No Cigar

Today Carlos, Carla and I were headed to Danli. As soon as we told someone where we were going, we were asked to buy some cigars. It seemed like a strange request to me. But I guess Danli is world famous for producing exquisite cigars.

Carlos told me that Danli was one of his very favorite places. I can see why. Honduras is a gorgeous place, and our journey to Danli took us through some of the prettiest parts of it—a region full of majestic  mountains covered with evergreen trees.

Driving into Danli was just breathtaking. It was one of those quaint little towns with a beautiful park in the center of the city backed by a huge white cathedral. It is what you dream that you will see in Central America. It is the stuff of postcards. And the church building where CRF operates was just down the street.

Once again we were greeted with a program. Our Danli work is run by Wilma Ester with much help from her four precious daughters. I have a feeling that she told all the children to wear orange because there was a sea of it. And every child was also given an orange nametag to wear with a name and a big smiley face on it.

As I was giving a challenge to the children about the hope that was before them, I looked and read for the first time what was on the nametag of the little girl in the orange shirt who was seated on the front row. It said “Shahrzad Zarkoob.” Then I saw what Wilma had done. She had not put “Josefa” on her name tag. No she had put her sponsor’s name. So I thought about Shahrzad. I remembered a 19 year old Iranian student who made a dramatic conversion in our campus ministry at the University of Washington and had to get religious asylum to keep from being killed. I remembered Shahrzad becoming an American citizen. I remembered Shahrzad getting her Ph.D. in Physics. I remembered her becoming an executive for NBC at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City. So in the middle of the talk I told little Josefa about her sponsor and the great things that she had done. And I told her that she could do great things too. I had hope for her. She may be in poverty and without many breaks but her sponsor had gone through tough times too and came out doing great things. The little girl hugged me about a million times before we left.

Then the other children lined up. “Tell me about my sponsor,” they cried. And so I looked on the next name-tag, and it said “Dr. David Jackson and Karen.” And I remembered when I met David at the University of Washington decades ago just like I had with Shahrzad. He was the drum major in the band. He was the smartest guy I had ever met. And he dramatically gave his life to the Lord. He became a doctor. He became my doctor. I remember Karen and her coming to Jesus. I recall the way she gave her life to becoming an exceptional teacher. So I told little Gladis that she could be like her sponsors. I told her that she could be a doctor. She could be a teacher. I had hopes for her just like I saw David and Karen do great things.

And I just had to smile and thank God. It was like being in a time warp. What had happened three decades ago was living dynamically in the present. What happened thousands of miles away in a different country had transcended into Central America for God’s glory and to change the lives of children.

If you don’t know what I do, let me tell you a little about it. I speak at churches any place that I can and ask people to sponsor orphans through CRF. I have a table with pictures of children from all over the world. They are real children. They are needy children. And every place I go, the greatest people on earth sign up and start sponsoring a child. I do this now as president of CRF. But I started doing it decades ago as a volunteer. And as these little kids of Honduras lined up asking me to tell them about their sponsors, I couldn’t believe how many of them I knew. One was from a church in Oregon. Another from a campus ministry in Oklahoma. Another from a seminar in Washington. The next one was from a friend in California.

I could remember so many of the faces of the sponsors on the days that they had signed up. But now I was seeing the other side. I was seeing the children that they had saved. I so wished that the sponsors could have seen their faces. The children loved them so much. I wish I had known every story to tell them. (If you have a child, let them know who you are and what you look like. They love you so much, and you are so important to them.) And it was one of those great moments in a lifetime—faces on both sides of sponsorship were being connected in my mind. I love all of you who are sponsors. I’m thanking God for you right now. I wish you could have been there to see how important you are. You are the difference.

And then I got more hugs. I think it is a theme.

From Danli, we drove to our work in La Cienega. It was not a quaint village but out in the middle of the country. It was a difficult drive. We wondered if we would make it. But we did. Our work there is run by Herman. It is another great work that is touching the lives of rural children in poverty. One kid just kept following me around. I asked him his name (I remember how to do that from high school Spanish). He said, “Emmanuel.” I could really run with this, but you can draw the same conclusions I would.

After the program (yes, we do programs)–Herman took us to show one of the children’s homes. She was a teenager named Mimi, although she looked years younger. We saw her little house. It had no electricity or water. We heard her sad story of how her mother had left. And her dad had epilepsy and couldn’t work. Mimi had to take care of the house. I was extremely impressed with how clean it was. As we looked around the house, Carlos asked me if I noticed what was missing. Then I saw it. There was no food. Her family had no food. When she saw that we noticed, tears welled up in her eyes. She didn’t want us to know. She didn’t want to ask for anything. We gave anyway. A smile was across her face as she waved goodbye to us.

It was a long journey for me. And maybe you are wondering if I had one of the delicacies of Danli. Close but no cigar.

About Milt

Milton Jones is the President of Christian Relief Fund in Amarillo, Texas. In his work there, he has focused on the care of AIDS orphans in Sub-Sahara Africa. He has also served as a preacher and campus minister in both Texas and Washington. Milton has authored eight books including a touching tale of one of his heroes with Cerebral Palsy, Sundays With Scottie. He is married to Barbie Jones and has two sons, Patrick and Jeremy.
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