Staying in Town

Today is expected to be a lighter day. We’re staying in Limon, and have already seen most of the people here. Some of the patients we will see today were unable to come to the clinic before, but some are follow-up visits.

I began the day with a 5:30 a.m. walk on the beach with Gabriel and Tim. It was so pleasant. They showed me the delta where the small river that runs through Limon meanders parallel to the ocean before spilling into it. And we saw a group of local fishermen casting a net in waist deep water. One proudly lifted the large sea bass they had taken earlier. We gave the thumbs up sign in approval, and they returned the gesture.

We also witnessed what must be a memorial service. Families gather on the shore and cast reeds into the ocean. We tried to be as unobtrusive as possible.

I also saw something that reminded me of the resourcefulness of people here. A man came to the clinic on a bicycle buggy. The tires, pedals and chain assembly were from a bicycle, but everything else he had carved out of wood. It was both practical and beautiful.

In the afternoon, we had planned a trip to the town. A heavy storm delayed the trip by an hour. As we waited, three of the staff workers at the clinic sang “How Great Thou Art,” which was apparently on of Dr. Gibson’s favorite hymns. They sang it in his memory, and one of the ladies, who had been with the clinic since its founding, began to cry.

The trip to the town involved a stop at the new orphanage. It was so much nicer than the facility they had previously, and yet still falls so short of standards in America. On the wall of the entry room was painted “La Casa Hogar Madre Leonarda.”

We also stopped by the local cemetery. As in many coastal cities, the graves were above ground. Some were tiled with what appeared to be standard kitchen or bathroom tiles.

Icoteas and The Orphans

Most of the team went to a clinic an hour away. I don’t think it was terribly far in distance, but we traveled down a dirt road that was clearly meant for horseback, not for our 35 passenger 1970’s vintage school bus. The clinic was on a hill which overlooked the adjacent palm plantation. Picture palm trees as far as the eye can see, a veritable ocean of palm. Absolutely beautiful.

We saw 115 patients. One was a baby with the worst case of chicken pox I have ever seen, but the doctors assured me that’s just how chicken pox looks in the third world. We also saw a 94-year-old woman. We’ll call her “Abuela” (grandmother). Tim, who was working the pharmacy, said the she required fewer prescriptions than anyone else we saw today.

That led me to wonder about several things. One was whether some of the patients come, not because they are sick, but because the clinic is open. They seem to subsist in villages that don’t have much industry. I’m sure a few of them must work for the palm plantation, but most seem to simply cluster around their homes, sit and talk. So I suspect a medical team coming in from the U.S. is probably not only a big opportunity to stock up on medicines (whether needed at the moment or not), but also just an attraction in general, something to do that breaks up the routine of normal life.

Abuela also led me to rethink my concept of a “significant” life. I tend to think of life as something of a movement, a striving to reach a higher level than our present one. I picture this movement being from subsistence (or dependence) to sustainability (or independence) to success (the ability to support others) to significance (the ability to help move others along the path). It’s been my way of saying that I think success is not the ultimate goal, that it’s possible to accumulate wealth and still be insignificant because of hoarding instead of helping. Or, as Jesus put it, “A man’s life does not consist in the sum of his possessions.” And I still think that’s true. Witness self-absorbed celebrities. The world seems to adore them. I have both loathed and pitied them.

But I wonder if “significance” fits what I’m really trying to say. Take Abuela. She’s lived 94-years in a remote village in Honduras. She’s lived all that time without owning, or accomplishing, much at all. Perhaps apart from this journal, no one will ever know of her or pause to contemplate the story of her life. But none of that makes her life insignificant. To the contrary, every one of us who saw her honored her just by virtue of her having survived a century of life in this rugged, desolate, difficult place. Her life is significant even apart from the ability to reach back and help others along the path of life.

So I have a lot of rethinking to do. In some very strange way, Abuela may have redeemed for me all those silly, self-absorbed celebrities.

