Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6
Another winter storm has settled upon us here on the North Coast of Honduras. The sun does not rise. The dawn does not break. The tide of night simply recedes somewhat begrudgingly. It must have been a long, cold winter for you all up there in “El Norte.” As in so many things, we get the after-effects of your weather down here, and I’ve lost count of the back-to-back northers this winter.
In your direction a ruised and petulant sky scowls over a leaden sea. Uphill behind me the mountains must be covered in mist, and to the East a single weak and watery ray wanders through broken clouds from across the Mosquitia and over the San Antonios. I only really know that it is morning because: 1.) At 0530 our Rooster takes up where he left off yesterday morning in his shrill daily bragging contest with Don Chago’s Rooster a quarter of a mile away, and 2.) In that moment between half-asleep and half-awake I realize I’ve already begun the morning’s silent prayers of gratitude.
Praying through a gratitude list for me is an old habit, by now an ingrained reflex. It is a safe place to which my mind goes when I’m troubled, which seems to be all too often, as I awaken. Please don’t misunderstand me here. This habit is not because I’m naturally some super-saintly Christian. I am not. I’m just an ordinary, original-flavor Christian who tends to worry way too much and finds it hard to trust. But I’ve learned through desperate experience that gratitude helps. It is more a practiced matter of discipline. Out here on the edge of the battle, like maybe where you live, it is a survival skill.
As the rooster continues to proclaim his uncontestable supremacy in the world of chickendom, I’m “yet abed” in the gray half-light while working my way down the list. Eyes closed and thinking about sparrows, I express my gratitude to the One who listens to silent prayers, and invented silly roosters from an unfathomable sense of humor. Oddly enough I next find I’m offering a prayer of thanksgiving for a bag of oranges and for the quinseañera of a blind girl. This will take some explaining.
The bag of oranges I’m grateful for begins with a Bad Missionary story. You might have heard in Vacation Bible School (if they still do VBS) of the Good Missionary: intrepid but meek & mild, kind & loving; the Good Missionary turns the other cheek, suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and allows God to work through his (or her) humility. The Bad Missionary Stories are kind of the opposite of that. In the Bad Missionary Story, The Bad Missionary “takes arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing….” Almost never chosen for Vacation Bible School, the Bad Missionary might have the intrepid part, but the meek and mild, kind and loving part…, yeah, well, not so much. I’ve noticed that Bad Missionary Stories are seldom shared in Newsletters to the supporters back hom
No later than the sixth week of the first semester of Missionary School, I’m told, they always show a certain film. Having never been able to afford Missionary School but instead being an alumnus in good standing of the HKUM (Hard Knocks University of Missions) approach to Missions, it might have been as late as my second or third year on the field when someone shared a grainy old film of Otto Koning, the old Dutch Missionary to Indonesia, telling his Pineapple Story. Though it does raise some unanswered questions about leaving his national neighbors to continue their thieving ways uncontested, it is a great story, winsomely told, of coming to grips with the cost of discipleship (e.g. Luke Chapter 9 & Mathew 10). I recommend it, but mention it not because I plan to pivot here and borrow a story and theme from another old missionary. My theme for this story is Gratitude, and I’m sticking with it. I mention The Pineapple Story because when I saw it, I remember it was such a relief to learn that I was not the only missionary who could star in a feature length film of “The Bad Missionary” genre. By then I had accumulated several Academy Awards & been nominated many times for my recurring role as The Bad Missionary.
