Friday, February 22, 2013

Rio Grande Valley Trip

On February 4th we arrived at Sunny Glen Children’s Home in San Benito, TX.   We followed the coast line from Corpus Christi and then drove straight south to reach this area of the Rio Grande Valley.   While parked at the Children’s Home, we visited churches in La Feria, Pharr and Harlingen.   We had some wonderful visits with Christians in these churches.  We had good meetings at Pharr and Harlingen congregations.   We have been to Pharr and Harlingen the past two years, but this time we added La Feria.  After the Sunday night service at 8th & Harrison in Harlingen, we were invited to one of the small groups in the home of one of the Hispanic members.  There were about 15 people there.  It was a very delicious Mexican meal, prepared by the host family.  I could not tell you what was in the main dish but it was very good. 
Our first Wednesday night in the valley was not scheduled so I went on the web to see what other churches were near us that we had not visited before.  In past years, we went to San Benito and Port Isabel but those churches are very small with less than 20 members.   I could see that La Feria was small but thought it would be nice to meet more Christians.  There were about 20 present that night.  They asked Ron to give them a quick report about the work in China.  At the end of the service, they asked if he would come back Sunday morning and give the power point to the entire congregation.   At the end of the worship Sunday morning, they asked if we had a place to go Sunday night.  When Ron said he did not have an appointment, they asked him to come back and give a lesson Sunday night.   We quickly felt at home with this group of kind, welcoming Christians.  When we passed the area of their church building on our way to Palmhurst, TX, I almost felt like we were passing by “home.”
We relocated to Palmhurst on Feb. 19th.   We drove an hour west, going through Weslaco, McAllen and Mission, TX and then a few miles north to Palmhurst.    Highway 83 going west follows the Rio Grande River, which is the border between the U.S. and Mexico.    There are a lot of illegal crossings in these areas along the river (which must be shallow) with borders not too secure.  We hear a lot about securing the border but we have not done a good job protecting the U.S. from people walking across in many areas of Texas.   One day last week, there was a wreck on Highway 83 and the car had 7 illegal immigrants crammed inside.  Most were injured in the accident and taken to a hospital.  The news in this area is often reporting arrests of drug leaders and Hispanic criminals.   The news also reported this week that at least 100 bodies were found right across the border in the U.S.  Some Mexican group was transporting the immigrants across the border, letting them out and telling them they would return soon to bring food.  They never returned and the people starved.  There are some desert areas along the border so the people did not know where to go or what to do to get help.  We have been warned that it’s not a safe area so we do not venture out except to visit churches and go to Walmart.

The North Mission church in Palmhurst has RV hookups and invited us to stay here as long as we need a place to park.   We were able to drive in and park easily and comfortably.    They have a huge park next to the building that belongs to the church for the community to use.  It has a paved walking path with park benches and enough space for two ball parks.  There’s a small building with restrooms for the public.  I think they also have a gym that can be scheduled for the public’s use.  They have flood lights all around and keep the grass watered and cut.  We have people in the park until 10 p.m. every night and people walking all day.  It’s a very busy place.   At first, they said we could use showers in the church building but then we found out that their hot water is not working.   I prefer showers in a small RV stall with warm water!
The weather has been strange.  It is very flat and dry in the valley.  They really need rain but it always rains north of here.  There are very few trees, some tall palm trees and nothing else.  We see a few flowers but not very many due to the very dry conditions.  Yesterday, it was 90 degrees; today it’s in the 70’s.  We have had a lot of cloudy days with winds up to 40 mph.   At night, it’s so noisy with the wind that we pull in the sides of the RV so we can sleep.  The sliders that give us more room when we are parked, have a canvas covering and they flop and whistle in the strong wind.  We see the weather news across the U.S. that dumps lots of rain and snow so we are not complaining.
We will be here another week to visit churches in McAllen, Brownsville and Weslaco.  Our next stop is Alice, TX, heading straight north from the valley.   We will just be there overnight for Ron to speak on Sunday and then travel on to San Antonio.

