BELIZE – DAY 1
TWO BROKEN PLANES
- 1/29, 1:28pm
- Cyndi Den Otter
In Houston. On time so far.
Just boarded the plane for Belize in Miami. Our flights are all good to go too. Had two bags checked for free in Orlando. Blessing number 1.
See you soon.
We’ve had a problem. Sat on the plane here in Miami 1 1/2 hours while mechanics worked on it. Were currently being unloaded. Plane is being taken out of commission. Going to try and find us another plane. I think we’re going to be a while. Back in the airport.
Jeff Den Otter
We are delayed an hour. Sitting on tarmac. Fixing plane.
We are still in Miami. We’ve been sitting on the plane too. Finally unloaded us. Waiting for another ride.
Jeff Den Otter
Is it bad if they are using duct tape? They just sent someone to the parts store.
Our new plane they switched us to has one tire laying on the ground. So we still aren’t loaded.
Jeff Den Otter
Not funny but we can’t stop laughing.
Cyndi Den Otter
The guy behind me has the plague and the guy beside him has both nostrils stuffed with big wads of kleenex. Everyone is out of their seats and I think karaoke is next.
They’ve just announced another delay for us and are going to give meal vouchers out. That can’t be good.
I’d say hold your breath and don’t breath the same air but I guess that’s out of the question.
Cyndi Den Otter
Oh oh free drinks here. It could get interesting.
Oh man. At least we are in the airport and able to walk around.
Cyndi Den Otter
Reboarding. Let’s hope the duct tape holds.
We are reboarding now also. Good luck.
Cyndi Den Otter
How long is your flight?
Cyndi Den Otter
** The amazing ending to this story is that our planes rolled into the airport in Belize one right after another. Now what do you think of that?!
BELIZE – DAY 2
MR. GUY, MISS WENDY, MR. JEFF, MISS CYNDI
Jeff and I were carrying nearly 100 pounds in donations. I held my breath as we headed through customs in Belize. Guy and Wendy sailed on through with theirs but the officer pointed at Jeff and I and summoned us into a different line. He opened my bag and said “what is all this?” As I stammered my explanation, he jerked the zipper the rest of the way back and it broke. After that he looked upset and shocked and he waved us on through. Praise the Lord for the broken zipper! Guy and Wendy were outside the door praying and we had asked friends back home to pray specifically for many things including customs.
We were very late arriving due to our planes both being broken down in separate ends of the country. However, we found our way in the dark through a maze of winding bumpy roads in a very remote area. To everyone’s amazement we drove directly to the home with no wrong turns! Do I hear another Praise the Lord!
In spite of being late, we were warmly greeted and our rumbling stomachs filled with a delicious meal. With great relief we settled into our rooms.
On Saturday, Guy and Jeff started to work right away on the new slaughter house which was to be built of cement blocks. Try that in 90 degree heat and 100% humidity. Wendy and I got to spend some time with the children. Several new children have arrived in the recent weeks and most of them were tiny so needless to say the work load is intense and some are still adjusting. There are 24 children in all including staff children. Please pray for those dear house parents. They have their hands full!
In the afternoon they took out the horses and every child who wanted to got to go horseback riding. What fun! In the evening we took out our games and had a very loud and fun game night. The children call us Mr. Guy, Miss Wendy, Mr.Jeff, and Miss Cyndi
Wendy and I were the first of our team to experience the fire ants. Now we all know for sure that Baptists can dance ….. even Jeff!!
BELIZE DAY 3
DOUBLE HEAD CABBAGE CHURCH
The little ones are scrubbed clean, hair braids done, all dressed up, and the vans loaded to head to worship at Double Head Cabbage Church. There was much debate about who would get to ride with Mr. Guy, Miss Wendy, Mr. Jeff and Miss Cyndi to church. Finally the negotiations were made and the little ones all piled in to take their turn in the green missionaries car. (Yes, I just read that too. The car was green not us … well actually we were green too – at first).
When we arrived, the children took up nearly half of the church. We chuckled as one woman took a big broom and swept the fire ants out of the church and out on to the doorstep before the service began. At one point during the singing I felt the need to dance. I am not sure if it was the Holy Spirit or the fire ants. One little bat hung in the ceiling during the service. I understand he lives there and quietly does his job of consuming insects – thank you Mr. Bat! Well … I was told there was that one incident when he decided to take flight during the service, got caught in the ceiling fan, and was ejected onto the pulpit … I must say nothing quite like that has ever happened back home. Mr. Guy and Mr. Jeff felt it wisdom to not mention the bat to Miss Wendy until after we had departed.