We did triage on the porch of the small clinic. As we always finish before the doctors, I had more time to play with the children. At one point, I took an alcohol swab and wiped my face, both to partially remove the brown film that was gathering there and also to have at least a moment of coolness in the brutal heat and humidity. That led me to an idea. I began to give “makeovers” to the kids, wiping their faces with a swab. The loved the attention and the “pampering.” And I danced with a few, and sang “Eres Tu” when I had run out of other ideas.

I was touched particularly by one vivacious little girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old. Her skin was lighter, more like mine than the caramel color of her compadres. But her most striking feature was her green eyes. She was simply beautiful. I called her “La Ojos Bonita.” She giggled, and it made my heart glad.

After supper, we had planned to travel to the orphanage. Instead, they came to us. Roughly 50 children, ranging from toddlers to teens, filled the small outdoor auditorium of the church next door. They were to perform a program a program for us, but saying that just doesn’t capture what actually happened. They swarmed us with love.

As I sat in the makeshift pew, Dixon sat next to me. He rested his arm on my leg and started patting my knee. Eventually, he scooted over until he was under my arm. His name was called and he went up front, because someone who supports him, Marci, had sent him a care package. He opened it with joy and wonder. Along with Marci’s picture and a sweet note, there was a coloring book and some colored pencils. There were also five rubber bracelets with the words “Admit, Believe, Confess”– he insisted that I take one. There was a pack of Orbit gum. He promptly took every stick, divided it into thirds, and shared with every other child. And there was a pack of Skittles. Those went unopened. Maybe he will get to keep those for himself, but I suspect everyone will get to taste the rainbow.

Just when I thought my heart could take no more, Joselyn, a girl of about four, decided she wanted to sit in my lap. She just rested there like that’s where she belonged. I started asking myself what the adoption procedure for Honduras must look like. And a little bit of my overflowing heart spilled out from my eyes.

The children’s program was emceed by one young lady who welcomed us. She introduced another young lady who prayed for us. Charlotte translated. Then, we watched children grouped by age or gender sing and dance. The highlight for me was when several boys took turns playing conga drums as other children performed various “cultural dances.” In the middle of this routine, Roger, a seventyish doctor who loves to dance, took the arm of a young lady and joined in to add a little South Carolina culture to the mix. He expertly blended his shagging to the rhythm of the drums and led the young lady so adroitly that it appeared she knew the moves, too. They brought joyous laughter and received well-deserved cheers from Honduran children and American adults.

God bless Sister Leonarda, who manages all of this by herself. He alone knows how.

The Tough Side of Missions

This morning reminded me of the difficult side of relief missions—the people we simply cannot help. A man came to the clinic Sunday, and persuaded a doctor to go to his home to see his wife. She is a thirtyish mother of four. In April, she lost a full-term baby, I don’t know how or why. She has been suffering from severe depression. The clinic isn’t equipped to treat depression, because that requires ongoing consultation with doctors and we’re just here for a week. In addition, she is having severe abdominal pains. When the doctor saw her earlier, he prescribed pain medicine and Cipro that should eliminate an infection. But is it an infection?

Shortly after 5 a.m., the husband returned to say his wife’s pain worsened around 4 a.m. The doctors consulted and thought it could be one of a thousand things—infection, appendicitis, hernia, even psychosomatic pain resulting from the depression … the list is seemingly endless. But we’re simply not structured to explore every possibility, and the doctors felt that we had essentially done all we could do for her. She needs to go to a hospital. But will she? No one really knows. We can only pray. I will surely pray.

And I pray for the doctors, too. Though not with medical treatment, of course, I’ve been where they are in other situations—wanting desperately to help, but realistically helpless. That’s an awful feeling. I’m sure they face it all the time, and I don’t know how they do it. God bless them for their willingness to pay that high price for the joy of helping those they can.

