We flew into Florida yesterday on the last plane out of Nicaragua. A good part of our immediate role as Kingdom Ambassadors involves self-quarantine. I’m sure many of you are struggling with the idea of having to stay put. But staying put does not mean doing nothing. A good deal of the New Testament was either written from prison or a lonely exile on a deserted island.
I write to you, dear friends, of the extraordinary events of recent days, recognizing God’s providential hand. Hopefully, our stories will stir your hearts and remind you of the Father’s love for us in this turbulent season.
My daughter got polio from a bad vaccine as a baby in Honduras. She has been wearing the same brace she received at Shriners Hospital in Tampa 20 years ago—when she was eighteen and a legal resident of the US. Not only has she outgrown it, but she’s had to piece it together with wires to keep it from falling apart, with nowhere to repair it in Honduras and no visa to return Stateside.
Jessi and Tommy with their Mom at San Pedro, California, 1984
I’ve felt sick about Jessi’s plight for a long time. In 1982, a US consul looked incredulously at a brown baby girl and my name on her birth certificate. He threatened to take a DNA sample if I claimed to be the biological father, saying he would send me to jail if I was lying. I told the truth—my wife was pregnant when I’d met her. After serving two years in the Peace Corps, I had to leave my family behind, get a job, come back proving I could support them, and then apply for her alien resident status. In the interim, a Honduran public health brigade went to her village and gave her that lethal oral dose, provoking Vaccine-Associated Paralytic Polio (VAPP), which allegedly occurs in only 1 out of every 2.7 million doses. Somehow, I internalized it as my fault.
Jessi receives her brace from Eric, an awesome technician who lost his leg to cancer.
Her mother had problems adjusting to life in the states. I was working full time while plowing through an intensive Master’s degree program required for my job. Martana abruptly took the children and went back. I was at wit’s end trying to keep my family together. Finally, I took a job in Honduras, leaving USC a few weeks before I was to finish my degree. Jessi wasn’t able to remain in the US long enough to become a naturalized citizen. She grew up, married a local boy—her brother’s best friend—who turned out bad and left her to raise her daughter by herself. I hadn’t opposed their courtship strongly enough. Instead, I coerced Regan into making a profession of faith. It was bogus and I knew it.
Both of her brothers now live in the States, citizens by virtue of genetic fortune. Jessi is an overcomer, the most positive and uncomplaining person you would ever want to meet. Still, she longs to be close to her family. Couldn’t I have done anything to help her? I could have called that consul’s bluff and if he had conducted the DNA test, feigned outrage at Martana’s made-up betrayal. They wouldn’t have been able to prove anything. I’ve felt sick and guilty about it for a long time.
Augusto and Yunila on their way to Costa Rica
Then, Augusto Vicente lost his leg to diabetes, and former Seek the Lamb collaborator Lucas Broadhurst connected us to an American-run prosthetics clinic in Costa Rica. Resources were gathered to send him there. Nutie and I were involved in the process. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and began to pray for a way for Jessi also. Last June we were giving an update on our ministry at a gathering in Colorado and I made a passing comment about Jessi—in no way was it a pitch for assistance. Out of the blue, someone volunteered to help. So when we returned to Nicaragua in February, our first order of business was to accompany Jessi to the prosthetics clinic in Costa Rica.
Many thanks to Dino Cozzarelli and his staff at Centro de Prótesis Avanzado in Jan José, Costa Rica
Jessi got her new brace, but perhaps the most wonderful thing about our trip for me was to see how Jessi and Nutie bonded. There was an incident at the border in which I behaved in a most stubborn manner (later I found out that it was classic Enneagram 5 behavior, if that means anything to you). I hurt Nutie by disputing some trivial facts about our honeymoon, thinking my superior memory of events demonstrated how much it had meant to me. Later, Jessi was able to fill Nutie in on all the similar things she endured growing up. It encouraged Nutie to know that I was habitually insensitive with everybody from way back. The two of them together lovingly helped me to understand and showed me a pathway to change.
We visited the rescue zoo in Costa Rica. Jessi and I read the signs against hunting the native species sheltered there and confessed to having eaten them all. Miskito life!
A proper meal at Tin Jo’s
Father and Daughter stroll the streets of Jan José, Costa Rica