Our Mission Statement

Friday, March 26

The great escape, part 1

This past week 7 very brave souls took a journey that none of us will soon forget. OK, we were not that brave, but we did take a trip and we will not forget it anytime soon. The week is over and the scouting trip to Costa Rica is in the books and a new work is in the second phase of planning. Allow me to report what we have seen and done.
The scouting team consisted of Brian "McGyver" Steffy; Steve "Sparky" Kemp; Margarita Conchita Reeves; Never Ben Wright (aka Nervous Nellie, the food nazi, and blown gasket); Jill "Jewels the walking blond joke" Wright; Minor "Cinco minutos" Perez; and Terry "El Jefe" Reeves. With a team like this, you know anything but the ordinary would happen. I am proud to report we lived up to this reputation. We have come, conquered, and left our impressions everywhere. Gringo mania is now a commonly used expression in Costa Rica (at least in some circles).

Let me begin by stating the obvious: Costa Rica was well named. This country is the most beautiful place I have ever visited... and that includes west Tennessee. Ken Haab's popular word, "Lush," was used to the point of overuse. The vast array of flora and fauna was amazing. The dense jungles, rain forests, cloud forests, and desert-like vegetation was like a field study of biology. The mountains, volcanoes, canyons, vistas, plains, and coastline a study of geology and geography. The monkeys, birds, sloths, lizards, crocodiles, and insects was like a study in zoology. In other words, we were overwhelmed (very similar to many of the classes I took in college). In all honesty, words cannot describe what we saw.

Of course my main point of reference for comparison is Honduras. Which is not a fair comparison, but it was really the only one I had to work with for the trip. And for many of you that are reading this blog, it is the only point of reference you have, too. Since I have traveled all over Honduras I found myself comparing different towns, cities, areas, etc. with what I saw in Costa Rica. I constantly found myself (along with the others) saying things such as, "This reminds me of Choluteca... this reminds me of the road that we use to go out to Didasko... this reminds me of the road that leads out to Santa Ana... this reminds me of the intersection that we see when we enter Teguc from the Good Shepherd Children's Home... this neighborhood reminds me of Los Pinos...." Minor, who attends Freed-Hardeman and is from Costa Rica (and our guide / interpretor for the trip) has never been to Honduras. All of our references were driving him crazy...

When asked by Nervous Nellie Wright what the most obvious contrasts were between Honduras and Costa Rica, the team came up with a few things for the list. 1. The country is obviously better off financially. 2. The roads are greatly superior (I would even go on to say wonderful). They were well paved, striped, and had reflectors (known as cat eyes in Costa Rica because they are red). 3. The cars are nicer. And the buses. 4. The air is cleaner. 5. There is VERY little trash and litter anywhere. The country is very clean. 6. There is a lot of grass and it is well manicured and trimmed. 7. The people are better educated and therefore able to get better jobs. 8. The core family unit is much stronger. The male presence in the homes is obvious. 9. Traffic laws are actually obeyed! 10. There is a very strong middle class which makes the infrastucture more stable.

We found many similarities as well. 1. The natural beauty of the two countries are very much alike. 2. Both are very mountainous. 3. The foods are very similar: lots of beans and rice with chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Lots of fresh fruits. 4. Both are major exporters of pineapple, bananas, and coffee. 5. The people of both countries are very welcoming and American friendly. 6. Both countries operate on Latino time (starting and ending times seems to be a point of reference and is not to be taken literally). 7. The opportunity for evangelism is great. Both countries are very open and willing to study and learn. 8. Tegucigalpa and San Jose are both huge cities with lots of traffic congestion. And like Honduras, most of the Costa Rican population can be found in about 5 or 6 major cities. 9. Futbol is king (aka soccer). 10. American influences (resturants, grocery products, fashion, etc) are everywhere.

During the week we were here, we traveled about a bijillion kilometers. If you want to convert that into miles, it would be 1,200 miles, more or less (mas o menos). And most of that is driving up and over mountain after mountain, on winding and curving roads. I would have to use the power of square to calculate how many times I pushed the clutch in to change gears on the 15 passenger van we rented. I would also need a calculator to add up the number of 1 lane bridges we crossed. We saw the aftermath of several rock slides, toppled trees blocking the road, and road erosion, causing driving to become constant "We nearly met Jesus today" moments. Not that meeting Jesus is a bad thing... we just didn't want to be early arrivals.

