#CarryOnAdvent: God’s Perseverance

God called me to Madagascar November 2007 when I heard Rev. Patsy McGregor speak in Miami. After three short term missions I finally arrived in March 2018 with a commitment to be here for 3 years to work at the Women’s Center in Toliara. I retired from teaching high school March 2017.

I thought my purpose here was to teach the women and as I had experienced time here as a short term missionary I unfortunately assumed I knew what to expect. Was I wrong, for three months I studied the language (a very difficult language and each area has their own dialect). I have always struggled with language learning and this was no different. I felt isolated and lonely, living on a compound with mostly Malagasy people and two couples from the West.  I lived in a room at the women’s center that has all the basic amenities, electricity and running water. I craved communication with people who speak the same language and have experienced a similar culture.

I struggled for nine months, talking regularly with God and often angry and frustrated, asking Why am I here, when I feel like a fish out of water. I would have what I called regular melt downs and say I‘m going home, but something kept me here.  I have to say a thank you to my son James who always told me to stay because I had worked hard for a long time to come here.

December 2018 I decided to take a break. I went to England for Christmas and spent time with my two brothers and family and actually enjoyed the cold and rain after the intense dryness & heat of Madagascar. During the time I was in England I felt Jesus telling me to rest in his arms and to spend time walking and visiting with extended family.

I then went to a SAMS retreat in Cape Town in February and God revealed to me why I was in Madagascar. Teaching is a small part of my work, but my main purpose is to be a prayer warrior.

In England I had attended a silent retreat and learnt what a Postinia is and actually used one. At the retreat the speaker, Rev. Richard Copeland talked at length about prayer and also what a Postinia is, a room usually with no windows where one goes to pray and meditate. I do not have a Postinia in Madagascar but most afternoons I go outside and sit under the trees to pray and meditate.

God persevered with me and his call for me to be here with the people of Madagascar to give them hope and joy. This year I have found joy and peace and there are still struggles but God is there with me in the suffering and I learn more each day.

Thank you Father.

Ron McKeon: A Life in the Path of Jonah, Job, & Mary

“Where there is a will, there is a way”- especially if it is the will of God. Ron McKeon, SAMS missionary with his wife Debby since 2008, was not one to accept tragic circumstances as an excuse not to follow God’s call. As we wrap up our focus on perseverance this Advent with our SAMS theme “Keep Calm and #CarryOnAdvent,” we would be amiss not to give tribute to a minister of the Gospel who persistently gave witness on Earth to the glory of his “Lord, Savior, and Friend,” until he went home to God on September 28, 2019.

Ron speaks to Portuguese parishioners in 2006.

At the time of his passing, many of our Society were together at the New Wineskins Conference in North Carolina. During the announcements before Eucharist on Sunday morning, New Wineskins Director Jenny Noyes recapped Ron’s call to ministry powerfully while sharing the sad news of his death: “[Ron] was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2003, and they removed his tongue and thought he couldn’t eat or talk again through the mouth. But God had called him to be a preacher, and he obeyed- not only did he learn how to eat and swallow, not only did he learn how to talk and how to be able to be heard and understood without a tongue- but He was ordained and God called him and Debby to Brazil- where he learned Portuguese.”

Filled to overflowing with God’s love by the Holy Spirit, Ron and Debby engaged in ministry in Brazil initially through short term trips, year after year. They stayed with a different church family each time so as to build genuine relationships. Ron engaged in preaching and pastoral care of clergy and laity, magnetically engaging youth with the love of God after church services. Debby trained children’s ministry teachers with Portuguese translations of the program Godly Play, empowering them to raise up other teachers. In 2015, Ron and Debby became full-time missionaries and moved to Brazil. Ron and Debby dedicated themselves to helping the Anglican churches in João Pessoa grow spiritually, numerically and missionally–especially through equipping Brazilian leaders for ministry.

Debby trains children’s ministry teachers in the Portuguese translations of Godly Play,
“Na Presença do Pai.”

Ron McKeon’s life could be described as a path in the footsteps of several biblical figures. Ron’s daughter Anna reflects on his life, and the road he travelled to ordination: “I always thought he portrayed a bit of Jonah- he would switch jobs searching for the right one yet he always knew that God was calling him to go to seminary and become a priest, but he didn’t think he was the right person for the job. God was calling him to ministry and kept sending ‘whales’ until he finally said- okay, I will go into ministry. He had some Job in him too- his brother died in the World Trade Center attacks, and then a year later his mother passed away, and then four months later he got tongue cancer. But, like Job, he was never angry, he didn’t say ‘oh, forget God.’”

