La Cabeza


This all happened last year, while cleaning out the house we were renting in Misahualli.

What my dad found that day left him permanently scarred.




It’s a normal day in the jungle. Birds singing, your father screaming.

(Okay, a little less normal than you’d like to admit.)

What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he realize your family has a reputation? We can’t expect people to want to attend Bible study when we’re shrieking like we’re possessed!

I slim down the possible causes of his scream based on the endurance and intensity of the… high-pitched vocalization.

1. he found another boa constrictor

2. he’s being attacked by demon monkeys

3. or he’s medicating his poisonous spider bites.




I sneak outside to the backyard where mom and dad are peering into a little wooden box, looking totally freaked out over the contents.

Trying to get a better look inside, I get closer and closer to the mysterious box. But dad spots me.

“Back, back!” he starts yelling. (This is where it seems likely that he ordered me to shield my eyes, but I don’t necessarily remember that part.)

“Mom. What was that thing?” I ask a few minutes later, from the safety of the kitchen.

“Well… A human skull.” she answers.

“You’re kidding me.”


“A human skull? A human skull!” I bellow. Unreal.


“Oh, sorry. Can I see it?”


And there it is. Empty eye sockets staring at me. Missing its mandible. Totally discolored to a mottled brown and yellow -not white like you’d think.

Here’s the best part: bundled in wrapping paper. Happy birthday?


La Cabeza



“Dad! How did you find that… thing?”

“Well, I was going through the stuff in the shed, and I opened the box, and -ugh! -there it was,” he exclaimed. “Staring at me!”

“Who do you think it is… or was, or whatever?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” mom said. “Relative, maybe?”

“Ah, yes, guardian of the house.” I say in my creepiest voice. “What have we done? Disturbed its peace, that’s what we’ve done! Awakened its spirit! Ooooh! Woooo!

“Cut that out!” Dad orders.



So. Don’t ask my dad about the skull.


(We’ve been told its fairly common for skulls and other bones to be left to “guard” houses, so… I was also sort of right. Just saying.)



Blindfolded Rollercoaster


This is not a straight road. This is not a safe road.

This is some crazy roller coaster with no seat belt requirements and no respected speed limits.

I’m about to throw up.


We’re stuck in a cloud… all around is freezing white fog and mist.

I see almost nothing out the window. Probably all the driver sees too.

There’s an “almost” though.

We can see a dirty yellow line down the middle of the road in front of us, like, three feet of it.








But that’s it. That’s all that we can see.

We’re just… believing there’s a little more after that. That there hasn’t been a rock slide or a car accident or we’re about to rocket off the cliff.


This is my life.

I can’t see where I’m going. I can’t tell what’s going on.

But I’m believing He that blindfolded me for a reason.

The truth is, I can only handle so much.

‘Cause when I can’t, Jesus does.


The mountains I’m going to climb, I don’t have to worry about.

He’s taken care of it, and He doesn’t want me to stress over it.

Hence the fog. Hence the blindfold.

Hence the trust I’ve gotta have.


Things are crazy right now.

We’re moving. We’re adding ministries.

We’re continuing down a road we know God has called us to. We just don’t know where exactly this road leads.


I feel blindfolded to what’s going on. But I know there’s a reason.

I can’t see though the fog. But He’s holding my hand.

I’m closing my eyes. I’m not peeking.


But I still see Jesus.

Our ministry is not really ours…

Our ministry is not really ours...

Romans 12:2


Matthew 25:35


It’s a Beautiful Day to Cry


They all demand my full attention. This very second.

They pull and yank and yell and scream and talk and laugh.

And… it’s beautiful. It honestly is.


Children behind me grab fistfuls of my “golden” hair. Twisting it around, braiding it messily and laughing.

Children beside me take my hands and wrap their little fingers around them. Smiling and content, staring up into my face.

Children in front of me hold up the books we brought for them. Touching the pages, showing me the pictures, sounding out the words.


Everyone’s happy.

Everyone’s together.

We’re a community.

My spirit rejoices.


I sit near the ground on a wooden bench between them, ignoring for once all our differences. Today we’re the same.

We sweat, and stink, and we’re dirty.

We smile, and laugh, and we’re happy.


Mira, mira, look at this!” says the girl with the picture books.

Juega, juega, play with us!” say the boys with the soccer ball.

Blanquita eres, you’re so white!” says the little one, giggling, holding my hand.


Today is amazing.

Today is beautiful.

Today should never have to end.


But I get up finally, and head towards the kitchen to see what the women are cooking. I can’t stop smiling as I round the corner of the little school. And then I realize I can stop smiling.

I stop smiling and I start shaking.

Shaking hard, with anger and fury, at the scene unfolding before me.


Covered by the screams of delight, a scream of pain and fear.

Hidden by the distant chatter, a voice bitter and full of rage.

A mother beating her two-year-old child behind the wall, thrashing him with a poisonous, stinging plant. You’ll listen to me next time, she tells her son, continuing to hit him. Oh, you’ll listen…

I can’t stop this. I can’t fix this. All I can do is stand and watch, eyes wide with horror and disbelief. Fear, even.


She looks up as she raises the branch again, and seeing me standing there, watching her. She drops the stem of poison-veined leaves and growls get up! to her son, who lays curled up against the building whimpering. Get up and put your shoes on!

I look in the woman’s face and see hard lines and angry eyes. She glances toward me again, she knows what I saw. What I know. What she’s done. Come! She shouts again. Get up!