We traveled to the southern part of Costa Rica, to the area of Perez Zeledon and Buenos Aires. This valley produces tons of pineapple and other fruits. We were able to see one of the 6 Indian reservations located in this area. Over 45,000 native Indians live in this area. We also traveled to the western Pacific coast to see Manuel Antonio National Park. We saw miles of Coconut farms in this area. Although hot as blazes, Choluteca still wins in the "heat index" competition! We also went to the very mountainous northern region where Arenal, a very active volcano, can be found. Coffee plantations line the hillsides and thermal hot springs can be found here. We also stayed in the central area of the country, just outside San Jose, where lots of factories, international business outsourcing centers, and huge shopping districts can be found.

The fellowship of the team came to an end on Tuesday when Brian was the first to go back to the States. Steve followed on Wednesday while Ben and Jill left Friday (today). Minor, Margaret and I leave Saturday. We were supposed to leave Friday but God blessed us with an extra day when we found out that our plane was overbooked. We bravely volunteered to stay and fly home tomorrow. In exchange for our kindness and sacrificial spirit, we were able to stay in a very nice hotel tonight with dinner and breakfast provided (and complimentary round trip tickets for a future flight of our choice). But, best of all, we were able to spend the entire day with Rodolfo (Rudy). Today was his day off from work so he took a 2 hour bus ride from Cartago to be with his Gringo papacita and mamacita. We even had time to have Rudy pull a phone prank on Nathan (although Nate claims he did not fall for the prank because he recognized Rudy's voice.... personally I do not buy it!).

My next posting will go into detail about the meeting we had with the missionary that is working in Buenos Aires and the planning sessions we had with him. As I close, I will use a phrase that is used in Costa Rica... Pura Vida!!!!! May God bless the efforts of this week as Torch makes plans to bring our 1st team to Costa Rica in May, 2011.


Sunday, March 14

The race is on....

I pulled an all nighter last night. The past couple of weeks has been brutal as far as my work schedule, going through Honduras paperwork, and recording checks and making deposits! Thank goodness Margaret has been here to help and my sister-in-law Jenny has had my back. WE have received well over a hundred applications so far and I am expecting a couple dozen more in this week. We have deposited several thousand dollars and a lot of it has already been sent south. Hopefully as I write this blog our reservations are made for the hotels in Tegucigalpa, Choluteca, and Catacamas. A lot is done but much more to do.

The race is on. To buy airline tickets. I have already received a LOT of flight confirmations! People are booking flights right and left and seats are starting to go fast. I have confirmations on all 3 carriers so far... American, Continental, and Delta. I am expecting to have some of the Florida group book on TACA before it is over. So, if you are playing the "wait and see" game, watching and waiting to see if ticket prices go down, good luck. Just remember, there is only a certain number of seats on each flight, and once they are gone, they are gone. Buying early will allow you to get the flight you want on the days you want. AS the old saying goes, "The early bird gets the worm!" Or, in this case, the early Torcher gets the seat!

7 of us (Brian Steffy, Steve Kemp, Ben and Jill Wright, Minor Perez, Margaret and I) will be flying down to Costa Rica this coming Friday! Margaret, Minor, and I will be driving to Atlanta to catch our flight on spirit Airlines (Ken Haab, I hope you have been telling me the truth about this company!!!). Our trip will be focused on meeting the local minister at Perez Zeledon, in the southern part of Costa Rica. The church there was started about a year ago and is prime real estate for a campaign group. It is going to be an exciting trip, especially since we have to drive over the 11,350 foot tall Cerro de la Muerte (the mountain of death). Seriously, I am not making this up!

We will be meeting with the preacher, visiting several hotels in the area (looking for just the "right" one... not too nice... not too bad... just right"). We will also be visiting the local hospital to meet with administrators about visitation procedures, etc. We will also look for stores where we will be able to buy supplies such as bulk foods for food distributions. There is also an orphanage nearby that we plan to visit. We will worship at the local congregation and meet the members too. We will also drive around the area to see the neighborhoods and the outlying areas and look for a possible retreat location.

