A WORD FROM THE HEAD IGUANA
Our mission effort in Belize continues to mushroom as the Lord opens new doors. Dr. Tom Roberts, orthopedic surgeon, has been on several Iguana Squad medical missions. About three years ago, he and I began discussing the possibility of conducting surgical missions in Belize. We both agreed that there would be some big hurdles to overcome. Where would we find a surgical suite? Where would we get the necessary equipment? Who would provide follow-up with the patients? This list of questions was quite long.
Meanwhile, Brian Wallace and Patrick McCrory, President and Vice-President of Mid-South Orthopedics, suppliers of surgical supplies and equipment, began storing trade-ins on a shelf labeled MISSIONS in their warehouse. They wanted to participate in missions that required their expertise and equipment. It was a perfect match when Tom and I met with Brian and Patrick. The plan began taking shape. The four of us, during several trips to Belize, met with the decision makers in the Ministry of Health and eventually determined that the government hospital in the capital city of Belmopan would allow our team to operate and they would participate in the process.
Mid-South flew the equipment and supplies down and set up the OR for the surgeons. In August 2017, Dr. Roberts and a dozen team members, with the help of Mis-South, performed ten surgeries in a four-day clinic. Dr. Roberts’ vision had come to pass. Nothing is impossible with God. The equipment will remain there for the use of the Belizean medical staff.
The next surgical mission is currently in the planning stages for 2018. More information will
LOCATION: The Fellowship Café at Conway’s First Baptist Church (at the circle drive on Robinson Street).
TIME: 4:00PM. We will try to finish in about an hour.
Our medical trip started out bad! At least to us it seemed that way. Obviously it did not catch God by surprise. I can’t imagine God palming His head and saying “Man, that caught me by surprise!”
Our nine crates of medicine were held by customs at the Belize airport. It is difficult to conduct a clinic when you have a medical team of thirty people and no medicine. We realized that our work would be delayed by at least a day and maybe more. That is a lot of time when your clinic is scheduled for four days only.
We began looking into other opportunities to fill the lost day and found a couple of Christian-based orphanages in the capital city of Belmopan that might need some medical and dental screening. We called about the possibilities and found both were open to our coming. Upon arrival, we set up a five-step process for all the kids. A small group of children was matched with a team leader from our group. Each proceeded through five events:
- Singing. It seems that no matter where you go in this world, popular Christian songs are known. The kids exuberantly joined in with our praise team.
- Medical exams. Our team of doctors screened each child, made recommendations for better health and noted which medicines were needed (which we delivered later in the week).
- Dental exams. Each child was examined by our dentists who presented better hygiene habits and passed out toothbrushes and toothpaste.
- Presentation of the Gospel message. Each child met with a member of our group to discuss the good news of Jesus Christ, which was a familiar subject for them. The children responded very favorably to the knowledge that, although life has dealt them some great difficulties, they have a friend in Jesus.
- Toys! Each child was able to select a toy from a large selection that we had. Needless to say, limiting their options to only one created some great soul-searching!
Our time spent with the children was very special for them and for us. Our hearts were broken as we met children whose parents had died, had been murdered, or those children who had been removed from abusive homes. There were children who had been subjected to human trafficking and those who had been living on the streets. Some had been sexually abused and some were physically abused. We could see the darkness in many of their eyes and the joy in many others. Godly people are leading these children to a better life.
I believe God opened another door of service for us in a very needy area. Our detained medications were held in the airport for a reason. Our clinic proceeded the next day and was very successful in every way you measure it. Once again, we serve a great God who offers us opportunities to serve. Please keep your eyes open and look for those opportunities. God presents them to each of us on a regular basis. Your responses to God’s open doors bring meaning and purpose in a significant way.
Thank for your support. It makes a difference in the lives of children.
Rik Sowell, Head Iguana
Spring Break of 2014 found us back in the beautiful fishing village of Sarteneja (SAR ta nay HA) on the northeast coast of Belize. Our construction team constructed a new two-classroom building at the local Christian Primary School giving them space for another fifty students. The local parents were important partners in this venture as they contributed to the construction of the foundation and concrete block walls. It is very important that each project include a substantial involvement from the local school in order for them to have a sense of ownership in the project.
On the morning of the last day in Sarteneja, I was approached by a father of a student. He asked if we had the need for any laborers because he needed money to help pay his child’s tuition. I hired him on the spot and paid him a standard day’s wages.
After my encounter with the man, I went to the principal of the school and asked him how many parents were having difficulty paying the tuition. I was surprised to learn there were many who could not afford the $37 annual tuition. Using the funds that had been donated by caring people, we paid all overdue tuition bills and caught every student up to date.
