My latest adventure brought me to the Republica de Honduras on mission work with my church. It was an eye-opening experience, and an experience I would like to pass on to you.
We departed early Saturday morning to leave for the airport around 2:00 A.M., so I didn’t bother with sleeping. I crammed all I would need into a backpack and went on my way. We went south of Huntsville to Birmingham to catch an early flight to Miami, Florida. There was little time spent in Miami, as we immediately turned around for a flight across the Gulf of Mexico to Honduras. The flight was gorgeous, and we didn’t gain much altitude so we were able to see crystal clear blue water, and the Cuban countryside.
We landed in the city of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. The city officially holds the title of greatest airport landing in my experience. Tegucigalpa is built upon a mountain range, and the airport lies in a valley. The pilot had to fly in circles around the valley and then make a quick, reckless landing on a short runway. The passengers clapped when we were grounded. From there we had an easy walk through customs, though the entry card took forever to fill out, and we met with the missionaries who would be taking us in for the week.
Upon leaving the airport, we bussed a short distance away to a mall for lunch. This was my least favorite thing about the trip because the mall is a carbon-copy of any mall we have here in the U.S. I simply didn’t like being around so much westernization when I could’ve been seeing the country.
Things began to gain momentum as we drove through the city. Like I said, Tegucigalpa is built on mountains, so our bus had to drive up hills and around ridges. Homes are built everywhere so there was always something new around every corner. Any angle you look at the city you’ll see something you wouldn’t have been able to see from a different vantage point.
I was quickly taken aback by the poverty of Honduras. They are indeed a third world country with a government that simply doesn’t look out for the citizens. There is no social security, no welfare program, and no healthcare services. Patriotism is set on the back burner as citizens struggle to simply eat and get by. It also has the highest homicide rate in the world with over 8,000 people murdered a year.
The mission organization my church partners with in Honduras is called Forgotten Children Ministries. FCM takes children off the streets of Tegucigalpa and places them in shelters in safer parts of the city and country. Our first stop was to the girls shelter which is located in a gated community on the edge of the city. The girls were overjoyed to see us.
I played with the youngest girl at the home, Salonyi, who was quick to explore my iPhone. She enjoyed looking at photos the most. I would try to open game for her to play, but I was amazed at the fact that she wasn’t interested with what the phone was doing as much as simply using the touch screen. She would reach the end of one of my photo albums and continue to slide the photo with her finger, even though it wasn’t doing anything. It was amazing to think how any child in the U.S. can decipher their parent’s smartphone better than they can to play games and watch YouTube, yet Solanyi was grateful to simply have a touchscreen at her fingertips.
It was here where I began to learn the slightest bit of Spanish to allow me to make small-talk with the locals that week. I began with simple phrases such as "What is you name?", "My name is…", and "See you tomorrow".
We wrapped things up at the girls’ shelter and began the hour-long drive to the country side, where we would be staying for the week. After navigating many kilometers outside the city and a long gravel road, we arrived at Finca Grace, or "Grace Farm" in English. Finca Grace is a farm owned by FCM which houses the mission teams and acts as the boys shelter for the ministry. We were oriented with the procedures of the farm, and the rest of the day we were given the freedom to do as we pleased.
The boys living on the farm quickly stole my heart. I watched the older boys play an evening game of soccer, and the younger boys began showing us around the farm. These boys have been living on the street for a greater half of their lives, and it’s only by the grace of God that they’re given the chance to live safely, have near endless land to play on, and get fed three times a day. There’s no question as to when the next meal will come, which is far greater than their past lives.
Honduran food was easy to adjust to as well. Dishes range from burritos with rice and beans, to chicken tacquitos. Honduran chicken is one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, and it’s even better when combined with homemade pico. Fruit is implemented into every Honduran meal, including dinner. The cooks at the farm showed us a wide range of dishes, and not one disappointed.
When dinner was over, the team was tired from an excruciatingly long day, and retired to bed.
After a full night’s rest, I was up bright and early the next morning. I went out on the balcony of the mission house to have a look at the country side. It was here when I marveled at the weather of Honduras. In one direction you could see rain in the distance, and in another you could see sun and sky. Since the country is in the mountains and there is constant cloud coverage, the temperatures never left the upper sixties. The only days we were hot was when the clouds were sparse, but even then I never felt anywhere near as hot as Alabama does now.
The team ate breakfast, and then attended a Sunday morning church service. The service was loud and simple. Since so many people in Honduras have to work, the Sunday service is pretty lackluster. It’s the Wednesday night late service that draws the larger crowd when more people can make it.
We walked back to Finca Grace, a scenic stroll, and spent the rest of the morning exploring the farm. There is a vast amount of land for the boys to play on, complete with soccer fields and dozens of trees perfect for climbing. The Honduran countryside also has an abundance of naturally growing fruit, so the boys could climb a mango or coconut tree for a snack.
