Sunday Worship, Rainstorms & Jungle Tours (Chronicles of Belizean Adventures)

12:01 PMHeather

My pastor often speaks of the big "C" Church.  Meaning the global church.  The beautiful body of Christ made up of all believers and confessors of Jesus Christ.  Beyond denominational labels or other differences.  All around the world.  I've grown weary of denominational labels and fussing and feuding.  So I love to consider the global Church.  Eyes fixed on the Jesus we love. In the past few months, I've been able to witness the beauty of the big "C" church and to see how very alive and well it is all around the globe.  First at Hillsong Church in London, where I was moved to tears to sing songs and praise the One who united all of us there, regardless of color or nationality.  Then, in Canada at family camp, where I worshiped nightly with many I hold so dear, enjoying their genuine and authentic faith free of the strongholds of Bible belt appearances.  And then, most recently, that Sunday morning at Doublehead Baptist Church in Doubleheaded Cabbage, Belize.

We piled into the two vans at Hopewell, children standing or on laps, not due to neglect but just because that's the way it is.  Some things just don't exist in Belize (that's a whole other blog post for coming days).  We made our way to the church where the pastor is the father of Kendra, the house mom.  Familiar praise music blared from the efficient square green cinder block building.  One room, except for the little room attached on the left and the two small bathroom stalls attached on the right.  

Our crew of nearly thirty, with all the Hopewell kids and our own team, more than doubled the little congregation.  There was a word from a church member on shame, as the young man encouraged us all with this question about being timid about Jesus:  "Why be ashamed when you follow Someone so great?  So don't put on a coat of pride that leads to shame.  Be proud to be a church girl or church boy."

Amen.  Indeed.  We then introduced ourselves to the smiling faces and began singing together.  Ceiling fans whirled to combat the heat in this simple building.  Free of any need to outdo or outshine other local churches.  No fancy programs or huge production or extensive events.  Just worship.  Gathering.  All in one room, people of all ages.  

In the midst of the service, all of a sudden, the temperature seemed to drop about ten degrees.  And a sudden and short-lived hard rain began to fall.  As if on cue, several children popped up to run into the rain and close car windows or pull their bicycles out of the rain.  Again, I was impressed with how these kids just do what has to be done.  Without prompting.  Without complaining.  They just handle the needs they see.

I must admit that I do have one regret about my time at the Doublehead Baptist Church that Sunday.  When the pastor asked if any of us visitors had a word of encouragement to share, I sat still.  Despite the sick feeling in my stomach, which I knew well enough to know was a prompting to speak, I ignored it.  Oh, yes.  Just after the young man talked about being bold. 

You see, my pastor and elders had come to pray with our family about my trip.  To cover us in prayer.  Psalm 20 was a specific passage that was prayed that night, and I knew it was a Word not just for me.  But, I couldn't seem to get up the guts to stand up and share.  I was further convicted of my own self-consciousness when the reserved house mom, Kendra, stood up to sing.  I had no idea that she had such a beautiful voice.  All of us were in awe of her gorgeous singing.  Thankfully, someone got it on video.

Just before the sermon, the children were dismissed to the adjoining room, where we could overhear their low rumbles and teaching while the pastor shared his sermon.  I loved that.  Knowing that the children were being taught just as we were.  Separated only by a small wall and window.  

As I said already, lest anyone think differently, the worldwide church is alive and well.  And Belizeans, living in the heat, doing hard and honest work--living simpler lives devoid of big city trappings--they gather to praise God.  To thank him.  To worship him.  Convenience and comfort are not things they seem to consider, much less demand.  They just come to gather together and hear the Word and worship the One they choose to follow and trust. And I loved the pastor's encouragement about seeing wounds we endure not as set-backs but as set-ups for better things to come.  I loved his advice on how to find the real simply go back to the Word.  I loved that he reminded us that we are all afraid of change, yet we must remember change brings about newness.  And newness should be encouraging.  After all, when we choose to follow Jesus, we are told we are a new creation.  

I cannot really express what it was like to be embraced and welcomed and encouraged by the people that Sunday morning. To see the world and our differences shrink in the enormity of our commonality.  To experience a simpler worship.  Which reminded me again about how the tables were turned.  Because I tend to think America is such a great land.  And that arrogance leaves me ignoring the wonders of other cultures. They, in fact, have so much more figured out than I had ever considered. Once again, I found I was the student and they were the teachers.  Not vice versa.

That Sunday after church, we drove back to Hopewell for another incredible lunch prepared by Rosa.  And just like my own kids, I saw these Belizean children run to change from their Sunday best to play clothes.  

After lunch, we saw an opportunity for the much spoken of "jungle tour" to check out what was rumored to be a freshly cleared section of jungle around the perimeter of the current buildings.  So, at the advice of our fearless team leaders, we changed into long pants, boots, and layers of 98% deet mosquito spray.  And off we went.  Traipsing into the jungle behind the fish ponds, with the oldest daughter of the property manager leading our charge.  Did I mention that she was wearing her Sunday dress still and her sandals?  While we, the Americans, were suited up for some big adventure? 

You can see that sweet girl off to the left in her sleeveless dress.  You can also see Chris, the team leader, just behind her.  He brought his machete, just in case parts were not cleared well.  Since Peto, the property manager seemed a bit confused about where this newly cleared area was?  (THIS should have been a huge clue to us about how this would go).  You can also see in this picture the other three kids who joined us.  In shorts.  No bug spray.  No fear.  No problem!

