01 June 2014

Walking Past the Stench

That stench...   goodness, what was that stench?

For a few moments, I searched my mind for some familiar recognition.    I ran through the normal things that my nose takes in on these dusty roads... urine, vomit, rotten veggies, feces, trash, fermented fruit, remnants of a night of inebriation.     

Unsure of what it might be, I turned my head back to the left and behind me.   The sight took my breath away and the stench suddenly became distant and distinctly unimportant.

There they were... students of Instituto Vida Abundante in their white school t-shirts.  2 came carrying a beautiful Arbor Day mural made from 100% recycled items followed by the rest of the 60 walking in 2 lines, very proud to be a part of the Arbor Day parade.

I looked at the boys in front and I began to remember ... a young man who finished 6th grade as a 16 year old with perfect attendance,  a young man whose mom abandoned the family and left the house in the care of her children,  a young lady sold by her mother and then rescued by her father,   a young lady who came to school after her father had broken the windows out of their home in a drunken state, a teeny 13-year old bolt of energy who came to us from a remote village speaking primarily Miskito who has dug in and adjusted to a new program.

My heart began to just celebrate the way our God perfectly planned for each student.  He built a safe place for them to study and grow,  He worked in their hearts to give them a hope,  He touched many churches and committed people to love these students from afar.

I smiled a HUGE smile... and I thanked God for the moment when I get a small glimpse of what He is doing.

The day-to-day is often difficult and overwhelming for this spoiled Texas girl.     BUT GOD... He is faithful, friends.   He doesn't call us to something unattainable.  He calls us to good work with the hands and hearts that he has given each of us.    He gives us the very things that we can ONLY handle with His Grace, Mercy and Power.   He never, ever gives up on these students... nor does he give up on me.   They often give up on themselves, as do I.   BUT GOD... never, ever gives up.

We walked in the parade for almost an hour.   Our students presented a song, a poem, a dance, recycled projects and our mural.     3 of our students had a 10 minute visit with the Secretary of Education for our Department and with a UN representative.  They were able to talk about Instituto Vida Abundante, our logo, what the logo represented and how God's creation was the thing we are protecting.   

This is Junior, one of our smallest young men in stature and one of our grandest in character.   He was very impressive in his presentation.  Not 10 minutes before, he was a nervous wreck and wanting to throw our mural backward into the lagoon.    

Our mural won 2nd place!   In a time where we NEVER expected to win anything nor even be recognized for participating, our students were honored.  Their work was recognized and all I can do is say thank you to the One who LOVES these children.   He gives them tangible moments to encourage them to keep 'walking through the stench' and out into the marvelous light.

12 April 2014

Forests and Trees

We all know the idiom.... "can't see the forest for the trees."   As we grow through different stages of life, the 'trees' and the 'forest' represent different things.

In this season of opening the school, I am actively trying to take a look at that forest of students.

Instituto Vida Abundante is an all-day study program providing 2 meals each day.   Students arrive at 6:45 and leave at 3:00.    Typical schools here are half-day and do not even meet everyday.    The majority of our students have adjusted beautifully to the longer school day and the higher expectations.


There have been a few.



Who did not adjust well or were forced to leave by their families.

It is these few that stay very close in my mind.   These few girls are driving me to look for out-of-the-box ideas about educating young girls in third-world settings.   Cultural expectations for 14, 15, 16 year old young ladies are to cook, clean and meet a man.   Truly, I never realized how much pressure this places on one young lady who might want to succeed in another area.

We lost 2 girls, sisters, because their mother wanted them to work for her around the house and go to school on the weekends.    I almost threw in the towel over this one.    These 2 and their siblings have been a huge part of our lives since we arrived in La Mosquitia.    I know how their lives go, the rhythms of their mother and the cycle of poverty that entangles them.    Their mother and I have had endless conversations about this prior to school starting.   I begged her to let them try this year...  and it just didn't work.

Maybe I tried to hard to persuade her?   Maybe.    Maybe I didn't fight hard enough for those two?  Maybe.

God used this family to plant the vision of the school in our hearts.   How could I let these 2 go?

On the other side,  I had 58 other students that were succeeding and adjusting.   At some point, I had to let go of these 2 and turn around to see the 'forest' that God had provided.  

It still hurts as I write this.    I haven't seen these 2 in about 6 weeks.   I miss them.  And, I wonder what I could have done differently.     My prayers surround them always.