With the Chinese workers and orphaned children off to visit relatives for Chinese New Year, our workload has been slower for a few weeks, with few reports coming from China.  We need these breaks to catch up with work we put off and seldom get around to doing.  It refreshes the children to get a break from school in China and it refreshes us to catch up with our work occasionally.
We are very thankful that we had a very good year in 2012.  The income was good so all the works had sufficient funds to operate.  The hospital is much closer to completion than in this picture. 

This was taken at the end of November.  They are ready to paint the outside of the building now. The new charity hospital has been Ron’s main concern because of the cost.  Raising funds for it has been generous from some donors but still it takes so much to build a hospital of this magnitude, even in China.  It is still small, compared to any hospital in the U.S.   It has two OR’s and 12-15 beds.  The hospital building construction is almost completed. 
It looks good!  We are thankful for the good job Ronald has done supervising the construction.  It was not easy.  He had many setbacks and obstacles to overcome.   Anything done in China is not simple.  Now, Ron has the task of furnishing it and adding the equipment, which is another major expense.  Dr. Lou Smith, a surgeon in Tennessee, is delivering a truckload of small equipment and hand tools to Leigh Ann’s home in Georgia this afternoon.  We will ship these items from the U.S.  They will buy the larger equipment in China.  

Ron has decided that the hospital will be primarily used as a “children’s” hospital because there is no way we could accommodate all the people in that area.  Henan Province has 94 million people and most of them are poor and without health insurance.   We will have to accommodate some older people but cannot take on many advanced diseases of the older people. We have our first team of doctors and nurses going in July from Houston, TX.   We have many doctors and nurses expressing an interest in going over there to work on their vacation time. 

We have good news from Lily and King in Singapore.  They say they are doing well with their schooling.  Lily reported that King made 100 on a memory quiz recently.   When Lily was with us in the RV (June, 2012), Ron asked her a lot of questions and found that she had a good knowledge of the Bible.  But, when questioned about her baptism, she was vague but confident that it was biblical.  She was taught by a Korean missionary and his wife in Xi’an.   Yesterday, Lily called from Singapore to tell us that she was being baptized.  I guess she’s realized that her baptism in China was not biblical.  She told Ron she knew he would want to know about her baptism and be happy for her.   We have not heard from Timothy or Jackie at the school, but assume they are doing well.

We continue to bring children to the U.S. for surgeries.  A little girl returned to China last weekend after having successful heart surgery in San Antonio.   Two more heart patients are scheduled to arrive soon (one in New Orleans).   A little girl from one of our care centers was brought for cleft lip surgery about a month ago.  She had surgery on our cleft palate medical mission two years ago, but it was not good.  They did another surgery in China but it still looked horrible.  Now, she’s had another surgery in the U.S. and will return to China next week.  She is about 8 years old.  A three-year old girl was brought to the U.S. about a month ago and is now undergoing skin grafts at Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati.  She was burned very badly in her face so she will probably be in the U.S. for a year. 
We are very thankful, every single day, for health and opportunities to serve Him by helping the poor children.   The world is in a mess in so many ways, but there’s hope because we find so many people along our travels that are willing to sacrifice to help others.  God must look down on all of the evil in the world and see the shining light of Christians still carrying the torch of love, kindness and service.   Our thanks goes out to our many supporters that freely give so generously.





Thursday, February 21, 2013


We are like Gypsies, moving to a new location every few weeks.  This isn’t exactly what most people think of when they say they want to travel and see the world, but we do see a lot of things, places and people.   Blogger keeps changing it's format so my pictures are not well spaced in this segment.  I have to read up again on how to do this stuff.

