following day.  Today Michelle, a doctor from Colorado, arrived safely to complete our team.

We prayed that our bus would run and would be free from mechanical difficulty.  So far, so good!  However, we forgot to pray for the other vehicles!  Today, the red pickup truck carrying our supplies had a flat tire in route to the clinic.  Then, later in the afternoon, it narrowly missed hitting several of our team members when the brakes failed.  Our prayer for safety was answered again.

Yesterday, Doug Nally, our dentist, related this story:  “A lady came in and needed two teeth pulled.  As I was pulling the first, it broke, and some of the root didn’t come out.  I tried and tried to get it, but I just couldn’t.  I went to the other tooth and pulled it without difficulty.  I was ready to give up when Brian said ‘You can’t give up.  You have to get it out.’ Even though I had no confidence that I could, I told him to let me rest for a minute.  I got a drink of water and prayed ‘Lord, I need your help to get this broken root out.’  I went back to the patient, gave two tugs on the tooth, and out it came!”

We prayed for the health of the team members.  So far, so good!  Even today, after asking for prayer for endurance, the stamina of the team seemed much improved.  Will you continue to pray for restful sleep?  The dogs and roosters around here are very loud. They bark and crow, seemingly at each other, at all hours of the night!

Near the end of today’s clinic, a woman came to the eyeglass station.  After determining she needed a +1.00 pair of glasses, Missy began to look for them.  Certain they were in the box, she looked and looked but could not find a single pair of the right strength. Breathing a prayer that she would have the glasses this woman needed, Missy found a lone pair of glasses in the bottom of the storage trunk that had fallen out of their box.  You guessed it!  There was the very last pair of +1.00 glasses.

Even in the little things, answered prayer is evident.  Our shower water is heated by electric coil contraptions mounted on the showerhead nicknamed the “widow-maker” (seriously!).  Sometimes they work well, other times they are very temperamental.  More than a few of us have breathed “Lord, just a little hot water?!”  And those hot showers feel amazing!

“The first thing I want you to do is pray.  Pray every way you know how for everyone you know.”  1Timothy 2:1

Monday, January 28, 2013

Messages Home from a few of our Team Members

A few of our team members stopped to share a brief word with their friends and family back home.
If the internet cooperates, we will post more messages on another day.  However, some team members were a little camera shy and said they would wait and deliver their greetings to their loved ones in person next week.  J

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Day of Firsts

Sunday.  The Lord’s Day.  A day of rest for some, but not for Luke 9:2 Ministries.  Today was our first day of clinic.  We held our first clinic here at the compound where we are staying in Cofradia.  Cofradia is about 1 hour’s drive from Tegucigalpa, but it seems worlds away.  Unlike the hustle and bustle of the big city, Cofradia is a rural, mountain community, where the animals and the children roam freely.

Having our clinic here at the compound was nice in one way because we didn’t have to factor in travel time. That meant we didn’t have to be at breakfast until 7:00 a.m., a relative luxury since some mornings, our breakfast will be at 6:00.

After a time of singing, devotions, and prayer, we began to set up for the start of the clinic.  The first day always involves a learning curve for first timers, and today was no exception.  We have a number of folks that have never before served with Luke 9:2 Ministries:  Missy Shaw and Will Shaw, Doug and Deb Duty, and Shannon Guy, all from Nashville; Debby Harding and Barbara Gentry from Oregon, and Brettany Morgan from Georgia.  Several more have served with Luke 9:2 Ministries, but never before here in Cofradia.

This morning, for the first time, we held a Women’s Conference in conjunction with the clinic.  About 30 women from the village attended.  Deb Duty led the conference and focused on the idea that we are beautiful in God’s eyes just the way we are.
 We don’t have to try to look like or be like someone else.  We need to find contentment in the fact that God made us as we are, and that in itself makes us beautiful.  Deb also focused on the biblical role of a wife.  Many women in these communities are the victims of spousal abuse, and Deb taught them that scripture teaches submission by a wife is what occurs in a household where the husband is also submitting himself to Christ.  When a husband is mistreating his wife, the Bible does not command her to stay in that situation.  Letsby, the pastor’s wife, said that was exactly what these women needed to hear, because many of them are in abusive situations.

