Tears Water the Seeds of Hope
Chapter One
Chapter 1 - Wrecked for Life
The setting sun painted a backdrop of cotton candy pink clouds over the roadside bar and grill where we would soon hear our favorite acoustic guitar duo sing Jimmy Buffet songs. It was an idyllic Wisconsin summer night late in June of 2005. Under normal circumstances, I would have enjoyed the warm breeze and the glow of the festive colored tiki lights on the outdoor deck with the sense of carefree recreation that Midwestern families enjoy when school is out and the days are longer. Randy shook his head, smiling as our two daughters took turns throwing harmless jabs at one another, each laughing hysterically at her own jokes. I felt as if I were watching the scene from a distance, fighting back tears as my mind returned to the children I had seen two days earlier in a squalid hospital in drought and famine-stricken eastern Guatemala—a scene that would change me forever and wreck me once and for all for the relentless pursuit of the American Dream. I was haunted by the forlorn faces of two children whose hopeless situation had laid the framework for the rest of my life.
The severely starved two-year-old boy was scarcely more than skin and bones. Hair was a luxury his body could not afford, as the nutrients available to him were barely enough to keep his vital organs functioning. His face was sunken and pale, the outline of his ribs and spine clearly visible through his thin layer of skin. He had been carried by his barefooted ten-year-old sister from El Volcancito, their remote mountain village several miles away, into the small town of Jocotan, in hopes that his life could be saved. The mother of the children was bedridden with a debilitating illness for which she could not afford treatment. My heart broke as much for the boy, barely hanging on and suffering miserably, as for the young girl, exhausted and saddled with the crushing responsibility of keeping her baby brother alive.
A frail little girl sat weeping on a tattered bench at the entrance to the facility, her body emaciated and her abdomen severely bloated, revealing the presence of parasites within her weak, trembling frame. She had been brought to the hospital for nutritional rehabilitation, and because she was four years old, and her mother had two smaller children to care for at home, she had been left alone. Lidia could not have understood why she had been left behind by her family in this unfamiliar place. She had been sitting on the bench since early morning waiting for them to return. In her hand she clutched what was probably her only toy, a comfort and reminder of home. The lump in my throat returned each time I recalled opening her tiny hand to find that she held a black plastic vulture.
Randy and I were married in May of 1993. During our early years together, we were blessed with two beautiful daughters and were pursuing careers in real estate, climbing the ranks among our colleagues in terms of sales volume. We purchased an enormous house on four acres, and although it was only four years old, we completely remodeled it to suit our tastes. With luxury vehicles and an ever-increasing income, we were living the American Dream. There was much to be thankful for, but something was missing.
Randy and I had both grown up near Madison, Wisconsin in middle class families, Randy’s Methodist and mine Catholic. We had attended Sunday services and believed in an all-powerful God, but faith and religion were not playing a major role in our adult lives. Having agreed as newlyweds to raise our family in faith, we dutifully attended services at a congregation near our home for seven years. But we eventually felt that we needed a change and in spring of 2000, we set out in search of a new church home. With no predetermined denomination in mind, we experienced a variety of church cultures, some too formal, some too weird, others seemingly insincere. We eventually stumbled across an Evangelical Free church on the west side of Madison, near our home in the suburb of Verona. I was surprised to find that instead of an organ and a choir, this church had a band that played upbeat contemporary Christian music on keyboards, guitars and drums. The young pastor spoke with passion, bringing the Bible to life by applying scripture to issues faced by the generations of the twenty-first century. It was at this church that our faith came alive.
Our new understanding of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ and the resulting sense of love and gratitude we felt toward God, inevitably began to pose problems for us. We were embarrassed to invite our new Christian friends to our supersized home, and conflicts began to surface in our hearts about how our time and money were being spent. One of the many bedrooms in our home had been turned into my personal closet and was loaded with clothing and shoes, most of which I did not need. I had become so busy in my career as a Realtor that I began to feel like a gerbil on a wheel. My twelve-hour workdays did not leave room for the peace and joy I had heard should come with our newly authenticated Christian faith. One frantically busy day I decided to return phone calls while waiting in line for lunch at the McDonald’s drive through. When a voice came over the speaker saying, “Can I help you?”  I was so preoccupied that I mistook it for a phone call and said, “Hello, this is Kim Tews with the Tews Team Realtors”.
During the awkward silence that followed the kid must have been thinking, “Yeah, who cares? What do you want for lunch?” 
That night I arrived home from work late in the evening to find our three-year-old daughter asleep on the couch clinging to a shirt I had worn the day before. When I asked Randy about the shirt he explained, “She said it smells like you, and she misses you.”
It was time for a change.

