Every November, for the past 5 years (plus 2 other times), I’ve gone to Honduras on a medical mission trip. I go with Operation New Life, a Christian medical, surgical, and teaching ministry partnering with Honduran doctors. I am honored to lead the prayer team for a group of orthopedic surgeons. While there, we provide hip and knee replacements, foot surgeries, back surgeries, shoulder surgeries, ACL surgeries, and MANY hand surgeries… usually caused by machete accidents! The list below is what the Lord accomplished through us on our 2018 trip:
18 total knee replacements
13 total hip replacements
11 spinal surgeries
2 shoulder replacements
1 ACL reconstruction
1 knee scope
1 shoulder rotator cuff repair
20 hand surgeries
5 arm fractures
Total surgeries = 72!!
For a trip of this nature, it’s really important to be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually prepared before you go. You see a lot of heartache, pain, sickness, and even death. This year however, with all of the life changes that were going on in my little world, I was not close to being prepared. But God, in all of His ‘Godness’ knew that is exactly where I needed to be to see and hear Him more clearly, and to help remind me that although I may have some tough times here in my little world, there are many others who have much more difficult situations they are working through.
On the first Saturday of the trip, we hold clinics. At clinic, we have post-op visits from patients we worked on from previous trips. We also screen patients to see if they qualify for surgeries that week.
There are hundreds of people that show up at clinic, just hoping and praying that they will be chosen for surgery. Of course, we can’t work on them all, but we do the best we can to help as many as we can. This is where my new sweet friends Bertha and Pedro walked, or I should say ‘rolled’, into my life.
Bertha Scott Melendez is a 50 year old woman who had suffered a pretty severe hip injury when she was 3 years old. She is from Roatan, a beautiful island off the coast of Honduras, hours away from the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where we go. But there isn’t much there as far as medical resources, so she pretty much learned how to live with her injured hip and managed the pain.
As the years have rolled by, the pain has gradually grown. She had to start taking painkillers for the pain. And over this past year, it had exponentially gotten worse, and the medicine wasn’t helping anymore. She went to a orthopedic doctor on the island, and was diagnosed with severe hip arthrosis (osteoarthritis). She knew it was time for her to do something about it.
When Pedro, Bertha’s husband, rolled her in her wheelchair into the room, I was immediately taken with how beautiful these 2 people were. Then as they spoke, I was just mesmerized by their accent. Since they are from the island, they have more of a Caribbean accent. Also, they speak both Spanish and English, which always helps us when we are trying to communicate with our patients!
Bertha is the office manager for a diving resort called Cocoview Resort. She had been an airline stewardess for many years before that. Pedro is an air traffic controller on the island. They are hard workers, and have one son that they are raising together. They have a grandson that we were able to meet as well while we were in Honduras.
Bertha and Pedro are also believers. They are God-fearing and God-filled people! And their faith and the story I’m about to share is exactly why I needed to be in Honduras and on this mission trip – even though I personally didn’t feel like I needed to be there.
As we began to examine Bertha, we learned about her childhood injury. We also learned that God had totally orchestrated their paths crossing with ours. Below is where I had Bertha dictate her story so I could capture it all:
OK I am Bertha Scott from Roatan. I started having some severe pain in my left hip September 2018. I went to see an orthopedic doctor in Roatan and that’s where they diagnosed me with arthrosis. He said that I had to have a complete hip replacement surgery. So ever since, I’ve been in severe pain trying to figure out how I could come to the mainland to do the surgery because in Roatan, nobody there does it. They don’t have the equipment or anything. So finally we made it this year.
**Sarah’s input** – She said her family raised some money so that she, her husband, son and grandson (they are about the same age) could fly to Tegucigalpa. They also had to get a hotel room. She got off work through November 15th, and Pedro, her husband, got off through the 7th. All of this was expensive.They had no plan really. The doctor at the Roatan clinic told her to see Dr. Montoya at the public hospital (Hospital Escuela, where we serve.) But that’s pretty much all the guidance she had.
Back to Bertha – It’s so difficult here to get to see the doctor so we pretty much came blindfolded. You can’t really schedule an appointment with a doctor. We didn’t know what we were going to do, what was gonna happen, who we were going to see, if I would be able to do the surgery… We just came to the hospital on Tuesday, October 29 (right before our team came), hoping to see Dr. Montoya. They were not kind.I never saw Dr. Montoya. They sent us to get an x-ray, because I had to have one. We waited for an hour for them to tell us that the x-ray machine wasn’t working because they didn’t have any water… so we got frustrated. We found us a private clinic that does x-ray for about $50. We went there, did the x-ray and the lady there asked us who was going to be doing my surgery. I told her i didn’t know. They referred us to Dr. Montoya! She said that he worked there, and this was his clinic! She told us he was usually there from 3 to 5 so we went ahead and made an appointment which was about $50. We saw him personally (first appointment!). He heard my story and then he told us about the doctors from the US that were going to be here on **Saturday**!! He said we came at a good time because these doctors are coming and they’ll be doing some surgeries, including hip replacements! He said he would try to see if he could get an appointment for us but he’s not promising anything but will do his best. We were so happy because getting the surgery done in the public hospital, it was going to be no earlier than May 2020. Or if we did it in a private hospital, it would be $10,000, and we do not have that kind of money…not even 5k. When we left the clinic, ready to pay for their visit, Dr. Montoya ended up not charging us anything!
