Belize 2018 Field Updates.

Follow along as breaking news comes from First Baptist Church and First United Methodist Church Youth missionaries in Belize:

2018 Trip Recap

On January 18, 2016 during the MLK breakfast at our church, I felt my phone vibrate.  I saw the call was coming from Belize.  Since I was seated near the back, I slipped out the kitchen door and answered.  “Mr. Ray!” exclaimed the voice.  It was Heman, who is the director of the Baptist Training Center in Belize.  “Didn’t you say you were going to bring a group to Belize in 2018?  If you are, the camp is almost booked.  The only week I have left is July 14-21.”

I told Heman to book the camp and I would mail him a check.  Two and one-half years later on Tuesday, July 24, a weary group of travelers finally arrived home in the wee hours of the morning after a thrilling and dynamic mission experience.

This trip had many challenges.  The day before departure Meagan Smith, who was in charge of Crafts, became ill and informed us she could not travel.  Ashley Phillips and Hannah Finch quickly stepped up to the plate and took charge of Crafts.  The next morning as the group was checking in at RDU airport. Lee Mabe saw the agent’s facial demeanor change and she said, “Oh no.”   The flight had been cancelled.  Up until this point the only travel concern was a tight connection in Miami.  Now it looked like the group could not get to Miami at all.

The next 36 hours became unscripted drama with the majority of the group scrambling to get through security while the airline held a flight to Dallas.  The remaining six members of the group spent the majority of day in Raleigh before flying to Dallas in the afternoon.  The first group spent all day in the Dallas airport, riding the sky tram for entertainment!  Late in the afternoon they boarded a very big plane to fly to Miami, but once they landed there was more drama as the agents worked to get them booked to Belize the next morning.  They finally arrived at a hotel at 1 in the morning.  They had been up for 24 hours.  The smaller group spent the night in Dallas, but the airline would not keep the storage containers with all our supplies, so they had to be carried to a hotel and back the next morning.

Meanwhile in Belize another drama was unfolding.  Five of us went to Belize two days early to prepare for the big group’s arrival.  When we were going through Customs I was informed that a new law required me to pay a 38% tax on all the supplies we were bringing into Belize for Bible School.  We were looking at over $1,000 in taxes for all of our supplies and some gifts for an orphanage.  I tried to explain that these were all supplies we were using for Vacation Bible School and gifts for children in an orphanage.  We were on a humanitarian mission.  We were coming to Belize to serve the people of Belize, not to seek any profit.  Finally the Customs agent said, “The only way you can avoid this tax is to have a personal letter from the Minister of Finance.  You must have that letter when your big group arrives on Saturday.  Since you did not know, you can only pay $100 now.”

Some of the supplies we were bringing were cookies and snacks for Bible School.  She had been eyeing some of the cookies and added, “Next time, bring me some cookies.”   Goodness, if I had given her the cookies first, maybe she would have been easier on me!

Relieved to only pay $100, I carried the papers to the cashier who was in a small office behind a glass window.  He looked at the papers and asked, “Are you teaching children the Bible?”   “Yes,” I replied.

“Then it is not right you should have to pay so much tax.”

I handed him the $100 and he quietly slipped half of it back to me.

Then a kindly porter named Clifford who was helping us our supplies told me that he would help me when the big group arrived.  I also ran into a friend named Mark, who works for Tropic Air, a local airline.  He said, “You are my friend.  I will do anything I can to help.”

But neither Clifford nor Mark could get me a letter from the Minister of Finance.

Life is all about relationships.  In the 35 years I have been doing mission work in Belize, I have developed many relationships.   One is Brother Henry.  Brother Henry is a Baptist pastor and is a fellow director at the Baptist Training Center.  He also owns a number of vehicles, vans and SUVs that he rents at a very reasonable price for mission teams.  I contacted Brother Henry 18 months before our trip and asked him to reserve two vans and two SUVs for us.   Brother Henry only deals in cash, but it saves us thousands of dollars in rental fees.

I called Brother Henry.  At one time he was the Fire Chief for the country of Belize.  If anyone would have any contacts with the government, it would be him.  “I will see what I can do,” he said.

On Sunday morning I drove the airport not knowing what would happen.  Brother Henry met me with the vehicles, his Bible in hand.  He was on his way to preach.  I handed him the cash and he said, “I have something for you.”

He handed me a letter from the Minister of Finance of Belize exempting us from the 38% tax!

Our group was arriving on three separate flights, two from Miami and one from Dallas.  I found my friends Clifford and Mark.  They brought me into the Customs Hall.  With their help and a letter from the Minister of Finance, I was allowed to be in the Customs Hall for each flight.  That would not happen in the US!