Far from it! The saving grace of God, as well as a second chance to serve Him on earth, joyfully propelled Ron not only to remember God, but also to share worshipfully the love of God with the people of João Pessoa, Brazil.

This time of year, Christians are likely to hear or read the Angel Gabriel’s consolation to the Virgin Mary regarding the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. “How will this be?” she asked. “Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel said. Armed with the knowledge of the Spirit’s miraculous favor upon her and her cousin Elizabeth, Mary carried our Lord, Savior, and friend in the womb, persevering in the face of social disgrace. Her betrothed, Joseph, also placed his confidence in God, caring for Mary and the Holy Child in Bethlehem and as refugees in Egypt. Ron likely heard a similar message from God- nothing is impossible with Him. Ron’s miraculous ability to taste food, to talk and be understood in spite of new speech impediments astounded doctors and medical students. It was impossible. Well, God specializes in “the impossible.”

The relational depth of Ron and Debby’s ministry was evident in the love and care they received back from the Brazilian church community, the Anglican Diocese of João Pessoa, as Ron fought an aggressive cancer. His family shared how this church community “surrounded this ‘couple of Christ’ with love, support, and assistance with the cultural uniqueness of Brazilian daily life. And so, as Ron’s days grew short, this special form of Brazilian love and support grew to immense importance for both him and Debby.” Over Ron’s last few weeks the clergy of the diocese held an around the clock prayer vigil by his bedside.

SAMS Mission Director Stewart Wicker passed on a story from Diocesan Bishop Marcio Meira of Brazil of Ron’s perseverance in spite of devastating setbacks in the weeks before his death. “It was made clear to Ron that he would not ever speak again. So when Bishop Marcio went to visit him, he was surprised to see that Ron had a guitar since he had never seen Ron play one. Ron was able to communicate to the bishop that he had just picked it up because if he was never to preach again, he would learn the guitar to praise the Lord in order to continue his ministry there.” Ron carried on the hope of the Gospel to the very end of his life- he never took his limitations as an excuse not to give witness to the greatness of God. He continues to worship God in heaven, joyfully anticipating with us the day when Christ will make all things new.

How did Ron never give up? How did he maintain hope after losing his brother, his mother, his tongue, and finally his voice? He learned that his identity was not in the fulfillment of his plans and hopes, but as a servant “hidden with Christ in God.” While giving the missionary testimony at New Wineskins Global Mission Conference 2013 (which you can view here), Ron concluded:

“The unexpected is God’s plan for my life. Only with a life hidden with Christ in God can Debby and I put all that we possess, even our very lives at risk, to serve God alongside our brothers and sisters wherever we are sent, that all may have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of peace and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”

#CarryOnAdvent: ROYAL MISSION

During WWII, the British Crown created a royal image with the text “Keep Calm and Carry On” to encourage the people to press on through a dark time. Our Heavenly King is also calling us to persevere and carry on His mission.

Why #CarryOnAdvent? Advent is a season of past and present waiting – we remember how the Israelites waited for the Messiah and the Magi sought for a King who came as a baby, and we ourselves practice waiting with hope for the second coming of King Jesus. How is God teaching you to wait in joy or lament for Him to make all things new? How is He calling you to carry on His message of hope, whether through persevering yourself or raising up new disciples? Share in the comments below, or on social media with the hashtag #CarryOnAdvent!

Additionally, we have a request for you to prayerfully consider. Here at SAMS, we are answering God’s call to help missionaries “Carry On” in the mission to which God has called them. We forge ties that the global church may carry on the Good News of the coming Kingdom to all. Would you support us in this through a gift or pledge towards the Great Commission Fund?

Check out this video for more information on your Society’s role in the missionary sending process.

Type #CarryOnAdvent into our blog search bar or into social websites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for stories of perseverance in Christian mission, and don’t forget to share your own!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV


#CarryOnAdvent : Hondurans Introduce Mountain Village to Christ

Honduran Christians from the town of La Ceiba recently carried on the hope of the gospel to a mountain village,
Las Flores, via mules

By Kate Ulrich, with Betty Kaszer

Mentors, parents, and teachers receive great pleasure when their mentees take what they are learning and share it with others. Missionaries experience the same joy when people in whom they have invested carry on the work of the Gospel to new communities, especially when they make an arduous journey on mules to do so!

Mike and Betty Kaszer have been bringing medical mission teams to La Ceiba, Honduras for many years, providing healthcare where it is scarce. Rev. Nery Yolanda Varela Zuniga is an Anglican priest in this community, at the church Iglesia Santisima Trinidad. They met her 12 years ago, shortly after she was ordained. In Betty’s words, “She’s smart, energetic and sold out to Jesus.  She’s amazing! She imitates everything we do in the medical clinic and in discipleship. She has picked up our training, even though we didn’t realize we were ‘training’ her. She is carrying on the work we started and building up the pharmacy at the clinic. She is only 36 years old. She loves the Lord so much! When you see her she radiates love and gives you a big hug.”