Chapter 2 - The Price of a Child’s Eyesight 

Recognizing our need for a vacation, we booked four
tickets, packed our bags, and headed to Mexico with Randy’s parents for what we thought would be a relaxing and inconsequential break from our hectic lives. The trip was a typical vacation filled with sun, fun, and sand castles, except for one thing. One day we took a van ride with several other tourists to an attraction several miles from our hotel. The lighthearted conversation between the passengers eventually arrived at the question, “What would you do if you won the lottery?” The answers ranged from sailing around the world in yachts to telling bad bosses where to go. I thought we had left our conflicted hearts at home to enjoy this break from reality, but when it was my turn to answer I heard myself saying, “I would
like to make a difference for the poor people of the world.” The other passengers looked intrigued as Mike Milbach, a friend of Randy’s parents, spoke up saying, “You don’t have to win the lottery to do that.”

The remark would have sounded condescending had he not continued in a kind tone with an invitation. “I am a member of the board of directors of a Seattle-based organization called Public Health International (PHI), and we are working in Ecuador to place drinking water systems in villages plagued by waterborne disease.” He further explained that he wanted to put us in contact with a friend who would be traveling to Ecuador to visit villages that were being considered for the installation of water systems. We exchanged email addresses, and the wheels in my mind began spinning. Did he mean that he wanted us to actually go to Ecuador? That was in South America, right?


Within days of returning home I received an email from Mike’s friend, Frank, a civil engineer who indeed formally invited us to join him on a trip to visit some of the poorest villages of the Santa Elena peninsula in western Ecuador. Randy’s immediate reaction was, “No way! This is dangerous territory. There are civil wars, guerillas, banditos . . .” He mentioned various other scary things that I now refer to as “monsters under the bed.” But we knew that the resources God had given us were intended to be used for His purposes and, eager to put our faith into action, we offered to sponsor a water system. It was November of 2001, and we were on a plane bound for Ecuador, only a few months after the van ride in Mexico that had become the first of many stepping stones toward God’s ultimate plan for our lives. We fell in love with the Latin American culture. The simplicity of the lifestyle and the kind, gentle nature of the people were inspiring, as was the gratitude they felt for the little they had. We wondered how so many in our country could have so much and be so miserable, while the people of this country could be so poor, yet so content. We had not seen the suffering of Guatemala, so with our limited perspective, the poverty of Ecuador seemed extreme. The idea of living without indoor plumbing alone seemed like hell on earth to us.


On our first day on the Santa Elena Peninsula, we settled into Manglaralto, a small oceanfront fishing town where we would be based as we spent the next few days visiting villages being considered for water systems. Frank took us to a local hospital to illustrate the contrast between the health care in rural Ecuador and that of urban America. We were appalled. The floors of the few small dingy rooms were caked with dried blood, and the striking lack of medical equipment and supplies called into question what, if any, medical care could be provided in the facility. A lone nurse passed from patient to patient, but there were no doctors present. We happened upon a nine-year-old boy whose eye socket was swollen to the size of a tennis ball with infection. His mother sat helplessly by his side in a state of despair, having been told that her son needed an antibiotic costing nearly a month’s worth of her husband’s wages, which she did not have. Without the medication, the infection would most likely spread to the other eye, and the boy could be left without sight in either eye. To make matters worse, the boy’s mother was living with the remorse of having tried various home remedies that had worsened the condition. The situation was translated to English for us since we then spoke very little Spanish. Tears welled in my eyes as my thoughts turned to our own daughters and how easily we would have been able to solve this problem for them. I thought of the life-threatening illnesses common in this country and how often parents must watch their children suffer and die for lack of resources to purchase medications that would have saved their lives. They loved their children as much as I loved mine, and it occurred to me that I had done nothing to earn my lot in life. My life of privilege was a result of the geographic location of my birth and the opportunities that my country had afforded me. I had always been aware that thousands of children around the world died each day due to unsafe drinking water, starvation, and preventable disease. But now the problem was becoming real and personal to me in ways I could no longer ignore. Apathy, preoccupation with “the good life,” and the responsibilities of home would never  gain be sufficient as an excuse to live as if the suffering in the world was not my problem.

