Indescribable: Trying to Find Words (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

10:01 AMHeather

How do you find and form words for that which is indescribable?  How do you summarize something like a trip of a lifetime?  A trip in the making for decades?  A trip filled with thoughts and revelations and reflections and insights in which I still feel I am drowning as I seek to process?

Being concise is not my strong suit. And I feel at this point as if I could blog for months about my trip to Belize.  Trust me when I say that I want you to feel and know every nuance of this experience.  Because it was so rich and impactful. Yet, I know that sort of ad nausem writing would probably lose its efficacy on you, my audience.

So, bear with me as I attempt to explain my introductory day to Belize.  My flights there took me through Miami, where I met up with the two teenage girls on this trip.  We then met up with the other six team members at the Belize City airport.  Our luggage went on to Hopewell with Peto, who cares for the property.  And we went on with Jonathan, the house dad at Hopewell.  

Jonathan grew up in the area and seems to know ALL the ins and outs of the country of Belize.  I think that he may be the six degrees of separation in that country as opposed to Kevin Bacon here in the states.  After a quick lunch at a roadside restaurant (Did that cook just offer us rodent?!  No thanks, I'll take the chicken--if that's what it really is....), Jonathan drove us all around to give us a perspective of the culture, complete with his own color commentary.

I had never considered these things about Belize:  One Eyed Jack, the huge alligator in the river; powerful Chinese merchants who run many prominent businesses there; and some potentially sketchy Mennonites who may or may not have connections with crime rings.  As Jonathan said when it came to the Mennonites of which he was speaking--"all is not as it seems."

I'll just leave it at that.  For those on the trip with me, stop and remember the detailed descriptions of all this and how the story changed as it was related from the front row of the van all the way to the back.  Good times.  Good times.

Belize. Hot.  Humid.  More hot.  And more humid.  I found Belize City to be busy and colorful.  A city by Belizean standards...but nothing like American cities like Houston or Dallas.  I loved seeing the kids in various school uniforms--little girls in matching uniforms holding hands and walking home with perfect little black braids down their backs.  Houses in every hue of the rainbow, most of which were made with cinder blocks.  Busy streets, bustling with people in all shades and colors.  Crazy traffic and bicyclists and pedestrians, with plenty of round abouts and not a traffic light in sight.  I was so glad for the context of this introduction to the country before we headed out to Hopewell.

On the long drive out there, I watched lush jungle and palm trees and small houses (by American standards) spread out over the vast expanse of the countryside.  We passed little stores with hand painted signs announcing their goods and people walking, riding bikes or sitting in one of the covered bus stops.  

The first picture is a roadside store, build just to the right of the home
The second picture is a house we passed that is similar to many we saw
We also passed the Belizean prison, complete with its own Prison Gift Shop, at least according to the sign.  More on that later!
And then, the long bumpy gravel road to Hopewell (1.6 miles to be exact).  Beautiful lush green jungle on either side of the road and orange flowers that resembled birds of paradise. Towering palm trees and simple square homes, many built up on stilts and some with unfinished second stories.  We had learned that it is common to work on house additions on the weekends, so many homes are continually in progress. 

When we pulled into Hopewell, it looked like the pictures, but yet not.  The reality was more quaint.  More of a community.  Not as spread out as I'd imagined.  Sure enough--horses and cows and chickens and pigs and the buildings, from the front "Crystal's Palace"-- to house interns, to the two story bunk house for visiting teams, the main house, the school house, the former aquaponics building, and then at the back, the fish house for processing fish and the home where Peto lives with his family. 

The kids had just arrived home, and I must admit that my initial reaction was to feel a bit intimidated.  Would they like what we had planned to do with them?  Would it be awkward?  What were they like?  They offered shy smiles and waves and went on about their normal Friday afternoon routine to change out of school uniforms while we took a tour of the property.  

One of the impressions that I have of Belize is that it is an expanse of nature and the outdoors, while the homes and buildings are simple and efficient.  Despite the heat, the people seem to live outdoors, seemingly immune to the weather.  It's just part of their life.  Nothing to complain about. Which I tended to do.  A lot.  But, as one of the girls told me on the last day when I asked if she was hot (she was sweating in her heavy school uniform, after all)..."Have you forgotten that I am Belizean?"

