Tom’s Birthday Tour
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid! (John 14:27)
Let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.(Hebrews 13:15)
In the midst of such troubled times, when the world around us is swirling with uncertainty and fear, God remains on the throne, faithful to his plans, his children and his promises. The whole earth is shaking; only what is eternal will remain. We, His beloved church, must remain awake and engaged, filling our minds, hearts and actions with kingdom truth and behavior! The best is yet to come!
It’s hard to believe that six months have passed since our abrupt departure from Nicaragua due to the Corona Virus. I learned early on in my missionary sojourn that God has the right to preempt my plans, even when I have prayerfully and thoughtfully conceived them! It’s biblical, “A man makes his plans, but God directs his steps”. It sounds great, but in the midst of the change and the surrender, it’s a bit unnerving. The wonderful truth is, God does work EVERYTHING together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purposes. He does it on an individual level and on a global level. We have found Him to be OVER THE TOP faithful to us during these extraordinary days!
When we wrote our last newsletter we were about to embark on our crazy road trip from Florida to Washington in celebration of Tom’s 70th birthday. Your prayers of blessing and safety for us were answered in a big way. As we stayed in homes of family and ministry friends along the way God gave us a vibrant picture of his kingdom in action. Lives centered on HIM look abundant and beautiful, even in the middle of global crisis. Each home was unique in setting, age group, and activity, yet common in faith in a King who is present, powerful and good. It was so heartening! There was such joy, celebration, confidence, security, hopefulness and downright DELIGHT shared. I had to remind myself that the world wasn’t in order!
Now, let’s talk about the beauty of the United States. It was my first time to drive across the southern part of the country. We made it our goal to take the route that led us through the most states, and then take a photo of each state line as we whizzed past! It was a hoot! Clearly, I had no idea how lovely, green, pastoral and charming these states are in the summer. I kept singing, “Summertime, and the livin’ is easy!” It was food for the soul, cause for spontaneous worship as we took in the variety of landscapes, wildlife, temperatures and lifestyles. But what I think I loved most about our trip was that Tom and I fully relaxed and just enjoyed each other’s company. We were on holiday! Celebrating the gift of LIFE! It was the best of times!
People and Places on the Road
Clifford Stamp of Bridge to Grace sets up Jesus film with children on the river
A brief update. Airlines keep pushing back the timetable to resume flights. It was supposed to be July, August, then September. Now it’s October, and it looks like they can’t come to an agreement with the Nicaraguan government. God is working a plan. Only He can open the proverbial doors to Nicaragua.
Alex Semenyuk asked me to join the board of his mission, Bridge to Grace, and I accepted. I had to borrow a sports jacket for the website portrait. I was pleased to connect him with Marcus Pearson, a fellow missionary in Nicaragua. Alex commissioned Marcus to build two large aluminum “batu” boats for plying the Wangki River. I’ve also been assisting Alex with the purchase of a piece of land in Waspam, where we will plant a church and eventually house a training center.
Marcus Pearson (L) and Alex Semenyuk (C) meet in St Louis to send container to Nicaragua
Salvador (means Savior), the Bridge to Grace lawyer, had me write a letter to the head of Immigration asking him for grace regarding our expired residency visas. His wife then hand-carried it to the office of the Comandante, and apparently we will be able to renew them with a late fee.
We have tracked the advance of COVD-19 in regular conversations with our friends in Waspam, and it appears the incidence of the virus there has flattened out completely—no new cases. Many of our friends have gotten it and recovered using such native medicine as herbal teas and vapors. COVID is still a problem in Managua. Dr. Oscar Sobalvarro, our partner in the Bible Institute, texted me earlier this morning, asking for prayer for his mother, who just tested positive.
Rayaka Bible Institute resumed classes in September. We have also resumed our financial support.
Rayaka Bible Institute back in session in September for first time since April
After a year of waiting, Felix Ramsing finally received the certification of documents he needed from Germany, and his university in Managua has given him the go-ahead to begin working on his thesis. This is his final step towards becoming certified to practice medicine in Nicaragua. We have pledged one thousand dollars of financial support toward this end. Felix has been supporting himself by teaching German in Managua.
Tamira did an extraordinary thing in Nicaragua. She asked the missionary founder of the Christian radio station for permission to work a second job part time in order to supplement her small stipend. She had been volunteering well beyond full-time. Tamira was told she wouldn’t be able to split time between the two endeavors, so she bowed out gracefully and is now teaching English as a public school teacher in Kisalaya. The reason why this is so extraordinary is that in Nicaragua, nearly everyone makes extra income without notifying their employer.
Tamira is launching a lunch program for her students. Even though it is a public school, she hasn’t asked the Government for support because it would entail selling out to a political party. When she called to tell us about it, the only thing she asked for was help in coming up with a God-honoring Miskito name for her ministry. Tamira has shown exceptional integrity and we are proud of her.