I just read a portion of my journal from 2012. In reading it, I realize that there were things which were strange to me then, but which I don’t give a second thought now. Things like cows roaming in the streets of LaCeiba. I think it might be a part of human nature, both good and bad, that we acclimate so quickly and are no longer stunned by things beautiful nor shocked by things horrible.

Whispering Hope

Today we travelled about an hour to “Whispering Hope,” another clinic in a somewhat remote village near Trujillo. The trip there was interesting. After we got off the 29 mile dirt road that leads to Limon, we travelled a road that had more potholes than pavement. Along the way we saw plenty of small shanties, and even a few mud houses with thatched rooves. But nestled in among them all was the mansion surrounded by high concrete walls topped with rolled barbed wire. One has to wonder about the livelihood of the owner.

We saw something less than 100 patients. That’s a full day for the three doctors and for the pharmacy staff. Triage doesn’t take quite the same amount of time. I had a few down moments to talk to some of the younger guys on this trip. I asked Julian, 15, if he was contemplating a medical career. “Maybe,” he said. So I reframed the question. “If you could wave a magic wand and pick out anything you could do with your life, what would it be?” “He perked up a bit. “Anything?,” he asked. “Anything!,” I answered. With a wry smile, he said, “I’d be a drummer in a classic rock band.” Well, I asked. 

Triage and “the lab” shared the same space. Pierce was the lab technician, which means he was essentially processing cups of urine all day (for diabetes, pregnancy tests, etc.). He tried to keep his game face on, but this clearly wasn’t his cup of tea (forgive that metaphor in this context). I tried to be humorous and helpful. “Well,” I said, “consider this an exercise in figuring out which areas of the medical field interest you and which don’t.” He smiled. “That might be the best way to look at this,” he said.

When we returned, the wind was substantial and the surf was pounding. I took the opportunity to have a long walk. There is something extraordinary about isolation along the beach in those conditions. The experience talk out loud to the Father, knowing that heavy wind and waves make it so He is the only one who can hear me, lends itself to a certain kind of honesty. I need that more often in my life.

I enjoyed conversation tonight with Gabriel, a doctor from Hilton Head. He’s here with his son Pierce, who is a senior in HS contemplating a medical career. Gabriel is also an adventurer and his face lights up when he recounts the stories of his travels. He’s also adventuresome in a philosophical sort of way. He likes to explore deeper questions, looking for answers to some of the bigger problems of life, and he listens intently when others are offering their ideas. He’s an extremely affable, likeable guy, and I think it’s this inquisitive quality that makes him so.

The Work Begins

Again, I awoke very early. I think I will not try to correct that, because if I do, when I return home, my body will be conditioned to rising later than normal. I think I’ll just be governed by my own circadian rhythm than by the clock.

After breakfast, we began seeing patients. I always find, and today found, the people are beautiful and their needs great. I feel honored to serve with others who are willing to give so much of themselves in an effort to give back.

One of the doctors serving here is Bill Turner, a nephrologist from Spartanburg. He’s been all over the world and is full of all kinds of medical knowledge, cultural insights, random trivia and homespun goofery. I love this guy. One of the other doctors mentioned some remote place of the world where he wants to go someday … Bill started talking about the incredible experience he had while he was there.

We had a little miscommunication today. We were to see patients this morning, but since it is Sunday, we were to handle emergencies only after lunch. That’s not how it was published in the village, however, so we saw patients all day.

My job is to be helpful in any way I can and otherwise stay out of the way. So I’m weighing patients and taking their temperatures. They’re calling it “triage,” to prevent my feeling insignificant. But I’m doing other things, too, that aren’t technically in the description. I give out a piece of candy to the children, and try to cheer up those who look a bit intrepid. I played “little bitty man” with one little boy, and that led to every kid in the room trying to tickle me. One little girl was hard to draw out, so I took her hand, started singing “Lets Do the Twist,” and we danced until she laughed. The only greater joy than that found in serving others is that found in serving children.

