Tag Archives: belize

Aaron and Hur were onto something

I spent the day Saturday with Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura, both passionate and visionary church leaders in Belize. No question about it, they stirred up my faith, challenged my half-hearted commitment, and embodied the true definition of the word “pastor” in ways most of us rarely encounter.

Pastor Ed was the leader of a small, struggling church. He and his wife felt called to intentionally and proactively launch a community children’s ministry. But when they sought the input of their church leadership, the vision was voted down. They took it to their denominational leadership and received the same negative response. Not able to shake their sense of calling, they stepped down from their church and launched a children’s ministry with no safety net, no support systems.

Now, a few years later, Pastor Ed and his wife lead Koinonia ministries–a revolutionary children’s ministry in their town of Orange Walk, Belize. Ed told me that in Belize, children begin taking on significant responsibilities at about age 5, and rarely get a chance to be children. So a big part of their ministries is just to allow kids to be kids. Their ministry might not look revolutionary to American church leaders who see robust and well-financed children’s ministry all the time; but in Belize, hardly anyone is doing stuff like this.

I happened to be in Orange Walk on one of three Saturdays in the year when Koinonia holds their “children’s fair.” At the fair, kids brought in little play money they had “earned” in a variety of ways over the last few months. Then they used the “money” to play carnival games where they won school supplies (there are no free schools in Belize, and both the cost of school and the cost of school supplies is a significant hurdle for many families).

Check out the joy on these kids’ faces:

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Oh, and as the parents of these hundreds of kids started to hang around, many of them began asking for a church. Koinonia church now has about 80 people (large for a Belizian church) meeting under an awning on the side of Ed’s house.

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And Ed has a vision for training children’s workers all over Belize and Central America. He now has about 200 children’s ministry leaders from all denominations (ministries across denominational lines is extremely rare in Belize), including Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Methodist, and even Old Order Mennonite, coming to Koinonia three times a year for training. Next week, Ed and some of his young leaders are traveling to Guatemala and Honduras to lead children’s ministry training sessions.

Ed and his wife have basically given up everything to follow this calling; but he is clearly living the fullness of life in a way that most people never realize.

Then Ed took me to meet Pastor Rosaura. Honestly, I found her little village of Caledonia a bit depressing. Or, at least, let’s say it would be a tough place to minister. Isolated and small (2000 people), with all the societal challenges that come with being a poor, isolated village. Rosaura and her church leadership team greeted us warmly and shared with passion about their very, very local commitment. This woman has a love for her village that is palpable.

Two years ago, she was deeply discouraged. Her tiny church was struggling, and none of her vision for her village was being realized. But through an introduction from Pastor Ed, Praying Pelican Missions showed up and asked if they could bring groups to help her. Hearing her tell the story of these past few years, and how things have very much turned around for this little (but growing) church, she was full of hope. And what was clear to me was that it wasn’t really about the projects that the visiting PPM groups did; it was that someone saw them, that the groups who were willing to come to Caledonia were a clear indicator to Rosaura that God had not forgotten them.

One of the best stories Rosaura told me was how she and her church leaders felt called to “anoint” their village. But they weren’t sure how to do it in a way that didn’t create friction or alienation. So after praying about it for a while, they collected hundreds of pebbles. They put the pebbles in a large bag and coated them with oil, praying over them. Then, in the middle of the night, they prayer-walked through the entire village and dropped a pebble in each yard.

Here’s what struck me about Pastor Ed and Pastor Rosaura: they need Aarons and Hurs to hold up their arms (just like Aaron and Hur did for Moses when his arms grew tired while the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on their way out of captivity). Sure, they could use funding and resources. And, yes, the PPM teams that come and work with them are absolutely helpful. But these two leaders are not short of vision, not short of passion, and deeply know a God who is not short of meeting any need. What they DO need is people who say, “We believe in you, and we believe in your vision; and however we can help you, we’re committed to encouraging you with our presence.”


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“You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.”

Yesterday my Praying Pelican Missions (PPM) host drove me an hour west of Belize City to spend a few hours in the town of San Ignacio. I couldn’t help but think of Ignatius (the town’s namesake), the saint who instituted the Prayer of Examen, which calls us to reflect on where we saw God in both the life-giving and life-draining moments of our day. My middle school guys small group practices our own little version of this each week called “happy/crappy.”

And although life in San Ignacio is “crappy” by most American standards, I was almost overwhelmed by the quantity of “happy.” And I’m not just talking about a smiley feeling; I’m referring to the abundance of truly life-giving activity happening in and around San Ignacio. Much of this is due to a larger-than-life dynamo named Pastor Elizabeth and her family.

Pastor Elizabeth is exactly the sort of local church leader that PPM is laser focused on finding, then serving.

We drove to San Ignacio with Paula, Pastor Elizabeth’s 19 year-old daughter. This young woman has more maturity, drive and skill than most people a decade her senior. She leads trips for PPM, leads leadership development for Pastor Elizabeth’s church, and is responsible in one way or another for a myriad of creative outreach, community development, and leadership development initiatives.

