Honduras Mission

Posted on July 28, 2013


I had almost forgotten about life on the fringes in the Third World. After a twisting, turning ride over and through mountain passes into one of the world’s most challenging airports–Tegucigalpa, Honduras–we perspired through customs and headed south to a small town, Guinope, in the province of El Paraiso.

I was once again—like in a long professional career that has taken me often in and out of Latin America–going from one extreme to another in comfort, travel, economic conditions, living circumstances, and culture all in few hours of travel in space and time.

I began my memoirs long ago with something like, “I woke up in [Guayaquil, Veracruz, Lima, Havana, Santo Domingo, somewhere] in a very modest [read dingy] hotel, in a very modest neighborhood [understatement], took my towel and sandals and padded on down to the communal bathroom, wondering, once again, ‘why am I doing this?’”

Although hardened by experience, I never fail to be astounded by the disparity of life in the U. S. outside of the magic circle of prosperity and comfort that we take for granted.

On the second day in country I discover why I am in Honduras.

The ride to Guinope through the mountains, sometimes on the well paved Pan American highway and sometimes just following a twisting, rutted hardly-paved surface on our standard yellow school bus—the vehicle of choice for passenger traffic in Central America—is marked by honks, slowing for debris and occasional landslides.

We arrive at Guinope the day after a stop and evening at the lovely mission home built by the Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International. It is spacious, open-to-the-breezes home built to accommodate large mission teams of up to forty or fifty before they head out to their mission field.

One can even flush toilet paper down the toilets and observe other niceties of life in America at the mission home.

The power failed around supper time and so we ate by candlelight, adding a Third Worldish touch to life. But I’ve been in lots of places where power was often interrupted or just failed for reasons unknown.

So the power outage at the mission home was no big deal. Besides, we all carried flashlights.

The next day we reached Guinope, about 4000 feet up in the southern mountains.

After settling in our home away from home, a local elementary school compound, the first people were admitted into the school grounds. Some had been traveling since 4 a.m. to be there as the gates opened at dawn.

They came to see the doctors, dentists, nurses, and others giving away thousands of eye glasses, shoes, boots, sandals, prescription drugs and providing basic medical and dental services.

This is all free for the price of sitting through a worship service under a large tent, set up much like revivals past and present. It is the gateway to the school rooms set up as temporary clinics, pharmacy, eye glass clinic and clothes and shoes dispensary.

Thousands of Hondurans come through in the space of four days, seeking and receiving what the mission offers, the love of Christ and the goods and services of the mission volunteers, from medical doctors to a retired history professor like me.

Everyone adds to the mix. I also speak Spanish so I helped interpret and preached occasionally.

Under the tent, my congregants included men, women, squirming and restless children of all ages, nursing mothers, dogs, and roosters crowing at the dawn service.

The down side to all this was sleeping in a common room with forty or fifty other men on a foam rubber “mattresses,” and very rudimentary bathing and bathroom facilities located across the school compound. This necessitated a hike at night through the high brush and dark concrete walkways.

Cold showers, sometimes warmed by Rube Goldberg contraptions to heat the water, were in outdoors portable metal stalls. They offered some privacy unless the doors sprung open while in the altogether.

This always produced some good laughs, especially in mixed Baptist company. Preserving one’s dignity in flip flops and turbaned towels was not high on anyone’s agenda.

The apostle James wrote that faith without works is of little value. He reminded Christians to embrace faith and also do good works to put the promises and teachings of Jesus into practice.

Missions in the main have employed a similar strategy since the earliest Church history. Bring people to Jesus by giving gifts or doing something for them.

Present them with the Gospel in the same breath and the connection between the two becomes almost self-evident.

That’s what we did for five days.

Over three thousand passed through the initial worship services and into the school compound where the mission team set up.

The statistics really staggered me. A mission team of about thirty seven Americans tended to thousands of patients in the space of four days.

What is even more amazing is that the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, optometrists, evangelists, cooks and others who gave away toys, clothes and shoes, or tended the young children, were more touched than those they ministered to.

On the last evening before we boarded our plane to return to the States, the group shared experiences for a few hours, and, more than that, their feelings.

There were many tears of joy and witness to personal transformations.

The Hondurans, from young mothers still nursing babies to one ninety year old man on the verge of death, were grateful for the care, the love, the medicines, even the tooth pulling.

The missionaries, on the other hand, were transformed by the experience. There is no other way to describe it.

All felt the hand of God moving in their lives, their eyes opened to the needs and conditions of those they helped.

Many had been going to Honduras for years. Some were on their first mission trip. All were marked indelibly by God’s love for them, and for the thousands they ministered to.

We laughed and we cried together, laughing at the almost Vaudeville circumstances of a mission trip by pampered Americans to a small community in one of the poorest Third World countries in Latin America, crying tears of gratitude and joy at discovering a dimension of God’s love planted in each of us to remember and cherish.

This essay also published as an OpEd in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday, August 4, 2013

Some images among the hundreds taken.

2007-01-06 13.32.43 2013-07-13 21.45.42 2013-07-13 22.38.28 2013-07-13 22.53.20 2013-07-14 01.46.30 2013-07-14 02.41.00 2013-07-14 04.25.54 2013-07-14 06.58.26 2013-07-14 08.01.55 2013-07-14 08.09.30 2013-07-14 08.11.45 2013-07-14 09.58.30 2013-07-14 09.59.10 2013-07-14 10.07.37 2013-07-14 20.39.48 2013-07-14 20.40.07 2013-07-14 20.41.32 2013-07-14 20.46.29 2013-07-14 23.27.57 2013-07-14 23.31.11