Recently, the Diocese of Honduras informed Rev. Nery that people of a small mountain village, Las Flores, needed food and clothes.  She figured that they also needed to hear the gospel, so she went prepared with a team of people from La Ceiba to minister to this village of about 25 families. However, this day-trip was not a simple drive to a local destination. The team drove 3 hours to the base of the mountain, followed by a 45-50 km (28-36 mile) trek up a mountain with the help of mules. This village is multi-cultural with various people groups from within Honduras, and the chief of the village, Don Pedro Ramirez, is a descendant of Maya Shortis Natives. As they ministered, 10 people responded to the Gospel message, and Rev. Nery baptized them. The team from La Ceiba returned home the same day- spiritually encouraged by the Lord’s work in Flores and quite tired, no doubt!

Rev. Nery leads an evangelistic service in Las Flores

Mike and Betty have been leading medical mission teams from America in Honduras since 2007. Rev. Nery is “carrying the torch” with her own mission team to a remote village

Rev. Nery plans to return to the village with a small medical brigade.  The Kaszers have started an operating clinic in La Ceiba, from which Rev. Nery will take the doctor and nurse on the next trip (date to be determined).  Rev. Nery will use the medical ministry skills she has learned from the Kaszers in this effort.

Raising up leaders in mission reaps joyful fruit. Betty shares her joy, “If you go and build a building, it can be lost in an earthquake, but when you teach people to disciple other people, it goes on forever.” Whether missionaries train locals in evangelism, healthcare, or construction skills, investment in local leaders is a gift that keeps on giving in the mission field. How will you #CarryOnAdvent this season, empowering others to share the hope of our King’s first advent (coming), as we wait in hope for His second advent?

See the video below of Rev. Nery’s team ministering in Las Flores. You may hear an unexpected voice join in the singing!

Contagious Gospel Joy Pitches a Tent

Here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors, and there are the people!
Have you heard that children’s rhyme and finger game before?
Or how about-
Here is the ground, here is the tent, the family of God says, come and join in!
The latter would be a more accurate description of a little community of God that meets in a shantytown, under a tent on a small property lovingly tended by Maty. Maty is a Peruvian woman whom God reached through the ministry of our SAMS missionaries Juan and María Marentes. As María shared the Gospel with members of a shantytown south of Lima, Peru, Maty began shadowing her and helping her tell people the Good News, even before she had clearly confessed Christ. In the Marentes’ words:

“In 2005 we met Maty when she came to be a volunteer at the weekly breakfast for the children in the “pueblo joven” (shantytown) of San Francisco, south of Lima. She was a woman without any schooling, she had suffered a lot in her life. She looked about 10 years older than her real age. She had prodigious hands to knit by hand.

Once the weekly women’s ministry was started by María Isabel, Maty never missed a gathering. She was always attentive and willing to help. Little by little she began to join the evangelistic visits to the surrounding homes. She gave her very simple testimony, but always coming from her soul: ‘Although I don’t know how to read or write, I tell you that the most wonderful thing in my life has been accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior. That has made me a new and a happy person.’”

María, with funds from supporters, found an opportunity to give a small piece of property to the Diocese of Peru for the purpose of hosting a Christian community. Years after the Marentes left Peru to do ministry elsewhere, the Bishop of Peru reported that Maty faithfully defended from “invaders” that piece of land, and now she and a youth group tend the property and draw people into this small church in the San Francisco shantytown, Peru.

Visiting the SAMS home office for a retirement commemoration luncheon, Juan and María point to their home country, Colombia, on the world map.

We at SAMS are deeply grateful for Juan and María’s faithful service to God’s call in 33 years on the mission field. Originally from Colombia, they retire in Jacksonvile, FL this year after decades of service in Ecuador, Honduras, Peru, Belize, and California. Yet, we know that God’s servants don’t truly retire as much as they take on a different shape of ministry, encouraging us as we all press on toward the goal of knowing Christ and making him known.


“From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 6:14 NIV

October Update and Funny Things

First, if you haven’t checked out Evan’s last blogpost which features Annabelle as a “Pom Pom Girl” in her school parade – go check it out! Being here in September, a month filled with national pride and festivities, was fun and interesting. I have never lived anywhere that has so many parades. In our town alone there must have been at least six separate parades. We caught bits of at least three and heard many of them. We got to see a wonderful array of cultural traditions and it was grand.

