Vida: That’s Life
How life came to Mario, Julieta, and many more
By Lael Caesar
Mario and Julieta Suazo were in tears. Their darling José was leaving home. It would be the first time in his 14 years that they would be separated from each other. José was going to America. They couldn’t know then, but it was the beginning of a brand-new life.
Training a Missionary
Mario and Julieta had raised their son the best they knew. Julieta still remembers the prayer José and his brother, Mario junior, prayed every morning for years before getting out of the car for school: “In Jesus’ name I declare that I am a man after God’s own heart and a servant of the Most High God.” José’s love for God shone through in his leadership among his peers at school and in church. He was ever sensitive to the needs of others. Julieta says, “It was not hard for me to see that he had a calling from God.”
Church was not José’s only love. He loved his dad and the country farm. He loved everybody and all of life—science, space, architecture, sports (especially soccer), riding horses, and swimming. Drawing, design, painting, animals, and computers engaged his fertile, youthful mind.
Julieta always believed that her son’s life would be a wonderful testimony for God.
José’s aunt Elva and uncle Ignacio Bautista are ardent Evangelical missionaries. They own and operate Camp Betel, an interdenominational camp located in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The campsite hosts a ministry school where many pastors are trained.
But one day a very different missionary group arrived at that campground. Hurricane Mitch had just decimated the country. Nothing like Mitch had been known in the region since Hurricane San Calixto in 1780.1 For Honduras alone, its toll was more than 5,600 dead, more than 8,000 others missing, and approximately US$3.8 billion in economic damage, undoing 50 years of progress, according to Honduran president Carlos Flores Facussé.2
The missionaries were students from Laurelbrook Academy in Dayton, Tennessee (USA) who had come to help after the hurricane. Elva took them in because they had nowhere else to stay. The longer they stayed, the more they fascinated her. She had never seen young people both that hardworking and that spiritual. As they helped her in the kitchen, they told her all about Laurelbrook Academy. Elizabeth, Elva’s daughter, explains: “My mother saw young people who were not afraid to say that they loved God.”
So captivated was Elva that she asked Elizabeth if she’d like to attend Laurelbrook. “I never thought my mother would let me go out on my own. It was amazing!” Elizabeth explained. But in 2001 her high school freshman year found her at Laurelbrook.
Aunt Elva kept recruiting for Laurelbrook. She began trying to convince José’s parents about the school. “My sister spoke so highly of that school,” Julieta says. “She gave me a leaflet that explained its philosophy. I realized that Laurelbrook’s priority was spiritual.” She thought of sending José. He was two years from graduating from high school—a school he and his friends had attended since they were 5. Yet, somehow, she and Mario both knew that this would be the best decision for José’s life.
Knowing that didn’t make their parting any easier. “I made a deal with Julieta not to cry when José left,” Mario said. “But on the day he left, we both burst into tears.” José remembers his mom’s advice about his new school: “Don’t argue with those crazy Adventists; they’re not bad people. They believe in the Sabbath, but you know the truth. Take advantage of the situation.”
José and Mario enjoyed their last father-and-son trip for a while, like those nostalgic times he had accompanied his dad out to the country farm. Mario’s visit to Laurelbrook left quite an impression on his open and secular mind. He said, “When I returned [to Honduras], I was sure that José was in very good hands.”
For José, arrival at Laurelbrook meant he could do some evangelizing of his own.
“I asked a lot of questions. Boys’ dean Rick Carr heard about it, so he invited me to Bible studies. I believed I could straighten them out through the Bible.” José began taking the studies. He learned more than he had thought possible, and made a life-changing decision for God’s truth. It was the spirit of total commitment to God that he had learned from his mother, the life she had been preparing him to live. So when dean Stephen Conway insisted, “If you believe, get baptized,” José knew he had to. Cousin Elizabeth became one of his first converts. “As soon as he learned the truth he accepted it,” she says. “I admired this. He influenced me a lot in my decision because he spoke plainly to me and rebuked my wrong ways.”
“I didn’t want to tell my parents until I was baptized,” José remembers. “When I did, my mom started crying. Then she said, ‘I believe God took you there to teach you these things—come back and teach us.’ ” Her earnest words were more prophetic than she could have imagined. Life was changing for the entire family.
Off to Europe
During his last year at Laurelbrook, José’s horizons dramatically expanded when Eddie Ramirez, a recruiter from the European Bible School (EBS) in Norway visited Laurelbrook. “The Lord made it possible for me to spend two years in Norway as a student and a staff member,” José explained. As he trained and worked he thought of home. “I started thinking of my father’s land in the village of El Suyatal. It was far from the city and yet near enough. I started dreaming of emulating the Norway experience in Honduras,” José recalled. He was thinking of another school of ministry for Honduras.
