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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...


By Kristel Ringer
Jan. 1, 2012

Naci never smiled. Few in her place would. The second of seven children, Naci lived with her parents and siblings in a garbage dump in Acahualinca, Nicaragua, scratching out an existence as best they could. Life could not have seemed grimmer, until Naci’s father was crushed to death by a garbage truck. Soon afterward Naci’s mother fell ill, and within weeks she too died, leaving Naci to mother her six brothers and sisters.

For generations, more than 1,500 families have lived and died in Nicaragua’s Chureka — garbage dump — floundering under the weight of poverty and hopelessness. Children grow up in squalor, without shelter, clothing and food; forgotten among mountains of trash where dogs and humans alike scavenge for sustenance.

But Jesus knows these children by name and has sent them light — borne by surprising messengers.

Missionaries John and Wilma Hall were in their 50s when they committed their lives to Jesus Christ nearly two decades ago. Wilma, dramatically saved during a Rich Wilkerson crusade, quit her job of 18 years and began working as a part-time receptionist at her local church, determined to give time back to the Lord who redeemed her. In that environment she felt drawn toward the missionaries with whom she came in contact.

John initially was uncertain of Wilma’s newfound faith. “When she came home one evening ‘born again’ and pointing out all these new truths in the Bible, I assured her I knew those things because I always listened to the Word during Mass,” he remembers.

Over the next few years, Wilma did her best to involve John in her church activities.  John, a tool and die maker, soon found himself studying Scripture during breaks and posting new verses on his toolbox for co-workers to see each day. In an ironic brush with destiny, he confessed Jesus as his Savior in a public park while chaperoning a youth missions trip to Nicaragua.

In 1997, despite lacking formal training or ministerial experience, the now-60-year-old Halls sold their home, said goodbye to their four children and 10 grandchildren, and left for language school in Costa Rica.

When Hurricane Mitch devastated much of Latin America in 1998, John and Wilma accepted an assignment to Nicaragua to assist missionary Bonnie Hernandez. They arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, in January 1999 as missionary associates with Latin America ChildCare. 

Neighborhood children often visited the Halls’ front gate in the mornings to request food or water. Soon John and Wilma began supplying them with food, school uniforms, backpacks and shoes.

“These were children who would not have had the opportunity to go to school without that bit of help from us,” Wilma says. “Nicaragua is an extremely impoverished country, and most parents cannot afford these basic necessities for their children.”

As many as 20 children visited the Halls each morning in what became known as their “gate ministry.”

Wilma soon felt a clear message from the Lord that it was time to share His Word with the children. The gate ministry became the “patio ministry.” On Friday afternoons the Halls invited children onto their patio to sing, pray and view Spanish editions of VeggieTales films. At the close of the hour, each child received a sandwich and some cookies. The initial group of 12 little ones soon grew to more than 100.

Before long El Camino (“The Way”) — a Sunday School on wheels — was birthed in John and Wilma’s hearts. “My mother insisted we attend Sunday School,” says John. “It was there I learned the Lord was real and I could pray to Him.” Now it was time to teach other children the same truth. John and Wilma received missionary appointment in 2002 and returned to Nicaragua with a truck donated by their home church in Erie, Pennsylvania. They traveled with it from 2004 until 2008, and during those years thousands of children were reached.

El Camino was no ordinary truck. “It was a self-contained vehicle,” says John. “The side opens to a 9-foot platform where we had videos, puppets, music and drama. The children, many of whom would not enter a church because they have no appropriate shoes or clothing, came running when the big truck arrived.”

The truck enabled John and Wilma to reach children in the poorest barrios and disciple them with Bible stories, Scripture memorization, drama and singing during a 12-week semester. At the end of each semester, children had opportunity to recite the verses they memorized (often under less than conducive circumstances at home). Along with receiving diplomas, Bibles and prizes, they were introduced to local pastors of churches within walking distance. 

“El Camino launched us into ministry big time. Never did we realize the impact this truck would have. Our wonderful journey into children’s ministry began late in our years, but not too late for God to use us!” Wilma rejoices.

At El Camino, holidays were special occasions. Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day afforded opportunities to emphasize love and distribute gifts of Bibles, rice, beans and sugar. One Father’s Day found the Halls in a park where only boys were playing. During the meeting, an all-too-familiar character arrived — the town drunk. As the boys responded to John and Wilma’s request to come forward to pray for their fathers, the drunken man lurched into the center of the gathering, wailing loudly. He missed his father, he said, even though he barely knew him, and told the boys how lucky they were to have fathers. John and Wilma stood by astonished as the boys immediately encircled the man, laid hands upon him and prayed. 

Despite the success of their traveling Sunday School, the Halls still felt burdened for the children to whom they ministered.  “Yes, we were bringing them spiritual food.  But that seemed inadequate if we weren’t meeting some of their immediate needs,” says Wilma. “How could they hear us present stories about a loving Jesus if their little bellies were growling loudly with hunger?” Their hearts ached for the anguished children they saw around them, and Wilma dreamed of meeting more of their physical needs.

Eventually John and Wilma started a feeding ministry in Acahualinca, an impoverished barrio only two blocks from the city dump. When a local family offered their cooking abilities and backyard for the endeavor, the Halls armed themselves with massive cooking pots and a wood burning stove and began. Every Friday more than 200 children came out of the dump to hear a brief Bible story and eat with the missionaries.

It was in Acahualinca that John and Wilma met Naci — the sad young girl who never smiled. One day as they set up for their program, John caught Wilma’s arm. “Look!” he said, “Naci is smiling!”  Naci smiled that day as she greeted the Halls, but since her mother died that smile has again become elusive.

“What disturbs me most when watching the events in this little girl’s life is that children like her have no time to process any kind of sorrow or grief,” Wilma says. “They just keep on living, or trying to live, however they can.  They just exist from day to day, absorbing all the sorrows of life here in Nicaragua. That is why we are here, to bring hope in Jesus. We can’t change their lives economically, at least not for long, but we can, we will, and we do tell them about Jesus.”

May 2008 found the Halls’ work flourishing. The El Camino truck traveled on Mondays and Wednesdays, and the feeding ministry occurred on Fridays. John and Wilma were happy and confident that God had fulfilled His purpose for them.  But God was not finished.

One Friday, word reached them that the home next door to their host family was about to be taken by a neighborhood loan shark. Unexpectedly, John and Wilma were offered the property. Immediately, right in the middle of the road, they decided to buy it and fulfill Wilma’s dream of building a children’s center.

The cornerstone of Centro Infantil El Camino was laid in January 2009. Since then, several missions teams have helped as Wilma’s dream becomes reality. Inside the bright white building (capped by a colorful sign), a large and beautiful kitchen has replaced John’s wood burning stove, a row of new sinks for the children glisten, and a comfortable library, complete with beanbag chairs, is taking shape. 

Already the center has proven to be a greater blessing than even the Halls anticipated. When the floodwaters of Nicaragua’s rainy season swelled far beyond normal in October 2010, 400 families in Acahualinca lost their homes and all they owned. A local school became a refugee center, and Centro Infantil El Camino added two days a week to its feeding schedule to help meet the affected families’ needs.

Reflecting on their work and the grim conditions around them, Wilma says,  “Many times I find myself asking God, ‘Why? Why the little children?’ I can’t say that He has given me an answer directly, but He assures me that this has not escaped His eye or heart. I know that one day when we stand before His throne there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no more unbearably hot, scorching sun. And these little ones will be there.”

In a story full of unlikely places, unconventional people and unorthodox ministries, God remains unbound by convention. No one is out of His sight, no one is beyond His reach, and no one is unable to become His hands extended. “Do not ever think God cannot use the least of us,” says John.

KRISTEL RINGER is a staff writer for AG World Missions Communications.

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