August 2016 Conchshell Chronicles
Last week there were hurricanes passing through my life. First we got word Monday that Hurricane Earl was moving westward through the Caribbean, and would pass by Utila on Wednesday. As I began to make preparations on Tuesday afternoon, August 2nd, I got a message from Tom Keogh in Waspam Rio Coco that our project director Truman Cunningham had just had a heart attack and died. I looked at my phone again and again with disbelief.
I first met Truman in November of 1984 when I came to Honduras for “two weeks” to help the Miskito Indian refugees from the Coco River area of Nicaragua. Here we are paddling a canoe on the Kruta River with Dan Cergioni at the back.
It was the following year that Augusto Vicente, with the blue shirt, asked us for help in starting a school in Sawa. We did, and in 1986 we began four more. By 1987 we had 12 primary school in the refugee villages along the Coco and Kruta rivers. Here Truman is wearing an aloha shirt.
Truman was a natural leader and organizer. Here he is seated next to Prof Victoria Palacios at one of our teacher training seminars at Auka, in 1987. It was Truman’s energy that lead us all in this effort to educate hundreds of refugee children in those years.
Before Laura came into my life, I ate all my meals at Mirna’s table, and they both took very good care of me. Rice, beans, boiled bananas with plenty of mustard or hot sauce, and it was at Mirna’s table that I learned to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Truman loved his family. Here he is with 6 of his 8 children. Anna and Sharon were not yet born. He raised them well, and sent them (but one) all to university. He believed in education.
Here he is with Mirna holding Maiga with his oldest Rodolio.
Truman first met Mirna when she was 12 and he knew that she was going to be his wife. They were married for 45 years. He really loved her, and cared for her well.
Truman and I had many days of walking through the swamp together. He was a natural leader in this environment and he tool very good care of me and all our team.
We traveled to Tegucigalpa a few times together.
In 1996, Truman told me that one of his dreams was to go to see where Jesus lived. He wanted to see Israel because as he said “My people think that Jerusalem is the Jesus place, and since Jesus is in heaven, they think Jerusalem is in heaven and not on this earth. I want to go there so I can tell my people that Jerusalem is real, and that Jesus is real.”
So we began praying, and God did some pretty incredible things that got us there in Ocober of 1997 with Augusto, Onofre Zamora, and our pastors from Hope Chapel Maui Craig & Kathy Englert.
Here Craig and I are baptizing and commissioning Truman to return to the Rio Coco and make disciples. He did. This trip changed all our lives.
Laura and I considered ourselves very fortunate to have Truman and Mirna as our family.
Over the 30 years of our school project, we hired many of our former students as teachers of our schools. Here we are with Alfred and Consilio. Now all of our 43 teachers (except for two who are have worked with us for over 25 years) are our former students!
We took Truman and Mirna on a cruise in 2004 to celebrate 20 years of working together. He got to visit Jamaica, the home of his grandfather. He didn’t particularly like the food on the ship, until one night he asked if they could bring him some rice- after that it was all fine!
But back to that Tuesday afternoon, August 2:
I called Tom and he was with Truman’s family. A few hours later I spoke with Truman’s son Danilo.
Danilo told me that his mother Mirna had just arrived on the flight from Managua at 1:30 and had lunch with Truman, whom she has not seen in almost a month because of her own medical treatment in Managua. During lunch one of our teachers, Bares Florencio, stopped by the house to see Truman. Bares’ 23 year old daughter, who had been in the hospital in Waspam, has just died that morning. Truman was going to help him with materials for her coffin and tomb, and left the table to change clothes. In his bedroom he suddenly fainted. Danilo rushed in and with help picked him up and got him to the hospital, a few blocks away. The doctor told them that Truman was having a heart attack. He died within 20 minutes of fainting. He was 66.
We are all shocked. I had spoken to Truman the previous week, after transferring the funds for the teacher salaries and school supplies. We had spoken the week before, talking about the medical needs of his sons and wife, and we made plans to send money to help with their medical expenses. Everything was on track, and he was in very good spirits.
Now an era has suddenly ended. My brother whom I met in November of 1984, and whom I have lived, traveled, and worked with since then, has passed on.
He leaves behind a wife of 45 years, eight children, and 12 grandchildren. He also leaves the lower Coco River region with thousands of educated children, thousands of adults who can now read and write, many well trained pastors and Sunday school teachers, and villages full of people who understand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s quite a legacy for a refugee who was living in the swamps of Honduras with no money or means when I met him 32 years ago.
Truman was a physically strong man, who could carry a 40 hp outboard motor on his shoulder down a muddy river bank. I carried a 25 hp motor hung on a bamboo pole through the swamps of Turalaya one day in 1987 with him and two others, two at a time, seven miles; knee deep mud, and swarms of insects. He was spectacular that day!
He was also a natural leader among his Miskito people. He organized the efforts in many refugee villages to build schools, train teachers, deliver supplies, and provide monthly supervision. He did this faithfully for 30 academic years. Faithfully. He was elected for two terms as a “consejal” of the Regional Autonomous Government of the Atlantic Coast. He used his influence to secure many school supplies, food, building materials, school furniture, and health care for the villages on the lower Coco River. He was being considered for the post of Alcalde (mayor) of the Waspam District which includes the Coco River region when democracy collapsed in Nicaragua eight years ago.
In his personal life, Truman was a man of faith. Each year in January, he and I would have a long conversation that went like this:
Truman: ”Maik are we going to continue the schools? is there money to begin this year? How many teachers can we have”.