A tired but happy group of Mission travelers arrived and by early afternoon, we were all piled into Henry’s vehicles on our way to Cheers for a happy celebration.  We were a day late, but as the group found our Mission T-Shirts hanging in the rafters from our three previous trips, we happily presented the new shirt with all of our signatures to Mrs. Tupper who owns Cheers.

Monday morning we donned our bright orange “All For Jesus” t-shirts and drove to the Belmopan Baptist Church.  We had t-shirts for all the Belizean youth and they were thrilled.  We only had about 30 kids on Monday, but that is typical for Belize.   Bible School starts slow, but then it grows.

Bible School grew each day and by Friday the church was bursting at the seams!   We were bringing children from all over the area.  One of our vans was filled with over 30 kids.  On Thursday when I announced to the children that the next day would be the final day of Bible School, there was a loud groan.  They did not want Bible School to end!

We had been working with the Belmopan Baptist Youth Leaders and Pastor David Rowland for over a year as we planned for Bible School.  We asked our friends in Belmopan to develop the theme, and they did:  “All for Jesus!”

We then developed the Bible Stories, memory verses and themes for each day.  The five stories highlighting those who gave “All for Jesus” were:  Noah’s Ark, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, The Four Friends who cut a hole in the roof, the Widow’s Mite, and the little boy who shared his lunch leading to The Feeding of the 5,000.   Our four teams:  Bible, Recreation, Crafts, and Music highlighted these stories each day.

Even the refreshments matched the stories.   For Joshua and the Battle of Jericho the children received Graham Crackers and Peanut Butter so they could build a wall.    They had Animal Crackers for Noah and the Ark, Goldfish for the Feeding of the 5,000, and a Gingerbread Man for the man who was carried by the four friends to Jesus.  Mrs. Hanes Cookies did a special order for us of heart shaped sugar cookies for the Widow’s Mite with the verse to “Love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”   The wonderful ladies at Mrs. Hanes were excited to be a part of our mission experience.

Friday afternoon we invited the youth from Belmopan Baptist to join us at the camp.  We had a great cookout with hamburgers and hot dogs.  The kids played games and had a fun-filled afternoon.  But the greatest thing was to watch young people from different countries and different cultures form lasting friendships.  When it was time to say good-bye, no one wanted to leave!

Friday night we had an unexpected visitor at the camp.  Pastor David and several of the youth came and said to gather our group together.  Pastor David works for the US Embassy and was not able to attend Bible School, but he did drop by a couple of times.  His wife, Martha, was there every day and helped us in a great way.  Pastor David said she had shared what a great Bible School the church had experienced.

With our entire mission team gathered around, Pastor David Rowland gave a heartfelt and passionate speech expressing his sincere gratitude and the gratitude of the entire church.  He told us that we would never know how much the Bible School meant to the church.  He then called Joyce and me to the front and presented us with a lovely gift.   It was a gift bag with a Belize plate, a Belize flag and coasters.  Then he asked all the adults to come forward and he had a gift for each one.  Finally, the youth were called and there was a Belize backpack for each of our young people.   I was overwhelmed and deeply touched.

I told our group later that I had been going on mission trips since I was in high school, but I had never experienced such sincere gratitude and heart-felt thanks.  And the gifts—oh my!   The gifts were very nice!

The final leg of our journey started Saturday morning, but we had yet another challenge.  One of our vans would not start.  It had been giving problems the day before and we thought we had it fixed, but now it would not start at all.

We decided to leave all of our big suitcases at the camp and take only a small carry-on or a backpack to the island.  We had 12 people in the remaining van and 5 in each of the SUVs.  I talked to Brother Henry and he promised to send someone to fix our van, which he did.

The Pelican Beach Resort has been a special place for our Belize Teams.  I came to Dangriga and the Pelican Beach for the first time 35 years ago.  We have dear friends who have been a part of this wonderful place for the entire time.  There is Mrs. Bowman, Joe B, Alphonso, Jackie, Terri, Leonard, and Kevin.

When Kevin was a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia.  Terri talked to us and wanted to know if we knew anyone who could help.  You may remember Jeanne Davis’s brother, Dr. Roger Saunders.  He preferred that we call him “Uncle Roger.”  He was one of the leading authorities and a pioneer in the treatment of dyslexia in our nation.  We put Terri in touch with Uncle Roger and today, you would never know Kevin ever had a problem.