La Ceiba to Limon

Today we move from La Ceiba to Limon. It’s about a 4.5 hour trip, but takes all day. The day started with breakfast. I actually arrived at the restaurant before it opened at 6:30 a.m. I didn’t know the time, as I am without my watch and cell phone. But again, they were accommodating, seating me and serving me coffee until the food was ready.

In the morning we ran errands in town. I accompanied Chris to the bank, where we picked up the funds that had been wired over for the trip. Everyone else went to the grocery store to pick up food for the week in Limon. It’s interesting to compare prices with those back home, and also to see items for sale here that we don’t have in the U.S. And they still have “bagboys” (and girls, too, of course). They are not paid by the grocery store, but work exclusively for tips. We bought so much, and our haul had to be boxed and taped for the trip, so we tipped them handsomely. One young man was mute. He extended his hand to shake mine. I reached into my pocket and grabbed the Honduran currency I had just received in change – 13 lempiras (about 65 cents) – and palmed it to him as I shook his hand. I was embarrassed that it was so little, but his face lit up like it was Christmas! With a move that would have impressed Bruno Mars, he bounced over to show a friend his earnings. So I felt a lot better.

Then we traveled another hour down the road before stopping at three different markets for fruits and vegetables. Then it was of for another leg of the trip before stopping at Wendy’s for lunch in Toccoa. Interestingly, their fare was exactly the same as it is in the U.S. I thought the chili might be different, but it was classic Wendy’s chili. The only difference was the drink. They had a soft drink marked “tropical.” I thought that meant fruit punch, so I tried it. It was banana flavored. Someone compared it to a melted banana popsicle, and that was an apt description. But I drank one just to say that I had.

Then we finished the trip, unpacked, stocked the pharmacy and ate.

Wheels Up

We had a good trip to the airport. Many thanks to Dan Brown for driving us to Columbia at 2 a.m. The flights were smooth and brief, the layover was just the right amount of time to move from gate to gate and even catch a little breakfast. We passed through customs with no difficulty at all. So all in all, we couldn’t have gotten to Honduras with greater ease/

It was good to see David and Mario again. They help with the administration of the clinic. Mario was my driver. He told me he drove semis for 20 years, all through Central America. In all that time, he never had an accident. His skill was evident, as driving in Honduras is virtually identical to driving in Uganda. Two lane roads become four-lane highways filled with cars and cows, motorcycles and men. I’ve adapted, but it can be harrowing for a newcomer.

En route from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba, we lost brakes. Mario managed for a few miles, then pulled over to a “garage.” It was a lean-to with three or four shade tree mechanics. They figured out the problem, but we learned after several hours they could not fix it because the part was not available at any of the six stores they visited. So they simply sealed the brake line off on the passenger side and we continued on.

The pause gave me a bit of time to get to know Ed and Cheryl. They are an extremely sweet and mild-mannered couple, easy to like. They strike me as classic Southerners—laid-back, genteel and unassuming. But behind those gentle demeanors and charming drawl are two world-class thinkers. I realized this when I noticed Ed’s way of asking lots of questions, not so he might demonstrate his own knowledge, but rather so he might increase it. Several times I was sure he knew more about the subject at hand than anyone else, but he was genuinely curious to know how others see things and to assimilate their knowledge into his own data bank. The most intelligent people I’ve ever known were the most inquisitive, listening much more than talking, and he fits in with that modus operandi.

As we continued the trip, we came upon an utterly awful traffic accident. The pickup truck and car were resting against the railing of a bridge, but I think that was just their final resting place because debris was scattered for something like 100 feet behind them. The car’s engine was completely separated from the car itself. It’s hard to imagine that anyone survived.

We got to the hotel quite late, but they were very accommodating and kept the restaurant open just for us. Good thing, because a heavy rain storm came up. The hotel is configured with an interior open courtyard, and the tropical plants there got a heavy drink. We ate and said goodnight. So, some 22 hours after rising in Barnwell, I went to sleep in La Ceiba.

