Clothing distribution ministry – back when we had clothing to distribute. Photo courtesy of Ralph Vaughn
During these summer months, many folks will be planning and taking vacations. Jesse Hobbs of Murfreesboro recently had an interesting vacation if one should call it a vacation. I’ll let him explain in his own words.
Jesse says,“I’ve taken mission trips to Nicaragua with Baptist Medical and Dental Missions International (BMDMI) since 1999. We provide medical, dental and veterinary care, a pharmacy, and eyeglass clinic to indigent, rural Nicaraguans who come to hear the Gospel preached. We also have a program of giving away clothing, shoes, and dried beans and rice — we call it “Walmart”, because you can’t beat the price. There are no actual Walmarts in Nicaragua.
“Poor Nicaraguans must wear free clothing because of the outrageous messages on some of their shirts. Surely, they wouldn’t wear it if they knew what it meant. I made a presentation to my Sunday school class at Barfield Baptist Church a year ago, which led one of our members, Peggy Coleman, to purchase clothes to contribute to the 2014 trip.
“She called me in March, asking about the deadline for her purchase to be included in the advance shipment our team sends down. My work situation is normally chaotic, but March went beyond normal, as I had to contend with a new computer, new operating system, new software and a trip to Boston to learn new processes. A younger person might take it all in stride, but my work day pretty much started with beating my head against the wall from 7 till 8, tearing my hair out from 8 till 9, going to scream therapy from 9 till 10, and then settling in to answer calls and emails asking why my work wasn’t done. So I assured her that she still had time, but I didn’t know the official deadline.
“She actually went to the Murfreesboro Walmart and bought new clothes for these Nicaraguans, which I found shockingly generous. After I told her I would have gone to yard sales, she compromised and shopped at Goodwill. Once she delivered them to me, I had no further excuse, so I called up our team leader, Raymond Aven, to ask when I would have to get the clothes to him. He just laughed and said the shipment went down two weeks before. So I confessed to Peggy that I had been a bad missionary, but I promised we would take them down in our duffel bags, knowing they wouldn’t all fit in mine.
“The trip was scheduled for the second week of June. A month before, one of my son’s college friends, Michal, called to say she wanted to go to Nicaragua with us. Her claim to fame was beating my son in reciting Psalm 119 entirely from memory. I told her we all had to have our money in by April 1, but if I called Raymond and he didn’t laugh me off the phone like last time, then maybe she could go — but would she please take the rest of Peggy’s clothing in her duffel bag.
“So the big day arrived and our plane taxied onto the runway in Memphis with Michal and all of Peggy’s clothing on board. Then it turned around and went back to the gate —the de-icier wasn’t working. “It’s going to be 90 today, so who needs a de-icier?” They said it was below freezing at their cruising altitude, so they had to have it. “So put on a little extra fuel and fly a little lower and we’ll be fine — what’s the problem?” In case you didn’t know, you can’t reason with these people. The flight was canceled.
“Trying to rebook a group of 38 people on a commercial airline at a moment’s notice is impossible, but Raymond and BMDMI gave it the old college try, while the rest of us spent the next 14 hours waiting. When airport security was about to shut down, United offered us vouchers to stay in the Southaven Inn, just over the state line. There was just one catch — all of the motels near the airport were full and the Southaven Inn had no airport shuttle, and the voucher would not cover any transportation cost we might incur getting there, or getting back the next day. And if we did all that, nobody was promising to fly us anywhere. Some people thought United was just adding insult to injury. Actually, it was worse than that — the Southaven Inn didn’t have so much as a sign, and the voucher didn’t have an address — we would have been helpless without Google.
“How many taxis would it take to transport 38 missionaries six miles, each with a duffel bag and carry-on, and what would it cost? We did the math. We couldn’t expect any sympathy from the Nicaraguans, either — they wouldn’t comprehend how healthy adults could be unable to walk 6 miles on paved roads with sidewalks, even with baggage —and it isn’t even hilly! So the team members called any friend or acquaintance in the area who might lend us their car, so that we could get to the motel. A Memphis church offered to get us back to the airport, if we had a flight the next day.
“I came down the next morning for my Continental breakfast and asked my friends, ‘Why so glum?’ “Because it looks certain, or virtually certain, that our trip is canceled and we’ll all have to turn around and go home. We don’t have a plane, and time’s about run out.” Not knowing how to mince words, I just laid it all out there: “God spoke to me in a dream last night, saying for the second time he has a purpose for us going to Nicaragua, and the purpose can’t be fulfilled if we don’t go, so we’re going!” I didn’t expect them to believe me. I had enough trouble believing myself. I felt like the Nigerian widow’s money — I was trying to get out of the country and I just needed a little outside help.
“Since it was Sunday morning, we might as well have church, so we all went out by the motel pool and sang hymns and prayed and heard a brief message. The motel wanted us out by 11:00, and it would take the team bus over an hour to get there, so we couldn’t postpone the decision beyond 9:30 to cancel the trip and go home.
“So it happened that our service concluded about 9:30, and just then Raymond’s phone rang, and it was someone from the group reservation desk calling to say United was putting on an extra flight just for us, all the way to Nicaragua.
That’s right — we flew down there on commercial aircraft that were practically empty, except for our team. Some people called it a miracle. Others said the airline was just doing the right thing. “To me, getting some people to do the right thing is pretty much a miracle already. One team member told the airline clerk that she took back whatever she said about United in prayer yesterday. The clerk appreciated that.
“So we arrived in Nicaragua a day late, but otherwise in good spirits. There was just one problem: all those boxes of clothing and reading glasses and vet supplies we had shipped down three months previously — they were still locked up in Customs. Nothing had gotten through. This was not exactly a new thing — we used to ship down food and medicine, but the Nicaraguan government stopped that because they wanted us to buy locally, presumably so they could take their cut. Job called it bartering over orphans (Job 6:27), but that’s how the world works in some places. But something was different this time. Previously, they delayed our shipment but always let it through eventually, after telling us not to do it again. This was the first time they hadn’t let it in at all.
“So that was how we got out to this little village with no clothes to give away except what was on our backs and what Peggy Coleman sent in our duffel bags, through my mistake.
“We started a new ministry this year, offering hot food to all the people who came. The inspiration was Luke 9:13, where Jesus said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat.” He didn’t say, “I’m going to give them something to eat.”
So the people who would have worked in Walmart kept busy crushing 2500 bags of Ramen noodles and, after they were cooked, serving them in Styrofoam cups with a spoon, a saltine cracker, and a cookie. Not the ideal diet, but some Nicaraguans told us that was the only food they would eat that day.
“Our bus broke down on the way back to the airport in Managua, and we almost missed our flight home. Michal exclaimed at one point, “Hooray! We get to stay in Nicaragua another day!” But nobody offered a hearty “Amen.” If we visit that village next year, and I see someone wearing a T-shirt that says “Hobbs Family Reunion, 1985”, I’ll just know they’re getting more use out of it than I would have.”