Kevin was also critically burned in a grease fire a number of years ago.  Terri asked for our prayers.  Kevin not only survived, but today there is no evidence of the accident.  There were hugs all around when we saw Terri and Kevin for the first time in three years.

The first thing Terri asked me was, “Did you bring church with you?”  Three years before we had celebrated communion the last night on the island and invited the staff to join us.  They had not forgotten and wanted us have a time of worship and communion again.

“Of course!” I said.  “We always bring church with us!”

I shared with our group that this small island, I call it Gilligan’s Island, is not just a special place, but it is a sacred place.   For here we not only close our mission with rest and relaxation, but it is a time of reflection and spiritual renewal.  It is also a time for baptism!

Late Sunday afternoon we gathered at the beach and I shared the story of Philip and the Ethiopian from the 8th chapter of Acts.  The Ethiopian may have been looking at the Mediterranean when he said, “Look there is water.  What prevents me from being baptized?”

We lifted up our eyes and saw the beautiful waters of the Caribbean Sea and I asked the question, “What prevents you from being baptized?”

I have been privileged to stand on Holy Ground many times in my ministry.  There have been weddings and funerals, moments of spiritual decision and celebration—but no experience is more powerful than baptisms in the Caribbean Sea or the Jordan River.  I will never forget the youth and adults who one by one confessed their faith in Jesus as Lord of their life and were baptized beneath the warm, salty waters.  And, when I had baptized everyone, they baptized me!

Three of our youth were baptized for the first time.   What a joy!

That night we gathered for our final time of worship with our Belizean sisters and brothers.  I shared a Scripture and made brief comments, then two of our youth shared what being in Belize meant to them.

I invited any of the Belize family to share.  Terri was the first one and shared a passionate and inspired message.  And then, her son Kevin,  who has been through so much in his short life, shared what God has done for him!  Joyce and I especially were deeply moved.

I can’t describe how powerful the communion service was.  As Lee Mabe held the chalice I dipped the individual pieces of Cassava Bread into the wine and offered the body and blood of Christ, “Given for you.”   We asked our Belizean family to come first.  They received the gift of communion with reverence and humility, many making the sign of the cross.   Then came our wonderful mission team.  One by one, the youth who had worked so hard, the adults who guided everyone so well, came and received the sacred bread and wine.

We formed a circle and started to sing.  Our group shared some songs first, then our Belizean sisters and brothers sang the Lord’s Prayer for us in Garifuna.   No one wanted it to end.  We finally closed with “Amazing Grace.”  Truly the presence of the Lord was in that place!

The next morning we said good-bye and sailed to the mainland.  I knew that I would have to go out of the way to get the van that was now fixed.  I told Nathan Hall and Harrison to hold on, and they did.  I drove like Richard Petty down the Hummingbird Highway!  I bet Nathan was catching up with his prayer life!   Heman had the van loaded.

Lee Mabe’s vehicle was having some problems with a tire.  He had to return to Dangriga to find air, but once the tire was pumped up we were all praying they would make it okay, and they did!  We were finally all together again at the International Airport in Belize City.

We had one final delay.  Our flight to RDU was delayed because they were waiting on a co-pilot.  But by this time we were not concerned at all.  God had seen us through all of the other challenges, this was a minor issue.  A co-pilot finally boarded and we headed for Raleigh, landing an hour late.  We were home!  And a  round 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning, we were all finally in our beds.

The mission trip was finally over, but our lives will never be the same.  You better Belize it!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Yesterday was a climactic conclusion to a wonderful mission experience. After two beautiful days on South Water Caye we gathered at the beach to hear the story of the Ethiopian official asking “See there is water. What prevents me from being baptized?”

With the breathtaking Caribbean Sea before us we asked the same question. Then many of our youth and adults confessed that Jesus is Lord of their life and were baptized in the warm Caribbean waters. It was a moving and emotional gift.

Last night we gathered with the staff and workers of the Pelican Resort and experienced one of the most powerful services of communion I have known. As one by one our Belizean brothers and sisters came to humbly receive the body and blood of Christ. We heard testimonies from our youth and from our Belizean family. Then we gathered in a circle of love where we sang and rejoiced for a long time. Our Belizean family sang the Lords Prayer in Garifuna. It was an amazing evening.

Now we have landed in Miami waiting for our final flight to RDU. We should be back in Lexington around 2 – 2:30 am. We will be tired but this experience will stay with us for a lifetime

Grace and Peace


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Surprise! We do have WiFi!

Everyone is enjoying this beautiful island. Snorkeling is this afternoon. Tonight we close with a service of communion.