Listen, us city folks considered ourselves quite adventurous.  We also completely overestimated our ability to explore the "wilder" areas of the Hopewell property.  We got a little stuck in some deep mud on the way in and pushed on.  Then, approximately every mosquito in Central America got word about the ridiculous Americans.  They saw that our pampered selves were no match for their jungle savvy.  So, we began to mutter and admit that maybe this wasn't such a good idea?  There was Chris, cutting back some brush with his giant machete.  The kids were completely unaffected, and we began to consider a sudden ending to our approximately nine minute jungle tour.  Tracy, Chris' wife and the other team leader, got a "really cool picture" of us with some big palm leaves all around.  And there we were, about 100 yards into the jungle, knowing we were no match for the elements.

We turned around and now, Tracy, who had been in the rear, was suddenly in the front.  She began to high tail it out of the jungle as our clothes became covered--and I do mean COVERED in mosquitoes.  Dozens hundreds THOUSANDS of vampire mosquitoes seeking to drain us dry.  As we began scrambling to run out of the jungle, poor Karrie, another member of our team who had been just behind Tracy, kept getting her boots stuck in the mud.  Chris was trying to help her, while Joana and I were swatting away the surrounding bugs by frantically waving our arms around us like we were performing some crazy new dance.  All the while, Karrie is apologizing for holding us up and we are trying to calmly say, "It's okay!"  Except that I think we all felt we'd entered the sequel to that creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie The Birds.  Those were some big mosquitos, I'm telling you.  

So basically, we are all squealing and laughing and screaming and causing a ruckus while the kids were perfectly calm.  

Yep, 'Merica.  Proud to represent you there in that Belizean jungle.  Happy to become comic relief to the children of Belize.  As we sacrificed ourselves to be mosquito bait in order to spare the children of this fate.

That is my arm.  Post jungle tour.  In my defense, do you see how bad it was?  My other arm and neck and any exposed skin looked very similar.  I believe I have been so tired since I got back because of the blood loss that day.  

You might understand, based on that picture, why I was content with the assignment to journal in the afternoon since blogging this trip was part of my tasks for the team.  

While the day before had dragged endlessly, this day passed quickly.  The kids played Legos and then dressed in their BRAND NEW soccer uniforms donated by a youth league in California.  Imanie, the high school senior on our team, had also brought donated goals and balls.  

It was like Christmas.  Those kids so proudly walking around in their spanking new soccer jerseys, shorts and socks.  Even the skeptics in the crowd couldn't help themselves and joined in the soccer drills and game.  It made me wonder, as I sat near by, listening to their screams and yells and laughter.  How often do they get brand new things?  Not because they live at Hopewell, but because this is not a part of the world with a Target on every corner.  These kids take pride in their appearance, the girls braiding their hair or pulling it into buns.  The boys tucking in their shirts.  But I never saw a mall there.  Anywhere in the city, much less the rural countryside where we were.  There was no quick, "hey, let's run to Walmart and grab whatever we need."

Yet again.  Another moment of epiphany.  We think we have it all figured out.  But maybe, just maybe, they are the ones with superior perspective.  Because they find contentment, not in things or possessions.  But in the simple joy of living.  

This day, of Sunday worship and sudden rainstorms and jungle tours gone awry, quickly came to an end and I was assigned to the bedtime duty team.  At my house, all too often, I find myself rushing my kids into bed, eager to bring the day to a close and glossing over the opportunities to linger with them.  I was determined to not have that attitude here.  I mentally chastised myself and reminded myself to give them my full attention. To make the most of this moment.

So, the six girls, ranging in age from seven to thirteen, followed their known routine, grabbing their toothbrushes from their lockers, and dressed in long pajamas, then settling into their beds to tease and chat and giggle.  I sorta smiled internally to see this slumber party of sorts.  

But then it hit me.  As I listened to one girl pray and answered calls to tuck each girl in and give each one a hug.  I bent over Rachelle*, my crafting partner from the day before, and tucked her in just like I do my own daughter.  I pulled the sheet over her head and then pulled it back, tucking her in tightly and telling her that it's just like I do for my girl.

And my heart hurt with the sudden realization.

How can I convince my own kids to not take for granted that their mom is there at bedtime?  These girls deserve that. Every child should have the love and security of doting parents. Yes, they have a loving house mother who pours herself out for them daily.  But there is still the harsh reality of their forced separations from their own biological family.  

It's such a simple ending to a day of fun and worship and laughter.  A mom to kiss their cheek.  A mom to banter with them and reassure them of her enduring love.  That they belong to her and vice versa.  

This was no slumber party.  As I tried to cover my comment about my own daughter, praying it would pain no one in the room, I felt a deep stab in my stomach.  These girls don't have that basic thing...their own biological moms to offer protection and assurance.  And because their own families could not care for them or did not protect them, they are here.  

I hugged each girl as they called my name with their request to have my individual attention.  And I fought back tears and an anger.  I couldn't help but think of what those mamas are missing.  The pain inflicted on these girls.  These sweet precious girls did not complain or cry about what they were missing out on.  I never once heard an angry word about their biological families or rantings about how unfair life had been for them already.

And so my mama's heart hurt for them.  That they'd ever had to be separated from the women who birthed them but couldn't care for them.  I drank in the joy of tucking these girls in to wish them sound sleep with sweet dreams and an anticipation for a new day. I saw it for the privilege it is.  Because these girls are treasures.  They are miracles.  Just like the boys who live at Hopewell.

Turning the air conditioner on and the light off, I whispered a prayer as I walked back to the bunk house.  It's a prayer I've repeated dozens of times since I left Belize. I asked God to pour out his grace and his healing to fill the voids and cover the wounds of these precious kids.  Be their hope, Lord Jesus.  Be their future. 

Sing your song of love and grace over them so that they know how treasured they are.  So that they know that they belong at the banquet table of the King of Kings.


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