One of the privileges we have serving the people of Belize is in the form of scholarships. We do this very carefully because do not want to be perceived as having a lot of money and carelessly giving it away. The truth is we operate on a shoestring budget. Every dollar we spend is carefully considered and used in a way that we determine is the best way to help the students, the teachers and the schools. Our scholarship funds are distributed in three basic ways.
1. We make an effort to help those who have difficulty paying tuition.
2. We search for deserving students who are giving their best effort in pursuit of an education and we contribute to their higher education (beyond the government-mandated eight primary school grades).
3. Some students come to school without breakfast. We provide some funds to the schools so they can feed the children who need it.
Annual tuition costs from school to school range from about $20 to about $40. This is a small sum to us but can mean the difference in a Belizean child’s education.
To all of you who support our efforts financially, please know that your contributions are being used in a frugal, powerful and effective way. One hundred percent of all your contributions go directly to the work in Belize. Our board members donate the money to cover our accounting and legal expenses.
As we conclude our twelfth year of missions to Belize and I consider all God’s blessings, I believe that the best is yet to come. In March of this year, our construction team remodeled and expanded an old classroom building into a new and modern kitchen/dining facility for Light of the Valley School in the beautiful citrus hills in the central part of the country. The work included a new dining porch that ran the entire perimeter of the 1,000 square foot building. The shade created by the new roof coupled with the breezes coming down for the hills, made the sub-tropical heat much more bearable. Kids will now be able to eat their lunch in a more comfortable setting. But it was not the new structure that impressed me most on this trip. Nor was it the kid’s joy as they played with their new Iguana Squad “frisbees” that we distributed. The thing that struck me the most was the attitude and hard work of our team. Despite the humid mid-nineties, near-the-equator, searing heat, there were only smiles on their faces as they toiled together in the less than ideal conditions. When you consider they paid as much for this trip as a vacation to a beach resort, you realize that serving others with like-minded people offers more purpose and fulfillment than other pursuits.
As an affluent society, we have become accustomed to catering to our pleasurable endeavors. Like no other population in the history of the world, we have the ability to pursue comfort, pleasure and relaxation. I would venture to say that our team returned to their routine of life feeling more satisfied than if they had experienced that coveted vacation paradise.
In June, our medical team conducted a free clinic in the seaside village of Sarteneja on the Bay of Chetumal on the northern coast of Belize. The first of June is the beginning of the rainy season and, unbeknownst to me, the beginning of mosquito season as well. Our arrival in Sarteneja coincided with the first hard rainfall of the season, which produced greater swarms of mosquitos than I have ever witnessed. As our team attended to large crowds, they took a pulse with one hand and swatted with the other. We developed a new activity that we called the mosquito dance – jumping, slapping and turning at high speeds to prevent the swarm from landing on any unprotected skin. You would expect that this might ruin the experience of helping others. In retrospect, it is not the mosquitos that left the biggest impression, but the gratitude of the people who were served. Once again I was impressed with the attitude and hard work of our team. I will not schedule another mission trip that coincides with mosquito season, but if I did, this team would return. They are willing to sacrifice personal comfort to participate in something as significant as helping others.
Thanks to all who supported our work this year. Great things are happening in Belize. The best is yet to come.
This year has been our busiest yet. When we decided in 2011 to step up our efforts I never imagined that we would send five teams to Belize in 2012. Our teams have ranged in size from two to thirty-four and each had a different and special goal. Whether constructing classrooms, providing medical treatment or counseling one-on-one, our teams successfully achieved their goals. God has been faithful to bless our efforts.
Even though it has been a great year, five mission trips have stretched our resources. In a recent board meeting, we questioned whether or not we should change our strategy and scale back our efforts. Without hesitation, the board agreed to be aggressive in our planning. It has always been the board’s policy to search for and respond to God’s leadership.
Our work this year has taken us to new areas of Belize. Sarteneja is a picturesque but isolated little fishing village located on the Bay of Chetumal in the northeastern corner of the country. Our front porch views from Fernando’s Seaside Guest house would rival any tropical postcard. [http://www.cybercayecaulker.com/sarteneja.html] The color of the new roof we installed on the local primary school was exactly the same color as the Caribbean blue waters of the bay. A short truck ride took us to the manatee preserve where the large marine mammals are nurtured back to health and released back to the sea.
The Light of the Valley School is located between two mountain ranges in the beautiful citrus orchards of central Belize. We constructed a two-classroom addition in record time. Upon completion, the local pastor declared it a “miracle” after telling us initially there was “no way”. Orchards of limes, grapefruits and oranges seem to go on forever. We stopped our vehicle just over the crest of Mystery Hill where, due to an optical illusion, vehicles appear to roll back uphill to the crest when the gears are placed in neutral.