Also, for the first time, we used refraction techniques to prescribe glasses for patients with vision problems.  These new methods proved to be more challenging than we anticipated.  It seems that it is fashionable down here to wear glasses. The kids and teenagers were prone to say whatever they thought they had to in order to get a pair of glasses.  That was sad to hear, given the number of reading glasses I have at home.  But, by the end of the day, we distributed 126 pairs of reading, prescription and sunglasses.
By the end of the day, we had seen about 400 patients.  Prayer requests:  Pray for our endurance.  Many team members reported fatigue setting in well before the end of the day.  Also, pray that we will continue to rely on God’s spirit to guide our actions and to provide for our needs.  Eric Ward said it best tonight: “Everybody just does their thing so God can do His thing.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Making "Sense" Of It All

Travel day is always tough.  You get up early (really early!).  You travel from airport to airport like herded mules.  Mules, because you are responsible for transporting your luggage and personal belongings from home to church to bus to airport to terminal to immigration to customs to school bus to dorm room.  Today, I was reminded of how tough a travel day is on your senses.

Sight - We left Nashville in the middle of the night (OK, by the time we were actually on the plane the sun was just beginning to come up, but that’s middle of the night for me!). During the course of the day, our eyes transitioned from dark to light and from the blandness of the plane to the blazing colors in the city of Tegucigalpa.  The Hondurans do like bright colors!  We saw affluent Americans filling airports to fly to unknown places, and we saw the hovels on the mountainside in unpronounceable places.  We saw the bustle of the city stores, and the remoteness of the village pulperias.

Smell - In Nashville, we smelled bacon and coffee in the airport terminal.  Once we exited the airport in Honduras, our nostrils were assaulted by the city smell of diesel fumes.  There was no escaping them.  With the windows down in the bus, the diesel exhaust odor was almost overwhelming.  As we left the city behind, the smoke from cooking fires floated on the breeze.  Oh, and don’t forget the bathrooms.  In Honduras you don’t flush the toilet paper.  It goes into the trash.  Enough said.

Taste - From scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits for breakfast in Nashville, to trail mix and granola bars for lunch, to Honduran spaghetti (heavy on the carrots) for our first meal in Honduras, our taste buds were tickled.

Hearing - This was perhaps the most dramatic of all the sensational contrasts.  We left our homes in the quiet stillness of the predawn.  All through the day, we listened to friends shouting greetings to one another. Pilots and flight attendants reminded us regularly to keep our seatbelts fastened when seated.  Our ears and brains transitioned from English to Spanish.  Then, came the cacophony of city sounds. The growl of the previously mentioned diesel trucks was deafening.  A motorcycle backfired and more than a few of us in the bus ducked thinking we were hearing our first gunshot of the trip.

Touch- We hugged friends we had not seen in a long time.  Several experienced touch in a not so pleasant way while going through airport security.  Shoulders bumped shoulders in the crowded plane and the even more crowded bus.

Beyond these five common senses, I thought of the other “senses”.  We are here with a sense of purpose.  God has gifted us with skills that we can use to help his people.  We are here with a sense of belonging.  Dr Ponce and his wife Ivonne, Pastor Nelson and his children - all friends from our last visit here - met us at the airport and made us feel immediately welcome.  We have a sense of provision.  God provided the financial means for each of us to be on this trip.  God provided us with good health and good leaders to bring us to this place.  Finally, we have a sense of protection.  We arrived safely, and almost all of the bags made it.  Rick and Becky, who joined us in Miami from Orlando, were not so fortunate with their luggage.  But, as Becky said, her carry on with the ten Diet Mountain Dews made it, so they will survive! Oh yeah.  A sense of humor helps, too!

Tomorrow, our clinics begin.  Thanks for your prayers.  We sense them already.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Why Go Back?

It's a valid question for someone that has not experienced a medical missions trip to ask.  Why go back?  Why not go to some other place that might need you more?

For me, the answer lies in examining the reason we go in the first place.  Yes we go to try and help with their physical ailments.  And while that is very important and not to be overlooked, it is not the primary reason for going.  Our primary reason for going is to open doors for them to hear about the Great Physician, the Ultimate Healer, Jesus Christ.

Dr Jorge Ponce is a Honduran doctor that Luke 9:2 Ministries has worked with for a number of years.  Dr Ponce has a deep sense of urgency for people in Honduras to hear about Jesus and to accept him as their Lord and Savior.  However, many persons in Honduras have been blinded to the truth by addictions, traditions, and false teachings.  Our medical team demonstrates our love for the Honduran people-no strings attached.  We visit rural areas where medical help is often unavailable.  Our willingness to go to them softens hearts, and gives Dr Ponce and his church an opening to come back to the same village later for follow up on medical care and to follow up with spiritual healing.

As long as the doors remain open to go to Honduras, and as long as God lays it on the hearts of Luke9:2 Ministries to return, we will continue to go back to Honduras.  I'm continually amazed at how much God changes me through these opportunities.  And I will continue to go as long as He allows me to.  Why?  Because God says so.  That's why.