All of this is preparations for the May, 2011 trip to Costa Rica. I have had Costa Rica in my sights for the past 3 or 4 years but did not have the right contacts until recently. Minor Perez, one of the students at Freed-Hardeman that lives in my dorm, is from Costa Rica and has played a huge part in organizing this trip. He, along with Isaac Barrentes, who is also from Costa Rica, will help plan and organize the May trip next year. Ben Wright, from Kittanning, PA, will be co-leader of the trip. To say we are excited about the trip would be an understatement!

So, I am expecting this next week to fly by! In the next 4 days, besides my regular work load, I will be focusing my energy on the Costa Rica scouting trip and the Honduras trip. For the rest of you, focus on fund raising and buying airline tickets! I can assure you, June 1st will be here before you know it. And before that final payment is due, there will be additional paper work that will have to be turned in. rules sheets, photocopies of passports, Spanish release forms (those under 18), to name a few.

Using white water rafting as my illustration, our trip looks like this so far: November - January we picked out our rafting outfitter; February we picked up our gear for the trip; March we loaded the raft and pushed off into the river and have now started down steam... and the roar of the white water can be heard ahead!!! It will not be very long till we will be in the middle of the rapids and flying down the river! If you have rafted before then you know exactly what I mean! If you haven't... then all I can say is try to get ready! Tighten up your life vest, strap on your helmet, 'cause we are about to go on a ride!

Man, I am so excited! I know you would never know from reading all of this, but believe me, I am so ready to go on the trip this year. And I know most of you are right there with me. Come on in, the water is great! "I heard the voice of the Lord saying, whom shall I send, who will go for us? Then I said, here am I, send me!" Isaiah 6:8



Monday, March 1

I'm leavin' on a jet plane

March 1st. Oh my goodness, it is already March 1st! Today is the deadline for all of the early birds who signed up to go to Honduras this summer. I have received dozens of applications and deposits and to all of you I want to say "Thank you!" I have also received dozens of emails begging me to hold their spots because "the check is in the mail." To those I say, "the grace period is in effect." I want to discuss the parable of the 10 virgins and the oil for their lamps, but I am going to pass on it. The final mission team roster will be complete in about a week.

I am excited! Just about every night I am having a phone conversation to a group leader discussing the trip. Nate and I have been talking a lot and making tentative plans about the dividing of the team. Plans are in the works to have meetings with several of the "segundos" to discuss the projects and plans for the summer. Healing Hands has a container scheduled for us to ship out in less than 6 weeks, groups are collecting supplies, and storage buildings are starting to fill up. It is hard not to get fired up about all of the stuff going on right now!

But today I am posting flight information. Some have already bought tickets and are just waiting to pack their suitcases and go! But for the rest of us, the numbers game has begun. Watching websites, checking prices, and comparing fares will become a daily routine until we lock in on that great deal on a flight. So, with that in mind, let me share with you your flight options and some websites of interest. Good luck and may the hunt begin!

The first thing to remember is to book your flight on the correct dates!!! We will depart on Thursday, July 1 and will return on Sunday, July 11. The second thing to remember is that we are flying into Tegucigalpa, Honduras! The third thing to remember is to double check the first two things before you buy your ticket. Now that we have that straight, let's proceed to the booking station.

You have 4 carriers to choose from to fly into Tegucigalpa on July 1. They are: American Airlines; Delta airlines; Continental Airlines; and TACA. All have multiple departure cities, except TACA, which is limited to just a few places. Depending on where you want to leave from greatly determines your flight options and ticket cost. Almost all American Airlines flights will connect in Miami, Florida, where you will change planes. Nearly all Continental Airlines flights will connect in Houston, Texas, where you will change flights. Delta flights normally route though Atlanta. TACA typically leaves from Miami.