The medication the boy needed was available in a neighboring town, and we asked the nurse to determine the cost and send word to us at Manglaralto’s small rundown ocean front hotel where we would be waiting at a table outside. The sun was setting over the sea as a few tattered fishing boats returned to shore, their  captains unloading meager rewards for a long day’s work. The sound of rhythmic waves lapped upon the shore while wild dogs searched the beach for food. They, like the fisherman, survived from day to day on the outcome of their quest for sustenance. Eventually we noticed the boy’s mother slowly approaching us, her downcast eyes expressing no hope or expectation of the miracle she needed. In her hand she held a scrap of paper on which was written the cost of the medication needed to save her son’s eyesight. She handed it to me without making eye contact. Twenty-five dollars was the insurmountable sum of money that would save her son from a lifetime of blindness. I stood up, reached into my waist pack, pulled out $25, and handed it to her unceremoniously. She burst into tears. Randy was next, followed by the members of the hotel staff that had been standing on the front steps of the hotel observing. As all within earshot watched in tears, the boy’s mother gushed expressions of appreciation in Spanish, most of which we could not understand. Her repeated phrase, “Que Dios les recompense,” were the only words I could decipher, which meant “May God repay you.” After several minutes exuding heartfelt expressions of gratitude, she hurried off to purchase the medication. We were amazed to find ourselves overcome with emotion over such a miniscule contribution given at so little sacrifice. The $25 would have been spent without hesitation on a few scones and lattes back home, but here it meant the difference between vision and blindness for a child.

Evening fell, and Frank led us to the humble household of a family that had invited us to dinner, having heard we had come to help their villages. This was a large family that would have been considered wealthy in this culture, but as we entered the small dimly-lit cinder block home, we were confused to find that we were being seated at a table set for three. A mangy rat the size of a small raccoon scurried around the perimeter of
the room, as Frank explained that they wished to honor us, but could not afford to feed their family the meal they were about to serve us. The fare was familiar: a small slice of beef, a mound of white rice, and refried black beans. Apparently, it was considered a privilege for this family to have us in their home, and as hard as it was to bring ourselves to eat a meal that would have been such a special treat for them, we had no choice but to enjoy their generous gift and express our gratitude  for their hospitality. In reality, it was we who were honored to have been treated so kindly.

Leaving our gracious hosts we shuffled back toward the hotel, exhausted while at the same time wired from the emotional impact of the day. The next day would be action-packed, and we needed rest, but knew we could not possibly sleep. Frank bid us goodnight and disappeared to his room, so Randy and I walked the dusty streets alone, reflecting on the day. We enjoyed the ocean air blended with the aroma of burning wood wafting from the kitchens of the humble homes that lined the streets. The world seemed to move in slow motion, and I relished the sense of peace and calm. At home I would have been dealing with the tyranny of email, paying bills, doing mounds of laundry or possibly collapsing to read a magazine, feeling lazy and guilty for taking a few moments to relax while my endless “to-do” list waited.

Eventually we happened upon a small dimly-lit tienda cluttered to capacity with snacks, cigarettes, and sundries. We bought a couple of beverages, and as we sat on the cement steps to unwind, three generations of the family that owned the shop emerged from the living quarters behind to greet us and welcome us to their town. The little Spanish I had learned thus far was nearly useless, but the five years of French I had taken in high school and college was helpful in communicating general concepts, since many verbs and adjectives are similar between French and Spanish. Randy, armed with his endearing sense of humor and a few vague memories of high school Spanish, led the conversation with a comedy of charades. The language barrier was extreme but the mutual sentiments were clear—we were happy to be there, and they were happy to have us. We had brought simple gifts: candles, nuts, candy, and Bibles which we pulled from our back packs and offered as a sign of our gratitude for their warm welcome. We laughed until we cried like life-long friends, amazed at the bond that could so quickly be formed among strangers from distant lands speaking different languages. We were having “fun” in the deepest sense we had experienced in quite some time, and, although we did not yet realize it, the wheels of change were turning within us.


Weariness finally caught up with us, and it was time to return to our tiny hotel room, joyfully exhausted, to collapse and try to sleep. As we approached the dwelling, however, we realized that our rest would be postponed a bit longer. The dark silhouette of a thin man on a bike in front of the hotel caught us by surprise. When we were within earshot, softly spoken words of gratitude poured forth from the visitor, at which point the communication barrier became a serious problem. I vowed that my top priority upon returning home would be to become fluent in Spanish. The man was the father of the boy who had received the benefits of our paltry $25 donation. He had ridden his bike into town from his mountain village eight miles away, after ten hours of work, to personally thank us for our generosity. His family had been praying for a miracle for his son, and he considered us to be the answer to their many prayers. Tears streamed from his eyes as we again heard the phrase, “Que Dios les recompensa.” I wished I had been able to communicate to the man that God had paid us in advance. He had blessed our lives immensely, and we were there to express our gratitude to Him and to be a sign of His love for this family.





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