Mary Evans is a member of Reveille United Methodist Church who participated in this year’s medical mission to rural Honduras with the Friends of Barnabas.
“You come to help my people,” an elderly man said in English, gesturing to my Friends of Barnabas Foundation t-shirt I wore to the airport in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. “Thank you.” He stood tall, and his face resembled many that I had seen in the previous week–tanned and lined from spending much time outdoors. I answered him in English, “You’re welcome,” and boarded my flight with tears in my eyes, eager to share my exchange with my fellow missioners.
Earlier that morning, our mission team of 16 adults and youth had arranged plastic chairs in a circle on the fourth floor of our San Pedro Sula Hotel and administered Holy Communion to each other in the final devotion of our medical mission trip. We read the Prayer for Honduran Children and wept out of love and exhaustion. Our hearts had been transformed and our family circle had been expanded to include the beautiful people of Honduras. Christ had broken down the wall.
We had spent the past week administering health care to residents in five mountain villages near Peña Blanca. Upon arrival, villagers unloaded our supplies and we set up our clinics in the school. Mountain children are educated up until 5th or 6th grade, after which they go to work, too. Secondary education is available to only the middle class and above. I was glad to hear at least that the children are paid. We dispensed medications for the ubiquitous intestinal diseases, strep throat, high blood pressure, vitamins and deworming, and fluoride treatments. We also staffed vision and dental clinics. We saw people with serious health issues, and a few people who had Zika. Our team made over 1,100 points of contact in five days. We strove to convey through the simple action of caring for their bodies that Christ loves them, that we love them, that they matter. They returned our care with smiles and gratitude.
At age 52, I’m a latecomer to mission work. Although I grew up going to church, singing in choirs, and helping our families and neighbors in many ways, I didn’t have a sense that in doing so I was serving Christ. Becoming deeply involved in the life of our youth ministry at Reveille UMC brought this into focus and enriched my good works with a lasting foundation of faith. When my 18-year-old daughter expressed an interest in doing mission work in a country where she could use her Spanish language skills, we looked at various options and settled on Friends of Barnabas Foundation in Honduras, which provides impoverished mountain communities with preventive and primary healthcare. Friends who had served with FOBF in years past convinced me that I could also be of use, despite very limited Spanish skills and no medical training. And the opportunity to be in mission with my daughter–soon to be leaving home for her first year of college–was the clincher. When we committed to go, I was vaguely aware of the political and social climate there, but had no idea that Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America, and also has the highest murder rate in the world (mostly connected to illegal drug cartels). You could say that this was a giant leap of faith for me. I don’t even like to fly!
Flying was a cinch compared to our daily school bus rides up rocky, unpaved and sometimes washed out mountain roads to reach the clinic locations. The country song “Jesus, Take the Wheel” was embedded in my mental playlist as our amazing bus driver/translator/eye clinic coordinator Marco coaxed the bus to villages with names like “Little Heaven” (El Cielito) and “The Future” (El Porvenir). Many people ride bicycles on the highway and some ride horses or mules. On the way to the villages, we saw U.S. fast food restaurants, a Pepsi plant, and a glass and steel Toyota dealership that stood in stark contrast to the visible standard of living of most people. We passed homes constructed of corrugated containers that you would see on the back of a tractor trailer or a train. They were painted and had terra cotta or tin roofs and looked fairly sturdy. We also saw houses constructed of sticks, plastic sheeting and tires. We saw billboards hawking American sporting goods and other affluent brands. There were roadside stands piled high with pineapples and melons and coconuts, rotisserie chicken shops, and lots of gas stations. Gas is high here–about $4.00/gallon.
Despite the signs of modernization, it is impossible to ignore the intensely beautiful countryside. The mountains meet the sky, sometimes shrouded in mist, other times verdantly green. This area of Honduras is where the indigenous Lenca people farmed and fished for thousands of years. Many of them still live here, and still live life close to the land. Many work on the coffee farms. Others hand-cultivate rows of corn that hug the curves of the steep, rocky hillsides. No machine could do this work. The people care deeply for their land and waste none of it.
One of our cooks, Albeta, is Lenca. She and Virginia fed us delicious, authentic Honduran meals all week. Much of the food comes from the gardens right outside the doors of our simple but comfortable accommodations at Barnabas House in Peña Blanca. “We believe we need to take good care of you so you can take care of our people,” says Nury Janania, Director of FOBF in Honduras.
What began 16 years ago as a vitamin and anti-parasite treatment program for children has slowly grown to encompass more comprehensive preventive and primary care, and also now treats entire families. There is also an extended care facility for patients preparing for or recovering from surgery. FOBF staff uses the gardens as training for community leaders in sustainable planting, fertilizing and harvesting techniques. A Honduran nurse and doctor give training in dental health and reproductive health. FOBF recently held a training clinic for over 30 local midwives. Education is a paramount goal of FOBF. It is the only path out of poverty.
Ministering to others can be a path out of spiritual poverty. One of our nightly devotionals centered around suffering and how we can help without pitying or insulting the people. Nury is philosophical when she says “suffering is relative. The more you know, the more you want, the more you suffer.” The villagers have illnesses and Third World living conditions, but many of them seem happy. They love their families. We can’t fully understand their lives, but this trip reinforces to me that we are all created in His image and are equal in His eyes. We must meet people where they are and love and care for them.
Nury said, “This is more than a friendship. We become a family. Watch out! It can become addicting to come back. While you are here, refill your filters of love and go back appreciating where you come from.”
These words have never been more true than last week, when we left our daughter at college. My husband and I are empty nesters with its blessings and sorrows. I will cherish the time I spent with our daughter in Honduras, especially since it brought into focus how very lucky we are to have a healthy child, the resources to send her to college, and a comfortable home to come back to. It makes missing her a little easier. Sometimes the things that seem the most out of reach yield the most precious gifts.
It takes a special skill set to be a follower, especially if you are accustomed to being in control–as many of us will admit. To submit to someone’s superior understanding or experience; to question only for clarification; to execute instructions; to accept correction. I learned a lot about this skill set during my time in Honduras. I do know that I don’t have to hit the road or fly to the Third World to serve, but taking the dramatic step to leave my comfort zone made it easier to focus on that service. As for following Christ, I think I will always feel like a beginner.
A Prayer for Honduran Children by Rev. Linwood Cook
We pray for the children of Honduras; who play with sticks and rocks, their toys, who laugh and sing, over the growls of hunger, who know a tortilla and a handful of red beans is a meal, who love their parents as they hug and bless each other, who hope for a better life, someday.
We pray for those; who have never tasted ice cream, who sleep on the ground, a bed of cardboard or burlap, who do not have a room to clean, who learn to cook over a open fire at the age of four, who have never colored a picture.
We pray for those; who have parasites consuming much of what they eat, who bodies are stunted by malnutrition, whose stomachs will know pain in the day and night, who will never see a doctor or a dentist, who have never known a bathroom with walls.
We pray for those; who live with birth defects, who have to be carried to the mountain medical clinics, whose arms bear sick children many miles, who travel so far, to help so many, whose minds, hearts and hands will repair.
We rejoice and pray for those; who see clearly for the first time, who take their first wobbly steps after a surgery, who show joy through a new smile, whose load is made lighter when a child is made healthy, who live, saved by the selfless love of a far-off neighbor.
We pray for those; who will make a decision to make a difference, who take their vacation to go to Honduras to help, who give faithfully to make the ministry happen, who will touch a child, and be forever changed, who are friends like Barnabas.