August 3, 2022

The Front Porch

Divine Intervention

John and Susie Bel

Chicagoland – the Bells in the land of snow.

I met John and Susie Bell several years ago while living in Chicago and serving on staff at a north shore church. The church was hosting a welcome lunch for visitors the first Sunday the Bells attended. As Director of Guest Services, it was my role to meet the guests, provide a light lunch, and help them navigate the programs and services provided by the church.

On this Sunday, I was feeling invisible to the world and to God, and I admit, the welcome lunch was not something I looked forward to. In fact, I dreaded it. I was in a broken state and speaking to strangers was the last thing I wanted to do that day. Knowing I needed to rally to the occasion, I asked the Lord to send someone to give me a word of wisdom and encouragement. I needed to know He had not forgotten me. I needed to know He is the God who sees, hears, and remembers!

During the welcome lunch, I made eye contact with one of the visitors – a tall, light-skinned, blue-eyed, blonde Englishman who introduced himself as John. I must add that, during this season of life, it was rare for me to make eye contact with anyone, especially a male. He was there with his beautiful wife, Susie, but my eye gravitated toward him, as though there was a divine connection.

An Answer to Prayer

After the welcome lunch, guests lingered in the room engaging with other staff members, so I excused myself to clear the food trays. I heard my name spoken in an English accent and turned to see John standing in the doorway. He said something like this, “Mary, I know this is the first time I’ve met you, but I believe the Lord has a word for you today.” He paused. “The Lord says you are too big to be working in a place with four walls. He has called you to the nations; He sees you. God has a purpose and plan for your life, and He will be moving you out of this role in the very near future.”

John had no idea of my whispered prayer earlier that morning. Tears welled in my eyes and streamed down my cheek. Without asking permission, I put my arms around John and gave this Englishman a hug of thanksgiving. I’m sure he was relieved that the word from the Lord was received with grace.

Adopted into the Family

Baptism with the Bells

John and Susie joined me in baptizing our family friend, Destiny,

A few days later, I met John and Susie at a coffee shop. I wanted to hear their story and they wanted to hear mine. From our conversation, I learned they are missionaries to the nations, and were in Chicago on furlough. Over the next two years, I observed them in Illinois, watching their lifestyle – carefully. Were they the real deal or were they one way today and another way tomorrow? My scrutinous eye was on guard to determine who they were, from the inside out. And within a short period of time, I knew they were sold out for Jesus.

John and Susie became regular guests at my home for meals. They met my sons, who live in the Midwest. They met my nephew and his family. That’s a big deal. Not everyone I meet is invited into my world of family. It’s a privacy thing. The Bells embraced my sons and nephew with open arms and hearts, with joy and with frivolity!

Then the Lord moved me outside the four walls of the church, as He said He would, and sent me home to Texas, where He began the process of rebuilding my life – in every way. He moved John and Susie to Arizona for 18 months and then relocated them to north Texas, where they immediately met my daughters and their families. I had become “mama Mary” to them and they were my adopted children.

Pam Berry, Susie and John Bell

Pam Anderson, John and Susie Bell on the “front porch.”

Colombia Adventures | The Front Porch

For a few years, John and Susie invited me to go with them to the village of Palenque in Colombia to see the work God was doing there, but I did not yet feel called to travel “to the nations.” In April 2021, the time was right, and I set my heart on going. I wanted to observe John and Susie on the mission field, to be part of their everyday life in their community on foreign soil. I wanted to meet their family and friends from another culture; to experience their living arrangements; to walk the dirt roads of the village and experience the weather, smells, sights, and sounds. I wanted to see the hand of God in the lives of people I had yet to meet.

Because the Bells have been in the village for many years, deep and abiding relationships have been developed with the people. They have walked through sorrow and pain with many in the village, representing the hands and heart and feet of Christ. They have brought many villagers to Christ through prayers of salvation and ongoing discipleship. And their ministry platform is in the oddest of places – a front porch.

Each morning as the rooster crows, someone inside the host home carries a chair to the front porch and sits. Eventually more chairs and people make their way to the porch. From morning into evening, we gathered on the front porch, under the shade of a Mango tree, to share life. The porch was like a magnet, drawing people of all ages to come and visit. To share life. People came and brought others. Sometimes for a purpose, more often just to pass the time.

Front Porch Ministry

Prayer on the front porch for a family dedicated to God!

