Travelblog 3 – Belize
When I first arrived at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1979, I fell so in love with the education I was receiving there that I felt as if I were in Camelot, King Arthur’s mythical kingdom.
The Baptist Bible School of Belize really is in Camelot, though it’s spelled Camalote, and it’s a far cry from the perfect kingdom described in the play and movie about King Arthur’s Camelot.
The village, which might qualify as a very low-end subdivision in the States, is arranged around a rectangular dirt road at a right angle to the north side of the Western Highway. Two cross streets roughly divide the village into three blocks of small houses that range from decrepit to modest. Chickens wander the roads, along with emaciated dogs and the occasional cow or horse.
A Catholic school occupies most of the block nearest the highway. The Baptist Training Center and a smaller facility called Camp Camalote are on the eastern side. The rest of the village consists of a very loud Pentecostal church that goes late into the night every night, a mechanic’s open-air shop in front of a home, and a very small store in the front room of another. Like many other stores in less developed countries, it’s mainly a small room with bars blocking customers from doing anything but pointing at or asking for the merchandise they want.
The Baptist Training center consists of two open dormitories, and two other housing units divided into rooms. One has a kitchen and dining room beneath, in addition to a separate kitchen/dining facility. The worship/classroom building is the heart of the 10 acre campus, which also includes residences for the local director and caretaker. The well-kept campus also features a large sports field, a basketball court, and lots of palm trees.
Our meals are prepared by a delightful Belizian woman called “Miss Jane” who looks like Aunt Jemima and has an endearingly snarky attitude (that’s her, serving Jamaal, in the picture above). Family members help out. Breakfast on Tuesday consisted of scrambled eggs, really flat biscuits, and refried beans. The beans were soupy but delicious. I took a cue from Miss Jane and ate them on my biscuit like gravy.
Lunch was a sandwich made from some sort of meat product with jalapeno cheese and a piece of lettuce. Dinner, however, was a nice plate of burrito fixings, including freshly made tortillas and more refried beans. I asked Miss Jane — who cooks the beans from scratch — for her recipe, but she said if she told me all the secret ingredients, she’d have to kill me.
There are 16 students at this session, and seven of them are attending classes for the first time (seven others graduated after the session last August). The students, half of whom are women, come from a variety of backgrounds.
Although Belizian Baptists are not very open to women preachers, women students take all of the same classes, including the preaching class. I pointed out to them that every time they lead a devotion or teach a class, they are using the same skills that are used in sermon-writing and preaching. We may use different names for it, but whenever we proclaim the gospel, there is preaching going on, and women are certainly no less capable than men.
I thought you might like to meet a few of the students …
Miguel is pastor of a Spanish speaking church in Orange Walk, in the northern part of Belize. He is a first time student, along with church member Lazaro, who feels called to teach. Both have their own businesses doing body work and repainting cars. Miguel asks many questions, and is very open to new information. Lazaro struggled with the idea of closing his shop and losing income for a week, but decided to come anyway. He says he is glad he did.
Cindy is a young woman who recently moved to Belize City, where she quickly became involved in a Spanish-speaking church. She has just finished her “sixth form” (equivalent to two years of junior college), and told me “I decided to take Ecclesiastes’ advice to ‘remember your creator in the days of your youth.’ While I am young, I want to serve God however he can use me.” Cindy is currently trying to find a job so she can become financially stable and be better able to serve.
Sharon, who led a devotion for us on Tuesday morning, said she grew up in an abusive home. “My mother never said ‘I love you’ until I was 19 years old and leaving home,” she said. “I finally gave up on my father ever showing that he loved me, and I asked God to be my ‘daddy.'” God has been good, she said. Now raising a niece and an adoptive daughter, she wants them to know she loves them, but at first she found it hard to say the words. She started by writing “I love you” on notes before becoming able to verbalize it, but says that she now says “I love you” multiple times each day. In her devotion, based on 1 Corinthians 13, she said she had asked God to help her show excellent love to others.
David, the school’s first “gringo” student, lives in Virginia, just north of Bristol, Tennessee, where he works as a property assessor. He has been coming to Belize off and on for 25 years. He and his wife have adopted five Belizian children, all from the area near Camalote. In Virginia, David assists with Rio de Vida Hispanic church, and decided to come to the BBSB for some training since he’s so at home in Belize, and he wants to help his church be more effective.
Jamaal is the school’s youngest student. He is still in high school, but has been identified by his church as a potential leader and sent to participate in the training. Jamaal is tall, and he looks and dresses the part of a basketball player. He also sometimes has trouble staying awake in class — but today that was common of several students.
Students often stay up quite late studying. The next morning, they spend two hours taking a final exam from courses taken during the previous session, then have to sit through a two-hour class, with only an hour’s lunch break before a marathon four-hour session in the afternoon. With little sleep, a full stomach, and a warm, sultry classroom, it’s no wonder they struggle.
But they do — they really work at becoming better equipped, and they often express appreciation to those who have come to help them. As one said in another devotion tonight (based on 2 Timothy 2:15), they really do want to learn to handle the “word of truth” responsibly.
That is something you have to admire, whether in Camelot or Camalote.
(Photo includes, on the front row, Belize director Antolinlo Flores, U.S. director Bob Lamb, student services director Graham Hall, Baptist Association of Belize president Ruperto Flores and, at right, Baptist Association of Belize executive director Henry Baizier.)