Why did she hit so hard?

What did he do so wrong?


I can’t unsee it, I can’t forget it, and I probably never will.


The day has lost its magic and beauty. Every single bit.

Because… it could have been me. I could have been that little boy.

It could have been me. I could have been that mother.


It could have,

But it isn’t.

I could have,

But I’m not.


I can’t tell you why.

I don’t know why God has protected me like He has.

And at the same time, I can’t believe He would allow me to see this.

I’m right here, but sometimes all I can do is watch.

And cry. Go home, lay in my bed, and cry. Cry because I couldn’t do anything. Cry because I didn’t.


This is more than a beautiful country.

It’s pain-filled.





It’s a battle field, do you hear me?

A battle field. There’s a war going on.

Here. Now. And I’m in it.


I’m not fighting against the woman with the switch. I’m not fighting people who taught her to hurt. I’m fighting, to bring them to Jesus. Struggling, to show them the Light. It’s frightening, it’s difficult, it’s draining. But I’m not giving up. Not without a fight.


Cause I believe it’s worth it.

Every minute of it.

Every second.


So I want you to pray for me. I want you to pray right now. Because I’m fighting.

We all are.


~Madeline Studebaker


We must choose faith…


If only our eyes saw souls…

If only our eyes saw souls...

The Least of These

You grab the bread from my hands like a starving animal. Your nails are broken, your hands are filthy. Your hair hangs long and unwashed around your face. Your eyes are vacant.
I look away.
Some days, I don’t like this job. I don’t like seeing the things I see. Sometimes I wish we had been called to work with others. People who were clean and educated and came for something besides the food.
But I do it anyway.
Because behind the mud, the lice, and the scars? There’s a soul.
And so there has to be hope, too.
I’m surrounded by poverty and brokenness. I don’t get a chance to forget it.
Every day that I force myself to look in your face… I see less of the dirt and grime. More of a heart that’s broken and vulnerable. More of a soul that needs to be saved.
I look in your face, and know that I want to see it again.
Not here, but in a Place where you won’t need to cry.
In a Place where you won’t have to run.
In a Place that you’ll call Home.
There’s a King there, in that Place.
He told me about you.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ -Matthew 25:40
And the King said for me to come.
To right here, where we’re standing.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? -Romans 10:14
The King said to me,
tell them, I love you.”

 The Least of These

A river, a sermon, a lollipop, and chicha

Bella Vista

Madeline. You’re getting your shoes all wet!” chides an accented voice from the front of the canoe.

Cecelia,” I grumble. “How am I supposed to get out of the canoe and onto the beach without getting my shoes wet?” I throw my hands in the air.

Like this maybe, she seems to say, jumping from the boat to the shore of the river, almost floating over the water. Like Pocahantas, like it isn’t hard at all to jump that far without face planting in the dirt.

I am… the opposite. I’m sloshing water everywhere, trying to balance on the slippery rocks at the bottom of the river. I can’t see where I’m stepping, I’m slipping, then I’m shrieking, and a nearby Kichwa tries to steady me by grabbing my arm with his iron-like grip. He says something in Kichwa, then tells me “be careful,” in Spanish. Maybe “learn how to swim” should have accompanied that piece of advice. It’s a big river and a catfish would probably eat me anyhow.


Okay! Follow me!” orders Ramiro from the shore. And there we are. Staring into the jungle. I don’t see any path leading in, but, apparently, the indigenous people do. It’s a ten-minute trek through vines, thorns, spiders, and lots of mud. Lots of mud.

We are here!” announces Cecelia. But… where are we? A wooden house on stilts, a couple of chickens, a giant fire pit, and a wall-less shelter with a palm frond roof.

Setting up under the palm fronds, we wonder if anyone is going to show up. Then Saul, the elder of the Alfa y Omega church, starts imitating bird calls and monkey noises, letting the village know we’re here. I can’t believe it. But they’re coming.

People of all ages walk (and run) down the paths though the woods – grandmothers, parents, teenagers, babies. There have to be thirty people, already!


We sit down on the wooden benches and start out with some games for the children. Then games for everyone. Then a rapid sermon in Spanish and Kichwa I do not understand much of. I think the basic idea is that you can’t make it to heaven on your own.

After that, some of the women start passing out bowls of broth and meat. I take a sip – there aren’t any spoons – and pass it down the line of people.


Then comes the other bowl, the bowl of chicha.

Chicha is just about the worst thing I’ve put into my mouth in every community I’ve visited. It’s murky, yellow, and chunky, with fermented fruit and yucca bits floating around. It smells like yogurt that went bad, like, three months ago!

It’s just nasty, and there’s no way to refuse it.

(I have the feeling that maybe missionaries who won’t drink it get blow-darted or something.) I had that old familiar feeling from The feeling I had when I had to eat a guinea pig.

I hold my breath as the bowl comes towards me… and I continue to hold my breath as I lift it towards my mouth. It’s not like people are watching you, I tell myself, except, they are!

I sip it, gag, and pass it to my mother. Then I try to smile.


A few minutes later, Cecelia announces “Lollipops for the children!” and I keep myself from running to her with the others. I am not supposed to be a child. I am supposed to be a missionary. But what I am is hungry.

Still, Cecelia walks over and hands me a lollipop, with that funny little smile I haven’t figured out yet.

I thank her and stick it in my mouth.


So All May Know,

Madeline Studebaker