In January, we put 616 miles on the RV and 884 additional miles on the car as we traveled back and forth from the RV to churches in each area.  Ron and I are doing well.  We have the usual aches and pains for our age, but we are able to continue doing our work.  Ron tells people he knows more than he can remember.  His other favorite saying is “I can now hide my own Easter eggs.”    He is proud that he’s still alive (and able to work) at this age – I don’t tell my age but he does, and then people know how old I am also.  I tell him it’s like little children that say after a birthday, “I’m going on 3-l/2 now.”    To start telling people you are 76 when your birthday is still six months away shows you are reverting back to childhood!
We returned to Texas before Thanksgiving.   We always enjoy our time with the Lewisville church so much and now it seems more like home when we get back there.  When we return, we park at a Corp of Engineers’ park in Hickory Creek and at another one across the Lewisville Lake at a park owned by the City of Lewisville.  We are now familiar with roads in the area and can easily find all the places we need to go.  This time, we added another park owned by the city of Highland Village.  We can only stay two weeks in each location although after 14 days, we can return to two of the parks.  You have to be away 28 days to go back to the City of Lewisville park.  To move, we have to put everything away in the RV, strap everything down so it won’t shift around during driving and then reset up again when we arrive at the next park.  Therefore, it’s a lot of trouble and a bit of a nuisance.  I can understand the limitation of not letting people park long-term, however.  When we have to park at a regular RV park, people can make reservations for a month or a year so these parks have a lot more junk around each camper.   We stayed at one in Richmond, TX (south of Houston) that looked more like a junk yard than a park.  It turned out to be a good stay but the view out my window as I worked was of three old dilapidated pick-up trucks (I don’t think any of them would run) that were used for some working guy’s warehouse of tools, materials and equipment.   He lived next to the trucks in a very small camper.  The park was quiet, had sewage connection and we could pick up free a Wi-Fi connection.  At Corp of Engineer parks, we have security with a gate guard and a car pass is required to come and go.  The main gate to the park is locked at 10 p.m. and opens at 6 a.m.  Anyone can drive out of the park, but no one can drive in during those hours.  The private RV parks do not have any security.

We were in the Greenville, TX area during the Christmas and New Year holidays.   We went into Greenville to have lunch with a friend on Christmas Day and then we hurried back to the RV parked at Boles Children’s Home (also known as Arms of Hope or Medina) at Quinlan.   It started snowing before we got back and then for the afternoon we watched a blizzard outside our windows.  It was very quiet on the campus of this orphanage since most of the children and staff had gone somewhere for the holidays. 
Ron and I went to see Les Miserables in Greenville, TX as our treat for the holidays.   It is a very sad and depressing story but the acting and singing were fabulous if you like that kind of production.  We saw the Broadway production in Montreal, Quebec in 1991 but it probably was in French (I know I didn’t understand most of it).  We didn’t have close up seats so I didn’t get into it or appreciate it very much that time.  Understanding the story and singing helped, even though it was really sad. 
We were fortunate to park in the driveway of the minister’s house in Bay City, TX a couple of weeks ago.  He installed a 50 amp plug in his garage just for us to use.  It was a little challenge getting into the driveway because of low limbs on the huge live oak trees that grow in this area.  Larry, the minister, actually got his ladder and saw and cut some limbs so we could back in safely.  We spent five days at their home and had a fabulous time.   Mary Ann cooked for us the first night we arrived but after that, we each cooked part of the meal and put it together at their house.  We really enjoyed the food and fellowship.  
We arrived in Port Aransas (Port A to the locals) two weeks ago.  We have to cross a bay by ferry to get to this area unless we want to go a long way around that has a bridge over to Mustang Island and on to Port Aransas.  This is not us!  It's the smallest camper I have even seen!



I nearly freaked out the first time we drove the RV (40’ long with the car pulled behind) onto the ferry.  We were the first to drive on and they motioned for us to come all the way to the very front.   Brave woman guided us on!

