Honduras Mission Trip 2012

I realized recently when applying for a writing gig and looking around for writing samples, that I didn't have access anymore to the blog that I wrote for the mission trip I went on in 2012 to Honduras.  So, after a little digging around... I managed to get a hold of it although it doesn't have the pictures inserted anymore (my computer that had the original posts and pictures on it died).  :-(  It was still nice to read it again though and relive the trip.  So many people from the church had told me at the time that they really enjoyed the blog because it let them feel as if they were there experiencing everything with us.  I gotta say, now I know what they mean because I just read it and feel like I went on the trip again.  :-) So without further a due, here it is...

Honduras Shoe box Mission Trip 2012... First 48 hours

Nothing says Honduras more than waking up to the calls of a bunch of tropical birds outside your window.  The sun is shining, Pastor Israel gave an inspiring message and now we’re off to our second day of handing out shoe boxes to the children of Honduras.

From the time we stepped into the airport at San Pedro Sula on Saturday afternoon, the excitement among the team was evident. We are humbled to be the hands and feet of Jesus this week and know that God has brought each one of us here to use the gifts He has blessed us with to spread His word and His love. After departing the airport on Saturday, we headed out on the two hour drive toward our hotel in Siguatepeque. The countryside of Honduras is beautiful and modest. Hills covered with palm trees lead up to majestic mountains that climb straight into the sky.  The houses that line the streets are small and simple, most without doors or running water.  They are painted in bright, vibrant colors of pink, aqua and yellow that stand out in the brown, dry landscape.  It’s not a rare sight to see a cow or a horse randomly grazing or laying in the grass.  Dogs run loose and fend for themselves.  People stand on the sides of the road, or even in the middle of traffic, and sell all kinds of things to make money–fruit, honey, coffee beans, pastries and bags of water.

As we got closer to the city, we occasionally saw some familiar things from home, a TGI Fridays, Church’s Chicken, Domino’s Pizza, even a Sam’s Club-type membership store, where we stopped for supplies.  The highways are a bit like a NASCAR track, where “safe traveling distance” is non-existent and double yellow lines seem to mean “sure, go ahead and pass!” The natives zip around the sharp turns and will pass each other in an instant. There is a strange unspoken courtesy though between the drivers that seems to work!  When we arrived at Granja D’Elia (our hotel) at about 6:30 on Saturday night, we were greeted by Pastor Israel, the local pastor that we work with on our mission trips.  The hotel is part of a larger complex that includes a store, a bank, a restaurant and even a small zoo.  The couple that owns the complex are a local success story, having started with just a roadside fruit stand.  The rooms are very similar to American hotel rooms, with a flat screen TV, a small fridge and a private bath with shower.  The differences lie in the details & the bird sounds outside the windows, the shower that’s not always hot and the trash can next to the toilet where you put the toilet paper instead of flushing it. After devotions and a brief orientation, we all were happy to end the long day and get some sleep before our first full day.

