LCMS short-term mission volunteers Debra Lake, left, and Jack Lake, right, pose with Ishmael after completing concrete work at “Roldan’s Church” in San Roman, Belize, in 2024. (Photo courtesy of Gary Kessler.)

By Debra Lake

In August 2022, my husband, Jack, and I with our three boys served as short-term mission volunteers at the LCMS missionaries conference in the Dominican Republic (DR). It was a pleasure to serve our LCMS missionary families, providing VBS and care for the children.

Through that meaningful experience, we met many of our LCMS missionaries and had the opportunity to learn more about where they were serving. It was in the DR that we met Pastor Herb and Markie Burch and spoke with them about their work in Belize. We also met the Logston family, which was about to be sent to serve in Belize as well. We even got to babysit their sweet baby boy, Malachi, while in the DR.

Fast forward nearly a year, and I’d been keeping up with the mission work taking place in Belize as well as the Logstons on Facebook. I could feel God nudging us to keep serving and to go “build” on these relationships where our missionaries are serving.

In the spring of 2023, Jack and I finished a complete rehabilitation of a home in our local community. Pairing that experience and our work in building our own home in recent years, we knew our next short-term mission trip would include building. Little did we know the impact that building alongside the local Belizeans would have on us. God provided us so many blessings in this short-term opportunity.

Working hard with a purpose

While in Belize in October 2023, we worked alongside Elutario, a local construction project manager, his 15-year-old son (Byron), and two of his workers (Edwardo and Melvin). They attended children’s chapel with us before going to the job site, and they seemed so happy working at a local church member’s home to provide her a better means to more easily care for her severely disabled son (Christian).

We worked with them, ate with them, joked with them, and learned about where and how they live each day. God provided them to us as a way to get better acquainted with the culture and a glimpse into what daily life is like for them.

Padrina, the Valley of Peace church member whose house we were working on, was immensely grateful for the work our team did. She wanted to honor us each day by providing us lunch. She and her friend, Lily, cooked us the most wonderful meals, including pupusas and empanadas. You could taste the love, care, compassion, and gratefulness in each meal.

Our second project was at “Roldan’s church” in San Roman. There we worked with a church member, Ishmael, who the local teams hadn’t worked with before. While he had a little different approach to the work than Elutario, he was very patient with us and taught us how he puts together the rebar, forms, concrete mixing/leveling, etc. Ishmael is calm and kind, and you can see how he takes pride in his work while being quite reserved.

On the second day of work with Ishmael, we asked for a break mid-morning to recharge and re-hydrate. He paused the concrete mixing and we found shade. He could see we were a bit tired and asked if we wanted a can of Pepsi. We politely declined and said we’d stick with water. He briefly left the job site and came back with three cans of Pepsi, which we didn’t know at the time, but it was just what we needed!

Roldan’s wife, Ruth, and sister, Yoli, provided us a very tasty meal that was brought to the job-site. The Pepsi and wonderful lunch meal sustained us through the rest of the workday where we finished the concrete work as a team, and at the end of the day we took a sweaty, dirty picture with Ishmael in front of the church with the new, concrete floor under the covered area at the church entrance.

LEFT: LCMS short-term mission volunteer Jack Lake does concrete work at a church member’s home in Valley of Peace, Belize, in October 2023. Pastor Benjamin Flores, left, Debra Lake, back, and Elutario Sanchez watch and assist. MIDDLE AND RIGHT: Debra Lake and Jack Lake enjoy some free time during their short-term mission trip to Belize in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Gary Kessler and Justin Logston.)

Getting to know the mission team

While the work we did in Belize was rewarding, the people and how they welcomed us and made us feel will be what sticks with me. Gary Kessler (LCMS missionary) welcomed us and ensured we had the information and resources we needed to navigate each day. All the local missionaries (Wildauers, Logstons, Floreses, Kesslers, Burches) came together to welcome us with a potluck dinner on our first night.

The Logstons provided us a little familiarity since we’d met them in the DR last year, and they ensured we had food for our breakfast meals, provided a listening ear and a sweet boy (Malachi) to play with, and checked with us each day at Camp Concordia to make sure we were doing well.

Markie gave us a tour of the beautiful property and provided us history of the grounds while also ensuring we were comfortable and encouraging us to please use the air conditioning available to us in our cabin.

The Flores family provided us with great conversation, stories of what led them to Belize, sweet Lucas smiles, and a daily opportunity to say “you’re still here” to Karina, who was past her due date with Baby Flores.

We had a great time at the Wildauers’, where we were able to drill holes into their concrete walls, allowing them to hang some things for the first time in the year they’d lived there. We loved hanging out with the kids, playing Clue and ladder yard golf, and getting to have dinner with the whole family.

The Rios were so kind and welcoming to us. Ruth and Yoli made lunch and dinner for us each day we were working and staying in Orange Walk. Roldan, Ruth, and Yoli welcomed us into their home, fed us like royalty, and shared with us their stories of coming to Belize and the work they were doing there. They made us feel like family.

Our experience in Belize and seeing how God is at work there through our missionaries and all the lives they are touching is wonderful! We were truly blessed to serve as a short-term team in Belize, and we encourage others to listen to that voice or acknowledge that nudge to go and serve. What God has in store for you allows you to play a small part in changing lives, but I bet you’ll be surprised just how much impact it has on you, too!

Explore opportunities to serve with LCMS International Mission at and consider how God might be nudging you to serve.

Debra Lake and husband, Jack Lake, are members of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church (LCMS) in California, Mo. They were married there 19 years ago, and God has blessed them with three boys, ages 15, 13, and 11. Jack, a certified teacher, also runs and owns an automotive interior business and does home remodeling jobs. Debra is the director of the HSA division at a regional bank, where she’s worked for the last 18 years. She enjoys new adventures, hiking and the outdoors, traveling, watching her boys play sports, home remodeling/decorating, managing projects, singing in the church choir, teaching others about finances, and sharing with others the peace and hope of eternal life through Christ Jesus.