Early in the morning on December 1, a small group of the 28:19 Ministries Board (Amy Gordon, Kelley Duvall, Madison Gordon, and Taylor Bell) boarded a plane to Atlanta. This trip was very different than any we have ever taken – no large team of missionaries, no Belizeans anticipating our arrival, and no extensive scheduling. We wanted our arrival in Belize to surprise our friends in the rural Belizean village.
When we arrived in Atlanta, we had enough time to grab Chick-Fil-A and rest before boarding our flight to Belize. When our plane landed in Belize, we transferred to a little plane to shuttle us from Belize City to Dangriga. Typically, we ride in a bus from the airport through the mountains of Belize and to our final destination for nearly two hours. By flying in the little plane, our group gained a new appreciation for the country we love and serve. We saw the beauty of God’s creation and felt the grace He wants to pour out on this place.
When we landed in Dangriga, we were driven to our home away from home at the Davis Falls Inn. After settling in and greeting our friends, we decided it was the perfect moment to surprise our friends in the village! Our hotel sits at the edge of our Macaroni Village, so we didn’t have to venture far to make our surprise known.
Miss Rose’s house sits in the center of a large clearing in the village and is the hub of much of the activity. As we approached Miss Rose’s house, some of the youngest girls were sitting on the steps and noticed us. After chatting with them for several minutes, many of the teenage family members gathered with us. Contrary to our expectations, no one seemed surprised to see us sitting on their front steps. It was as if we had never left in July.
We began playing with the kids and chatting with some of the teen girls. Kelley sat while the little girls played with her hair and braided it in every direction. Madison had a sweet conversation with one of the teen girls before racing with the little boys. Amy and Taylor interviewed all the little kids about their life since we left in July. One of the littlest boys ran home to grab his Bible so he could show Amy and tell her about God and his favorite stories from the Bible. Then, the first rain of our trip fell. We danced in the rain before admiring the rainbow – God’s promise to us forever.
That night, our small team ventured up to the newly opened restaurant on the upper level of Davis Falls Inn. When we planned our trip, we were unsure what we would do for meals, because we were coming during such a busy time for our hosts. But God is a God of provision. He provided in abundance with the opening of the restaurant only steps away from our room. (And the food was incredible!) We had the opportunity to order anything from the menu — it was a treat!
On the morning of December 2, we woke up early to eat the most beautiful breakfast any of us had ever seen. Fry jacks the size of our head, scrambled eggs, a fresh fruit platter that would blow your mind, and fresh squeezed juice to top it off! Then, it was time to unpack and sort all the supplies we brought with us. Because we had planned to throw a Christmas party for the kids in the village during our visit, we had packed dozens upon dozens of Christmas cookies. Miraculously, almost every cookie survived the three flights to our final destination.
After sorting our supplies, we ventured over to 28:19 Ministries’ partner school, St. Matthew’s Anglican School, for their Christmas Bazaar. We were greeted by the familiar faces of kids who attended our camp in July. So many of them asked about team members from years past — a testament to the impact each team member has made over the years. The teachers and students were celebrating with Belizean Christmas traditions like KK and Tambola. There was barbecue, garnachas, sweets, and so much more! The kids especially loved the bouncy house and jumping off of the stage. As long-time supporters of St. Matthews, it was such a blessing to see the school filled with so much joy and life. Our team spent hours playing with the kids, experiencing the Bazaar, and hearing about all their Christmas traditions!
After several hours of enjoying the festivities, we joined a team from Tennessee at Bloom, a Kidz Konnect 4 Jesus (KK4J) property that will resource women and children in the future. Our trip to Belize was initiated by an invitation for Amy to speak at a women’s conference hosted by KK4J. Over lunch at Bloom, the invitation to speak was extended, not only to Amy but also to Kelley and Madison. Taylor was asked to be the photographer to capture memories throughout the conference. The theme for the conference was, “Freedom” and we were believing God would show up in incredible ways.