On Sunday, after breakfast and our morning devotionals, we set out for the day and made a visit to the local market.  It occurs every Sunday and is amazing to see how a normal street is turned into an extensive market, with everything from clothes and shoes to fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, household and paper products, CDs and videos, even vitamins and medicine. With not a lot of stores around, this seems to be the main place for locals to do their shopping.  There are a few signs from home here too with clothes from Aeropostale, American Eagle Outfitters and Ecko. After browsing the market, we headed toward the medical clinic which serves as home base for the shoe box project.  The clinic, which has been under construction for almost 10 years, is a project of the Cove Church that will provide both important medical care for locals, as well as housing for mission trip teams.  The beautiful building fits in with the local landscape but also incorporates American design.  The main floor has a reception area, exam rooms and a fully functional bathroom, as well as a large storage and work area for the shoe boxes.  The extensive upstairs area will have several bedrooms with bunk beds and individual bathrooms, a recreation area and a large kitchen. Having this space will allow mission trip teams to have one central place to eat, sleep and work. After loading up shoe boxes and backpacks full of school supplies, we headed out to the villages of Providencia and Rancho Allegro.  The Rivas family, friends of Pastor Israel, joined us, with the mother Lynda and the daughter Shayle leading the children in songs and prayers. When we first arrived in the villages, I’m not sure who was more excited to see who, us or the children.  Boys and girls came running out of their houses, grasping a small book about the Salvation Story that was given to them with their shoe boxes last year. Although they are bursting with excitement, they all stand together politely in a group and barely break a smile.  It is a huge accomplishment for us to even be able to come into villages like this, as just a couple years ago, they didn't want you to even enter to spray for disease. But as Pastor Israel has built and nurtured relationships with these villages and mission teams have come in with much needed supplies and gifts, their hearts have softened and they now will sing songs about Jesus. The team breaks the ice with the children by passing out candy, beaded necklaces, balloons and shooting them with water guns.  The kids love it and start to come out of their shells, smiling and laughing. Although there is a language barrier, it doesn't seem to affect the fun going on between the team and the children. It’s amazing how polite the children are, waiting patiently in line for their turn and even holding on to their shoe boxes without opening them. One of the team members compared it to a Christmas morning in America and how different it is with us being used to children tearing in to a pile of presents in less than five minutes. Our visits aren't very long overall and the shoe boxes may seem small, but to the children of Honduras, it is huge.  The content of those shoe boxes is more than they will get the whole year and the families are learning the love of Christ a little more day by day.  The children are so grateful and we can feel the bond already as we drive out waving goodbye to the children and saying “Adios”.

Today, after more packing and organizing of shoe boxes and backpacks, we are off to more villages, more smiles and more sweet, brown eyes. You definitely are not the same after you've looked into them even just one time.  It is a reminder of what is important, what is not, and what one person can do when you stop and listen to God’s voice. When you act as His hands and His feet, there is no limit to what you can do. Until next time, keep sending us your love and prayers!

P.S. We heard your shout out to us at church yesterday!  It was an awesome feeling to be with our Cove family all the way from another continent!

 

February 27, 2012

Today, we welcomed just under 500 children to the soccer field at the Medical Clinic. Children walk from as far as 5 miles away to come see us and get their shoe boxes. God blessed us with absolutely beautiful weather with lots of sunshine, blue skies and a cool breeze all afternoon.  Once again, the children and their parents were very patient and polite, waiting at the edges of the field as we got out of our vehicles. Steve and Gary quickly got the kids out into the middle of the field with their trusty water guns and water balloon launcher, as us girls passed out bracelets, rings, stickers and candy.  It’s amazing how happy these children are to receive such small “trinkets.”  I decided I was going to give my ring (it looked like a massively huge diamond) to a special little girl, one that stood out from the crowd.  It didn't take long for God to point her out to me. She was a beautiful little girl with long dark hair and big brown eyes. When I saw her, she was standing quietly by herself so I pointed to the ring on my finger and asked if she’d like to have it and despite the obvious language barrier, a huge smile spread across her face as she shook her head “yes.” After I gave her the ring, she walked off to be with the other children, but every ten minutes or so, she’d come back to wherever I was standing and just stand with me. After playtime was over, the children neatly formed into groups by age and gender, and shoe boxes and backpacks were passed out to everyone. The backpacks, made from donated fabric, are made by local teenage girls who use the money they make to pay for college and support their families. Steve and Gary helped the adults get fitted for eyeglasses, allowing many to see clearly for the first time in years. Other families were overjoyed just to get to take home our empty cardboard boxes at the end of the day. God was at work in big ways not only with the families of Honduras, but with our team as well. After a powerful devotion meeting this morning with Dawn sharing her struggle with overcoming an addiction to smoking and another moving devotion meeting tonight with Mark telling about his experience with a little girl running up to hug him and that small motion showing him the meaning of love, it is obvious God is here with every one of us in Honduras, working His miracles big and small.

