Friday, January 30, 2015

Tiring, Trying, Thankful Thursday

Last night, after attending worship, our team gathered to debrief the day.  Debriefing provides a way for team members to share their thoughts about what they experienced during each day.  

Since each clinic area spreads across a large compound, it is impossible for everyone to be aware of all that has gone on during the day beyond their individual work space.

Our team includes 3 pastors and 2 pastor’s wives in addition to the medical personnel.  The unique gifts of these ministers to the help meet the spiritual and emotional needs of our clinic guests have been heavily used this week. 

Every day we heard accounts that reinforced our “non-medical” reasons for being in Honduras this week.  Early in the day yesterday, a woman fainted.  James examined her to make sure there was nothing seriously wrong with her.  Once he was confident there wasn’t, he called Deb Duty (pastor’s wife) and Jorge (interpreter and great guy) to talk with her.  After listening to her, Deb easily diagnosed the woman was pregnant.  Jorge, as interpreter, recognized there was more to her story.  The woman was 43, already a grandmother, and a doctor had told her to go off her birth control pills for health reasons.  As a result, she made a deal with God:  she would go off the pills and He would protect her from getting pregnant.  Now she felt like God had let her down.

This type of misguided theology is all too common in Honduras.  Hearing this story reinforced the desire of Luke 9:2 Ministries to strengthen and continue the theology training for pastors that began last week.  Education for the pastors is the very best way to bring Hondurans to a deeper understanding of God.

More stories of ministry were shared of opportunities to care for the spiritual and emotional health of clinic guests and the clinic hosts (usually pastors).  Jerry and Janice (pastor and wife), had a long conversation with a local pastor’s wife (she spoke English).  They were able to encourage her in her ministry and commiserate with the frustrations and challenges of working with people.
Today in La Branza, we heard more stories that reminded us that trials are universal.  One mom shared that her sister had recently died and she is now raising her niece and nephew.  The grief and financial burden are weighing heavily on her and she is suffering from stress.  Other afflictions related to aging and poverty were prevalent over and over again among the clinic guests.

The long travel time in the bus is taking its toll on us.  Today, our clinic was about 1 ½ hours away from Cofradia. 
We started out on the now-familiar gravel road, continued on a main two-lane highway, wound our way through the crowded streets of Talanga, bumped down a wide dirt road into the country side, and finally squeezed along the “not much more than a bike path” road to the elementary school site in La Branza.  

When we arrived, there were over 200 people already waiting for us.  It seemed all day that the line would never end.  By the end of the day, we had seen 435 patients.

Physically and emotionally we are tired.  Spiritually, we are both drained and renewed.  We are ready to go home, but we are glad we were here.

Tomorrow is our day of rest.  For this and so many things, we are thankful.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Wonderful Wednesday

Every year before our trip, church members in Nashville faithfully prepare notes of encouragement for each team member to open during our time in Honduras.  I usually open one of mine each morning.  This morning, my card included this verse:  “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”  Exodus 23:20

Henry, our bus driver and assistants
This verse reminded me of our bus ride home last night.  Our bus driver, Henry, is very conscientious and I’m sure he is as anxious to be “home” as we are.  Last night, as we neared Cofradia, the bus slowed and eventually stopped on the side of the road.  We thought at first the bus was having some sort of mechanical difficulty.  Later that evening we learned that, due to concern over road conditions, extra precaution had been taken to get us home safely.  Our God truly had sent an angel ahead of us to guard us.  We were and still are grateful.  

Susan with patient and Mom
Look at the second part of the verse that reads, “… and to bring you to the place I have prepared”.  Today, we are in Los Charcos.  This is a village Luke 9:2 has visited several times over the last ten years or so.  Los Charcos has a high percentage of special needs kids.  We encounter challenges and opportunities here not often seen at our other clinics.

Michelle with Nelsi and her father

Apart from the special needs of some, the general health of the community seems slightly better than the last two days in Guaimaca.  Certainly their teeth overall are in better shape.  Dentist Doug believes it is because we have been coming here on a regular basis and providing oral education along with the extractions of “problem” teeth.