Throughout the afternoon, we helped the team from Tennessee prepare for a tea party they would have for the Belizean women. Their team brought the most beautiful cookies, decorations, and real tea cups to treat the women like daughters of a King. We helped put together cookie trays and carry supplies between buildings. Amy was very proud to have made her very first tortilla before we left for the day.
When we left Bloom, we headed back into our sweet Macaroni village to invite our friends to a “hangout” on Sunday. Little did they know, our “hangout” would be a Christmas party! In the first several minutes of our visit, we found ourselves stuck in the middle of a Belizean-style downpour. Our friends invited us inside their home to take refuge from the rain, but we enjoyed much more than that! In the simplest moments, God invites us into sweet fellowship with one another. When we strip away the planning and the events, we get to sit and “be” with each other. As we hid away from the rain, we recounted a decade of memories together through videos and pictures. Kelley had her hair braided and combed hundreds of times (again). We even got to FaceTime our board member, Kerstin, who was unable to join us on this trip. We laughed and enjoyed fellowship with one another.
Soon, it was time to venture out to the Annual Christmas Tree Lighting at St. Matthew’s Anglican School. The event was filled with people coming to celebrate a Savior who desired to be with us. The principal, Annamay Ferguson, was the mastermind behind the entire event and encouraged teachers and their students to construct Christmas trees out of recycled items for a class competition. Primary students we had met earlier in the day showed us around the event, until the first of several Belizean-style downpours. Everyone huddled under the extended roof for shelter while the rain passed; then, the show was back on! Amy was asked to share a Christmas message on behalf of 28:19 Ministries, and we felt so honored to be part of such a momentous celebration of our Savior. Other performances included the Ecumenical High School Marching Band, a steel drum band, and many class performances. Did we mention the event ended with fireworks?! They were so grand you could see them from miles away!
On December 3, our team split up to prepare for the women’s conference. Amy and Kelley went to Bloom early to prepare the space and pray over the event. Meanwhile, Taylor and Madison took the van to pick up Belizean women along the way. Taylor drove as directed by our “GPS” and sweet friend, Karen. We filled the van with women from all along the Hummingbird Highway who wanted to hear the Good News of Jesus – He came to set us free. One woman even walked in front of traffic to ensure she didn’t miss the bus. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is!
As each lady entered the conference, they were received with welcoming smiles by Amy and Kelley and given a hand-drawn name tag. One woman approached with her baby on her hip and a bright smile, immediately recognizing Amy. Over eight years ago, this woman, then only eleven years old, was a camper in Amy’s group at a KK4J VBS. Now, a mother, she is still faithfully following the Lord and remembers the time she spent with Amy at camp.
Worship filled the main room of the conference and poured out through the space. The Spirit of the Lord was present here. The conference began with several worship songs like, “Awesome God”, “Goodness of God”, “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)”.
Following worship, Miss Verlie Lamb began the conference with her testimony and a message on “What is Real Freedom?” As a Belizean, Miss Verlie personally knows the price these women will have to pay to choose freedom and offered encouragement that the price is always worth it.
After a break to enjoy Johnny cakes and powder buns, Miss Shirley Stone used scripture to answer the question, “Why do I Need to be Free?” Miss Shirley has been a missionary in Belize for years. God placed this conference on her heart to teach the women about God’s heart to free them. Then, Kelley Duvall shared her testimony of experiencing freedom.
We enjoyed a lunch prepared by women at a nearby church before worshiping together again. Miss Geraldine Wright, a local pastor’s wife, spoke on “How can I be free?” Amy Gordon spoke on what to do with your freedom and how to practically live free. Then, Madison Gordon shared her testimony of walking by faith and the cost of freedom.
After each speaker, the women separated into groups to discuss what they had just learned and to study related scriptures. So many of the women were genuinely reflecting on their relationships with Christ for the first time in their lives. God wasn’t something they were learning about anymore, but He was someone they could know and trust in. God was moving in their hearts and offering them a better way of life – a life of freedom.