Their older sister is still a big part of our lives and is studying on the other side of Honduras, thanks to generous sponsors in Texas.     When I talked to her recently on the phone about this, she said her heart was breaking in two pieces.     And, I thank God that he took her out of this and gave her a chance to just study.

There were 2 other girls who left in the first few weeks - unable to commit to the all-day program and unsure about their ability to succeed.   Both of these had experienced significant trauma in the last 6 months of their lives.

And, I wonder,  why only girls?

Why are the boys thriving?

What about the remaining girls?  How can we strengthen their confidence?

And, I pray... Lord, give us Your wisdom and Your heart.

Open our eyes!

Yes, we were able to accept 4 more students in those spots.   Yes, we are thankful for this.

We know we will likely lose more students this year.   Our Board of Directors has been very realistic about this, knowing what we are up against.    If we end up with 40 students at year end, that is 40 more students that have repeatedly heard the Gospel, that have been given an opportunity for academic excellence.   It really isn't even about the numbers at all, is it?  Each individual 'one' is important.

Pray with us.   Pray that we can see the beautiful forest that God has given while simultaneously loving those individual saplings that stand before us with their eyes full of uncertain hope.

10 April 2014

A Few Family Updates

It has been quite a while since I've written about those little things that are going on in our family...  here's a quick update of our world:

*The school is officially open and operating. :)   The first 2 months have been filled with God-sized things and so many learning experiences.    Every day brings something new.  For this, I am grateful.

*We have a 2-year old ... hard to believe, the little nugget is already 2.    While most of my peers are watching their kids start to drive, we are still potty-training. :)    Cumi Joy has started calling me "Mama Mia" in a loud, sing-song voice.    Her adoption is still 'in the works' and quite far from ever being finalized.  It is hard to explain the process and unknown if she will ever actually be 'ours.'    I cannot think about this very long or my heart begins to unravel.

*We have two 7-year olds... yes, we are in that 3 month time of the year where both Adam and Aaron are 7.    They are 9 months apart... and eons apart in every other way.    They have such unique talents.   This appears to be a good thing in many ways.  If they were more alike, we would have even more competition than we do now.    I pray that one day they will stop fighting and just enjoy each other.   Our most recent solution for fighting is putting them both in one of Alex's t-shirts at the same time and sending them outside to pick up trash...  

*Arlee is 10 going on 20.  She heads over to the school for Spanish class.   As always, she is super competitive and scored the highest score in Spanish for the first quarter.    Arlee dreams of living here one day with her husband - she drew a picture of their little house on stilts the other day - it made me smile.   

*Aidan is rapidly finishing 8th grade.  He also participates in Spanish at Instituto Vida Abundante... and his sister got a higher grade than him.  Hmmmm...  

*Next week, a team from West Virginia is coming to visit.  They will be building a house for a dear friend and visiting a remote village to give food bags, dresses, balls, etc.   They are throwing a party for our students and working on a few small projects around the school.   

*It seems like as each week of school passes, we begin to settle in a little more to the new normal.   

There are a lot of deep things that have floated around in me these last few years.  I stopped writing in this public spot because I just couldn't get it all out.   Writing does ease the confusion and often brings me back to Jesus instead of my struggling.    If I can grab some time, I will try to write again here on a more frequent basis... just sharing the stuff God is teaching me.  I am no preacher, just one broken person living a life where the pieces are being put back together in a beautiful way.

30 March 2014

Names & Naming

If you are a mama, do you remember those days of pregnancy where you searched and searched for the perfect name  for your baby?

Remember testing the name with your last name?  Sharing the name ideas with friends and family?  Writing it a million different ways?   (Well, that happens with child #1, by #5 all of that craziness has long worn off :))

Some people even talk about names for children when they are dating!

Names are important.   Names are significant.

Imagine yourself in a place where babies are not given names for a few months.    Why?

For a mama in severe poverty, the possibility that her baby may not survive is a real one.  Malnutrition, inadequate health care,  superstitious beliefs,  violence .... all reasons that a mama might lose a baby too soon.

When death hovers close to new little ones, mamas are hesitant to cling too tightly.    And thus, important landmarks such as naming and remember birthdays become inconsequential in light of survival.