When we arrived yesterday the staff asked me if we brought church with us. They remembered the last time when we invited them to join us in communion.

We said yes we did. Tonight will be a special service of joy

I will update you tomorrow on our progress as we head home.


Saturday, July 21, 2018

This has been a phenomenal week! Vacation Bible School ended with a record breaking crowd yesterday. One of the goals of this trip was for our youth to develop relationships with youth in another country in a different culture. Yesterday afternoon, our camp was a place of laughter, joy, and friendship. When it was time to go, no one wanted to say goodbye.

There were tears as we said goodbye to our wonderful cooks who have provided for us as a grandmother would provide for her grandchildren. We were very surprised last night when Pastor David and several of the young people came to the camp and said they had an announcement to make. Pastor David told us– what a difference this week had made in the life of this church. He talked about how grateful they were for our coming Then they presented us with gifts I was overwhelmed. I told our group that I had been going on mission trips since I was in high school but never had an experienced such a genuine display of gratitude

We are leaving this morning and going to beautiful South Water Caye. There is no electricity on this little island and there is no Wi-Fi either. That means we will be out of touch until Monday.

We are having trouble with one of our vans and it is out of commission. We are leaving most of our luggage at the camp and the van should be repaired sometime later today. We will pick it up on the way to the airport Monday. Say a little prayer that it will start!

We can’t wait to get back home and share the wonderful stories of how lives have been changed in Belize. The greatest thing is we have seen our lives change.

I will send you messages on Monday and update you on our progress as we head home

Thank you for all your love and support


Friday, July 20, 2018

Wow! I think we doubled our attendance today in Bible School. Our youth and leaders were more than equal to the challenge. When I announced that tomorrow will be the final day of Bible School there was a loud groan. The children don’t want us to leave!

We took the youth to Spanish Lookout this afternoon (the Mennonite settlement) to get ice cream.

Tomorrow afternoon we are welcoming all the youth from Belmopan Baptist to the camp for a cookout.

If I still have WiFi I’ll send more pictures

This is such a tremendous group of youth. We love being with them!!!


Thursday, July 19, 2018

I hope you enjoy the pictures. Our youth continue to amaze me with their commitment and dedication. Several are already saying they are dreading saying goodbye to these precious children

I will continue to keep you updated. Just know that your youth and adult leaders are making you proud in Belize as they share God’s love and grace. They are giving “All For Jesus!”


Wednesday, July 18, 2018
We had a tremendous day in Bible School! Many more children attended today to hear about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho. From the Bible Class where the children blew “trumpets “ and marched around the class seven times, to the refreshments where the children built a wall out of Graham Crackers and Peanut Butter, to the crafts where they made a wall and wrote things on it that gave them courage, to the music class where the children raised the roof singing “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho” it was a fantastic theme.

Our youth are doing such a great job with their leadership. I can’t say enough good things about them. They are a joy to be with. It makes me proud to be their minister.

We went to the Mayan Ruins this afternoon. Everyone enjoyed it and we learned a lot. We have another busy day tomorrow.

I will keep you posted. Things are great in Belize


Tuesday, July 17, 2018 update.

We have a very weak WiFi connection. I tried sending some more pictures but couldn’t.

I’m sending this message from my phone to let you know we had a great beginning to VBS. The numbers were down due to morning rain, but the children were enthusiastic. One of the best things we have experienced is working with the Belmopan youth. They have a great youth leader who has been wonderful to work with in preparing for Bible school.

Yesterday afternoon we took our group to the Baboon Sanctuary where they learned about jungle plants and watched howler monkeys descend from the trees.

Everyone is still sleeping as I write this. I’m on my way to pick up our cooks. We feel your prayers as we prepare for another great day on the mission field in Belize


Looking good!

Monday, July 16, 2018 update.

Fry Jacks Breakfast!

Craft Team!

Bible Team!

Music Team!

Recreation Team!


  1. Beth McDonald says

    I’m looking forward to the updates.

    • T Shepherd says

      Thanks Beth! Keep coming back as Ray will update us on the happenings of our missionaries! There’s more news today!

  2. Newell Davis says

    We are praying for all of you every day and throughout the day! Many, many blessings from the Lord every day.

  3. Michelle Hopkins says

    Love seeing the pictures and getting updates!

  4. Melinda Hartley says

    Thanks for the updates. I am praying for you all daily.

  5. Julia Dunn says

    The pictures are wonderful! Praying for each of you daily. Love to all who are representing us in Belize Missions….you are awesome!

  6. Jerry Beamer says

    I’ve enjoyed the updates! So proud of this team.
    You will never be the same!

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