Maik: “Truman, as usual, we have some money in the bank, but only few months’ supply. How many teachers do we need? How is your faith this year?”
And thus began almost every year of Project Ezra. We would talk about enrollment, our class numbers, who we wanted to have as our teachers, which ones were growing spiritually, and which ones needed help. Then we would come up with the number of teachers we needed, even though we didn’t have the money to pay them in hand. We both knew that he and I would personally bear the responsibility for our teachers and students, and their families. It was a burden that we carried together.
After our first 20 years, we would begin laughing at this point as we remembered how God provided each year, sometimes at the very last minute, sometimes a few months later (2008-9). Truman and I shared many such moments, where we found ourselves in a position of having to hear from God, and then patiently trust him.
I realized this week that much of my growth as a follower of Jesus, and my preparation as a leader took place alongside Truman. He taught me many things in our time together. Here are a few:
Raising children is a long term effort that requires discipline, patience, and hope that God will do His part in your child. Truman never gave up on any of his kids, even when they made bad choices. Almost all of the eight are successful in their jobs, and in their families.God has a big picture for our lives, and for our families. Truman was always thinking ahead and talking about his sons and my son Lukas, working together to build on what we started.
When personal issues arise, and we both have had them, pressing into God is the only sure solution. Whatever deviations we may have from the path, God is faithful to correct us, and lead us on. We experienced together God’s discipline on us and the teachers. We learned together.
God is faithful when we pray to Him. Even in the most impossible situations, God is there listening, and will bring good things to us if we are patient. Truman spoke often to “My Father in Heaven”. His child-like faith has been very contagious over the years. And fruitful.
Because of Hurricane Earl, I was stuck on Utila for the next two days, and could not make it to Waspam for the funeral. Laura and I will go to Nicaragua as soon as possible, and have a time with all our teachers of remembrance of our lives with Truman. Our team of leaders will continue running the school project, and we will continue to make disciples along the Rio Coco as long as God allows. MB
“SHEFA” (SHAY FAH): a word I learned from our Israeli friend Gal who we met on Utila last year. Gal began to work with us last year helping me in the kitchen. We all enjoy Gal and felt that it was good that we invite her back this year to work with us in Vero and Utila.
Gal told me once “I know when I come to your table to eat…i will see great overflowing abundance (Shefa) . It will be many things to choose from”.
I like that word, Shefa knowing that the life that we have and live out is full of the Shefa of God. “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”, Jesus said.
The abundant life….full and overflowing…so much so that you feel like you have to share what was so abundantly given to you.
Our lives ought to be the illustration of Shefa. Our friend Truman and his family lived such lives caring for many on life’s journey. I have always had a feeling of being privileged for being able to work alongside of them. I have learned much over the years from my Miskito friends and family.
I know we will see Truman again, but we are all still sad and shocked at such a loss. And yet, by the grace of God, we have always had the mentality that we need to be “passing down” and training up the next generations to take over what Truman , Michael and others started in 1984. It has been good to see Trumans’s sons Danilo and Rodolio, stepping up to their leadership roles and take their swings. Numerous others have also taken their places in God’s plan for the Miskito people.
We always had the philosophy that Project Ezra had to be their project and not ours. We were to assist them in letting the needs be known and God would do the rest. He has been faithfully doing what is best for all over all these years. God has received his faithful servant Truman in the abundance of His presence . No more sickness, tears or sadness.
Truman died in the middle of helping someone in need even when it was inconvenient to him. We have faced many such “interruptions” for the sake of others. That was Truman’s life.
I have come to realize that these interruptions prove to be our most significant moments…moments that we die to ourselves and live for God and others…those are moments that will pass over into eternity as works not to be burned up….but works/fruit that remain.
I have learned a lot from the Cunningham Family especially about extending myself and hospitality to others. I have watched them live their lives for the last 27 years serving and helping many. They have hosted my family on many occasions providing us with a place to stay, food to eat, and great company . Now Rio Coco Café does the same thing to people all over the world.
Truman left this earth doing what he did best…sitting and visiting with his wife and helping a friend in need. I am confident that the Lord welcomed him on the other side saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant…”
Truman will be so missed. His presence was big and influential….as was his heart . Nothing was ever that big of deal to him except if his wife was sick or one of his kids or teachers had a need. We will try to carry on the tradition of care and hospitality on every level whether serving in a Café or on the Coco River bringing hope.
Kli Wol Praubia Truman! See you again on the other side our friend, longest ministry partner and fellow Christ follower. Laura
How Can You Help This Month?
- Sponsor Truman’s honorary fund. There are many expenses for the Cunningham Family. You may do that on our “Give” page.
- Become a school sponsor and/or support a Seek The Lamb team member serving in Central America and the U.S.
- Purchase Rio Coco Bean Coffee at www.riococobeans.com.
- Contribute to the Utila Café building project.
Spiritual Arrows: Your Prayer are Powerful!
Please pray that God will:
1) Provide for every need in extraordinary ways;
2) Protect and give good health for us all;
3) More team mates for the Rio Coco Café ministry .
4) Sensitivity and Open Doors in our relationships we are building through the Café ministry.
We appreciate your prayers. They Change Everything!
Rio Coco Beans Coffee
Your coffee purchases directly impact our ability to pay our teachers and purchase school supplies. Please consider joining our coffee club for auto deliveries each month or bi-monthly. Please contact Mikaela at 772-226-5760 to sign up.
Thanks for spending time with us this month. Please contact us at the places below.
P.O. Box 2151
Vero Beach Florida 32961