Mario remembers José’s phone calls home that discussed his love for Norway and his ideas for starting something similar back home. “From the beginning of his stay in Norway, he told us about his idea of starting a project in El Suyatal. We decided to support him in everything.”
“My mom wanted me to do graduate work, but I wanted a place like EBS—a Central American Bible school. My dad said, ‘José, God gave you these experiences. God has given me all I have so you can start this. My gifts are no coincidence.’ ”
So it was that in 2006, back in Honduras studying technical engineering, 19-year-old José used the gift of a six-acre guava plantation from his dad to launch VIDA for God. Julieta was on board: “We understood why the Lord had led his father, 15 years ago, to buy some land in Suyatal. God had been planning the project that was later born in José’s mind and heart.”
New Life in El Suyatal
Before VIDA there were no Adventists in El Suyatal’s population of about 5,000. But with helpers from EBS and Laurelbrook, José held evangelistic meetings in the area as his ministry project began to take root and grow. People welcomed the preaching. Some denounced their established religious leaders: “You have been teaching us lies,” one individual cried out. Trinito, an elderly citizen, was the first to be baptized in the little creek that runs through the property. As the examining pastor asked if he was in agreement with all the doctrines, Trinito responded, “Of course, Pastor, I believe these things; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here to be baptized.” Coming out of the water, he announced: “I can die in peace because I’ve met Jesus.” José overflowed with joy as his dad also gave his heart to the Lord, as he had earlier given his land. Now he and his son would work together in every sense of the term, fulfilling God’s great commission in their part of the world.
Julieta is following closely. She loves the health message and believes that Ellen White was God’s prophet. She says, “My husband has been involved in virtually everything! I’m behind them, supporting them in prayer and in all that I can.”
VIDA, the missionary enterprise that began at El Suyatal in 2006, is an acronym that spells “life” and stands for Vision Integral para el Desarrollo Asistencial—An Integrated Vision for Helpful Development. As much as anything else, VIDA integrates the peoples of the world: Heike Olschewski, head of its Health and Lifestyle division, is a seasoned health practitioner from Germany with 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Eliazar Moro, of Belize, José’s Laurelbrook and EBS classmate, manages finances. Director of evangelism is Erick Montenegro Oreamuno, of Costa Rica. New Englander Joseph Nally came to VIDA as a trained vegan chef and now directs the Central-American Bible Institute. Manuela Fankhauser, of Switzerland, directs the Campos Blancos bilingual school that started with two students and now has 35. A second American, Naomi Jackson, director of public relations, is a trained musician who dedicates several weeks each year to promoting the organization through her music in the United States.
“Two months is the average stay for visitors and volunteers,” José explains, of VIDA’s missionary training program, but it ranges from two weeks to four months. Bible school and other students go through a 10-month training program, with four hours each of classes and practical work per day. The time that VIDA’s international team invests in their own growth and the project’s steady development includes captivating early-morning hikes into the hills around for daily personal devotions.
Naomi Jackson explains the project’s early going: “EBS participated in three mission trips, each two months long, from 2007 to 2009. . . . Marta and Werner Rusch, then the directors of EBS, have always supported VIDA and continue to visit and serve on annual mission trips.” Other supporters include the Skotselv Seventh-day Adventist Church, which was the EBS local church, the Heartgood Foundation, the Matteson Mission School—also of Norway—and missionary-minded individuals from several countries.
“We thank God for each and every one of those missionaries who are giving everything to God for this project,” José says. Without them, the ministry would not be the same. God bless each of them!”
Passion for a Finished Work
VIDA’s youthful leaders understand that they, and all they possess, belongs to God and His work. As Mario admits: “It fills me with consternation to hear my son say, “Papito, nothing of all you call your own is really yours. It’s all God’s.” But José preaches only what he himself lives and believes. The total commitment he learned in childhood, from an honest, hardworking dad and earnest, missionary mother, aunt, and uncle, are seen in daily work on campus, health visits into the surrounding community, Bible studies and evangelistic initiatives in the homes of El Suyatal, and every prayer-saturated executive committee planning session. And because everything VIDA has and is has been given over to God’s use, God has seen fit to bless. People are in awe of their health work. Materially speaking, VIDA began with one adobe building worth about $5,000. The physical plant is now worth almost $400,000.3
VIDA runs on passion for a finished work. “God doesn’t need our talents or our resources,” José insists; “He needs our weakness that gives him an opportunity to do His work. God has done so here using young people to do great things. More laity needs to join the ministry. When the laity rally to work with ministers, the work will be finished.’ ”
Mario and Julieta look forward to that day, a day of glorious, eternal life. But already they are reaping in joy.
3 Tax-deductible contributions to support VIDA Internacional may be made through Outpost Centers International (OCI ), 5132 Layton Lane Apison, Tennessee 37302; .
Lael Caesar is an associate editor of Adventist World who received new inspiration for ministry while teaching at VIDA.