We are currently in the season of Harvest. It is a beautiful time of thanksgiving and is celebrated in the churches and schools. In the services, the children present poems, songs, dances, and process up to the altar with gifts of fruits, vegetables, and sweet baked goods. Even the children who do not normally care for church or chapel services seem to love Harvest time. There are quite a number of children who have to literally fight to have food in their homes and who are hungry frequently – many of whom are developmentally behind and physically stunted due to lack of nutrition. It is a joyful remembrance and a reminder for all of us that God is the One who provides from His bounty and that we must be grateful for what we have. Even with the drought this year the altars were overflowing.

Annabelle and I got to travel on a bus to Diocesan Day (a day for the entire Anglican Church of Belize) in Dangriga. It was a very long day and by the end we were both unbelievably dirty. But it was so much fun too! We got to participate in a huge church service in an outdoor basketball court. We also got to meet the Bishop of Belize, the second topmost politician, and Annabelle got to play some games and we spent a lot of time with our dear friends who go to the village church and have two children about Annabelle’s age. I’m so glad we got to be here for that event.

There are truly countless stories of tragedy, and hope, and beauty, and laughter, from my counseling, from conversations with people in the street, from all around. There are many reasons we came here but the rhythm of life we have here is slower and simpler and we are still relishing being able to be present here. We are going to soak up what we can over the next two months before we head back.

Another Installment of Funny Things

If you say, “Hey Babe” or “Good afternoon Beautiful” to me when I pass you on the street, I have resolved to be rude (which goes against every grain of manners I possess). I do not look. I do not respond. I pretend as though you have said nothing. If you call to me a couple of times and when I ignore you, you say, “My friend likes you and wants your number,” I will respond, “Oh, ok, my husband will be interested to hear that.” And I continue on my merry way with a smile on my face. When I arrive home, I will inform said ‘husband’ that such an interaction just occurred. Honestly though, I don’t relish these moments, but they are far better than the 4.5 months I spent in Sierra Leone back in my early twenties. I had wondered how it would be here in Belize and it is much better. Back then I easily got dozens of marriage proposals every day from strangers on the streets of Freetown and I found it exhausting and frustrating by the end of the day.

We have all been dewormed. In the Fall and the Spring at St. Andrews School they deworm all the children. Evan and I have been meaning to get dewormed for months now… and we finally did it this week. They are some intense pills for adults – six different doses. Anyway, it was overdue! I feel a bit like a dog or a cat but that’s just life here. We’ve been told this particular medication is not available in the U.S. so we’ll be buying some to bring back with us for a session after we return. More deworming to look forward to.

Speaking of worms… one of the things I miss a lot from the U.S. is our compost pit. Ever since we moved to Charlottesville we have had compost piles. The one when we had pet bunnies was a particularly good one, but I liked not having all that vegetable and fruit and eggshell waste going to waste. 😊 It’s been difficult for me in a place with significantly depleted soil to be throwing all our good vegetation scraps into the rubbish. So, several months ago I started a compost bucket. However, since where we are renting, I didn’t have a good spot to dump the compost and eventually it got maggots (an unbelievable amount of creepy, crawly, slimy pale buddies) and it started to smell awful. After Evan disposed of it and we still smelled it for days he put his foot down. Alas, that was the end of composting here. If we lived on our own land or even just had more space around our house, I’d be a crazy compost lady. Maybe one day my dream will come true…

Last, but certainly not least for funny things, Evan had to go back to the States for a funeral last week. He did a video chat with us from the Atlanta airport. He flipped the camera around and said to Annabelle, “Look where I am!” (meaning the airport). Annabelle immediately said, “Woah, look at all those white people!”

And so dear ones, it is going to be an interesting few months. With each passing day our minds turn more and more to the winding down of things here, making an international move, and readjusting to life back in the U.S.A. For Annabelle, of course, a year is a seventh of her life and this has been no small adventure. While she is anxious to get back to the U.S. and especially anxious to see all those she loves, we know she will miss things about life and people here. We had another rough patch with school a couple of weeks ago. However, after processing what happened and working through it, I think she seems to be better and happier at school than she was previously, and I think there are little friends she will miss quite a lot. Please continue to pray on the school-front for her.

Please also continue to pray for us as there are so many things that will be happening here. Starting tomorrow, over the next five weeks there will be two different priests visiting from the States and the Bishop of Belize will also be joining us one Sunday. We are so glad they are coming and it will certainly be a change of pace!

We continue to be so grateful for each of you. I’ve heard from so many who continue to read these writings and who continue to pray for us. Thank you!