Evangelism Explosion

It took a couple of days before I grasped what was happening. I was in the middle of an evangelism explosion that came as naturally as a sneeze that starts as a nose tickle. On the front porch of a little home in the village of Palenque, conversations started and flowed naturally. There was no agenda; there were no expectations. We just made ourselves available by sitting on the porch.

And yet, by engaging with those who stopped by, the conversations were gently guided by the Holy Spirit and led to prayers of salvation, dedication, deliverance, declaration of life, and inheritance in the Lord. We saw soul ties dissolved and we prayed for God to put homes and lives in order. Our team prayed for anointing and cleansing, healing, and guidance.  People were set free from oppression.

We heard testimonies of God’s goodness in the lives of those who felt forgotten and unseen. We heard words of prophecy spoken over some. Medical treatment was given to others, as wounds were cleansed, and bandages gently applied to protect the open skin from infection. One day the front porch was an urgent care center for the broken body; another day it was a hospital for the broken spirit; another day, it was a triage unit for a broken family.

The Final Day

On our last day in the village, I journaled, “The porch is full today. It is our last day here and so many of the villagers are stopping by. There are children and young adults, there are older adults. The house is always filled with people – there is always laughter in the air and prayer on the lips. Our friend from Holland stopped by for lunch. The conversation turned to the issues of identity and faith and how, understanding our value as God’s children, helps us find our true identity. It was a beautiful way to end our village stay.”

That night, as darkness covered the village and my eyes grew heavy, I celebrated the sounds of voices and laughter as I drifted off to sleep, celebrating the work of the Lord among His children in the village of Palenque.

Rudo Duri and Susie Bell

Susie Bell and Rudo Duri!


My new friend and sister, Rudo Duri, had the privilege of being in Colombia the week before I arrived. As we compared notes about our experiences in Palenque, she shared, “Reflecting back on my time in Colombia, the front porch symbolized the importance of being available. Though our intention of sitting on the porch was only to refresh and enjoy the outside, God had other plans. In those moments of peace and admiration of His beauty, we were available. Before a move of God can occur, we must be available and focused on His kingdom. On the porch, everything else was left behind. We were present in the moment and we allowed God to move. I am honored to have been a vessel for the Holy Spirit to use in those moments of rest and peace.”


Simplicity of Ministry

Now that I am home in Texas, my heart is bent toward the simplicity of ministry modeled in this small village. I am reminded of the way the ministry of Jesus was a natural overflow of His life. His relationship with God poured through Him into the lives of others, through His words, His love, His touch. He was available to others, but He did not force Himself or His beliefs or words onto others. If Jesus had a front porch, He would sit there every morning and every night. He would minister to those who came to Him.

Just today I read a passage in Matthew that said something like this, “Jesus went and sat by the lake and when the crowds became too large, He sat in a boat to teach the people.” The shortest verse in the Bible is: “Jesus wept.” Can I suggest a second shortest verse? “Jesus sat.” Which says to me, He made Himself available to the people for the purpose of the Kingdom.

Let us consider getting back to the basics of a simple lifestyle — keeping ourselves in relationship with Father God and making ourselves seen and available so we are ready to pour out His love to those He brings.

HCL Ministries \ The Lighthouse


The Lighthouse in Palenque – notice the front porch! The building is still “under construction” but the vision is headed to reality.

John and Susie are in the process of building a Lighthouse, “Casa de Luz,” across the street from the host home. This Lighthouse will have a front porch to host people in the exact same way as they do at the host home. Do you see the beauty? More porches, more ministry!



Mary Ethel Eckard is an author, speaker and teacher called to encourage Christians in their faith journey. She is passionate about sharing Christ with all who will listen. Through her captivating testimony of relying on God's strength and guidance through the heights and depths of life, Mary helps others find freedom from the shame and pain of their past. Mary resides in Frisco, Texas and enjoys spending time with family and friends.

  • Tami VanHoy says:

    Such a beautiful vision of being available for God to use us for His glory in everyday ways. In a world that often seems to value the bigger and better… this is the perfect reminder that God is the bigger and better and we get to point to it in our ‘everyday’.

    So inspired by this Mary! What a relief to not be burdened by doing the bigger and simply serving by being available.

    • Mary says:

      So true, isn’t it Tami! We often think evangelism is so hard when, in fact, it’s simply being available to others!

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