My roommate is Tim. He’s an extremely young 52, and a CPA. Two sons, Shand and Julian, are with him on this trip. They are world travelers with lots of adventuresome stories. I genuinely like them and look forward to getting to know them better.

2015 Church-Wide Mission

We had a wonderful week in Perry, SC.

I am convinced that the building that goes up is almost incidental. So much more is happening. Relationships are being built that will last forever. And the good that God is doing in the world is known only to Him.

That is especially evident to me now. In our Construction Ministry, we say certain things all the time. We say we are “Living the Call Wherever He Leads,” and “We’re Here by Divine Appointment.” That has never been more real to me than in this effort. Plans were made long before the awful event at Emanuel AME in Charleston. Now here we are, a diverse but still mostly white congregation, with help from others as far away as NY and Louisiana, working together with African American brothers and sisters from Perry. We didn’t set out to make a statement, but I believe a statement is being made by God’s design. That statement is, “In Christ, we are one. In Christ, love wins!”

WJBF (Channel 6) Coverage



Deep Sadness. Deeper Pride.

“The Lord has given. And the Lord has taken. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I knew when I heard Annie’s tearful hello that the news would be hard. She had just come from her appointment, where her doctor was unable to detect a heartbeat for the child she still carries. She had been so hopeful after the miscarriage earlier this year. Things were progressing so differently, so much better. She really had been radiant.

And then, out of the blue, this crushing blow.

Our hearts are utterly broken.  And though I’ve never felt so helpless as a father, I’ve also never been more proud of this young lady who told me through her tears, “I know God’s purposes are good, even when we cannot see it.” I am in awe of her faith, her depth. Even now, she finds it in her to rejoice for this child whose spirit has returned to God who gave it, even while this body is still in her womb.

She’s so amazing.

And she inspires me to say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”

Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
Come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal.


Whate’er My God Ordains Is Right (Arranged and Performed by Brandon Fox)

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He doth;
And follow where He guideth;
He is my God; though dark my road,
He holds me that I shall not fall:
Wherefore to Him I leave it all.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path:
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He hath sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away,
And patiently I wait His day.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
His loving thought attends me;
No poison can be in the cup
That my Physician sends me.
My God is true; each morn anew
I’ll trust His grace unending,
My life to Him commending.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm,
Though many storms may gather,
Now I may know both joy and woe,
Some day I shall see clearly
That He hath loved me dearly.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Though now this cup, in drinking,
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it, all unshrinking.
My God is true; each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.

Whate’er my God ordains is right:
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall:
And so to Him I leave it all.

Baptism and Church Membership (Pt. 3)

Dear Friends and Fellow Missionaries:

This is the third in a series of articles in which I hope to clear up confusion about the issue of baptism, the separate issue of church membership, and the relationship between the two.

In my first article, I addressed the issue of baptism.  Baptism is an “ordinance,” which means it was specifically instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for His Church.  It is the first act of obedience for anyone who has declared his trust in and allegiance to the Lord.  So, baptism is not only available for all disciples of any age, it is and should be encouraged, even expected.

In my second article, I showed that “church membership” is not an ordinance.  Jesus said nothing about it.  And I showed that the Bible uses the term “member” differently than we do, not referring to someone whose name is on the roll of a local church, but rather to speak of someone who is an active part of the body of Christ, functioning with other members

So, that leaves a question – what is the place of “church membership,” as we commonly call it, in the modern context?

Church membership, as we commonly use that term, is a manmade concept.  Now, that doesn’t mean it is automatically bad.  In fact, it is a device created to fulfill the Biblical mandate, “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” 1 Cor. 14:40.  In other words, Jesus said He would build His Church, but He did not leave blueprints for every detail of how local assemblies of His people should be managed.  He dealt with doctrinal matters, leaving it to us to follow the teaching of the Apostles.  But as to practical matters, He simply left us to exercise wisdom and sound judgment, giving only the mandate to do things in a way that brings honor to Him.