Five or six of the young adults who assisted us in Guaimaca for the last two days drove to Los Charcos today to offer their services as interpreters.  Ernie, Jonathan, Daisy, Vikki, Johnnie, Yami, and others are a huge help to those of us who do not speak Spanish.  The value of their contribution to our ministry efforts cannot be over stated.

One of the lighter memories we all have of Los Charcos is the monkey that lives at the house across the street from the school where we hold the clinic.  We all looked forward to laughing at the monkey’s antics!
Moises (Moses) the monkey

Jason, Jerry & James laughing at the monkey's antics
Today is bright and sunny.  I don’t have a thermometer, but I’m guessing it is about 75 degrees in the shade.  The warmth is a welcome relief after the cold, rain, and clouds of the last three days.  Lunch under the mango tree is pleasantly wonderful!

Lunch with Daisy and Elizabeth under a mango tree

My spirit is light today.  Maybe it is because of the sun.  Maybe it is because we saw old friends and familiar faces.  Maybe it is because of the lack of medical emergencies.  Maybe it is because many hands make light work.  Or, just maybe, it is because this is the place God prepared for me today.

Twizzler Tuesday*

This morning I opened a note written by one of the GA’s (mission organization for girls) at Crievewood Baptist Church.  It read “May you be blessed by the Lord.” Psalm 11:15.  It made me wonder: if God were to choose to gift us today with a blessing, what would it look like?  The question so intrigued me that I asked several team members this morning for their response.  Instead of answers like “a hot shower, or a big hamburger!”, I heard these answers- “I would see God’s love revealed to someone else”; “I would recognize that we were able to do more for someone than our limited resources should allow us to do”; “I would get to share the gospel with someone”; “I would be reassured that I was supposed to be on this trip this year”; and, “I would have eye contact with someone when they were genuinely expressing thanks to God for our presence here today.”
Remarkably, all those blessings and more were witnessed today.

Irena, a 70 year old woman and her caregiver came to see us today. Irena’s face reflected the hard life she has lived.  She is blind, among other things, and was eventually led to Debbie’s medical station.  At home, Debbie works in a heart clinic.  As Debbie was examining her, Irena suddenly became very pale, grabbed her chest and vomited.  She was having a heart attack.


Debbie, Jorge, Irena, James, and Irena's caregiver
Debbie quickly recognized the situation and alerted James (our lead doctor). Medication and other emergency treatment were quickly administered.  She was closely monitored for over an hour by a team of medical personnel and additional care was given to her.  Jerry, one of our pastors, prayed with her (via interpreter), and other team members prayed for her from their various stations.  Her caregiver was counseled on proper nutrition for her elderly patient.  Money was collected so Irena and her caregiver could pay for a taxi ride home.  Final prayers were lifted on her behalf as she left the clinic. Irena prayed for herself to be healed.  And we all believe that she will be - one day.  But for today, she is still on this earth with all of her physical ailments.  Irena touched us.  She confirmed our reason for being here on this day.
Dr. James and Irena
Squeeze Applesauce for Irena from Jorge

Katherine gives nutritional advice to Irena's caregiver
Jerry prays for Irena as she leaves for home

The other named blessings?  They were here today, mingled among the 600 patients who attended the clinic.  These are just too numerous to describe in detail in this blog.  Some we recognized, some we probably missed.  But they were here.

*Twizzler Tuesday- Beth Anne, a team member who was not able to join us this year, started the twizzler tradition.  Twizzlers (a chewy candy) are shared with team members on the day thought to be the toughest.  Given the emotional highs and lows of today, and the lateness of the hour when we finally finished (after 6:00), Jean passed the bags around!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Guaimaca – Meaningful Mountain Monday

Monday morning came early today.  Very early.  Breakfast was at 6:00 and we were on the road by 7:00 for a 2-hour bus ride to the town of Guaimaca.  This was a return visit for Luke 9:2.  Last year so many people came to the clinic here that we had to turn some away.  That was very sad, because most of the late arrivers were people who had walked all the way into town from the mountains – some for hours – just to see a doctor.

This year the team decided to work at this location for two days.  The plan was for the mountain people to come today and the town people would come tomorrow.  Well, that happened…sort of.  We did see some of the poorer mountain people, but we saw many of the town folks, too.