All 4 carriers have websites that you can go to check flight availability and price. You can book your ticket on these sites using a credit or debit card. Here are the websites:

American Airlines: http://www.aa.com/
Delta Airlines: http://www.delta.com/
Continental Airlines: http://www.continental.com/
TACA Airlines: http://www.taca.com/

You can also search for tickets on several different discounted websites. these sites are used by lots of people and sometimes you can find cheaper fares on them than the actual airline sites. Here are a few sites that you can search:

You can even do it the old fashioned way and use a travel agent. However you book your ticket, keep a few things in mind:

1. Ticket prices right now are pretty high. Depending on where your departure city is located, ticket prices can run between $400 - $800 right now. Prices should drop and most likely will start dropping soon. Checking websites on a regular basis will help you see the market price as it goes up and down.

2. There is no "best time" to buy your ticket. I have been told that the cheapest rates are posted late, late at night when most people are in bed. I do not know if that is true or not, I can only tell you the prices will vary from week to week. you just have to be patient and be ready to pounce when the moment is right.

3. Do not wait too long to buy your ticket. There is over 180 people ON OUR TRIP ALONE looking to buy tickets! This does not include the other mission groups out there that will be traveling at the same time we will be going to Honduras. Buying early guarantees you a seat. Waiting for that great deal could cost you if the flight sells out. If a ticket price falls in your budget / price range, buy it!

4. Once you have purchased your airline ticket, email me your flight itinerary so I can know when you are coming in and on which flight. Once the entire team is booked I will be able to generate a flight list that can be sent out by email so that you can see who is on your flight and how many team members you will be traveling with on the flight.
Here are key airport codes you will need to know when you are searching for flight information (this is just a short list, if you want to fly from another location, simply look up the airport code on the airline website when you are looking at flight information):

Miami: MIA
Nashville: BNA
Memphis: MEM
Houston: IAH
Raleigh: RDU
Washington, DC: IAD
Birmingham: BHM
Atlanta: ATL

If you are flying on American Airlines, you will most likely connect in Miami. The flight information from Miami to Tegucigalpa is as follows: MIA to TGU on AA flight #953 departing at 10:15 am and arriving at 10:35 am.

If you are flying on Delta, you will connect in Atlanta. The flight information from Atlanta to Tegucigalpa is as follows: ATL to TGU on Delta flight #551 departing at 10:10 am and arriving at 11:45 am

If you are flying on Continental Airlines you will connect in Houston. The flight information from Houston to Tegucigalpa is as follows: IAH to TGU on CO756 departing at 9:10 am and arriving at 11:14 am.

If you are flying on TACA Airlines from Miami your flight information is as follows: ATL to TGU on TA375 departing at 3:00 pm and arriving at 4:30 pm with one stop.

So, when booking your flight, choose your departure city and Tegucigalpa as your destination. Make sure your flight information is accurate with the correct dates going down and returning. Make sure to check all flight options to make sure you have enough time in between connections to make your flights and that you do not have any overnight lay overs (sometimes the cheapest flights will have you traveling at odd hours with overnight connections.... you do not want to do that so make sure you have your connections selected accurately!!!) Double and even triple check all information before you purchase.


You are allowed 2 pieces of luggage to check onto the plane. Here is the most recent policies on baggage:

1 carry on and 1 personal item.
No charge for up to 2 bags as long as they weigh LESS than 50 pounds. 51-70 pounds a charge of $55 will apply per overweight bag. Over 70 pounds is $125 and will be considered "Standby" (AKA That Ain't Coming Amigo"... the bag will be late coming down)

1 carry on and 1 personal item
2 bags (under 50 pounds) free. If over 51 pounds: $50 per bag. Over 70 pounds will not be allowed on board!

Continental Airlines
1 carry on and 1 personal item
1st bag is free (up to 50 pounds) 2nd bag will cost $30. Bags over 50 pounds will be charged $50 per bag. Any bag over 70 pounds will not be allowed to board the plane.

American Airlines
1 carry on and 1 personal item
2 bags (under 50 pounds) free. Bags over 50 pounds will be charged $50 per bag. Bags over 70 pounds will not be allowed to board the plane.

I know that was a lot of information. But hopefully this will get you off and running in the right direction. there are 1-800 help numbers on all of the websites if you have specific questions about booking your ticket. Good luck finding your right ticket and the right price. It might be March 1st, but time is ticking and tickets will go fast. There are only so many seats on a flight so make sure you are get one! Let me know if you have any questions, I will be glad to help any way that I can. We will have people traveling from all over the U.S. but we will all have the same destination. RUE2B?