Now, Baptists adhere to what is called “congregational polity.”  That is, we do not have a hierarchy like the Roman Catholic Church, where decisions are made by those in authority and handed down to the people.  Rather, we are autonomous and self-governing.  That authority rests, under Christ, in the congregation as a whole.  And so, we have developed devices by which the congregation may express itself.  We have congregational meetings.  And, more to the point, the congregation votes.  As a pastor, I have a voice.  Biblically, that voice should be given a certain deference and respect.  But my voice is just one in the congregation, and no one person has the final voice in congregational polity.  Doctrinal issues are determined by Scripture, but we decide practical issues as a body.

Now this is the point at which it becomes so important not to confuse baptism with church membership.  You see, a child of six or eight may be old enough to know right from wrong, and that he needs forgiveness for his sins.  A child may be mature enough to meaningfully love God and turn to Christ sincerely for forgiveness.  Children may surely commit to following the Lord Jesus as His disciples.  When they do, they should be baptized.  We want them to. We encourage that.  We work toward that.

When a child recognizes her need of a Savior and turns to God by faith in Jesus, she has become a “member” of the body of Christ in the Biblical sense.  But is that child, or should she be, a “church member” in the modern sense?  Should a six-year-old have a potentially decisive vote on whether or not we spend several million dollars for a building, or undertake a major renovation, etc.?  Nothing in Scripture requires such a view.  Indeed, I personally think such a view is contrary to the Scriptural principle of doing everything in a fitting and orderly way.  As I see it, placing children in charge of such momentous decisions is no more fitting and orderly than allowing children to decide who will be the next President.

And so, when children have come forward to say they trust in Christ and want to be baptized, I have consulted with them.  If I believe they are sincere and understand the meaning and importance of what they are doing, I baptize them.  But that is not the same as those children “joining the church.”  That is a separate matter altogether.

So, what about those instances when children have said that they wish to join First Baptist Church?  Well, presently, that is their right.  Our Bylaws state that “Candidates for membership may present themselves” in five different ways.  And so when anyone, including children, have “presented themselves” as a “candidate for membership,” I have presented them to the church for a vote.  Our Bylaws state, “Upon acceptance, the candidate’s name shall be added to the roll of members.”  And so we have done that.  And our Bylaws state, “Members are entitled to participate and vote in all transactions of the church.”

As I have explained, I don’t think that’s the best system.  But it is the system that is in place and so I have sought to honor it.  But, given the confusion that I now realize exists, with some thinking that children who have been baptized thereby “joined the church,” while others (including myself) have thought, “No, they were simply baptized,” I plan to propose in the future that we amend our Bylaws, and I would amend my practice accordingly.  My proposal is fairly simple – that we require all members to be the age of majority to have voting rights.  That way, children can be received into membership, recognized rightly as part of the body of Christ and as part of this community of faith, without the concern that such membership conveys voting rights that might be inappropriate for children.

When I say I plan to make such a proposal in the future, understand that it will not be immediate.  That is because, as I announced recently, I am already working with our Constitution and Bylaws Committee to amend our Constitution on another more pressing issue having to do with our beliefs and policies concerning marriage.  I believe these amendments and policy changes are necessary to protect FBC’s religious freedom and shield us from future liability.  When the CBC has had ample time to consider the proposals, they will be vetted through our Deaconate.  We will then hold congregational meetings to discuss these issues, and eventually vote the proposed amendments up or down.  I estimate that vote will occur this Fall.  I hope you will participate and stay well informed as we move toward that vote.  Then, after we have dealt with this more immediate “marriage” concern, we can deal with the “membership” concern.  But I think it is “decent and orderly” to address those issues independently and on their own merits.

I hope I have added clarity with this series of articles.  If not, please know that I am available to discuss this (or any other issue) and would welcome the chance to sit down and talk in a private setting.

With love and devotion,