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Mission of the Heart Column

Mission of the Heart Column

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Published by Steve Buttry
This is a Des Moines Register column I wrote following publication of a 2000 series about a mission trip to Venezuela following the December 1999 mudslides.
This is a Des Moines Register column I wrote following publication of a 2000 series about a mission trip to Venezuela following the December 1999 mudslides.

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Published by: Steve Buttry on Jan 15, 2010
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01/15/2010

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This column followed the “Mission of the Heart” series.

Copyright 2000 Des Moines Register Reprinted with permission March 25, 2000 Saturday SECTION: METRO IOWA; Buttry Stephen; Pg. 6B HEADLINE: Mission to Venezuela changed many lives By Stephen Buttry Register Religion Writer El Pauji, Venezuela -Only a miracle could have brought Yvonna Stephenson to Venezuela. She's sure of that. Stephenson felt called to join the mission from First Assembly of God in Des Moines, but she could not afford the $1,200 needed up front for each member of a mission team. She could not afford even the lesser amounts for her passport, shots and spending money. "I flat out didn't have any cash to put into this trip whatsoever," she recalled, riding a van through the Venezuelan countryside. Stephenson was among 60 Iowa missionaries who ministered to hundreds of Venezuelans for a week in February. The missionaries and their hosts in Venezuela were wonderfully hospitable to Des Moines Register photographer Gary Fandel and me. We accompanied them and produced a four-part series that was published earlier this week. Our "Mission of the Heart" series told the collective stories of the group's work in the aftermath of December's disaster. Today I'll add some personal stories: Yvonna Stephenson After hearing about the needs in El Pauji at First Assembly's missions convention last October, Stephenson was sure she should go. She just didn't know how that would be possible. Friends solved one problem almost immediately by saying they would watch her 8-year-old son. Other friends paid for her travel and other expenses. When she received the first few checks, "I cried. I have never been so touched in my life," she said. "I know that I was supposed to go on this mission trip." Juan Madriz Juan Madriz, a former drug dealer who lost a leg in a gun battle, now runs

Impacto de Dios (Impact of God) drug rehabilitation center. At evening devotions during the Iowans' visit to El Pauji, he told about his escape from disaster. The rising water trapped Madriz and the patients at his center on a rooftop, joined by people from nearby buildings. Madriz prayed, "My God, don't let me die." He said God told him, "Don't worry about yourself. Worry about those that don't know me." He told the crowd on the rooftop, "The only way that we'll be saved in this place is that everybody accept Christ as savior." The people fell on their knees and prayed for salvation, from their sins and from the cataclysm. Soon huge tree trunks and other objects got snagged immediately upstream, making a wall that diverted the flow around the building. The crowd on the rooftop raised their hands and praised God, Madriz said. John Palmer The Rev. John Palmer, pastor of First Assembly of God, accompanied one of his congregation's mission trips for the first time. He had preached overseas before and done mission work privately with his wife, Debbie, but never with a team from the church. The mission team's puppet shows brought back memories for Palmer, who started his first church in Athens, Ohio, 25 years ago by holding puppet shows and giving out coupons for free hamburgers. "That's how we started a church," Palmer said. "We started with children." This Sunday the church will celebrate two anniversaries: Palmer's 15th as pastor in Des Moines and 25 years of marriage for the couple. The celebration will include a 10 a.m. roast of Palmer between the two morning worship services and a 6 p.m. service followed by a reception. Lenin Jose Romero The Iowans were amazed by Lenin Jose Romero, known locally as Neco, or Cripple. He was born with deformed legs that in adulthood are barely bigger around than the handle of a shovel. The visitors regarded him first with pity, then with awe. Often sitting on the ground while he worked, Neco pitched in with the American work crews, digging dirt and mixing cement. He felt possessive of the 4-year-old Fuente de Vida School, where a niece is a student. "I started opening the holes for the foundation," he explained through an interpreter. "I helped put up the columns. I helped mix the cement."

Ken Butters plans to display a photo of ?eco in his Des Moines law office as a daily reminder. "You see the heart and the will and the spirit of that man and you know you can do more." Iowa youths Youth transcends the language barrier. Eight students made the trip from Iowa to Venezuela. Children in El Pauji and other villages the missionaries visited crowded around the Iowa youths, communicating in the universal language of play. Matt Moeckl, a senior at Iowa State University, entertained children in the dental clinic by inflating latex gloves with his nose. Home-schooled eighth-grader Kelsey Blessman of Polk City always attracted a flock with her puppet. Ryan Ruisch, a junior at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minn., was especially touched by a frightened girl in the dental clinic who "felt that she could take refuge in me." Steve Holte, a junior at Valley High School, signed autographs for adoring children on the Iowans' final day. He wasn't particularly fluent in Spanish. "It's partly the Holy Spirit that helps them to understand me," he said. Rose Saylor The mission trip fulfilled a vision Rose Saylor recalls as a little girl 48 years ago. When she was 5 years old, Saylor said, she saw Jesus. "He held out his hands to me and said, 'Come, child.' " She sat on Jesus' lap and he told her she would work for him someday, Saylor said. Family upheaval caused her to stray, she said, but Jesus eventually "became the mainstay in my life when I couldn't count on anyone else." When she learned last fall about this mission trip, Saylor knew it was time to answer that long-ago call. "I felt like God wanted me to give my testimony." Reporter Stephen Buttry can be reached at (515) 699-7058 or buttrys @news.dmreg.com GRAPHIC: _By: GARY FANDEL, THE REGISTER; A strong man: Lenin Jose Romero, known as "?eco," shows his upper-body strength by walking on his hands.

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