Three teams returned to our favorite area in the Cayo District of western Belize. The village of Succotz lies in the shadow of Xunantunich (zoo-nan’-tu-nich), a beautiful Mayan ruin that can only be reached by crossing the green Mopan river on a hand-cranked ferry as massive iguanas watch lazily from the banks. [http://www.belizex.com/xunantunich.htm]
Belize is an adventure no matter how you slice it. Even though it is an impoverished third-world country, you immediately recognize God’s handiwork all around. The people we meet are as beautiful as the country they inhabit. Our goal is to assist them with their basic needs. Thanks to all of you for your support.
This year marks our tenth anniversary that we have been taking mission teams to Belize. It has been an awesome ten years. During that time, we have had the privilege of constructing enough classroom space to accommodate over 500 kids. All these children have been educated according the government mandated curriculum AND have been taught the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. In a third-world country like Belize where opportunities to succeed do not abound, a good education is key to finding and maintaining a better job. I have seen the teachers in action and these 500-plus kids have received a superior education. Not only are they better prepared to become productive and self-supporting adults, they also carry the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He can do in their lives. I am not naïve enough to believe that their lives will be free from financial and personal battles. Belize is a tough place to exist. However, I do know they are well-armed.
I hope and pray that we are able to continue for another ten or more years. I sense an urgency that we need to step up the pace. The need for Christian education is great and the waiting lists are long. I believe we have an opportunity to impact the children of Belize in a big way. I hope you will join us in this effort through your prayers, donations and participation. When people make themselves available to God, He will use them in a mighty way.
In addition to our construction work we are entering our fifth year of medical missions. Our teams of doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, hygienists, therapists and other medical personnel see an average of over 2,000 patients and issue over 3,000 prescriptions every year. Each person treated receives a gospel presentation prior to picking up their medications thus ensuring they have an opportunity to receive spiritual healing as well as physical.
To all who have supported us or participated on a team, thank you for making a difference in people’s lives. It is a privilege to have you as a member of The Iguana Squad.
Here are a few facts regarding education in Belize:
- 1. The government requires eight years of compulsory education.
- 2. All schools must be certified by the government.
- 3. New schools are allowed to grow one grade per year, starting with the first grade only. The following year, when those students move to second grade, another first grade class may be added. This process continues for eight years until all eight grades are accommodated.
- 4. A private school must commit to providing the teachers. The government will train and pay the teachers.
- 5. All students are taught to speak English.
- 6. A private school must teach the government required curriculum AND may teach its belief system.
This has been a banner year for our school work. In June, after eight years of building facilities for Victorious Christian School in Western Belize, we were able to attend the first graduation ceremony. It was a moving experience as we watched twenty-three young people, many of whom have attended from the first grade, walk across the platform to accept their diplomas. For eight years, these kids received a first-class education in a Christian environment. They were better prepared to face their future than most kids in Belize. Our prayer is that God will bless them, prosper them and use them in a powerful way.
I was privileged to be able to say a few words at the ceremony. I recounted how we made a commitment to the school back in 2001 to provide sufficient facilities for the school to grow and produce educated, productive, self-reliant, good citizens who love the Lord. With the help of many who prayed, worked and gave of their resources, our prayers were answered.
To those of you that participated in any way over the last eight years, please know how much you are appreciated. God used you to make a difference in the lives of children; children who have been given the tools to survive in a difficult world. Children who now have hope for their future, both in this world and eternally. With God’s leadership and your support, we intend to continue our work.
JUNE 2010 MEDICAL TEAM MIRACLE
An out-of-state physician signed up for the 2010 Medical Team. Although we were blessed with talented dentists, pharmacists, nurses and other medical personnel, the out-of-state physician was our only M.D. He was to join us on our connecting flight at DFW Airport and accompany the rest of the team to Belize. At our departure gate, we discovered he was a no-show. Our medical team arrived in Belize without an M.D. This was going to be difficult to explain to our hosts and the hundreds of locals who were expecting a medical doctor. We gave the situation to God.
The morning after our arrival, one of our team members took a walk for exercise purposes and got lost in the small village. Desperate to find her way back to the campgrounds, she asked for assistance from a woman she met on the street, who offered to drive her. Their conversation eventually came around to our team and the purpose of our visit, as well as our lack of a physician. With a smile on her face, the woman from the street explained that she was a medical doctor who had recently relocated to the village, set up a private practice and was trying to build her patient base. She was grateful for our efforts to serve the medical needs of the local population and volunteered her services, at no charge, for the entire week! At the end of the week, we gave her our left-over pharmaceuticals and referred patient follow-ups to her new clinic. She offered her assistance for all future medical missions.
During the course of the four-day clinic, our medical team saw more than 2,100 patients, dispensed approximately 3,600 prescriptions, pulled 140 teeth and presented the Gospel to all. We were also able to secure another Belizean physician from a nearby city who assisted us all week for a nominal fee.