Jonathan led the service with singing accompanied by drums, 2 guitars, and Aaron Stevenson on violin (a teen from Indiana serving at Hopewell for six weeks with his mother Debbie and 4 younger brothers). Miss Wendy got called upon to play the keyboard. My heart was touched to hear the enthusiastic singing from the children. Kendra’s father, the pastor there, delivered the message. Kendra blessed us with her beautiful voice and closed the service with a song.
… Jesus – He Understands
Right now He’s waiting, just take His hand
Start your life over, and be born again
You need to find, this friend of mine
You need my Jesus …
In the afternoon we all went swimming … en masse. I think there were 36 ish of us in the end. Debbie’s friends/church back home sponsored the day. Things like a day at the swim park that we do on a regular basis are out of the question financially when you are talking about such a big group of children and all of the extra hands needed to watch them. The masses add up! I cannot begin to thank those of you who made this possible for them. They had a blast! There were squeals of joy and much splashing and laughter. “Miss Wendy can you help me swim?” “Mr. Jeff can I jump off your back again?” “Miss Cyndi can you help me float?” “Mr. Guy take my picture, watch me!” (Mr. Guy is a softie and goes to mush with all those little ones around but don’t tell him I mentioned it). Jonathan allowed them to linger and in the end we loaded tired but very happy little ones back in the vans.Debbie’s sponsor money finished off the day with the ultimate – a take-out meal of fried chicken for every child!! THANK YOU! You would only have to see their faces to know your donation was well worth every penny so they could have an experience that we take for granted.
Child #1 – “I am telling your Mom that you pushed me.”
Child #2 – “I don’t have a Mom.”
BELIZE DAY 4
HOWLER MONKEYS AND PLAYGROUND DUTY
The howler monkeys were especially noisy during the night. I keep scanning the edge of the jungle in hopes of seeing one. As we grabbed an early morning coffee, we noticed that all 5 dogs were barking at something at the edge of the woods. I don’t want to know. A Fer de lance (called Tommy Goff here) was killed in the back yard just before we came. The dogs lay across our doorway at night. We affectionately call them our guard dogs. There are flocks of parrots. They are so beautiful and there are cranes by the water snatching Tilapia out of the ponds. Little geckos are everywhere. It really is a beautiful spot with palm trees and coconuts, cashews, bananas, and mangoes that will be ripe in a couple of months. I like the sounds here. It is never silent. There is always some sort of bird singing or insect sounds, chickens, pigs, a horse neighing, a cow mooing – and the howler monkeys … always the howler monkeys.
We chatted with the kids as they made their way out to catch the school bus. The younger ones ran around and played trying not to get their uniforms dirty. They all wanted to get their pictures taken in front of the car. The school bus came and they scampered off waving out the windows as they left.
We have been eating mostly traditional Belizean food. I love that. I love to try new things. Rosa has been doing a fabulous job cooking for us. Rosa cooks for the teams that come in and her husband Peto is the property manager. He is a smart and hard working man with many gifts.
Jeff and Guy went back out to work on the slaughter house carrying lots of water with them to drink. It is going to be very hot. Wendy and I are staining doors inside today. We went with Debbie in the van to pick up the small kids from preschool late morning. There is no school bus for the preschool program and the parents must drive them themselves. If they do not go to preschool, they are considered to be at a disadvantage. It is an added cost to already strained budget as they have to pay school fees plus uniforms and the task of dropping them off and picking them up.
Wendy and I started staining the shed in the afternoon and hopefully will be able to finish it tomorrow. We got into the fire ants again. The pain from their bites is incredible as they bite multiple times and they never come alone. Then the flaming feet and intense itch afterwards causes dance moves that you never want to see a Baptist doing. However, after the initial biting/itch phase, the Canucks seem to get over it and be okay. Some people go on to have pain, blisters, and profuse itching for a week or more.
Wendy and I are on playground duty after school. Pray for us. If I do not post again within 24 hours, come get us.
BELIZE DAY 5
GILL NETS AND GRACE
The first hour on the playground went fairly smoothly, games, swinging, going down the slide forwards, backwards, and upside down. Then a certain 5 year old scaled the swing set at the speed of light and walked the ridge pole followed by a middle aged lady who also scaled the swing set (when I say scaled I really mean crawling like a snail) and extracted said 5 year old. With one 5 year old in hand, child number 2 scampered up. After a few of the climb and extract scenarios, I did the only sensible thing I could do. I spotted Jeff across the yard and yelled “HELP” at the top of my lungs. However, he apparently had gone stone deaf or forgotten all of his English words. Smart man. Finally he took pity on me and came over. I said “help me, there are a million kids here!” He said ” I only see 9.” I hate it when he is logical. I pointed out number 10 and 11 climbing to the top of the basketball net like a pair of monkeys and while he was looking, I ran across the yard and hid.
