Richard Jaynes had plenty of signals that he should quit his job, sell his property and most of his worldly possessions, and set sail for Utila, a tiny island off Honduras. Each time he fought the signals, his life seemed to derail. Jaynes, who is 52, says he decided a couple of years ago that it was time to listen to what God was telling him.
That's why a 45-foot sailboat is dry-docked at his property atop a hill in Spring Hill. By September, Jaynes and his wife, Nelinda, 44, hope to leave for Utila, where he will provide medical services to residents of the island and its nearby keys. His wife will teach computer skills to students who want to attend college in the United States.
Their departure will be a continuation of a line of Hernando residents who have done missionary work on Utila, where residents are largely poor and not well-educated. Jaynes, who works as a physician's assistant at the Spring Hill Medical Arts Center, learned about the island in the 1970s from Dr. Gary Wilson of Spring Hill. Wilson had worked on the island and gave a slide presentation about it and its medical clinic.
Jaynes thought then that missionary work would be interesting and kept the idea in the back of his mind. Like a mosquito that won't go away, the thought kept pestering him.
"I feel this is something we're supposed to do," he says, sitting on the boat he and Mrs. Jaynes built piece by piece, starting with the hull. "I feel that the good Lord is going to take care of us. He has so far. Doors have opened. Things have happened."
The Jayneses aren't inclined to pull out their Bibles and begin beating a visitor over the head. They prefer subtle evangelism through their work of medicine and education. But if they are asked, they gladly discuss their beliefs and how their faith is leading them to alter their lives.
Jaynes got the bare hull in Pensacola and started piecing together the rest of the boat, which he named Tabitha. The name itself came from divine inspiration, he says.
While reading his Bible, Jaynes turned to Acts 9, which recounts miraculous healings and resurrections credited to Paul after he converted to Christianity en route to Damascus. When he began to evangelize, Paul used Christ's name to cure people and brought Tabitha, a woman in Joppa, back to life.
Jaynes read the verses and knew that Tabitha should be the name of the boat.
"She was resurrected from the dead and went around doing good for people," Jaynes says.
In a way, the boat has been resurrected, pulled to life from scraps and salvage obtained anyplace Jaynes could get a decent deal. And the deals often have been uncanny.
He needed a 10-winch mast, sails, standing rigging and other equipment that would cost $20,000 new. Jaynes didn't have that kind of money.
One Monday, he sold a car for $2,500. Two days later, he received a flier from a professional boat trade company listing a package of equipment salvaged from the destruction of Hurricane Hugo. The equipment was everything he needed _ for $2,500.
He put a check in the mail, and within a week the package arrived.
Every time he sold something, the price would wind up exactly covering the cost of what he needed for the boat, he says.
"It's a little unnerving sometimes," he says.
Jaynes isn't certain exactly how much building the the boat has cost him.
"I haven't had the courage to sit down and figure it out yet," he says, estimating that he probably will spend about $16,000 and hopes to keep the total under $20,000.
The Jayneses plan to pack clothing, Bibles, assorted medical and computer reference books difficult to obtain in Central America, as well as household items. Medical supplies and two computers will be on board for the clinic and the English-speaking school where Mrs. Jaynes will teach.
(Spring Hill residents Fred and Jeannette Needham raise funds for the school.)
The Jayneses have put things in storage and slowly are going through their possessions. They continue to work, he at the medical center and she for the Hernando County School District. Jaynes is quitting his job and Mrs. Jaynes plans to take a one-year leave of absence, at the end of which they will decide whether they will return, stay on Utila or set sail for other missionary work.
All of their spare time is committed to preparing to leave.
Married since November, the Jayneses say that they work well together. They have known each other for 15 years and when they began dating, Nelinda knew of Richard's plans for missionary work. Now Mrs. Jaynes is learning about navigation from her husband and in turn is helping him learn Spanish.
They work side by side on the boat.
"The hardest part was carrying 10,000 pounds of ballast in," Jaynes says. "It had to be carried up piece by piece in 20 to 30 ingots. It took two days."
They have to climb 15 steps up a narrow, weatherworn wooden ladder to get to the boat.
The couple will live on the boat, and they hope to take side trips on it to other islands in the Gulf of Honduras and the Caribbean Sea. The Cayman Islands and Belize are on their list.
Most of their efforts, however, will be aimed at their missionary work. Jaynes will do everything from pull teeth to deliver babies. He will perform minor surgeries and provide routine medical care. More complicated cases will be sent to Honduras.
Utila and its keys have about 3,000 residents and have had physicians only through missionary work and visits from doctors. Jaynes has visited four times in the past two years on working vacations.
In U.S. dollars, their pay will be a little less than $100 a week, representing drastic cuts in their salaries.
Jaynes and his wife exchange a glance and he smiles, realizing the bright side.
"But we won't have any bills either," he says. "I'm looking forward to that."