Many children here have no birth certificate, no record of their very existence.   Those that have a birth certificate often do not know their birthday or the proper spelling of their name.    

At Instituto Vida Abundante, we operate with the names as they are officially spelled on their birth certificate.  I cannot begin to tell you what a challenge this is for the majority of our students...

We have a Jayson who spells his name Jaison and cannot remember that his birth certificate uses the y.    We have an Erica/Erika, a Maik/Maick, an  Erickson/Erickkson/Ericksson,  an Orlen/Orlin and on and on.   

We have a majority of students who have no actual idea how old they are on their birth certificate - just how old they are based on what family says. 

The same goes with last names...  

Since my thinking typically runs in spiritual metaphors,  of course I began thinking about how God views this naming thing.    It is interesting that God gave names before birth...  as He revealed those surprise pregnancies to Abraham and Zachariah and Joseph, he also revealed the name that the parents should give the child.

Names throughout the Bible have meaning and are chosen with the meaning in mind...    

I wonder about this naming thing and how it impacts a child?   I wonder if any of the lack of confidence we see here results from the fact that the students don't see themselves as an important individual with a God-given purpose?    I wonder.

I never have to wonder if I'm Laura or Laurie or Lori.   My parents chose my name with care.   My name has meaning... the word itself has meaning.   I feel chosen and loved.    That basic building block has never been missing for me. 

What are your thoughts about importance of a name?    

13 December 2013

Sitting Down

I sit in a beautiful kitchen in the warm home of a dear friend, Wendy.   She graciously offered her home to our crazy crew for our month-long visit to the US.   What a gift!

I sit alone because my sweet husband has taken the testosterone-producing offspring to let off some steam. My girl, Arlee, is spending the day with Grandmom Parker.   My baby girl, Cumi Joy, had to stay in Honduras due to political situations beyond our control.    I sit missing her.

I sit with a grateful, grateful heart as I process all that the Lord has done in ministry this year through the hands of so many people.   Most of my moments are spent in sheer disbelief that we are opening the school in 52 days! 

I sit with my belly full of a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks.

I sit processing the personal hurt this year that left my soul burned.   

I sit feeling the Lord's healing begin to work and refresh the wounded places.

I sit.

I sit anticipating a few days away with Alex to remember the two of us together... where this started.

I sit ready to write again after a season of near silence in this space.

Thankful for comfortable places to sit and old friends to sit with.   It is a month for sitting, listening, remembering, forgiving, loving and preparing.    

Sit with me and celebrate the Lord's mercies.  Wherever you are today, just sit and remember... and be in absolute awe of the way He has worked in all of us in 2013.

25 October 2013

Coming to the US of A in December

The Waits Family will be visiting the US in December of 2013.    Our trip is shorter this year due to the opening of Instituto Vida Abundante in February of 2014.
While we hope to have a great deal of time with friends and family just hangin’ out, the reality is that this is our chance to tell you about some GREAT kids in La Mosquitia!
This trip, we seek sponsors for the school – Instituto Vida Abundante and for our family’s personal support... two very different things.  It is certainly much more fun to raise money for a school than to talk about our personal needs… and yet, without the personal support, we cannot stay to open the school.
If you have come alongside our family in the past, we thank you for the impact you have made on us, personally.      Your support for our family has made God so much more tangible for our children.   They hear about  your generosity and are not afraid to trust Him with the details of their lives.
Our words this year will be focused on sharing God’s work;  the ways He has made the impossible, possible.   It is all God!    When we think about how far He has brought us, individually and as an organization, it is astounding and humbling.
If you would like to visit with us OR host an event for Reach Out Honduras, email us:  laura@reachouthonduras.org.  We would love to speak for whatever length of time you have available.

Blessings in Christ,
Alex & Laura Waits

07 October 2013

Burying Friends - Part Two

It was funeral day.

Carla was from Kaukira, a village across the lagoon.

Alex and I decided that Aidan and Arlee would go with me and we would take Cumi.  Cumi's biological father lives in Kaukira and her grandmother, too.  

Darwin, Carla's brother, arranged for a friend to accompany us... Christina.    She is a Pastor's wife who is also related to the Carla's family.  Christina is a spunky lady!!  Seriously, spunky.   You cannot tell it from the pictures below, but this lady has a great personality.

She felt like she was my personal bodyguard... and took her 'job' seriously.    I never really felt like I needed a bodyguard, but such is God's provision.   And I was honored to get to know her better.