To be serious, the children are beautiful. They are respectful and darling. They slide onto your lap for a cuddle and they love to run their fingers through our hair lol. They have hopes and dreams. Most will tell you what they want to be when they grow up. Others struggle to imagine their future as they are still in survival mode. They have been through every imaginable horror and yes some we can’t even begin to imagine. Some have scars on their bodies. Others have the scars we cannot see. There are telltale signs when their face goes blank and they stare off into space …. going back. The new ones are learning that they are safe and loved here. That is challenging sometimes when you have been programmed to watch your own back. They need love, mentoring, and grace. Can you add them to your prayers?
Kendra, the house mother, works full time as an administrator in the school system. Yes, you heard me, full time and takes care of all those children full time. Yes I know, the hours don’t add up. She is quiet and gentle. The household is run carefully with a lot of thought to the rules and structure. The kids thrive in this environment. Jonathan is the director at Hopewell and runs continuously. He gets to deal with the government red tape, paperwork, works with the teams, and helps with the farm … and parents the children. He can tell you all about his country’s interesting history. Most of all he and Kendra have a love for their Lord and have been obedient to His calling. This couple is the perfect example of what it means to rely on HIS strength and grace.
The carpenters put some finishing touches on the boys dorm. Wendy and I cleaned it, swept it, and made up the beds. IT IS DONE AND READY with the intent of dividing the boys and girls and a new set of house parents are raising support to come and live at Hopewell. For obvious reasons, the sooner they are able to come the better. You can help make that happen.
Miss Eleanor does housekeeping. She paddles her canoe from her home across the river then rides her bike the rest of the way to Hopewell. I want you to picture how much laundry I am talking about. Do you have an idea in your mind yet? Okay, then double it. Miss Eleanor is one of the many pieces of the puzzle that God has put in place to help Hopewell function. God Bless you Miss Eleanor.
Peto, Joshua, and Nathan tried out the gill net today. They had an order for fish. It works perfectly by only snagging the larger Tilapia while the smaller ones swim through. They filled their order in no time.
Jeff and Guy are coming along well with the cement block slaughter house. It is really taking shape. They are struggling a bit with the heat. Wendy and I painted the upstairs bathroom today. We also finished staining the shed. Before supper Wendy filled the tub up and we sat on the edge and stuck our feet in the cool water. It felt heavenly. All I have to say about that is:
FIRE ANTS – 3
WENDY & CYNDI – 0
BELIZE DAY 6
NO MATERIALS FOR ARTS AND THE BLUE HOLE
The four of us visited the school today. We were not prepared for what we would see. The first thing that struck us was rows of children reciting their prayers together, hands folded. The next thing we noticed was Scripture and Devotions were part of their daily class schedule and the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, and The Apostles’ Creed hung on the wall. The rooms were tidy and organized and the walls lined with brightly coloured art work and lessons. It warmed our hearts.
The other part of the story was stifling hot classrooms with beads of sweat on little ones faces, no fans, rotting eaves, no windows, and in two of the classrooms there was only metal roofing above their heads. During the rainy season there is a deafening roar on the metal making conversation next to impossible. How do they teach? The outside area where the children are fed lunch is open to the elements. The dust from the road comes in and it is miserable in the rainy season. The chairs are rusted and the tables are at the end of their service. The playground is no longer functional.
We spoke with the teachers and they graciously took the time from their classes to help us understand their challenges and needs. They contribute some of their own wages to top up in lacking areas but it is far beyond what they can manage. One teacher showed me her lesson plan book. One day she had written in frustration “no materials for art.” The lesson did not happen that day. We unloaded the trunk with all of the donations that you so generously and willingly gave. They were so pleased and grateful. We received hand made thank you cards signed by the children a couple of days later. Thank you for your help.