Tamira cooks and serves lunch to her school students in Kisalaya. Her mission, Mayunra Pata, means Food for Praise
Tommy, 4 days old, in the arms of his mother at the house in which he was born; our home. Brus Lagun, Honduras, December 30, 1981
When I was a child, I learned that bad people were sent into exile. Adam and Eve, Jacob, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah for example, were either forced to leave, got banished, or were taken into captivity. It made sense; when I was bad, I got sent to my room, right? But there were also innocent exiles: Famine drove Naomi out and Ruth left her homeland for love, while the Holy Family fled to escape Herod’s murderous plot. When I was nine, my Dad’s company transferred him from Connecticut to Puerto Rico and I lost all my friends. That wasn’t my fault. But something good happened. I learned a whole new language and made friends with people of different customs.
The exile story I identified most with was Joseph—the one with the fancy jacket. He was somewhere in between good and bad. He didn’t deserve getting sold into slavery, but the sassy way he told his prophetic dreams to his family brought consequences. From a human perspective, you’d think that with a little more tact he could he have avoided being carried away by a caravan of nomadic traders. But there’s a larger story. There’s always larger story, isn’t there? God had already revealed to Abraham that his descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt.
Whatever for? God never explained this to Abraham. And the way it went down was really random. The Lord gave Joseph a couple of dreams to move the plan forward—perhaps He knew Joseph would choose to mouth off. From Joseph’s perspective, however, his brothers overreacted. It really hurt. He probably spent a long time doing mental editing, wondering how he could have rephrased it. But all he did was recount a couple of dreams. “I just said what I saw in the dream!” he might have protested. “I didn’t make anything up.” Years later, Joseph’s dreams became reality. He had told the truth after all. His family bowed down to him, and he saw a bigger picture of redemption. What the devil had meant for evil, God meant for good—salvation for his entire family. Acquiring this kind of wisdom made it worth all the hardship and frustration he had endured.
I too said some things—I wrote an entire book—about things I saw, and they were hard for some of our spiritual family to digest. Our friends were “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), refusing to retaliate as Joseph’s brothers did, but blessing us instead. Nevertheless, my story has been cast into a form of exile, awaiting such a time when The Lord might deliver it full-circle and allow it to be told as a testimony of His grace and redemption.
I am not alone in this. A pervading sense of exile inhabits the soul of anyone who chooses to live for Christ. To a critical thinker, details in Genesis demand a certain suspension of disbelief, yet their implications for the human condition ring so true that we either hide from them or stake our very lives on their authority. We feel deep homesickness for an Eden we have never seen. Like Abraham, we who have believed are ever searching yet holding to the absolute conviction that we will arrive. We know the Way, and His name is Jesus.
Many build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce (Jeremiah 29:5), much like the Hebrew exiles were directed to do in Babylon. Nevertheless, six months since our COVID-19 inspired exit from Nicaragua, Nutie and I wander, wondering about what the Lord has in store for us. We have been visiting our children and spiritual family scattered across the lower forty-eight. We’re not empty nesters—we’re nest-less.
As Nutie has attested, life has been sweet despite the uncertainty of our situation. We’ve roved around in awesome natural scenery and enjoyed playful camaraderie in the Spirit with family and many others connected to our lives in ministry. Even so, the Spirit of God has also stitched an itinerant thread of exile through our hearts at each stop along the way. I’m beginning to see His purposes at work in this: He will have me learn the secret of being content in any and every situation, about which the Apostle Paul wrote (Phil. 4:11-13).
Nutie and I walk daily along the shore in Florida. A Great Egret listens for the breathing of fish; Sea grapes ripen; A hatchling sea turtle emerges into daylight.
The similarity to the Miskito territory in climate, landscape, flora, and fauna, made Florida a soft place to land. The sticky heat, egrets, sea grapes, and hatchling turtles of Vero Beach are like home. Vero’s just a lot more developed, which took some getting used to.
The most difficult adjustment, however, was demographic. To me, familiar means dark-skinned people, survival culture, Miskito and Spanish languages. I’ve spent most of my life displaced, assimilated into the life and ways of another people in a foreign land.
A Church along route A1A in Vero Beach, called "Christ by the Sea"
I gawked at mansions along the barrier isle. Many were vacation homes, empty most of the year. It was the beginning of the COVID lockdown and public beach access points were blocked off with yellow crime-scene tape, but oceanfront property owners were allowed exclusive rights to miles of beach. It was as if they owned the ocean. Egalitarian, collective Miskito people would never stand for such a thing. They trample down such fences—the land belongs to God and God belongs to everyone. We parked outside the parking lot gate of the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, sashayed onto publicly owned sand, and smiled at white people over fifty walking their dogs. With my elegant wife Nutie, we could pass for one of them, but I knew I wasn’t. When we returned to our car I found proof—a nice warning (“not a citation,” it read) for illegal parking with the deputy’s name and phone number affixed to it. That’s certainly not what the money-grubbing Nicaraguan police do! On the way home, we passed by a church called “Christ By the Sea.” It was lovely!
Tom preaches Sunday morning in a Miskito village church
Christ of the Coco River must be the swarthy one born in a manger, who associated with people of low position and died on a cross. Disturbed in my spirit, I had to do some processing to reconcile disparities. Christ died for all people, for those abasing and those abounding.