…. ‘Celebrate with me because I’ve found my lost coin’ (Luke 15: 9)
Our ministry in Belize, looks like the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15: 8-9). It is like a house with many things in it, and it is dark, then a coin is lost. To find the lost coin, one must light the lamp, start turning things around, until the lost coin is found. In this speech, I will illustrate how the southside is full of things, that can keep the coin buried unless someone lights the lamp. I will also illustrate how turning things around make it possible to recover the lost coin.
The Southside of Belize City is like the house in Luke 15:8-9, with so many things in it. So, when something valuable, though small, like a coin, falls, it is lost in there. Years ago, a Mennonite businessman build a warehouse near the port of Belize. He sold auto spares. He created jobs for a few people from the community. Then his business started experiencing challenges. Finally, it closed. Nothing happened over there, for a couple of years that followed. The bank auctioned his building. It was like the feeling of the lost coin.
When I first visited Belize, Friends had just purchased this building. It was in a bad shape. Pigeons lived in an apartment upstairs that seemed livable if cleaned. Friends from Western Yearly Meeting had started cleaning it and Dale Graves had started staying in it anyway. Bees lived in the ceiling downstairs. Friends had a vision to make this place a school, a church and a community center.
I wanted to cut my hair. So, Frank took me to a barber shop and introduced me to one of the barbers. We then started a conversation. He wondered why Friends had kept this school alive for years. He wondered why Friends would want to have a church on the southside and what good a community center would do. The southside, to him, was irredeemable. His, was not an isolated view. On many occasions, Dale and I went around Belize city shopping for a vehicle or running other errands. Dale was an amazing storyteller. I remember on several occasions, vehicle dealers, warehouse attendants, mechanics, and store attendants listened attentively to Dale tell the story of Friends in Belize, then suggested other places on the North side that would be better for what Friends were doing in Belize city. That is how it feels when you have lost a coin, and there are so many things in the house.
I know students who dropped out of school because their parents did not have $Bz 10(US $5) to apply for a social security card. Every year, I have seen kids who are afraid or reluctant to fill high school application forms, because their parents can’t afford $Bz 20 (US $10) high school application fee. Last year, one parent came to school for a meeting and said all she wanted for her twin boys, was to know how to read and write. However, the boys excelled that expectation. They passed primary school examination. One was admitted to Wesley College while another to Excelsior High school. All are on FUM scholarship.
I have been there when Maggie called some parents for months and pleaded with them to come to school, but they were afraid to come because they wondered what else they could do to help their children. I have been there, when parents were excited that their kids at Belize Friends school had passed examinations and were going to high school. Then the next moment, they were overwhelmed with anxiety because they did not have money to buy shoes, shirts, pants, books or pay fees for high school. In our ministry, we mostly deal with young people who have lost or are at risk of losing something valuable to them. It feels like the experience of losing a coin, one that could make all the difference if you got it back.
On Sundays, we used to open the church door to the yard, so that kids could go there and play at least before the service started. However, we learned that every time they saw a police patrol truck passing on the street, they all ran in commotion back into the church. We have a Police patrol truck passing on the road after every 10-15 minutes. That is a lot of running while scared. Something valuable, freedom to live in peace, confidence and safety has been lost in this community. That feels like a lost coin.
While serving in Belize, I have had an opportunity to meet the Minister of Foreign and Home Affairs, the CEO in the Ministry of National Security, two Commissioners of Police, church leaders and community leaders, over improving relations between young people and police, improving police detention facilities, and improving community safety. I have learned that all of them grew up on the southside under difficult circumstances. Even though we have made progress on some of the policy issues we have talked about, they have insisted on the role of faith-based communities to support young people on the southside, because there are things government cannot do, or do effectively like faith-based communities can. It takes a lot of community support to help young people on the southside navigate challenges that come from poverty, violence and limited resources. For those young people whose parents or community has given up on them, they are most vulnerable because of the many things that stand in their way to success. Therefore, we become that community to help them go through all that stands between them and the lost coin they are seeking.
To find what is lost, especially if it is something that can be easily abandoned, or difficult to see, you need someone like the woman in Luke 15:8-9, to light the lamp and start turning things around, until what is lost is found. The support you give us, the resources, and the mission trips you make to Belize makes it possible for us to light the lamp in this community and start turning things around. Over the past three years, I have seen Friends from Western Yearly Meeting, Indiana, Iowa and Wilmington, coming to Belize to work on what was formerly a warehouse, to turn it around and make it a school, a church, and a community center. I will highlight what that lamp that was lit here, and the efforts to turn things around have achieved.
Among the young men I work with, is a 13-year-old boy. One day, when he was 11years, he came to church and told me his mother had been arrested. He was staying at home with his two little sisters who were 10 and 8 years. He wondered what he could do. As I drove around the city picking other kids to bring to church, I asked him to make a list of things his mother did everyday to take care of them. Then I told him to go home and do for his little sisters, all that his mother had done to take care of them. I called a retired judge and a lawyer who I had known during the Community Safety Forums we were hosting at Belize City Friends Center. She took the case and days later, this boy’s mother was released. The boy was at the time a student of Belize Friends School. He later passed primary school examination and was admitted at Wesley Junior College, one of the top three schools in Belize. Over the last two years, he has retained the second position on the College’s Honor Roll because of his outstanding academic performance. He wants to become a lawyer so that he can help people like his mother. We have three students from Belize Friends School at Wesley College. Two of these have been on the College’s Honor Roll for two and three years respectively.
Belize Friends Church and Community Center engage in community work in response to the needs that emerge in the community. Since 2017, they have:
- engaged in advocacy meetings with the Minister of Home Affairs, CEO in the Ministry of National Security, and Commissioner of Police over a range of topics including policing, detention centers, and human rights;
- hosted community safety forums;
- conducted community education and awareness campaign against human trafficking;
- hosted Alternative to Violence Project training;
- hosted free medical and legal services assistance programs;
Belize City Friends Church is growing out of peer-to -peer outreach. Everyone at the church except the missionaries were invited by a friend or relative. It has been a steady and gradual growth. Usually, a friend invites a friend to church service, field trip or sporting activity. This invitation is often a culmination of friend-to-friend witness conversations about their experiences attending church at Belize City Friends Center. Some of the invited guests choose to come again and soon, they start attending services regularly. Some come sporadically but in the long run, they start attending services regularly. Others come and we never see them again. One woman started attending services after her sister in-law, recommended our church to her. Another woman 26, and a man, 29 started attending services after they were invited by their younger brother. One Belizean, who is now training for ministry, was referred to us by a Friends Meeting he had been attending, while he was in California. Our outreach and evangelism is relational. It is done by Belizeans who have roots in their own communities. The fruit of this ministry calls us to focus our resources and efforts on pastoral care to nurture this peer-to-peer outreach model.
The work of Friends in Belize is to light the lamp and turn things around. We can do so with God’s help. We need your support to continue doing this. We pray that from time to time, we can call you, write to you, or visit to celebrate with you, because we have lit the lamp, turned things around and found the lost coin. Thank you for your support!
This message was given to Spokane Friends Meeting by Oscar Mmbale on August 2, 2020 via Zoom.