We got back in the car feeling a little overwhelmed and determined that this is one thing that is within our abilities to do. Is this something God has put on your heart to help with? If so, you can contribute here
We took the afternoon off. They were making repairs to the road. There was a grader and men with shovels filling in the holes and rough spots. A goat stood in the middle of the road on top of a pile of dirt but the workers did not pay any attention to him. We explored the nearby towns and made note of where things could be purchased for future projects. We went to Blue Hole National Park where we visited St. Herman’s Caves and swam in The Blue Hole (not to be confused with the Great Blue Hole). It is a “collapsed karst sinkhole which is known as a cenote. At the bottom sits a beautiful pool of sapphire coloured water about 25 feet deep filled by a natural underground spring that never runs dry. It is directly connected to the St. Herman’s cave.” I of course was the last one out of the water . We drove around and drank in the rich Belize culture and beautiful landscapes. I know that you will find this hard to believe but Jeff went Geocaching all along the way. We enjoyed a gorgeous sunset and ended the day at Benny’s, a place to grab a coke and delicious fried chicken for about four US dollars!
While we were gone, we found out they killed another snake. I think we picked a good day to be away. As we lingered and talked in the kitchen, Jonathan brought in the biggest frog I have ever seen …
Boy brings giant frog into kitchen.
Boy puts frog on floor. Frog escapes.
Girl cowers in corner and stands on chair.
BELIZE DAY 7
TARANTULAS AND HOPE
I have a picture drawn by one of the new boys. As he explains the picture to me, he points out 2 homes that he has drawn. One is his old home and one is his new home. He struggles to reconcile the 2 homes as he is explaining it to me. His mother has died. His father is also dying in hospital. The boy will not be going home. He has scars on his body. There is a rainbow and some sunshine in the corner of the picture but he is not able to explain it to me. Perhaps it means that he feels a glimmer of hope here and that somehow he can sense it. That is my prayer for him at Hopewell.
Marc and Dail are the property owners here. They have much experience in non-profit and have devoted much of their lives to missions. They spend weeks at a time at Hopewell and have grown to love the children very much and the children dearly love them. We had many conversations with them and they updated us on the projects that have been going on in the last few years. They are making huge strides but it is labour intensive work. The physical aspects of the property management and the logistics of being self sufficient compound the work load. Brainstorming sessions with the board to strive toward their goals is an ongoing labour of love. They have come far and have accomplished much. Many of their dreams have been realized but they have many more. Marc gets excited when he talks about possibilities. He has seen what can happen when God is in control. When Dail speaks of her dreams for the future of Hopewell and the children, her face betrays the emotion and passion she feels for it. Please pray for this couple that God has chosen to further His work in this place. A place of HOPE.
Wendy and I are scraping and painting the gated entrance fence today. As the kids got off the bus while we were still painting I felt panicked. “Don’t touch the wet paint! You will get it on your uniforms!” Almost every single one of them ran their fingers through the wet paint. Seriously, kids in Belize and kids in Canada are exactly the same. One little one casually stopped by the house, examined a tarantula, stomped the stuffing out of it (it may have already been dead), wiped his shoes off in the grass, and meandered on to the house. I went on painting. I may be acclimatizing.
We stopped to take Jeff and Guy a granola bar and some cold water. The slaughter house is now up over their heads which means that the sun shining inside the blocks makes an oven.
There are 2 pet parrots at Hopewell and every time we pass them we stop and have a chat. The “English” speaking parrot is outside the children’s home so has a big vocabulary and laughs a lot. It messes with your head when you forget and hear “hello” followed by laughter when you are walking by. It leaves you standing on the path looking around to see who is talking to you. The “Spanish” speaking parrot on the end of the path is not as chatty but maybe it is because all we know to say is “hola.”
It is day 2 with no fire ants finding us but another insect which I am told is a “doctor fly” did. They lick off fly dope like it is a lollipop. They have a bite like a horse fly or deer fly and leave an itchy mosquito like welt. Tomorrow I will wear plastic bags on my feet.
Peto is manning the BBQ for supper and the smell of chicken is making my mouth water. At least I think it is chicken. I cannot identify everything on the BBQ. Peto says something about Gibnut but he has a twinkle in his eye so he is teasing me … right??
BELIZE DAY 8
SWEET BISCUITS AND BIG MAMA
I woke up in the night with an intense itch in both feet. I wanted to tear the flesh off my feet. I scrounged around in the dark and found some cream that relieved it enough to go back to sleep. At breakfast Wendy was scratching her feet like crazy. “What happened to you” I asked? She replied “I woke up in the night with this intense itch in both feet …” We both wore shoes and socks, insect repellant, and the longest pants we had when we went out to finish the fence. The mystery bites were the beginning of a lot of grief for the both of us, especially Wendy. You can ask her that story.