That afternoon, the team went to see the girls again at a "water park" near to Finca Grace. By water park, I mean two small pools and a slide. We enjoyed watching the girls shove most of the adults on our team into the pools.
Later we drove back to Finca Grace, and we broke out a massive game of volleyball with the boys. Each side yelled "Point!" when they scored, and the boys, though they didn’t speak English, would yell just like we did, poking laughs at our accent. It was pure hilarity.
First thing Monday morning, the team boarded the bus and drove north to a small village, but not before stopping at a "pulperia" (convenience store). There I got some bagged water for less than 10 Limperias, which is less than 50 cents in U.S. currency.
We came with buildable kite kits for the children of the village to play with. We set up camp at a soccer field, and the village children quickly spotted the "gringos" (Spanish slang for Americans). We constructed the kites with the children, which appeared rather flimsy, but surprisingly held up. By this point I could speak a decent amount of Spanish, and was able to help the children construct the kites. Once the kites were in the air, everyone was having a blast. It was fun to help the children untangle their kites, which is almost never fun.
When that was done, we began to pass out bags of rice and masaca (corn meal) to each of the children and mothers. Rice and masaca can last weeks for a Honduran family, and for some it can be a miracle to receive. It was heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces, and tell the mothers "Dio te bendiga" (God bless you). As we walked back to the bus they would shake their bags, smile and say "Masaca!".
We boarded the bus and went back to Finca Grace for lunch. After lunch I spent time exploring the farm. We went up to a large concrete water tower which provided fantastic views of the country side, and took some photos.
Later in the afternoon we did VBS-style activities with the younger boys. We taught them a Bible lesson and played games, which included a massive water balloon fight. When the game portion was finished, me and some younger boys on our team went to pick mangos, and asked the cooks to wash and cut them for us. We came back outside to find the boys playing with their own kites, all of which were incredibly high. One of our translators manage to string three kite strings together, and was about to string a fourth when he let go of the kite, and it flew away. Everyone ran the length of the property to try and catch it, which was hilarious. We finished off the day with another game of volleyball, and me and the boys ate mangos. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried natural-grown, ripe mangos.
Tuesday morning, the team boarded the bus once again for food ministry. This was when we went to an impoverished village to minister to homes and gift their dwellers with food. I set off with a team of five and we ventured down one road, requesting to enter people’s homes. If they allowed us to, we would speak to them about why we came, asked them about their faith, and ask if their was anything we could pray for them. All of them asked for prosperity in their homes and their health. One home had a boy who’d been infected by a disease-carrying dog bite, and an uncle who is trying to come to the U.S. Another was an elderly couple, the husband has heart issues, and the wife has diabetes. It was here when a mother and daughter came down to their home, stating that they’d come a very long distance to find missionaries to pray for her own diabetes. I was amazed at how grateful these people were for our prayers, and how far a person woudl go to someone to pray for them. We gave each home a surplus of rice and masaca, and gave the children "confetti" (candy).
As we went back, we stopped at a pulperia owned by one of the women we spoke to. We bought snacks from her store, and we were astonished to hear that she didn’t want the money for them. This is not only a country littered with poverty, but a bag of chips costs the equivalent of a nickel. We insisted, and gave her the money anyway.
As we drove back to Finca Grace, I reflected on what I’d seen. It was here when a fellow team member reminded me that while it is hard, we have to understand what ministering and the simple act of rice and masaca can do for people. He said that while one individual will never be able to make a difference for every person in the world, we must still remember that we can make a difference for individual people, and that’s what matters. It’s part of the American in me to think that everyone deserves unalienable rights, and anything we allow for one person we do the same for everyone else. But the reality is that in Honduras this isn’t the case. While everyone has the right to eat, one person or even an entire mission organization can’t feed every nook and cranny of Honduras’ 8 million people. But we can make a difference to those we can get to, and pray that others reach the rest by any means necessary.
After lunch at Finca Grace, the team went back to Tegucigalpa to the girls’ home. There we did similar VBS style activities we’d done with the boys the day before, a fun time of goofing off. When we finished, we drove back to Finca Grace and hit the sack.
Things began to change up Wednesday morning. My team and a second team at the farm boarded our buses and went back into the city to a special needs orphanage called Bencalef. This was a very touching time in the trip. Each of the children were mentally or physically handicapped, and had been abandoned by their parents, yet were some of the happiest children I’d ever seen.
There was a quiet moment with me and some of my team members with a girl named Angi. She is blind, and had to stay inside and away from the rest of the children because of that. She was very sweet and happy, and would react to our voices though she couldn’t see the beautiful world around her. I had never looked on special needs children in this light before. I could consistently see across all of them that they were expressive, but not in the way you and I would think. Happiness for these children comes out in a different way than what most people are used to seeing. One girl enjoyed being picked up and wouldn’t let me put her down. A boy would jump up and down uncontrollably. It was eye-opening to see that though each child was mentally handicapped, the Lord still gave them the capacity to express joy, gratefulness, and excitement. It simply displays in a way many people aren’t used to seeing.