 

February 28th, 2012

Today was another beautiful day in Honduras, with blue skies and a perfect cool breeze.  This morning after devotions and breakfast, we all packed up and headed to the medical clinic to assemble more backpacks and organize shoe boxes.  Then it was off to the home of Geronimo, a friend of Pastor Israel’s who helps with the clinic and shoe box projects, who invited us in to his home for an authentic homemade lunch. We headed halfway up the mountain and parked and then hiked by foot from the road to his home, perched high upon the mountainside. Geronimo walks from his home down the mountain to the clinic every day. We squeezed our tables and plastic chairs into their tiny home and had mantucas and corn on the cob, more food than they would normally eat in a week.  There were roosters and chickens (even baby chicks!) roaming the property and fresh limes growing overhead. After we finished lunch, we headed back down to the clinic to load up for our trip to El Cerron. The village is about 3,400 feet up the mountain so the road up is long and windy. It’s quite the adventure making your way up the mountain, bouncing and going around hairpin turns with huge drops on either side.  The little van I was riding in had to stop at the base of some of the bigger hills and get a “running start” to get all the way up!  Once we arrived at the clearing in El Cerron, we set up and the guys went about their routine of shooting their water guns and water balloons to get the children excited.  The children are so excited at this village to get our little trinkets and candy, that some of them swarm us as we pass out our goodies.  Dawn led the children in the story of Salvation using the “Salvation soccer ball” that uses various colors to represent sin (black), blood (red), forgiveness (white), heaven (yellow) and “go with God”(green). When it came time for distribution, we started with baby bags that were assembled for mothers with small babies.  The bags contained a blanket, a onesie, a couple washcloths, three cloth diapers, diaper pins, a Cove Church cup, candy, and either a book or a stuffed animal. Since this village is so high up in the mountains, supplies like these are very important.  The women all lined up in a very quiet and orderly fashion, although their eyes showed their excitement. The children weren't quite as calm! After the songs and salvation story, Pastor Israel called out the different age groups and genders and sent the kids to the team members waiting at the shoe box stations. After our full day up in the mountains, we were invited to Lynda and Angel’s house for a delicious homemade dinner. We feasted on authentic tamales, barbecued chicken, rice and beans and potato salad. Seeing their home is interesting to see the difference between what upper middle class looks like here as compared to home. Their house is very nice but still not near what we are used to in America. After dinner, we all enjoyed an impromptu concert by Shayle in their living room. It was a wonderful end to a long day. Tomorrow we are off to the top of the mountains for Bella & Buena Vista and Rio Bonito, where we will see about 900 children. Lots of love to pass out! Pray for us!

 

February 29, 2012

Today we visited the villages of Bella & Buena Vista and Rio Bonito. Both villages are high up in the mountains, so again the only way up is a long, bumpy, windy road.  It took about an hour to get up to the first village from the main road.   The views from that high up were amazing. The mountains reach so high up into the sky that the clouds literally overlap their tops. It’s hard to tell where the mountains end and the sky begins. Huge valleys are on either side with houses and roads scattered here and there and coffee bean plants in rows along steep hillsides. Our ever-entertaining “assistant Roger,” shared a story with all of us about he and his father were held up at knife and gunpoint along the same road a month earlier. As he went on with all the details, the trepidation among the group went up a little, but we all knew God had our backs.

There were more dogs, chickens and horses wandering or randomly grazing along the road and occasionally we would pass a walker or two or meet up with an oncoming vehicle on the narrow road. Speaking of, on our way down the mountain tonight, our van met up face first with a motorcyclist with about 2 inches to spare between the front of his bike and our windshield, no exaggeration. They really know how to whip around those roads! At about 3,000 feet, we arrived at the soccer field where the children of Bella Vista and Buena Vista were ready and waiting for us.  The whole hillside was lined with children from top to bottom, many in their school uniforms of white shirts and blue pants/skirts.