We were sitting up so high, it seemed that we would just go on over if we went forward a little bit more.  I posted pictures on Facebook a year ago because it was an awesome view from our high seat in the RV.  This time, it wasn’t nearly as frightening.  I’ve seen that 18
wheelers and other large vehicles, gas tankers and construction trucks go back and forth over the ferries all the time.  Four ferries go back and forth 24 hours a day for five days.  They have a few less running over the weekends.  Dolphins were playing in front of the ferries as they cross.

The GPS does not recognize the ferry and says “Go straight ahead on highway 316”.  I guess 316 in this particular area is also called “Cemetery Road” and by the time we are in the middle of the waterway, the GPS is saying “Take Cemetery Road.”    I told Ron that’s not a very comforting comment when I’m already nervous that a ferry could go “down.”   It is a quick crossing and we see dolphins, pelicans, fishing boats and even large tankers come by so it is very interesting. 

A very kind man, a member of the church in Port A, owns Tropical Motel and RV park and he gives us a parking space each year when we come here.  It is a well-kept park and it’s a beautiful, tropical resort.  In January, it’s too cool for the pool or an ocean swim, however.   We enjoy the palm trees and sea breeze when it’s not too cold.  The temperatures have generally been good since we arrived.  Yesterday, the winds were about 30+ mph and a bit chilly.  It is about 50 and night and low 70’s during the day.  We have taken 30-minute walks each day as the weather permits.  The tropical houses (every color you can imagine) are of every kind from little shacks to million dollar estates.  Many houses are up on stilts (I call it that not knowing the proper word for it). I think they drive pilings into the ground and the house is built with this foundation.   Cars are parked underneath the house.  It is designed for water to flow under the house during a hurricane to keep from washing the house away.  


We are near Corpus Christi and Padre Island so hurricanes have come into this area in the past.  On Friday, we walked to the beach.  It is about l-l/2 miles each way.  We didn’t stay – just looked around and took some pictures and walked back.  Both of us had one knee hurting by the time we got back to the RV.  Our old joints aren’t what they used to be.

Port Aransas borders the Gulf of Mexico so the ocean we were viewing was the Gulf.  Just down the strip of land from Port A, there’s a strip of land called Mustang Island.   Further down toward Mexico is Padre Island.   A lot of college kids come to this area for spring break.  I remember than many years ago, Ronald came to Padre Island for spring break from Abilene.   Last night, it sounded like kids had already arrived.  We woke up at 2:30 a.m.  because of car racing on the street next to the RV park.  It went on for about l/2 hour.  By that time, I was awake and could not sleep for the next two hours.  Ron said he never did go back to sleep.  He heard a barge or large ship come through (the water is just on the other side of the street about 4:30 a.m.  If they blow their horns as they come through the port, they are sometimes very loud. 
We have enjoyed some good fellowship and meals with church members in this area.  It’s our third year to come down here so we know a lot of people and meet some new ones on each trip.  The restaurants with seafood are especially good, but not cheap.   The seafood is brought in fresh from the ocean by commercial fishermen, so it’s delicious.
Today, Feb. 3rd is our last day here.  We will go down the valley to San Benita, McAllen, and Brownsville from here.  This carries us almost to Mexico but we don’t get too close to the border.   There are a lot of Hispanics in these cities and in stores and restaurants Spanish is about all we hear spoken.  It is dangerous in the southern cities so we don’t venture out shopping or exploring.  We will visit churches in this area for about two weeks.   We can park at the Sunny Glen Children’s Home and at the church building in McAllen.   There are no lakes or Corp of Engineer parks) in southern Texas.
Ron stays very busy making appointments, planning the trips, keeping the RV in good repair and working on the computer at least 8 hours every day.  Some days, he is on the computer much longer but with appointments and travel, it’s broken up from time-to-time.   When we are parked, I am also working.  I just completed the dreaded tax letters to our contributors.  I am thankful for all the donations but being required by law to get a tax letter to everyone in January is quite a task.  The law, like many other laws, does not make sense anyway.  To back up a donation, IRS requires that you obtain a letter for any charitable donation of $250 or more.  The strange thing to me is, you could give 100 donations of $249 and IRS would not require a letter but claiming one donation of $250 needs a letter for the individual’s tax records.   As an accommodation to our sponsors, I prepare letters also listing all of their donations (including those under $250) if they gave as much as $250 in total.  