We were truly blessed in 2009. Our construction and medical teams had very successful mission trips to Belize. The construction team completed the roof on the new two-story six-classroom building so it was available for use in the fall semester. The medical team saw more than 1,000 patients and pulled hundreds of teeth. Thanks to all those who participated and to all of you who supported our work with your contributions and prayers.
Our plans for the 2010 missions are well under way. We have already secured 25 airline tickets for the construction trip and 35 for the medical trip. The construction team will be completing the new classroom building by installing doors and windows, pulling wire, painting, installing ceiling fans as well as other finish work. We are currently recruiting medical personnel including doctors, dentists, pharmacists, nurses, therapists, hygienists, assistants, medical students and others. Many who participated in the 2008 and 2009 missions will be returning. We have only been conducting the medical missions for two years now but, thanks to the commitment of those who plan the trips, the work has been streamlined, efficient and effective. It is hard to imagine but I think this year’s mission will be even better than the previous ones. Please consider joining one of our teams. We do not require you to have special skills to participate, just a desire to do the Lord’s work.
This year is a very special time for our construction work. In June, Victorious School will graduate its first class. This is the school we started from scratch in ’02. The little kids who started there in first grade will graduate from eighth grade (the end of their government-mandated education). It is a huge milestone. The kids have had eight years of quality education in a school that has become one of the premiere primary schools in Belize. During those eight years, they have been exposed to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ on a daily basis. Their prospects for a bright future are good. I thank God for allowing us to serve in this way and I thank everyone who has helped make this possible.
In 2002, while on our mission trip in Belize, we saw some partially built concrete block walls that were overgrown with weeds and vines. We were told that the local church wanted to build an elementary school and had started the construction but quickly ran out of money. We decided to take on the project and finish the school. We have since
completed eight classrooms, toilets and an office. Our goal for 2009 is to finish the last three classrooms of what has become a very successful program. Hundreds of children have not only received a good education, but have been taught the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. Victorious School has become one of the premiere elementary schools in the country of Belize.
In 2008, we conducted our first medical mission to the same village in Belize. We set up a clinic in the local church and treated well over 1,000 people for various medical and dental needs. Every person was given a Bible and a Gospel presentation. We will conduct a similar clinic this year. We are also adding educational seminars to teach good health and hygiene habits. We hope that some preventive care may help them avoid many of their medical issues.
We are always in need of donations to help cover the cost of building materials and labor as well as medical equipment and supplies. Our fundraising goal for this year is $30,000 for construction and $5,000 for the clinic. At the time of this publication we have collected almost $20,000. Please prayerfully consider making a donation to this effort. All money received goes directly to the project and is 100% tax deductible. You can make your check out to First Baptist Church, First Church of the Nazarene or The Iguana Squad. Please include the word BELIZE on the check notation line. Every donation helps, whether large or small.
Our teams for 2009 have been finalized. There are twenty members of the construction team and thirty three members of the medical team. Please pray for a successful mission and the safety of the team members. Thank you for considering making a gift. Your contributions have eternal consequences. Hundreds of Belizean children and their families have already been exposed to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ.
We have been sending annual mission teams to the country of Belize in Central America since 2002 for the purpose of constructing Christian schools which are owned and operated by local churches. These schools offer an opportunity for Belizean children to obtain a much-needed education and the knowledge of the good news of Jesus Christ. Since 2002, the number of participants has exceeded 125, classroom space has been provided for more than 300 elementary school children and donations for the purpose of purchasing building materials have exceeded $200,000.
For the first time since beginning the work in Belize, a medical mission will be conducted in addition to the construction mission. Over Spring Break 2008, a construction team will continue the work on the six-classroom building begun last year. The goal is to complete two more rooms that will allow another sixty students to have access to a Christ-centered education. The goal this year is to raise $25,000 for building materials.
During the month of June 2008, team members will work with local churches to set up a clinic in the town of Succotz on the western border near Guatemala. The clinic will be open to everyone in the village and surrounding areas. Each person treated will receive information about the hope and joy that can be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Several local doctors, nurses and other medical professionals have already signed up to be a part of the team. Some items will be donated, however, contributions are needed to purchase additional medicines, equipment and supplies.
Spots are still available on both teams for both skilled and unskilled participants. Contact Rik Sowell, Missions Coordinator, at 501/450-9633 or First Baptist Church at 501/329-5648 if you would like more information. Donations are welcome. All contributions go directly to the project and are completely tax deductible. Checks can be made out to First Baptist Church. Include the word BELIZE on the check notation line. Contributions to this effort have eternal consequences. Hundreds of Belizean children and their families have already been exposed to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. With the medical mission, there is an opportunity to reach hundreds more.