After playing some water tag, passing out candy, stickers and balloons, and singing songs about Jesus, we distributed the shoe boxes. The children again waited so patiently and most wouldn't even open their boxes once they received them.  It’s amazing to see the discipline these children have about waiting to look through their stuff. Even the few that looked inside with one of us, would seem anxious to get everything back to its rightful place inside and close the lid. One of our team members, Dawn, had an awesome God-moment at the end of the shoe box time. Kristie and Angie realized the boxes the children in their circle were opening were the boxes that Dawn and her fellow teachers had put together at their school.  They called her over and she was able to sit with the girls that their boxes went to and enjoy the expressions on their faces. Definitely a cool Godwink.

Next, we got back in the vehicles and headed up to about 4,600 feet to the soccer field in Rio Bonito.  This village seemed more “civilized” than the others we had seen, with more houses close together, more “traffic” on the roads and a few more business-type establishments. Still nothing like anywhere in the States, but a little different than what we’d seen so far.  There, 600-700 kids showed up to meet us.  It was an incredible sight to see. When it came time to hand out the shoe boxes, the children were grouped by age and gender as usual, but our little circles were huge!  Lisa, Ed and I had 120 girls just in our group alone! All in all, we handed out over 1,000 shoe boxes today and provided glasses to many adults as well.

The coolest thing about today though is not how many shoe boxes we were able to handout, but that even in a scene as large as Rio Bonito, you could still share a moment with a single child as you handed them their shoe box. Many of the children would have stoic looks on their faces, but once you said “hello” or “hola” and smiled at them, a huge smile would come across their face. Some even surprised us with “thank you” instead of “gracias.”

When it was time to leave, many children left in large groups, walking down the roads back to their homes, or piling onto the backs of trucks.  Either way, hearing them say “adios!” and seeing them smile and wave as we drive by on our way out, never gets old.

 

March 1, 2012

Well since I had a bit of a stomach bug today and had to stay back at the hotel, I can’t describe the day first-hand but can tell you a little bit about what the team did. After breakfast and devotions, the team headed out to Pulhapansak, a beautiful waterfall.  The team had the opportunity to get some much needed R &R while hiking under the waterfall and exploring the caves, jumping from the rocks or just lounging in the sun. Some of the more daring team members took a turn on the zip line, flying as high as 200 feet in the air and going straight over the waterfall.

After the visit to the waterfall, the team traveled all the way down a long, twisting mountain road, to the village of Las Marias, a small lakeside fishing village with beautiful greenery and views of the mountains. This is a newly established relationship and the first year for this village to receive shoe boxes. The team all agreed that the people of this village seemed much calmer and more peaceful during our visit then some of the other villages. After everyone got their boxes, all of the children and some of the adults lined up and shook the hands of all the team members.  It was an awesome opportunity for the team to have a personal moment with each child, smiling and shaking their hand.

After the team finished packing up, they were invited into the home of Moses, a fisherman and Christian who assists Pastor Israel with his efforts in the village. He was also one of the first recipients of the new stoves installed by the Cove last year.  The team enjoyed another authentic meal, this time consisting of fried tilapia, plantains, rice & beans and cafe negro.

This was the last day for shoe boxes, finishing up an amazing week of spreading God’s love and being His hands and feet.  Tomorrow, we will finish up packing shoe boxes and backpacks for the next team that will be arriving on Saturday. We’ll also visit a local woodworker and market to pick up some souvenirs and then are off to San Pedro Sula for our last night before flying out Saturday morning.  Thank you everyone for all of your prayers and support!

 

Honduras Team...Packing up and Heading Home

Well it is our last night in Honduras. We are all checked in to our hotel in San Pedro Sula and we will be leaving for the airport tomorrow morning. We had a pretty easy day today - packing up more supplies at the clinic for the next team coming in and then headed off to the market in San Pedro Sula.

