Monthly Archives: May 2013

“A Friend Sent Me”

Colombia 2000

The little silver cross lay innocently on the carefully ironed shirts returned by the laundry lady. She announced, “I found it in the pocket of one of the pants when I scrubbed them.” She was an honest person and wanted everyone to know she returned everything found in the clothes she washed.


But the next week another cross was once again in the laundry. The lady was inquisitive. “It’s got words on it in some language. What do they mean?”

“It says ‘Jesus is Lord.’”

“Umm. It belongs to the foreigners who are here with you, doesn’t it? What are they doing here?”

“They’re helping fix houses damaged in the earthquake.”

“Ave Maria! (Good heavens!) And they came all the way here for that?  Why?”

“Because they believe those words on the little cross and they feel Jesus asked them to come help people in need.” “Do you think the owner would mind if I kept it?”

“No, I think someone wanted you to have it.”

Curiosity lounged in doorways, hung over balconies, peeped out windows and invented seven or eight errands a day just to see the strangers working on the earthquake-stricken house.  Most of the adults were too reserved to ask a lot of questions at first, but the children had no such reserve. They gaped open-mouthed at the size of some of the visitors, accepted candy from others, laughed at sleight-of-hand tricks with pennies and endlessly tried out their limited English. These Christians were “Very much good, OK!”

Armenia Work Team

Armenia Work Team

Many Colombian adults marveled men and women of all ages labored at ordinary tasks for someone else, and even willing to share their food with him. The translator with the group gave them New Testaments and explained what gave meaning to this humanitarian effort.

Finally some of the adults lost their shyness and started asking questions through the interpreters. “Where are these people from? Why were they here?” One neighbor got up her courage and boldly stopped another translator together with one of the visitors. “They say in the neighborhood you’re building another house for Alicia because hers fell down in the earthquake! And you’re all from another country! Why on earth would anyone come all the way here just to build a house for someone they don’t even know?”

The answer came back through the interpreter: “Well, I have a Friend and He sent me . . .”

(Adapted from a testimony by Michele Gentry de Correal)


Parrots Worth Remembering

I came to dislike parrots after becoming a resident of Colombia, South America.  Domesticated parrots were generally named Roberto or Margarita, depending on their sex.  Obviously I didn’t like all those goofy looking creatures compared to me.  Since the birds took up residence in Colombia before I, it appeared my parents named me after the parrots of the country.  Regardless of my feelings, many families had the talkative feathered creatures in their homes.

Scan 10

Despite my disdain for parrots, I have heard of two parrots of interest that merit remembering.  In the early 1930’s many families held prayer meetings and worship services in their homes.  One such family lived in a suburb of Cali, Colombia called Cascajal.  Bernice Barnett Gonzales tells of attending a worship service, also attended by the family parrot.  The first hymn sang was “Wonderful Words of Life.”  Much to the surprise of all the visitors the parrot sang the word clearly and in perfect tune.  However, when the hymn ended and a prayer begun, it was obvious that this was a singing and not a praying bird.  Finally, the owner had to remove “Roberto” from the service to the patio garden where the bird sang until all the congregation had long departed. and the owners covered the bird for a good night of sleep.

The second parrot, I met on a visit to a small town in the coffee region of Colombia.  I often stayed with Virgelina and Manuel during my evangelistic campaigns to the area. Virgelina always served a breakfast second to none.

No one knew how to make a “perico” like no other—just the right amount of onions, tomatoes and cilantro, folded into the eggs and cooked until just beyond unhealthy.  Lay that on a plate with a couple of slices of farmer’s cheese, a crisp arepa smothered with butter, homemade chorizo, and who could ask for anything more?  Ah!  And, to drink, piping hot chocolate.  These were the moments I wondered why I was getting paid as a missionary.

As I finished my breakfast Virgelina always brought her loro to the table for its breakfast.  Come to find out, the medium-sized green parrot had never learned to eat by itself.  Virgelina raised the bird from the time it hatched and began serving the bird with a tiny coffee spoon and later graduated to a teaspoon.  The bird was three years old but would not eat from a seed tray like most birds.  It waited for an indulging parent to feed it.

Think about these two parrots!  There are both positive and negative lessons from them.  I will leave you to extract their message for you.

A Poem for My Wife on Mother’s Day’s–2012

Life bursts forth
because of a mother.
Love and pain mingled
like a life well lived.

Loving expressed
Providing discipline
as needed.
Spiritual nurture
as accepted.

Being a father
is great.
But being a mother
is a test for the best.


“Should You Go or Shouldn’t You?”


The long distance call from the USA was crackling from the bad connection so common in the 1980’s, with repetition I finally got the importance of the conversation.  Mr. Nicks, a retiree from Tennessee, was inquiring about the advisability of spending $1,500 for expenses to do carpenter work at a food distribution site for children in Cali, Colombia, South America where I served as a missionary. I answered quickly, “Please come!  I will send you some details by mail.”