How do you describe in a new way something that you have experienced before?  I struggle with that question today.  Because we’ve been to this place before, and because a local church here provides so many helpful volunteers, the clinic ran very smoothly.  Once again, the patients (all 600 of them) waited patiently for their time with the doctors or dentist.  As before, our team came through, faithfully serving those God brought to us.

So what warmed my heart today?  It was the little things.  It was hugs freely given to those in line.  It was Deb painting a 74 year old woman’s fingernails (who then preened like a teenager!).  It was hundreds of stickers and stamps placed carefully on giggling kiddos’ faces. It was playtime with bubbles and “basketball”.  And, it was holding the hand of a terrified dental patient.

My proud moment of the day? Observing team members stopping to pray with their patients.  Sometimes, the illnesses encountered in these clinics are more than we are equipped to handle.  So, we turn those situations over to the Great Physician.

During our devotion time this morning, Pastor Doug encouraged us to care for “the least of these”.  We did our best today. And tomorrow, we will do it again.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Super Soggy, Satisfying Sunday

Last night I slept like a log (for those not from the south, that means I slept great!) The temperature was cool enough for a blanket, but not too cold.  A gentle rain began to fall during the night.  Against the tin roof of our sleeping room, the sound of the rain was like a mother’s hum, gently lulling us all to sleep.

Honduras has two seasons - rainy and dry.  January is the dry season.  On previous trips, we’ve experienced soft rains during the night, but rarely if ever during the day.  Well, today was different.
Creative engineers putting their gifts to good use
We awoke to the steady, soft rain that continued right through breakfast…Pastor Doug’s devotion…the setup of all our clinic stations…and, it is still raining.  We worked here at Cofradia, so we didn’t have to travel.  Given the weather, that was a good thing! Our team has not experienced set up (or clinic for that matter) in the rain, so the “normal” set up routine was out the window.  And yet, everything got done.  Just as it always does. 

Some of those “unseen” gifts I mentioned yesterday came into play when the tent canopy for the de-worming tarp was assembled.  Several plastic joints for the tarp frame came up missing, so creative construction techniques were employed. 

Ashley with one of the nursing home residents
The church operates a small nursing home here on this compound.  In Honduras, senior adults (by law) go to the front of any line.  Although it is law, there is also a great deal of cultural respect here for the elderly.  

Seniors waiting patiently
So, it made sense for the residents of the nursing home to be the first patients seen by the medical providers. The rain hampered efforts to transport patients from the nursing home to the chapel where the medical stations were setup, but again, the team rallied.  Deworming medicine and vitamins were brought from the entrance gate down to these patients inside the chapel, so they would not have to navigate the outdoor stations. 

Team “newbie” Laura marveled at how particularly grateful the elderly were for the care they received.  And, instead of complaining about their ailments, they often remarked about how blessed they were to only have one medical problem!

Perhaps the rain kept the most chronically ill away, but overall, the medical professionals believe that the health of the people who visited the clinic today is better than in been in previous years.  Why?  Several reasons may factor into the equation.  First, this is the location where the first water chlorination system was installed in 2013. Safe drinking water was made available to the community, and that definitely seems to have made a difference.  Second, this is an area where Dr. Ponce is available to do follow up care after we leave.  Those with infections and other illnesses are treated by Dr. Ponce and the patients are also educated in basic hygiene.  Finally, Pastors Nelson and Letsbi have an obvious connection with these people.  They share the gospel, they educate folks in proper hygiene and assist Dr. Ponce with needed follow up.