On our way, we stopped at a local woodworker’s home and picked up some beautiful and unique boxes, plaques, frames and crosses. We also stopped at Angel and Lynda’s to say goodbye and pick up some personalized Honduras license plates that Angel made for us. We ended up getting caught in a traffic jam (yes, they have them!) so the trip took a little longer than we expected but we still had plenty of time to shop. The market had lots of colorful bags and hammocks, wood carved trinkets, food and tons more. The heat here in San Pedro Sula is a lot more intense since you’re not high up in the mountains like we have been all week.  The city is very busy, with a lot of traffic, lights and car horns.  There are familiar things from home including a very large mall, where we had dinner tonight.  The TGI Friday’s we ate in had the same decor and pretty much the same menu as back home, just a little language barrier with the waiter. Our way home from dinner, we encountered a woman juggling fire sticks at a traffic light. When the light turns red, she just steps out in front of the cars, starts twirling and then asks for tips when she’s done. Never a dull moment.

Since it’s my last night here, I thought I’d just share some randomness from the week:

-First off, it was very important to Pastor Israel that we came this week. He told us that several mission teams cancelled in January because Honduras was being hyped as the #1 most dangerous country in the world. He said that is not actually the case, but it is indeed dangerous.

-The stoves that The Cove helps install in Honduran homes only cost about $100. Without them, the wood that the people use to cook with has oil in it that is 40 times more dangerous than cigarette smoke. With the new stoves, the smoke is cut by more than 92 % making a drastic difference for the Hondurans’ health and it saves about 130,000 acres per year, significantly affecting the environment.

-Some of the unique things we've seen here include bagged water, people walking with umbrellas for the sun not rain, toilet paper going in the trash can and not the toilet, smoothies for sale at the mall with cornflakes in them, people selling things in the middle of traffic and speaking of, oh yes, that infamous Honduran driving. You just can’t get quite the whole picture unless you see it. Crazy.

-Your two most favorite things on a Honduran Mission Trip will be toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

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Things I’ve learned to do differently for next year’s trip (yes, I’m coming back!):

1. Bring a good camera

2. Learn enough Spanish to have a small conversation with the children

3. Buy little things all year round at the Dollar Store, on clearance racks, etc. to pass out to the children

4. Bring cargo pants!

5. Pack lighter

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Random good quotes from the week:

“I am a Blackberry people.” -Gary

“When I’m not talking, I’m thinking about what to talk about.” -Roger “This is better than gizzard day at the KFC.”-Gary

“Their greatest poverty is their lack of vision.” –Steve

And just for the record, Steve said “You smell like what?” twelve times this week. (That I know of, it was probably more).

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The last thing I want to mention is that the biggest thing that stood out to me about the culture in the villages is that they are more PRESENT in their own lives. Because things are so much simpler, they aren’t distracted.  There’s no TV, computer or cell phone taking their attention away from the real world. People stand outside their homes and talk to their neighbors, children still play outside and makeup their own games.  It’s something that is seldom seen any more in America.  The people also are happy.  They don’t seem to be fretting over their situation or feeling angry about it.  They still will smile and wave hello and many will welcome you into their homes. It’s a simplistic life that I find quietly beautiful.

I am eternally grateful for having been a part of this experience.  I already knew coming in to this that I would be a changed person going home and I am.  I also already felt like we are a spoiled country in many ways and I hate to say it, but this trip only enforces that idea.  I am very grateful though for everything I have in my life back home and for the freedom and luxuries that we enjoy. But I know that I will want to continue what was “started” here and keep looking for ways to give to others that have less than me and to be sure that I am always focused on what is REALLY important and not get caught up in “first world problems.”

I hope you all enjoyed going on this journey with us through this blog and we thank you all for your love, support and prayers. May God bless you and your families.