The first call we received that morning was from Darwin.   He had forgotten the 'corona'  (crown) of flowers for Carla's body.   We found a red crown of flowers on our way to the dock...

Christina ushered us onto the first boat... absolutely full of folks.   We crossed the lagoon in around 30 minutes, bouncing on the waves, wind whipping my hair into a frenzy.  

We arrived in Kaukira and I took my kids to stay with Cumi's biological aunt.  

Christina and I were picked up in a kayuku (small boat carved from tree trunk) by Darwin.  The pictures below show the river.  We traveled 15-20 minutes as Darwin navigated well.   The two pictures below of Christina and I are from this part of our trip.

Notice the outhouses built over the river.  This is very common throughout La Mosquitia.

The houses became fewer and farther between.   And, then we arrived.     The tent was set up outside for observers to have a shady place.   The family and close friends were invited inside.

In Puerto Lempira, where we live, folks are used to seeing white skin in and out of stores and driving through town on a regular basis.  In Kaukira, there is only one gringo family, missionary friends of ours, the Trasks and everyone knows who they are and where they live.    I was an unknown here.

Carla's extended family treated me like a very special guest.  I met uncles, cousins and brothers as Christina herded me toward the house.   I looked around for Carla's girls, her mom and sisters.   They were keeping watch over Carla's body inside the house.

I have no problem being the only white girl in the room.   It doesn't bother me to be talked about in Miskito.
Trouble for me begins when I don't know a cultural norm and my lack of knowledge could possibly offend.

Normally, when I enter a Miskito house, I take off my shoes.  

As Christina entered, I wondered why in the world she walked in with her dirty shoes on.  I took mine off.

We climbed the stairs and I wasn't emotionally prepared for the sight.

Carla's body laid out on a table, covered completely in a white sheet.   White sheets covering the walls;  hand-made paper hearts in the shape of a cross taped to the sheets.   Candles burning around her body.  Little girls weeping.  Eyes staring at me.   A mother rising from her vigil beside her daughter to grip me, look me in the eye and say 'thank you for coming across the lagoon.'  

I handed the crown of flowers to Carla's mother and she insisted that I be the one to place the crown on Carla's body.    My heart knew I did not deserve such an honor... and yet, this wasn't the moment to argue or try to protest.

Time stood completely still inside this tiny place where grief hovered.  

I made my way to a rough wooden bench and my senses began to take over.

Christina quickly brought me my shoes and ordered me to put them on.   I realized I was the only one without shoes.   Death changes the rules.

Carla's mom insisted that I see her body without the sheet.   Again, I thought about protesting, but she really wanted me to understand.  

I saw a frame of someone who used to be Carla.   The soul of my friend was long, long gone... and hope rose up in me.

After a time, I went to the front porch to think and pray.

Each of Carla's girls came out and quietly sat by me for a few minutes.    And that word became so real... orphan.    But really not.   These girls have an extended family that has been caring for them already.   The world may call them orphans, but I don't.   And they don't call themselves orphans, either.

I met so many people on that porch.  

And then Christina came to tell me that it was time to take pictures of the body.   Finally, I just had to say that this is not our way.   The cultural divide opened and swallowed me whole.   I could not do it... I just could not take a picture.   I pray they understood.

If you want to really know another culture, the most beautiful way to begin is by experiencing birth and death.  

Miskito families mourn in a deeply personal way.   Wailing, praying, wailing.   Usually, it is the women who mourn in the most visible way.   Today, all I could hear were the wails of our friend, Darwin, a brother whose honor and respect for his sister were evident.  

Shortly thereafter, my gringo missionary friend, Robin, came on her 4-wheeler to pick me up.   Darwin and Christina stood by me at the road.   Christina, my new spunky friend says to me, 'Laura, I love you.'    I'm taken aback and have no idea what to reply.     Darwin's eyes spoke grief.  

It was my third funeral experience in La Mosquitia.  


06 October 2013

Burying Friends - Part One

I met Carla on a hot La Mosquitia afternoon.   

Her brother, Darwin, works with Alex.  He shared with me about his sick sister and desperately wanted me to visit her, just be her friend.  

At that point, Carla was just a name without a face.  She was a story of heartache, not unlike the ones we hear about all day.   I sighed, unsure, and prayed for God to guide my steps...  Alex and I decided I needed to visit.