Though I have softened somewhat over the years and occasionally even get bit parts in a Good Missionary story, The Bag of Oranges story opens with me reprising my role as the Not Very Good Missionary … or at least as the Grumpy Old Doctor character… when I was called one early morning not long ago by the Emergency Room Nurse at the hospital. Actually, in the way we do it these days, she sent me a WhatsApp message with a photo of the E.D. initial assessment form. In the “¿Cuál es su Problema de Salud Hoy?” box, she had written, “Dolor Abdominal hace 2 semanas.” After blinking a few times & finding my glasses to read the message, I remember saying (to the air or to Rosanne as I was getting up to go), “and how is abdominal pain for two weeks just now an emergency?” At least I didn’t message that back to the nurse; I just told her I’d come in (but didn’t attach any smiley faces). It didn’t take but a minute of surveying the patient and family and asking a few questions before I felt a little badly for questioning the validity of an ER admit after 2 weeks of abdominal pain. On the gurney against the wall lay an emaciated old gentleman, not complaining but clearly “rode hard and put up wet.” He had no shoes and had on baggy old homemade pants tied up with a rope for a belt. But he had a good and caring family with him: a grown daughter & son-in-law and a grandchild. They had expended all of their (very limited) resources over the past two weeks going from Centro de Salud to Public Hospitals looking for help. They had been to pretty much all of the Public Hospitals along the North Coast (five hospitals in all), but gotten no diagnosis, no treatment, and no help, until they heard about Loma de Luz from another patient they met along the way. They had travelled all night to get to us.
As I said, Don José (maybe not his real name), is a very thin man with a spare frame. One did not have to be Hippocrates (the Father of Medicine), to notice that a volleyball sized mass occupied his entire lower abdomen. For those of you who don’t care for such things, you might want to skip down to the next paragraph at this point. But with a straightforward diagnostic workup and little more time lost, we took Don “José” to the operating room where we drained a colonic diverticular abscess of more than 2 Liters of pus. Though he was really malnourished and getting septic by the time he came to us, Don José bounced back pretty quickly, and after several days of IV Antibiotics, he was ready to go (with drain in place).
On the afternoon prior to discharge while making rounds, José’s daughter, kind of shyly and abruptly asked me if I liked oranges. I know of a village called Las Naranjas, so at first I thought she was talking about that place. I thought maybe they were from near Las Naranjas (since the subject of eating oranges had never come up in our conversations previously). Therein ensued a brief conversation like the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First, What’s on Second” routine. But we finally established that, sure, I like oranges, and that seemed to be the end of that. The next morning, the whole family was waiting to leave and proud and happy to say thank you with a big plastic bag full of oranges.
The son-in-law had travelled 2-3 hours, each way, by bus, moto-taxi and on foot, to return to their home to show their gratitude with the best they had, a big bag of oranges. That’s pretty humbling. I’ve worked with men who couldn’t afford coca cola (probably a good thing) expressing their honest gratitude for clean water… like it was something special. Rosanne prays with patients in Preoperatorio prior to anesthesia, where it is not uncommon for a family member to join in thanking God for the air we breathe … and mean it. When I go out to talk to the family after an operation, it is not uncommon for them to be overjoyed with gratitude to God that their loved one didn’t die… after a simple hernia operation or nailing a fracture.
Then there is this hardworking young guy here who really is grateful to have the use of this lawn mower to mow this palm grove.
The fact that the wheels can be raised or lowered is something to be grateful for. In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus declared the poor “Blessed, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Sure, the poor probably have more to be sad or anxious, distressed or depressed over than you or I, but they are also the ones with a much higher tendency to have gratitude to their king, and, so, in their spirits are rich. I can say without a doubt, I have learned more about gratitude and the happiness that it nurtures from the very poor, particularly the poor of Honduras, than I have ever taught anyone about gratitude.
Then there is Daneli. Daneli has XP, Xeroderma Pigmentosa, a hereditary disorder that leaves her with a broken mechanism to repair damage to DNA. So she has no native protection against the cancers that sunlight can cause. Daneli came to us first as a patient at the Hospital about 7 years ago. This month marks 6 years since she found a home with us at the Casa Santuario. And last month we celebrated Daneli’s quinceañera, her special 15th Birthday.
In her battles with these cancers, Daneli has lost her eyes, and too much of her mouth and nose. But she is perhaps the most joyful person I have ever known. She seems grateful for things we don’t even notice: grateful for when someone who cares for her just walks by (and she can somehow sense that a long way off), grateful for everything that she can touch, for a silly hat or shoes, for a doll she can hold but not see, for the sunlight that threatens her but which she can somehow sense through her bedroom window. She is grateful and joyous about going to school at El Camino, where other students vie for the privilege of staying inside with her during recess. She is our third special patient with XP, and our longest-lived XP survivor. So Daneli making it with such joy to her 15th Birthday was definitely on my gratitude prayer list this morning. She has taught me a lot about gratitude.
