A life-changing experience
“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matt. 19:26, NKJV).1
Closely crammed and standing in the back of a Toyota truck, we bounced off each other and gripped the bed rails, barely balancing through the deep ruts and steep bends in the road. A cry of “Tree!” broke into our conversations occasionally, followed by bursts of laughter. The rolling hills of Honduras dropped lower and lower as our short train of off-road vehicles rose higher into the remote mountains between El Suyatal and La Danta.
Coming to a stop in the tiny village of La Danta, we must have made quite a first impression as we climbed gingerly over the truck-bed rails all dressed in our church finest. Blustery winds—a constant in the mountain town—whipped trash across the dusty hill where we were about to hold our first seminar.
Getting in and Getting Down to Work
When our friend Naomi invited a few of us to join her for a week of construction and evangelism at VIDA International—an Adventist-run elementary and middle school, mission training school, and health center facility in Honduras2—there were challenges right from the start. Passport debacles, surprise paperwork, missed flights, illnesses, and work schedules plagued us at every turn, and in the end our team of 14 dwindled to eight.
Uncertain but excited, we arrived that Sunday evening and slowly settled into what would become an unexpectedly delightful daily rhythm. VIDA was a tiny slice of rural paradise. Cold showers, electricity off between 8:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., and giant nighttime toads took some adjustment, but the long-term missionaries and local Bible students welcomed us like family.
Mornings focused on what we thought would be mixing and pouring concrete for a second-floor addition to the school; but we were so few in number that our construction efforts felt futile. We spent almost every morning simply tying rebar in preparation for the concrete. Support and encouragement from everyone on campus bolstered us, but the problems added to those first few days of uncertainty in purpose.
Each day, as noon approached, we closed construction, doused in cold showers, ate and hob-knobbed with other VIDA residents, then loaded up in 4x4s to ramble toward La Danta. I was there to help with music and intercessory prayer. But knowing minimal Spanish made me feel like one of the weakest links in the group. How could I interact or make any kind of a difference?
Monday and Tuesday were, well—awkward. The children’s meeting was full of eager kiddos, but the adult locals who stayed gathered at a distance in clusters outside houses or leaning against fences, with only one or two people sitting in our otherwise empty chairs. Local Bible students and various people associated with VIDA had created some connections in the area during the last couple years, but this was the first evangelism series and true introduction to Adventist teachings. No pressure on our tiny team, right?
Wednesday morning, we were back on the roof tying rebar, and the team began discussing tactics to get the people invested. A bit of tension was in the air—which was intensified by the sun blazing from above and reflecting off the metal roof sheets. Were the chairs in the wrong place? Was the music not engaging enough? Were we too disconnected? Were our prayer efforts not enough?
As the one assigned to lead intercessory prayer for the project, the team, and the villagers, I was suddenly humbled by the seriousness of my role. A creeping feeling that I didn’t belong in a leadership role—that I wasn’t skilled enough—came over me. I thought about how my only other role was to assist with music by playing a ukulele, and I wasn’t confident with my skills there either.
Doubts and Persistence
That afternoon, I tried a new tactic to draw us all together in prayer, but it didn’t click with the language barriers. Disrupting music blared from the other side of the dusty hilltop where the only existing church sat, and we were dismayed to learn that its leaders had told the congregation to fast and pray that our group would fail. We also learned that the villagers were unhappy with the church because the leadership was fleecing them of their money at every turn. It was an unsettling situation, but it also alerted me to the importance of our presence and the burden of bringing a truthful and positive Christian experience to La Danta.
Despite our continued uncertainty and some timing hiccups, it was clear by Wednesday that we were all becoming of one heart and mind in seeking God’s will above our own. A few more people also were trickling into our meeting.
Come Thursday, something happened for me personally. I finally let go of pride and admitted to Naomi—who has far more experienced in mission and prayer with language barriers than I was—that I needed advice. I will always remember her incredible leadership style in that she guided and supported me but didn’t take over.
We implemented her idea for united prayer that night, and there was a peace and connectedness with the team that I hadn’t felt until that moment. I could see everyone experiencing their own growth and surrender during the week, and we were rewarded by the blessing of a full house Thursday night. There wasn’t an empty seat under the front porch of that little village school.
As the weekend approached, my friend Michelle, the main speaker for all the meetings, told us that amazing things always seem to happen on Sabbath during an evangelism series. During the week, we experienced everything from dog fights to flapping roof metal disrupting our meetings. As we rambled up the road that Saturday afternoon, we saw the threat of a storm approaching and wondered if this would be our final disruption.
The looming storm matched the mixture of peace and uncertainty rumbling within, stemming from an awkward situation that occurred during the Thursday evening meeting. I was a physical therapist before God called me into communications, and I was more than happy to leave it behind. But a man named Alexander had come to the medical clinic Thursday with spinal cord issues from a soccer injury that had made walking difficult for the past 20 years. I examined him with another former physical therapist from VIDA, and we decided to formulate a treatment plan and teach him exercises at our next and final meeting. When the other therapist became ill and decided not to come, I feared that my limited abilities were not what this poor man needed. Though slightly frustrated at God for placing me in such a position, I knew that it was meant to teach me something, and I held fast to one source of encouragement.
Earlier that day, while sweltering in the heat at the El Suyatal church, I fought the urge to escape for fresh air. I was rewarded with a sermon about Jesus at the wedding feast that would alter my outlook: The speaker mentioned how the servants followed Mary’s instruction to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5, NLT).3 They were not told to turn the water into wine themselves, but to fill the jars with water, present what they had, and trust Jesus with the results. As I listened, it dawned on me that I needed to serve God with whatever meager skills I may have and let Him turn my weak water into wine.
Climbing out of the truck bed in La Danta that night, heaven’s peace permeated the place, and I went forward ready to serve with what little I had. The room was full, the sky cleared, and the loose pieces of roof metal that had flapped loudly on every previous night of the meetings were silent. With the help of an interpreter (the same man who had given the sermon), I prayed with my patient, Alexander, and taught him everything I knew. I didn’t witness the miracle of a lame man walking normally again. But I did see his joy in having such tender care and concern shown for him. The miracle I experienced was God transforming my mindset about what He could do through me, once I stopped worrying about what I couldn’t do on my own.
Even though only one or two people sat through the Monday meeting, by Sabbath we ended up with 25 people leaving their contact information with VIDA to learn more about Bible truths. We may have put only a bit of plain water in the jars, but Jesus began turning that water into wine before our very eyes.
Boarding the plane home on Sunday night, I knew never again to underestimate what God can do with eight humble and willing hearts in eight days.
“Henceforth Elisha stood in the place of Elijah. He was called to the position of highest honor because he had been faithful over a few things. The question arose in his mind, Am I qualified for such a position? But he would not allow his mind to question. The greatest qualification for any man in a position of trust is to obey implicitly the word of the Lord.”4
1 Texts credited to NKJV are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
3 Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
4 Ellen G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, April 28, 1898.