We unfortunately had to leave Bencalef around midday in order to make it back to Finca Grace for lunch. The afternoon was very lax. We spent time playing Uno with the older boys, and climbing trees.
Dinner finished early so we could make it to the nighttime church service. There were far more people there, and not everyone was able to sit down. We heard an amazing testimony from a college student who had been with FCM for a very long time, and was leaving the following day because he’d gotten a job in Costa Rica. He broke down in tears over what FCM and the Lord had done for him.
I was inspired by how the people of Honduras would cling to their faith. Their messages at church were simple; Hold fast to the Lord, and your will be saved, and your life will be in His hands. They would spend hours talking about this. It was inspiring because so many American sermons like to delve into other topics, almost like a history or philosophy class. Here the message was pure gratefulness.
The final day was without a doubt my favorite. Half of my team collaborated with the second team for a large-scale food ministry. We ventured back to the outskirts of Tegucigalpa to a dump. We couldn’t go directly to the dump because of safety. You see, the dump was located at the top of a mountain, and had recently been taken over by gangs. The gangs were hiring their own workers, so the regular workers’ wages had been sliced in half because they were only allowed to work part-time. The slums around the dump housed its workers, and these were our target areas for food ministry.
We parked our bus in a soccer field in the middle of the slums. We then broke out into teams to invite locals to our food ministry. My team went to the top of the mountain, inviting people to the soccer field and passing out candy. The higher we got, the better we could see of the dump on the opposite mountainside. It was enormous, and could be smelled from the base of the mountain, so I can only imagine how horrible it smelled at the top.
We hiked to the base of the mountain and back to the soccer field, where a small worship service had already begun. People from all over came to see us. There was even a woman who was 107 years old! During the sermon, the mission teams began setting up tables to distribute food. The cooks at Finca Grace prepared four massive pots, 2 rice and 2 stew, for those who came to the soccer field. We also gave them bread, candy, and a sugary sports drink. It was clear that the people in the slum didn’t get to drink anything besides bagged water very often, and were more than happy to receive the sports drink.
We organized the crowd into two lines, and allowed them to come through the table with a meal ticket. We soon discovered that we wouldn’t have enough hot food to feed everyone. It was difficult to tell those who remained that we were out. What we did instead was give them first priority on rice and masaca, which we’d brought a surplus of as well. This created confusion among the group which we had to resolve as best we could.
When rice and masaca had been expunged, the second team had prepared about 350 hygiene bags which consisted of a toothbrush, toothpaste, a wash cloth, and a bar of soap. When we opened the suitcases which contained these bags, we began getting swamped from all directions.
There was higher demand for soap, than there was food. This meant they had to spend their lives giving up cleanliness to eat.
I’d never had to think about life in such a way before this. I’ve always had food and a shower, and cleanliness is common courtesy. I’ve never had to choose between one or the other because money wouldn’t allow it.
This was a moving image. Things became very loud, and the translators were having a difficult time keeping everyone in line. It was even harder for the missionaries to distribute the bags as evenly as possible. I went to the back of the line, and children were sandwiched together trying to get to the front. There was very little we could do beyond that. Even when we’d passed out all the hygiene bags, people still asked us for them.
Our resources expunged, the teams boarded the buses and drove back into the city. We ate at a different mall this time, and I was amazed that a personal pizza, a drink, and garlic breadsticks cost the American equivalent of $6 in Honduras, whereas here it could be $13-$15.
Once we were done at the mall, our last stop was the girls shelter for one final goodbye. The boys of the mission teams watched a soccer game, Portugal vs Poland, with the translators. I will say Honduran/Spanish commercials are both ridiculously hilarious and sometimes scarring. But getting to yell "GOOOOOOOAL" was a lot of fun.
It was a somber goodbye at the girls home, and I was afraid we’d never leave. After that, it was back to Finca Grace.
Friday was the day we departed. It was bittersweet having to say goodbye to the boys, translators, and missionaries, but still heartwarming knowing how far the boys had come. We loaded our bags onto the buses, and drove back into Tegucigalpa one last time. It was right before I went through security when I found a Honduran flag in one of the airport shops. It was a wonderful keepsake. We got home safely, and I slept almost til noon the next day.
I’ve had a fun time writing this and reflecting on this journey. I learned a lot about service to others, and the people of Honduras widened my view and strengthened my faith. Though there were many dark aspects to the country such as poverty and gangs, there were re-assuring factors such as the beauty of the countryside, the culture, and the smile on a local’s face when you hand them a bag of rice, or tell them "Dio te bendiga". All these people have less material objects than I do, yet have a far higher capacity for joy and thankfulness. That’s helped me in the last week to be thankful for the little things often taken for granted. It’s a journey I’ll never forget, and I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about it. Thank you for reading.
-David Brashier; Huntsville, Alabama; July 2016
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