Now I can’t say that the recitation of prayers of thanksgiving doesn’t wear off a bit in the heat of the day and the heat of the battle. I can’t say that the discipline of gratitude is the panacea for all ailments of the spirit, for all troubles and worries. But from years of desperate experience I can say … that it helps.
So Be anxious for nothing, (or at least try)….but ineverything, give thanks, … and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
In God’s grace,
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
News & Needs:
1.) The first ongoing Clinic at Loma de Luz opened in the year 2000 (in the current Guest Housing building), and the Clinic moved to the front half of the current Hospital building in 2002, but the inauguration ceremony took place in January of 2003. So by any “start date,” we are coming up on the 20th Anniversary of the full Ministry of Hospital Loma de Luz. We will be mentioning this throughout 2022. For now, if any of you might have old photos or short stories of recollection of your time at Loma de Luz, and would be willing to share them, please send them to: Chrysti Andino, [email protected]
2.) We are tentatively considering a celebration of this “20th Anniversary of Hospital Loma de Luz” for the end of July of this year. We would like to invite all former Loma de Luz Missionaries and Missionary Kids, and others who have been so much a part of this, our Lord’s work. If you might like to come and might be able to come, please send an email to this address: [email protected]
3.) La Escuela Bilingue El Camino continues to grow both in size and in impact for the Kingdom. By the beginning of the next school year (starting in August) we should have more than 200 students. And we have a number of needs / opportunities for service* in this vital and fruitful ministry:
a. Teacher’s Aides
b. An Elementary School Teacher
c. A Math & Science Teacher (Junior High / High School)
d. An English &/or History Teacher (Junior High & High School).
If that might be you or someone you know, please drop a note to our Volunteer Coordinator at [email protected] to start the process of investigation. *(A stipend is available)
4.) The Physical Plant of Loma de Luz–the roads, the water systems, the electrical systems, the School, the Children’s Home, the Hospital, the Housing, the Agriculture, and more–steadily continues to grow.
a. We need Maintenance Missionaries, to keep this physical plant in order, not just the broken plumbing and the sticking windows or leaking roofs, but the upgrades and remodels that are constantly going on. Just to put this into perspective, we just counted the number of buildings, large and small @ Loma de Luz & there are ~ 86. That is a lot of maintenance, and we need missionaries dedicated to supervising that maintenance. If that might be you or someone you know, please drop a note to our Volunteer Coordinator at [email protected] to start the process of investigation.
b. All of those hundreds of thousands of square feet of buildings and infrastructure required construction planning, construction supervision, and project management (as well as a LOT of hard work). We are constantly involved in new Construction projects and chronically short of Construction Management. We need Construction Project Management Missionaries. If that might be you or someone you know, please drop a note to our Volunteer Coordinator at [email protected] to start the process of investigation.
5.) As we currently have about 44 adult Missionaries seconded to the Cornerstone Foundation => APAH => Loma de Luz, through 7 different Mission Sending Organizations, it is difficult to keep up with all of the Missionary Human Resource needs. We are looking for a Human Resources Manager (an employee or perhaps employee / faith-based-support combination position) in HR for Missionaries. This position could potentially be one done primarily remotely, with periodic travel to the Cornerstone Foundation Office & periodically to Loma de Luz. If you or someone you know might be qualified & interested, please contact the Cornerstone Foundation’s Personnel Director, Ruth Bishop, at [email protected].
As I think back over the decades of the ministry, I remember many milestones that were greatly pressing concerns and prayer requests at the time: making the first payroll, getting a roof on the hospital, completing the water tower and water supply, the roads, the 15 miles of electrical power, the crazy and frustrating process of getting a Honduran medical license, and being able to continue to operate through floods, through years-long red tape, and through political upheavals. Many of you were right there with us, praying for those needs. Thank you.
And there is something more…. As C.S. Lewis has written, nations, cultures, and empires are mortal, but the lowliest person is not. We have never met a “mere mortal.” As I look back, I am most thankful for the everlasting souls whom your support and prayer have touched. Thank you, and thanks be to the Lord who made it possible.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone