Three years ago while hosting a rousing basketball contest for very eager third graders at an overcrowded elementary school in Belize, Central America, I heard about a place called Hillview. When I asked friend and teacher, Judy Waight, how Sparrows Gate Mission could help the children at her school she said, “The poor children of Hillview need a school of their own.”
Judy went on to say, “The children of Hillview are often late for class because they live farther away than other kids and need more help with homework than their parents are able to provide.” Other teachers told me that Hillview kids are more likely to drop out of school because they do not have the money to buy books or pay minimal school fees.
I wanted to know more about these neglected children so I found Hillview and made several treks through their neighborhood. I grew attached to the area and friendly families perched on the hillside just above the jungle. In trips to follow I found myself walking up and down the dirt roads in Hillview hoping to find property that could be used to help the children, even though no funds were available to rent, buy or build anything.
Many months later, Tim Springer and Bobbi Adkins, two devoted mission friends that I had invited to visit Belize over the years, emailed to say, “Let’s go to Belize.” Their sudden proposed trip departure and return dates could not have been worse for me, schedule-wise; but it seemed like God might be up to something.
I told them that my goal for our brief trip would be to find land to use for the benefit of needy children. The three of us arrived in Belize on November 15, 2009 and looked at property the next day with Frank Tull, a real estate agent from Diamond Realty, owned by my long-time friend Noah Beachy.
The properties we saw seemed overpriced and did not match our pre-communicated mission goals. It soon seemed apparent that the entire trip would be futile except for introducing the country and kids to Tim and Bobbi.
But then on Thursday, November 18, the day before we were to leave our tiny English-speaking country anchored along the Caribbean coast, Frank showed us five scenic acres fronting on Red Creek that could be bought for much less than its value. Tim, Bobbi and I agreed that this property was unique and that Sparrows Gate Mission should try to buy it.
Our mission board of directors promptly approved my proposal to buy the unimproved property by email. This was no small feat because a Board response and consensus normally took days. I was still not entirely convinced to buy the property but wanted to be ready just in case.
I couldn’t sleep the last night of our trip and finally at 2 am on November 19, after two hours of prayer, a powerful impression surged through me with the message, “Don’t leave Belize without that property.” But surely it was too late. That very morning at 8 am we were to head to the airport to fly back to the U.S.
At 3:30 am I rose from my hotel bed, showered, dressed and walked five miles in the dark to the real estate broker’s home on the other side of town. He lived on the same road and very near the beautiful property we longed to buy.
Finally, when I was within a few yards of the land we wanted to buy on Pilgrimage Valley Road and about two blocks from the broker’s home, I asked God to confirm that buying this acreage was positively His will.
“Lord,” I said, “If you really want Sparrows Gate Mission to buy this property, show me a sign.” But what sign? It was still dark, time was running out and the situation seemed impossible.
Then, I pleaded, “God, if you really want us to buy this property, show me a shooting star within the next 10 seconds.” I stopped, looked up to heaven and started counting. “Lord, no shooting star, no deal.” When I got to three, a shooting star fell from the sky directly in front of me.
"Wow," I thought. "Let’s try that again to be really, really sure." Then I felt guilty for asking God for one sign and downright sinful for asking Him for two signs in a row. But I was still reluctant to pull the trigger on the transaction even though the property was above and beyond all that I could expect or imagine.
Doubts persisted as I continued to walk toward the real estate broker’s home until coming to the realization that I was an expert on property values in this area of Belize. And this land in the San Ignacio area was without equal in terms of price, location and beauty.
Now the thought of dodging the broker’s barking dogs in the dark was discouraging and brought back memories of the German Shepherd who sunk his teeth into my leg in Mexico. But Noah Beachy answered the front door in a disheveled daze and accepted my check for the territory that had taken two decades to find.
After 20 years of serving poor children from one end of Belize to the other and searching for property by faith with no money in hand, we finally bought five secluded acres close to downtown San Ignacio, in Santa Elena on a good road with easy access.
Only after making the deal and climbing up to a vantage point on the high side of our new mission land did I realize that Hillview families live less than 100 yards away. The jungle growth along Red Creek had obscured the view of Hillview on the other side.
Unknowingly we had purchased property right next to the very area and children that teachers in town had urged us to help three years ago. We are prayerfully considering one or more of the following ideas: Childcare Center, Foster Care Home, Learning Center, Christian Elementary School.
We named this strategic location Red Creek Village and are thinking about building an under-roof, full-size basketball court that could double as a roller skating rink. We just built three cabins (mounted on concrete pillars) to lodge mission volunteers and rent to tourists and are in process of securing city water and electricity.
We invite you to come meet the true treasure of Belize. They are descendants of the great Maya civilization; they are ancestors of African slaves; they are refugees from China, Guatemala and San Salvador; they are Europeans, Canadians and Americans; they are red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight! They are the easy-to-love Belizean children playing under a blazing tropical sun waiting for us to tell them about Jesus!