IMG_4726We started with lunch at Pastor Elizabeth’s home (then ventured out to see many of their ministry initiatives). There were an extra half dozen people living in her very small and humble home at the time (not an uncommon occurrence, i came to discover), as people had need and she took them in. She served us a tasty meal and gushed energy and stories and life and Kingdom theology and embodied gospel like a freakin’ firehose for an hour, non-stop. Rarely in my life have I met an embodiment of living the gospel to the extent that I saw in Elizabeth.

Just a few of their ministries (most of which, visiting PPM groups sometimes help with, at Elizabeth’s request):

  • They found that many of the children coming to Sunday school on Sunday mornings were critically hungry (food scarcity is a significant problem in Belize). And even when the children do get meals, they are mostly starches and sugars. Elizabeth said to me, “When a child walks to church four miles for Sunday school and says “I’m hungry,” you can’t just say “Here’s a banana, I’ll pray for you.” So they started a feeding program for the children, which has grown to feeding 120 – 150 children each week. Elizabeth said she usually doesn’t know where the food will come from, but it’s always there, somehow.
  • At some point, they felt they needed a more dependable influx of protein. So they began a brilliant community development initiative. They build chicken coops for people (PPM teams often do this work), and stock them with 50 baby chicks (a particular chicken bred for meat), and give the family enough chicken feed for 6 weeks. At the end of the 6 weeks, the chickens are ready to be eaten. 10 of the chickens go to the family who raised them; 10 of the chickens go to the church’s feeding program; and the remaining 30 chickens are sold to provide funding for additional coops and starter-chickens. All of this is slowly building to the goal of providing financial resources to families in need, and food provisions for the feeding program (which they’re hoping to expand to a daily meal).
  • Similarly, they’ve started community gardens to grow vegetables (there is a surprising shortage of vegetables in Belize).
  • A nearby community was desperately in need of clean water. Women and children were walking miles to get water from other sources, often not clean. So Elizabeth’s church (with the help of a PPM team) designed and installed a rainwater collection system in multiple locations with an expectation that the water would be shared with anyone who needed it.
  • Paula leads an outreach and discipleship ministry that might seem interesting in the American church, but is unheard of here in Belize. They start cell groups around affinities of people in the community: sewing (which is actually a skill-training cell group, leading to work options for the women), sports, music, and others. They find that people are very willing to join one of these cell groups, even if they would never step into church. These groups become leadership development for the young adults who lead them, and outreach and discipleship for those who attend.

Elizabeth told me a story: “I was preparing a meal for a group of people from our neighborhood. There were 20 people, and I only had 2 small chickens. I had no idea how the food was going to be enough; but I prepared it and served it, praying that Jesus would do something amazing. I don’t know why everyone seemed to want drumsticks that day, but way too many of them specifically asked for a drumstick. And I kept serving them drumsticks. At the end of the meal, I said, ‘Now, wait a minute. How many of you ate a drumstick?’ And too many hands went up. I said, ‘Leave the drumstick bones–I want to see them.’ I went around and counted 13 drumsticks. And these were not some sort of weird chickens!”

She hit me with “Miracles don’t happen if we just sit there. We have to step out.” And she drove home the point with, “I tell people, ‘You think the gospel is boring? Come live with me for a week.'”


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Belize in the Lord with all your heart

today i’m flying to belize, a small country in central america. for some reason, not fully understood by me, i’ve always been curious about Belize. maybe it’s because it’s the only country in central america that has english as its official language. belize is on the gulf of mexico, with mexico to the north, and guatemala (a country i’ve been to a dozen times) to the west and south.

i’m not going on vacation. i’m going to see the work of Praying Pelican Missions. honestly, even though i’ve been in youth ministry since just after ronald reagan took office, i’d really not heard of PPM until a couple years ago. i mean, there sure are a lot of short term missions groups to choose from these days.

but after adam and i went to haiti with PPM last summer (see my posts from that trip here, here, here, here, and here), they have become my number one recommendation for youth groups doing international missions trips. i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done well. and i’ve seen the impact of short term missions done poorly. and i can truly say that i don’t know how i would improve on PPM’s approach. they form long-term relationships with existing ministries led by indigenous leaders. then they work to serve the vision and needs of those indigenous leaders, careful to not replace local workers, careful not to make the trip about the visiting americans, careful not to manipulate or mislead or run some version of ogling feel-good tourism. really, i was SO completely impressed by their work in haiti (and by the haitian leaders they serve and support).

belize welcomebelize is PPM’s oldest field. and while adam went to guatemala with PPM a month ago to see their newest work, i’m excited to see the work in a place where PPM has had relationships for a very long time. i’ll be meeting many belizian ministry leaders and pastors, and will be joining with a youth group on their own trip for a few days.

at the end of my time, i’m going to spend 24 hours out on caye caulker, by myself, resting, collecting my thoughts, and processing what i’ve experienced (and maybe snorkeling, since caye caulker has the second largest barrier reef in the world).

so, pray for me, primarily that i will really see what god wants me to see (including that i’ll see god at work). i’ll be blogging a few times while i’m there, so you can check back to read my impressions and thoughts and stirrings.


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