So we came on Saturday at 6:30am, like Dr. Montoya told us to, and thought there was no way.There were so many people in the hallway and many were worse than me. But the doctors and (Chelsea and Sarah) were like my angels. I’ll never forget.And when I saw the doctors – they were extremely nice -not like what we have in our country. Even if they had said no that they couldn’t do it because there were too many people before me, I still would’ve felt happy just from that first impression. It’s like you made us feel so wanted, like you guys showed us that you wanted to help, and we hadn’t seen that here in the past days. Everybody is like they don’t care.I just wait there, go there, and everywhere we go, it’s like this wall came out of nowhere.
Now, the surgery is done I’m still at the hospital, but I still don’t believe it.It’s like “you really got that surgery?” It is, wow, we were scraping pennies. We don’t have any family here, we are staying at a hotel that needs money, we needed money for transportation (car and airline tickets). Our boys have been staying at the hotel by themselves with Pedro going back and forth. It has been hard, but you guys have made it easy. You are awesome. You are my guardian angels.
If you noticed, Bertha referenced being blindfolded. I remember Pedro using those same words one day at the hospital during one of our post-op visits. They had no idea where they were going when they set out for Tegucigalpa. They just knew God was telling them to go and that He would provide.
They raised some money for their airline tickets, hotel, and transportation. This was their one shot. They had no idea if they would even be able to meet, much less have an appointment with Dr. Montoya. And if they did get the opportunity for surgery, they had no idea how to finance it. But they just went because the Lord said go. They had NO IDEA that an orthopedic brigade from the States would be there the EXACT week they had traveled to Tegucigalpa. They had NO IDEA that the random clinic they found to get an x-ray happened to be Dr. Montoya’s, who they had wanted to see at the hospital, but had been shut down. They just had NO IDEA. BUT GOD DID. All they had was what God said to do, and they were obedient.
After Bertha and Pedro left the clinic that first day we met them, Chelsea (an OR nurse) and myself immediately told Dr. Calfee that we felt like God brought them to us for a reason. We also said we would go on strike if she didn’t get a surgery lol! Just kidding, we wouldn’t do that! But we did feel strongly about helping this sweet family. However, like I mentioned earlier, we see many, many patients, and we aren’t able to help them all. So I was prepared for if this wasn’t going to work out for Bertha. BUT… on Sunday evening, after the docs had come up with the surgical schedule, I was told that Bertha was the first hip surgery on Monday morning! I heard that they just started crying on the phone when our team called and told them the wonderful news.
As I observed this faith-full couple and listened to them as they told the story of their faithful God, it quickly became a learning moment for me. Little did they know that my family was in the midst of probably the biggest change we had ever experienced in our 20 years of marriage. My husband, who has been in ministry of some sort for our entire marriage (20 years), and in full-time ministry for 16 years, surrendered his credentials as a fully ordained elder (pastor) in the United Methodist Church.
This is a big deal. Not just because he’s now not a pastor and has been for so many years. But because it was about a 15 year process for him to become an ordained elder in the UMC. It’s because he had pension, and benefits, and a paycheck. It’s because we lived in a parsonage (a church owned home that pastors live in). So in one sweep, Scott became jobless, and we became homeless. And all those years of hard work and papers and interviews now seem to have been wasted.
There are many reasons that brought him (us) to make this decision, and this is not the time or place for me to list them all. But if you are interested in knowing, please feel free to ask either of us! It was nothing that was dramatic nor scandalous. It wasn’t out of pity or hurt feelings. It’s just something that we had felt building up in our spirits for a while, and actually fought against many, many times. But when God finally said, “go”, we had to obey.
Scott had much more faith about this whole thing than I did. Which was quite humbling to me. We have always kidded around saying God loves me more and I’m a ‘better’ Christian since I’ve been in a relationship with the Lord longer than Scott has, and since I’m nicer than Scott (which isn’t true – I’m just WAY MORE extroverted lol). But when it was time to put our faith into action, I WAS PETRIFIED. I still have moments that I am PETRIFIED. And I’m sort of ashamed of that. But every day, one step at a time, I feel the Lord steadying my steps, squeezing my hand, and winking at me, letting me know He is right by my side.