Pulling out tools for one last patient
My proud moment of the day: Late in the afternoon, after the dentist and his assistants had everything cleaned and packed away, a young man in his early thirties arrived at the clinic.  His only request was that we pull a bad tooth.  The dental team dug back into their packed crates and pulled out all the tools required to extract the one tooth.  No complaints. They just pitched in and went right to work.
The last dental patient of the day

Overall, today felt – in a word - small. The number of patients was smaller than normal. It was a satisfying beginning to the week.  A small clinic is such a satisfying way for a new team to work out the kinks and to bond.  In all, we saw 334 patients.  We expect tomorrow (Monday) to be our largest and busiest day of the week­.  We will start EARLY and work LATE. Pray for safe travel (about a two hour bus ride) and for stamina.  Oh, and pray for a break in the rain and for warmer weather.  Our fingers are turning blue!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unseen Gifts & Familiar Sites

I’m not morning person.  My husband, Doug, would say that is an understatement!  So, when the alarm went off at 2:15 this morning, I struggled.  I looked out the window, saw snow on the ground, and knew it would be cold outside - not a good way to improve my mood.  At that moment I questioned my decision to return to Honduras!

However, once I arrived at our church and the other team members began to gather, my attitude began to improve.  Soon the anticipation of going and serving the people of Honduras in the name of the Lord with alongside these gifted servants helped to cure the early morning blahs! Included in our departure prayer was a request that God would reveal gifts “as yet unseen.”  That comment made me begin to wonder, “What will God reveal to us this week?” “What gifts will we discover and then be able to give?”

De-icing delays and two full, bumpy flights landed us safely in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras without incident.  Unfortunately, two team members’ bags, two crates of vitamins, and the crate of orthotics did not make it to Tegucigalpa when we did. We are hopeful they will be delivered to us tomorrow.

This is my third time to work in this area of central Honduras.  As I stepped out of the airport, there was a sense of the familiar that was surprisingly calming and comforting.  The diesel fumes, the crazy traffic patterns, and a plethora of Spanish language billboards didn’t seem quite so foreign to me as they once did.  I’m not sure if that’s good or bad…I guess time will tell.

The Cascades Mall was our first stop for a late lunch on our way to the mountains.  Though there is much poverty in Honduras, there are signs of the middle class, too.  The mall has many “American” stores, including a Polo, a Sperry’s and even a Wal-Mart SuperStore!  The food court made us all feel at home with offerings of Wendy’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Popeye’s Chicken, Subway, Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks (a favorite spot for much of team!)

After lunch, we headed to the church camp compound in Cofradia were we will stay this week.  The contrast of God’s beauty in the mountains and the man-made hillside shacks brought back into focus the reason we are here: to share God’s love to His children through medical clinics and to teach pastors how to shepherd their people.

It didn’t take long for folks to unload the bus and settle into our dormitory-style rooms, unpack, and gather for dinner (Honduran spaghetti with carrots in the scrumptious sauce!) and then discussed the plans for the week.  We will be conduct five clinics this week.  It will be a physically demanding week, but we are ready.  Tomorrow’s clinic will be here on the Cofradia compound so we will not have to travel via bus to our work.

For now though, I’m going to bed.  The Nashville snow and 2:15 a.m. were a long time ago.  Thanks for your prayers this week!                                                                                                           

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God

Luke 9:2  "And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing."

On Monday, January 19th, four members of the Luke 9:2 Ministries Mission Team left for Honduras to conduct a new Ministry Leadership Training course.  They will lead classes in Cofradia for three and a half days from Tuesday until mid-day Friday.  

Doug and Larry will work with pastors from very rural, mountainous regions who have had little to no Biblical training.  What they do have is a heart for their people and a love of the Lord. Doug and Larry will teach these pastors important aspects of sermon study and preparation.

Deb will work with pastors' wives teaching them how to come along side their husbands' work while maintaining an identity of their own.  As a pastor's wife herself, Deb brings her personal experience and her own spiritual gift of teaching to these women in a particularly meaningful way.

Susan will share her years of wisdom and experience teaching children about God with these women and other church leaders.  At their request, Susan will teach them how to make homemade play-doh and other teaching aids!

The focus of these efforts is to help equip local church leaders build the Kingdom of God. It is our hope that this will grow into a series of Ministry Leadership Training courses held throughout the year.

On Saturday, January 24th, another 35 missionaries will arrive for a medical mission experience. Five day-long clinics will be held in the area. Many of the people treated at these clinics will come from the churches of the pastors who received leadership training the week before.

Please join with us on this trip by offering your prayers for safety, health, and most of all effectiveness in sharing the love of our Lord with our brothers and sisters in Honduras.