Leigh Ann and I made a deal this year – she handled all of the reports and letters from the care centers in China, sending everything to the children’s sponsors, while I worked on tax letters in January.  Usually, we divide up the work but this seemed to be the easiest for both of us this month.  This is the last day of January and all the tax letters are out and Leigh Ann is caught up on her work from China.   Groundhog Day is coming soon, but we won’t care about his prediction since we will be in the warmer climate for the next month or six weeks.
We had a wonderful surprise last week.  A young man from Lithuania was just like a son to us while we were in Montreal, Quebec (1991-1998).  We lost track of him and when we saw an email from him, we almost jumped up with joy.  He searched the internet and found us because of our work in China.  Technology can be used in a bad way but it’s wonderful in so many ways.  I have located lost friends on Facebook and searching the internet.  I also found Jason, another young man that came into our lives in St. Croix in 1985, by searching the internet recently.   It is truly a shame to let people out of our lives and not keep in touch but over the years with us all going our separate ways, it’s going to happen.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to meet up with these young men again and also to be able to chat with our son in China, our daughter-in-law in the Philippines and our daughter and granddaughter in Atlanta, all just a minute away by email or Skype. 

We miss our family so much but keeping in touch helps some.  Ronald, our son, has the charity hospital in Henan about 98% completed.  He has worked 7 days a week since mid-July.  It’s not been an easy task, as he faced many obstacles.  I don’t know how he’s hung in the way he has under difficult circumstances.   The government gave him a small apartment and furnished two of his meals a day, but it’s minimal.  Very few people would live in these conditions at all, much less for more than six months.  He seldom has hot water or internet and the meals are not good.   Gigi, Ronald’s wife from the Philippines, was able to get a VISA to be with him for three months.  She had never experienced cold weather before and she saw snow for the first time.  She told me they rode the motor bike to the market (I think she cooked more of their meals when she got there).  I am sure it was hard for her but I’m also certain that she brought much joy to Ronald’s life just getting to share life with her.  (Hardships of life are easier when we are with someone we love.)   Gigi returned to the Philippines mid-January.  They are trying to plan their future now that the major projects are completed.
King, a Chinese boy of 13, came to the U.S. in 2006 for skin graft surgeries.  His parents were killed in a house fire and King was burned very badly over much of his body.  He lived with us (and part of the time with a family in Ashland City, TN) for 19 months.  He was home-schooled in English until he could go to public school in Georgia.  He went to the 8th grade there.  He returned to China by the 9th grade but they put him back one year because of his Chinese (he had been away a couple of years by this time).  King graduated from high school in June, 2012.   On January 3rd, he entered Four Seas Bible College in Singapore.  Classes are taught by American professors in English so King had to brush up on his English to be able to take these courses.  He says it’s a little hard but he is sure he will be able to succeed and he’s promised himself that he will do it.  This is probably the greatest confidence I have seen in him.  He is now 20 years old.  We are so proud that he has overcome so many obstacles in his life and remains strong and determined to have a good future. 

We still have many churches to visit in many cities of Texas.  Texas really is big!    That claim is well-established when you travel around.  We have also found Texans wonderful people.  Everything may be the biggest and best in the state, but they should boast about having some of the nicest people in the world too.   The economy is still good in Texas.  We see signs “Hiring” and businesses are all busy.   Today, we had lunch with Phyllis and Gerald Lee, dear friends in Portland, who own a Century 21 Real Estate business.  Phyllis said sales are good.   I probably would not hear that if I talked with Bobbie, my friend in Georgia at Century 21.  We hope the economy will continue to improve in every state.
Until I can find time to write again, may God bless you all!