After the women’s conference ended, we filled our van with all the women who had ridden with us and dropped them back at their homes. The ride home was filled with joy and expectation of the ways God was working.
When everyone had arrived home safely, our team stopped at the grocery store for a few last-minute party supplies. We ran into a seven-year-old friend from the village who helped us pick out snacks. Little did he know, they were snacks he’d be enjoying only 24 hours later!
On our way out of the store, the owner stopped Amy and said, “You’re Miss Amy!” We hadn’t said a word at the counter, but she was able to recognize Amy without any context. Only a few moments later, as we watched the most beautiful sunset by the side of the highway, a man driving by on his motorcycle shouted, “Miss Amy!” Another stranger recognized Amy without any context. We aren’t sure why God gave us influence across the globe in a rural village in Belize, but we are so thankful that He is using it according to His purpose.
December 4 was a morning filled with excitement as we stuffed stockings and organized Christmas decorations for the party that afternoon. Every cookie and stocking stuffer was donated, often without knowing the cause, and we are so thankful for your support! We could not have done any of this without your generosity and support! We sat down for lunch at the hotel restaurant with two of our good friends in Belize, Hez and Daniela. We enjoyed a traditional Sunday dinner in Belize — chicken, rice and beans, and potato salad. The restaurant was so generous in allowing us to use their space to host our Christmas party, so we transformed the upper level into a Christmas wonderland! We hung snowflakes from the thatched roof, covered the table in green tablecloths, laid out giant Christmas coloring books, and created a cookie decorating station.
When it was time for the party, we turned on our Christmas music and invited our friends from the village to experience the surprise! As each person made their way into the party, we handed them a bag filled with homemade cookies from incredible supporters in the USA. All the kids (and adults) gathered around the giant coloring books and took their time perfecting their Christmas masterpieces. We invited the kids to decorate Christmas cookies with icing, sprinkles, and crushed candy canes. They were so excited to share their creations with us and begged us to grade their culinary creations.
After everyone settled in, Taylor pulled out pictures she had taken from the last decade of our visits to the Macaroni Village in Belize. She was able to have over 500 photos donated to show the families how much our relationship has meant to us over the years. The younger kids laughed seeing their older siblings’ young faces for the first time. The older kids were nearly speechless trying to process just how long we’ve actually known them. We laughed about all the memories we’ve shared together on display in a single moment before us.
To end the party, we had a special surprise for our friends in the village. We lined up all the babies, kids, and adults and marched them down through the hotel lobby. There, Daniela was waiting to hand each of them a full stocking. In each stocking, the kids received: an invisible ink pen and notebook, a Christmas plushie, snack-size pretzels, hand cream, two Christmas squishies, an ornament, candy canes, two packets of hot chocolate, and a Christmas cup. The adults received a similar stocking, except they received Bath & Body Works lotions in lieu of toys.
It felt like Christmas morning! The kids gathered on the steps unpacking their stockings. One kid was so excited about his hot chocolate, even though he had never had hot chocolate before! He read the instructions on how to make it over and over. Once the Christmas party and clean-up were over, we were thankful for the time to visit with Miss Annamay and other friends from the village.
As dinner time drew near, our team was hoping for a quick adventure before the end of the trip. Along with a few good Belizean friends, our team ventured to Hopkins for dinner and dessert at the Jaguar Reef. Although it was dark and stormy (rain was seeping under the doors and flooding through the restaurant), it was a precious time of fellowship and rest. When the rain stopped, we said a quick hello and goodbye to the sea before returning home. However, the night wasn’t over yet. After packing up a few items, we watched episodes of reality shows filmed in Belize.
On December 5, it was time to say “see you soon,” but this time it was so much easier than normal. This trip was such an unexpected gift that we will treasure until our next visit. On our way home, we toured Dangriga. Once again, the little plane offered so much new perspective of the place that God has let us fall in love with. As we flew over the Maya Mountains and Caribbean Sea, there was an even greater invitation, a new calling, “COME & SEE”.
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