We had used about 3/4 of our can of paint but we had the trim on the back on both sides to finish. We knew logically we did not have enough because it had taken most of the can to do the trim on the other side. Even though we didn’t have to do the spindles, we still did not have enough. We decided to just do what was the worst and leave it at that. I prayed a “loaves and fishes” prayer asking for it to last. Part way through the last side we knew we would not make it. Wendy showed me the smidgen left in the tray. I prayed another “loaves and fishes” prayer. We kept painting … ALL the way to the end! Now what do you think? I know what I think. I think that God has an interest in everything that concerns us.
Every day after school the children get a snack. Debbie mentioned to us and said she was looking for ideas. She had made everything she could think of with what was there. An inventory of the cupboards turned up flour, eggs, powdered milk, and a bit of sugar. We decided on sweet biscuits. Between the 2 houses she scrounged up enough butter. Debbie said that the kids had likely never had biscuits and would look at our biscuits with suspicion because in Belize biscuits mean cookies. I said “throw a bit of sugar on the top and they will eat it.” We mixed them up but they didn’t look like what I made at home and I was worried. However, Debbie baked them and topped them with powdered sugar and they were a huge hit! Please don’t read the lack of ingredients to mean the children are not fed. Please read it as … “lack of excess.” I felt shame when I looked in my pantry when I got home. My pantry is excess with countless more options if I do not have a certain ingredient. I have way more than I need and not just in my pantry – a lesson learned when I looked at my house with new eyes when I got home. I decided to compile a list of snacks that have very few and mostly basic ingredients. Maybe some of you can help me with that?
We scooted in to the city to pick up some supplies to fix the playground at the school. Jeff and Guy planned to slip over to the school when the kids were not there to do some repairs as a surprise.
After the kids were in bed we gathered in the “upper room” and introduced everyone to Big Mama. It was a hit. Linda, Angela – Big Mama has spread from Florida to Canada and now to Indiana and Belize.
Tomorrow is a big day. The plan is to send Jonathan and Kendra away for a much deserved break. We will get to see things through their eyes.
BELIZE DAY 9
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Jonathan and Kendra slipped away for a couple days rest. God bless them and refresh them. Today we have a small army of people here to do what they do. Good grief how do they do this?!
Guy and Jeff made an early morning run to the school and put the slide back up and made a ladder for it, repaired the swings, and fixed a loose shutter that they had discovered on the back of the school. Since it was Saturday, the guys though they could just slip in and fix it and it would be a surprise for Monday morning. However, one of the teacher’s sons that lived nearby came over to play as the men were fixing it and told everyone “the missionaries in the green car fixed our playground.”
Melissa and her crew came over and had Bible study for all of the children in the upper screened room. They shared God’s word through bible verses, praise and worship songs, and had games, crafts, and snacks. I loved it because they sang all of the same songs that we sing in our Wednesday evening children’s program back home. Melissa is always smiling, good at what she does, and oh soooo patient.
Melissa brought Operation Christmas Child boxes from Samaritan’s purse for the new children. I have packed dozens of those boxes, as many of you have, but I never thought that I would be able to witness it on the other end! I will just say this, the delight and squeals of happiness from those children is forever imprinted on my heart and I will never feel the same about packing one of those boxes as long as I live.
Today was a blur. I can barely decipher my journal notes. There is disjointed scribbling with mention of movie time, colouring and puzzle time (thank you Wendy for bringing those!), folding clothes, dishes, sweeping, and I had written in all caps BATHING TIME FOR 20 KIDS. Approximately one million braids were done. I had written the quote of the day by Wendy“every square inch of my body is covered in snot.” Hahaha some of the wee littles had colds. Jeff did minor repairs around the house – fixed door knobs, repaired closet door hinges, glued and clamped doors, and helped with crowd control. The boys swarmed him. He lifted giggling little boys up high so they could touch the ceiling until he was worn out. It was nice to be Grandma and Grandpa for a day. It would be nice to have some trusted drop in Grandmas and Grandpas there especially on Saturdays. One grandma could rock babies and do braids for an entire day, and a grandpa could wrestle and discuss the merits of one superhero over another.
BELIZE DAY 10
GOOD BYE HOPEWELL
We extracted 3 kids from our trunk and among our suitcases. They are such a tease. I thought about the 2 empty suitcases that we were taking home. I could fit a couple of little ones in each of those … Jeff walked the property this morning. He had that look like when he is deep in thought. I memorized each face. I cherished each final cuddle and hug. They ran alongside of our car hanging on as we drove away. We looked back and they were still waving.
I think it would be next to impossible to go home unchanged, ignoring all that we have learned and experienced. What do we do with what we now know? The greatest shame would be indifference.
Copyright 2016 February 10 Cyndi den Otter – All Rights Reserved May be used with author’s permission