Being in full-time ministry was EXTREMELY comfortable for me. Even though some things were very uncomfortable, like some of the traditional service rituals and wearing a choir robe (this girl gets HOT!!), I LOVE church life. I LOVE being a pastor’s wife. When I was 12 years old, my childhood pastor’s wife prophesied over me that I would be a pastors wife, and I cling tightly to that. And to now not have that, I’m super uncomfortable. At times, I feel like I’m missing something. Like I lost something. But when the Lord tells you to do something, we have to be obedient. John 14:15 says “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” If we claim to love Him, we must be obedient. Even when you can’t see how it will all work out. Even when you have no idea what the next step is. You just obey and do what He tells you to do. Even if it’s uncomfortable. Let’s be real here, what He asks of us is often uncomfortable! But when we are uncomfortable, that’s when God seems to show out the most! When we are uncomfortable, I think God is the most comfortable!!
Back to Pedro and Bertha – when they mentioned that they felt like they were blindfolded in all of this, but they chose to follow anyway, I immediately thought of our situation. And Hebrews 11:1 came to mind: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we DO NOT SEE.” They had BLIND FAITH. And that’s exactly how they described it – blindfolded. But they were confident in what they did not/could not see.
John 20 describes the Lord talking to Thomas, the disciple who was having trouble believing that Jesus had indeed been resurrected from the dead.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus ), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
John 20:24-29 NIV
So straight from the words of Jesus, it is a blessing for those who have not seen, yet they have believed. And certainly, Bertha and Pedro were blessed for their blind faith. And certainly, our family will be blessed for ours. I have no idea what that blessing in its entirety will be, but I know at this moment, the Lord has blessed us with a house, some living room furniture, some monetary gifts, some dear friends, and a peace that passes all understanding.
But I have to say, at times it’s hard to trust God when you are in the dark. When you are blindfolded and you don’t know what the next step is. I’ve never struggled with panic or anxiety, but over these past 2 months, at 43 years of age, I’ve finally experienced extreme anxiety. While I was in Honduras, I’d lay in the bed at the hotel night after night, and feel like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I had NEVER felt anything like that. The worry of what we would do for Scott’s job, where were we going to live, what were people going to think of us, what were/are people saying about us, what will we do for church, how do I function without church…. and on and on and on. And my oh my, I could hardly get to sleep. But one day after I got back from my trip, a friend here in Fayette, Heather Whitehead, shared a post that spoke volumes to me and was exactly what I needed to see at this time of my life. It said, “To trust God in the light is nothing, but trust Him in the dark. That is faith.”
I’ve lived in the light most all my life. And it’s been easy to trust God most of my life. This is the first time I’ve truly been in the dark that I can remember. But I can trust Him in the dark! The same God that is with me in the light is the same God that is with me in the dark! I can be totally in the dark, blindfolded, but trust Him fully. Because He is a good God! His Word is chock-full of promises of Him never leaving or forsaking me (Deut. 31:6). About Him fighting my battles for me (Ex. 14:14). About how nothing can separate me from His love (Rom. 8:38-39). Just like the worship song Way Maker that I have been listening to so much these last few months. The chorus is powerful, but the bridge has been my anthem. It says,
“Even when I don’t see it, You’re working,
Even when I can’t feel it, You’re working,
You never stop, You never stop working
You never stop, You never stop working”
He is working, EVEN WHEN I CAN’T SEE IT. Even when I’m in the dark. Yes! There is so much that I cannot see right now, but that does not mean that He isn’t there or that He is not actively working in our situation! That just gives me so much peace, and allows me to rest in His sovereignty. I can go to sleep without the elephant sitting on my chest. HE HAS US.
This whole time, I have kept telling God, “I just want to see. I want to see the big picture. I want to see what this is supposed to look like. I want to see what You see. I want to see.” And what the Lord has revealed to me is that we are blessed when we believe without seeing. If we saw the big picture and knew what it’s supposed to look like, I’m sure we would put our human hands to it and try to make it happen on our own strength instead of letting it be done by His hands and for His glory.
A few days ago, as I was preparing to put this blog together, I felt like the Lord finally answered my prayer about wanting to see. He whispered this to me: “Close your eyes to see, close your eyes to see…”. What?? Lord, I’m tired of being blind! I don’t want to close my eyes! This whole post has been about having blind faith and just obeying the Lord even when you can’t see. But the not seeing was not of my own choice! Now you are asking me to intentionally close my eyes?! And this is what He revealed – the truth is, we need to purposefully close our physical eyes so that He can open our spiritual eyes. Close our physical eyes from distractions, from worries, from fears, and close our physical eyes in prayer – and He will open our spiritual eyes to see what He sees. Not sure about you, but 2020 sounds like the perfect time for the Lord to give me His perfect vision. Lord, blind me so that I may truly see – 20/20 in 2020.
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Oh my goodness, Sarah, I wish I could write and relate like you do. All of your blogs are such a blessing. But this one is just amazing!! Sending love and prayers your way. God will carry you through and you are never on the wrong path when you surrender to God. I can definitely relate to the blind times… May we all close our eyes and find God’s 2020 vision!! Love you bunches