Considerable discussion exists about the value of mission work trips.  People ask, “Should I spend the money for plane tickets and other expenses to volunteer service in a country other than my own or should I write a check for a given project and allow those on the field to hire a national worker to do the same work I would do as a volunteer?  It is a complex question.  The answer to which is not as obvious as one might think!  Actually, as with so many things, both options are valid.

Hot Lunch Program

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that my friend would have spent $1,500 for a mission trip to Colombia, South America.  In those days that same money would have funded 6,000 meals in one of the hot lunch centers.  That translated into a hot meal a day for a year for sixteen children.  On the surface it is obvious the man would have done well to have stayed home and sent his money.  He didn’t!

Instead, he worked from daylight to dark for twelve days building tables and chairs for one of the new centers still lacking furniture.  Again, couldn’t the ten tables and sixty chairs been built by a Colombian providing that person with a job?  On the surface, the man should have stayed in the USA and sent his money.  He didn’t.

Let’s look at the rest of the story as it developed over the next thirty years.  We will never know if Mr. Nicks would have actually sent the full $1,500 plus the money he spent on materials once he arrived.  In most cases it is easier to raise money for mission volunteers than it is for the assigned project. Unpredictable spiritual experiences occur when people travel outside their comfort zones away from family and friends.  Many of their defense mechanisms tumble and they become vulnerable to the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  When this happens, people hear God’s call on their life and make decisions that carry the potential to change their lives forever.  Such was the case of Mr. Nicks.

Volunteer on mission trips face a possibility they will come face to face with the reality that the world is bigger than their own country.  And, such a view causes people to begin to pray, “God bless the world, and not God bless my country,”  or, “Give them their daily bread, and not give us our daily bread.”  People on mission trips expand their worldview so the globe becomes more than a sphere with names written on it.  Specific people literally walk on the face of every globe. No one can estimate or underestimate the number of lifetime of friendships formed between people of different countries during effectively coordinated mission trips.  One twenty-four hour home visit may lead to a lifetime of endless enrichment for the family units involved.

In the case of Mr. Richard Nicks, he returned to his home church of less than 100 people in Tennessee and began to receive a monthly Sunday school offering for hot lunches for the children in Colombia.  Over the course of the next 25 years he raised more than $65,000.  Upon his death his son perpetuates his love for the children by establishing endowment that has grown to more than $75,000, hence providing an annual distribution for the program.

Should you go or shouldn’t you go?

Fortunate with Love

A Story about Being on of the Fortunate One’s to Be Born in an Affectionate Family!

I am just finishing slopping the hogs. You will ask what does the slopping of hogs have to do with the affection of a family. Good question!

I completed some farm jobs because of obligation. I creatively turned other hard work into a game. I am standing on the tailgate of our 1938 dull green Ford Pickup and throwing the last scoop of ground oats into the open fifty gallon barrel filled with water. I grab an oar like stick and plunge it into the barrel to mix the oats and water. Below me the hogs gather and raise a commotion of grunts and high-pitched squeals, their only way to express their cry for dinner. The only thing left to do is jump down into their midst, crowd my way to the bottom of the barrel and unscrew the plug that frees the milky liquid through the hole in the bottom of the barrel and along the trough as the hogs push for their place at the table. I will give them a few moments of contentment and then punish the most aggressive one closest to the front of line as I jump on its back and make a short ride until the feeder pig spins and forces me to jump and not fall into the manure that the hogs leave everywhere they walk.

Just as I finish, I hear the farm bell ring three times signaling 6:20 p.m. and Mom has dinner about ready to put on the table. The clang of the bell means simply—“You have ten minutes to come to the house, pull off your boots, wash up, and change any clothes that have the slightest hint of a barnyard smell.” The Watkins household know you will arrive on time or not be fed. My Mom doesn’t make idle threats and will not ring the bell a second time.

Just like always, everyone is in his place around the table. Mom has the South seat closest to the wood stove and Dad sits directly opposite her. I am to Dad’s right and my sister, Carolyn, is directly in front of me.

Our family is beginning a ritual seldom broken. Everyone eats dinner together unless there is a very good reason like hospitalization, a sleep over with a friend, or a school activity. It is time for catching up on the news of the day and Mom is primarily responsible for the flow of conversation. Everyone participates in the discussions. This is the place we resolve make family decision and resolve disagreements. There is equal voice, but Mom and Dad make the final decisions. It is always clear to Carolyn and I that we cannot divide and conquer—not in the Watkins household.

And, then, when Dad deems dinner conversation has ended. Regardless of the temper or time involved in the conversation, Dad slides his chair back from the table. This is the silent signal and Mom gets up from the table, walks around to Dad, and gently sits in my father’s lap. I can’t remember when this tradition began. We say little at this point. He hugs her firmly until he has once again affirmed his consistent love. He might give her a kiss. She returns to her seat. Carolyn is next as she hops in Dad’s lap for her time to cuddle. Then, it is my turn. It is obvious that everyone finds peace in this time of unity and affirmation.

Dad will probably not say, “I love you.” But, his hug will express his love in a way that goes far beyond words. I don’t realize it, but I am one of the fortunate to grow up in an affectionate family.