A few days later, Darwin and I set out walking a dusty, dirt path between two rows of barbed wire, under coconut trees, passing women sitting on their stoops cleaning rice.

In a tiny, tiny house, I stepped up and entered a kitchen the size of a closet and then took two more steps into a bedroom the size of an outhouse. 

There, lay Carla.

Her clothes were perfectly arranged, a few pictures taped up on her walls, a gentle breeze blowing through the single window above her head.  Her oldest daughter had dropped out of school to help care for her mother.   Carla had 3 daughters and her husband had been killed.

She was 29.   

There was a photo of her when she was healthy... she called herself beautiful and large.   Culturally, large women are considered healthy and blessed here.

On that hot afternoon when we met, I would never have thought the woman in the picture and the woman laying before me were one and the same.

Carla was sick.   At one point, years ago, she was diagnosed with HIV, put on meds and instead of improving, deteriorated.   Tested again, they said she did not have HIV and they took her off of the meds. She improved and began living life again.   Over the course of a few years, something began to happen in her stomach.   The pain was so intense that, at times, she could eat nothing.   She survived on rice water and the occasional bean soup.

The doctors in Puerto Lempira had all but given up on her.  The hospital here has limited resources and very few diagnostic tools.   Often, the sole x-ray machine is out of fluid.    The only remaining option was for Carla to travel to the nearest city for an endoscopy.

The day I met her, we talked extensively about her faith in Christ.   She had lived a difficult life, struggled with the same things we all struggle with.   She accepted Christ when she began to get sick... she hoped for so much more for her girls.  And yet, she was so sick.

In a strange twist of God's Providence, we discovered that Carla had been in the hospital when Cumi was born and knew all about Cumi's mom's struggle.  Carla laid in a hospital bed next to Cumi's mom.   I brought Cumi to visit Carla and she wept over this beautiful baby, knowing the tragedy.   I wept at the unfairness of it all.

Again, Alex and I visited.  Alex and I prayed for Carla, laying hands on our tiny friend and begging the Lord for a miracle.

We asked for prayer for Carla from our friends in the US.   Generous friends of ours helped with travel expenses ... and Carla left Puerto Lempira with the hope that somewhere, someone could figure out what was causing her stomach to rebel against the rest of her body.  It was discovered that she had a mass in her abdomen that the doctors did not believe was cancerous.   She was put on treatment which greatly reduced the mass in size.    She gained weight and returned to Puerto Lempira.

Several months passed.  Her brother would tell me about her improvement, I watched her doing her own shopping, I talked to her on the phone - hope in her voice.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, she was in grave condition again and on death's doorstep.

And, before I knew it, she died.

My heart hurt.   For her girls, for her brother who was her best friend and caretaker, for her mother who would now be raising Carla's girls.    

This is how I found myself crossing the lagoon one bright August morning with 3 of my children in tow... heading to the funeral of a friend....

16 September 2013

Quietly or Not-so-quietly Being Sifted

This mission experience for me is marked, analyzed and evaluated in terms of years.   I'm not sure why.    Perhaps, I can easily categorize things from one US visit to another, which usually happens in almost-year increments?

The questions dancing in my head go something like this:

How did we do?

Where did we see God working?

What were the challenges?

Emotionally, how am I holding up?

What got easier?  harder?

Where is assimilation happening?  Where am I still struggling to culturally adapt?

This year I have seen God's hand working time and again.  Ministry-wise things are moving along beautifully. My cultural awareness has dramatically increased as we moved into a neighborhood where I live and breathe with my Miskito neighbors all day, every day.   I sense a deep desire in our family to grow in our relationships with the Miskito people.    This is worthy of great celebration.

In the very same year, I have had to take a very hard look at myself.   It feels like a season of sifting.  There is an underlying awareness that this sifting may be the 'new normal' for me.   Things that were never challenges are now challenging.   Things that were so easy for me, almost effortless, before, now seem to take Herculean effort.  

The sifting seasons of our lives are not easy.   And yet, discomfort produces growth!   On the other side of sifting comes a purer version of the item being sifted.  

And so, I rejoice that God is not done with me yet.  If He were finished, there would be no need for sifting.

My heart clings to the fact that He loves me, He KNOWS me, in Him I am enough... it is true.  

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