On the tour of Hopewell, I was impressed with all of the careful consideration for using the land, the animals, and the resources to their maximum ability.  Nothing goes to waste, unless it cannot be avoided.  The chickens offer eggs to feed the twenty-one full time residents of Hopewell, and the extras are sold at market.  The pigs are another source of both food and income.  There are also cows roaming about and horses in the pasture, with a luscious backdrop of thick greenery and palm trees.  Howler monkeys live in the uncleared acreage of Hopewell, and I'll tell you later about getting to see them.

Toward the back of the cleared acreage, we found the fish ponds.  The key to attaining self-sufficiency for Hopewell.  Harvesting the tilapia.  Part of our task -- and privilege -- would be participating in the first harvest.  

The final stop on the tour was the main house. Home to the house parents and their three small children, as well as the current eleven children of Hopewell.  Americans would think it necessary that a house for sixteen people should be huge.  But, this spic and span house has got to be about sixteen hundred square feet, I would estimate.  To me, another example of where we tend to convince ourselves of necessity while the rest of the world would see luxury.  

The main house has charts for chores and behavior and systems to organize the family formed by circumstance here, united by divine appointment.

It was impressive to me, to say the least.  That someone with a full-time job and three young kids of her own is mothering eleven more.  Care taking those who are have endured heartbreak like I've never known (more on that tomorrow). These children, rescued from deplorable government orphanages and horrific circumstances, are welcomed with love and a commitment to serve Jesus.  They are managed with responsibilities that convey an obvious belief in their potential.  And there, in the middle of the house, is the table long enough to seat sixteen.  A symbol of Hopewell, to me.  One long table where they sit and break bread together.  Sharing meals as families do. 

Because that is what Hopewell believes they are.  That's what I think Hopewell dares to claim as a promise.  That no matter what these children have endured or survived or came from -- they now belong.  And in that belonging, they might find hope.  And healing.

How can I NOT be part of that?  I was humbled.  That I fuss over every square foot of my house.  And at Hopewell, they instead believe there is room for love and a future.  And it has nothing to do with how big the house is.  But rather how big the faith and dreams are to create a self-sustaining sanctuary.  How big the hearts are who would dare to invest in these children's lives.

And, as the kids were introduced and quickly pulled us into a circle, holding hands to play a game, I saw something so huge that it still unwinds me.

These children, who by all accounts have every reason to distrust and be angry and mope around and complain, offered the biggest gift of all.

A smile that spread from ear to ear.  A smile that says I choose to be content in today.  A smile that says I choose to not dwell in my past.  A smile that says I trust and welcome you when I have every reason not to trust.  

Smiles that lit up the darkening Belizean sky.  

So, the game began.  Struggling to understand their rapid speech with a Creole accent (English is Belize's official language, as it used to be under British rule), I could hardly believe the song that started.  A sign from God that I was actually not as far away from home as I thought.

Because they began to sing:

"Little Sally Walker, walkin' down the street...Didn't know what to do so she stopped in front of me...she said, "hey girl, do your thing, do your thing, do your thing" now switch."

The exact song and game my own daughter played with her friends at church camp.  In Glen Rose, Texas. And so, we, the American grown-ups, seemed to win over the Belizean children by making fools of ourselves with our best dance moves.  

Author's note: there may or may not be video evidence of my own Sally Walker dance thing.  To date, I have yet to become a YouTube sensation, and I am not certain it will be shared publicly.  Perhaps the world is not ready for my retro moves.

This first day in Belize, full of stories about Belize and experiencing the sights and sounds, ended with a moment that I think I will vividly carry with me till my dying day.  Thankfully, I caught part of it on video.  And it makes me tear up every time I watch it.  I can't post the kids' photos so I will have to simply explain it.

The mosquitos were hitting their twilight fever pitch and so we all ran into the screened veranda of the main house.  We sat on various benches and chairs and then the children asked if they could sing for us.

These gorgeous Belizean children, pretty much strangers to us, stood in front of us and burst into praise and worship songs.  Beautiful worship songs, sung with loud proclamation.  Declaring Jesus' name.  

How could I not love these kids?  I still didn't really know them, but I was completely won over.  Amazed.  Inspired.  Challenged.  Changed.  The stuff of goose bumps.

Because they bore their souls and declared their belief and their faith.  Unashamedly.  Bravely.  Courageously, in my estimation.  

And while I had just met the kids, I can see in hindsight that at this moment, I was the student.  

They were the teacher.  

I was the one learning and growing and being changed.

And they were simply being themselves.  No pretenses.  

Nothing but hugs and smiles and vulnerability.  

What could be more beautiful? 

It's nearly indescribable.

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