Honduras Mission

Posted on July 24, 2014


The first night on a mission trip to Moroceli, Honduras in mid-July was marked by a cacophony, or symphony if you are poetically inclined, of animal and insect sounds swarming our sleeping quarters through the large windows left open to capture the breezes.

The first to waken me, about 1:30 a.m., was a rooster. He crowed once or twice, and then was joined by a rooster in an adjoining yard, and then a third rooster, not to be outdone, began to crow, and in a few seconds it sounded like a thousand roosters clamored for attention, sending waves of rooster talk across the night landscape.

This produced the baying of a sole donkey who probably felt alone or upstaged by the thousand rooster chorus, more than likely being watched by hens thinking “these roosters are such fools. Just like men!”

The lone donkey was joined by others, perhaps communicating in donkey language across the stony, dirt yards of Moroceli’s humble homes, and the symphony was on. The near wild dogs, almost all hungry, stringy, wormy, and desperate for food, barked because everyone else was shouting their animal sounds, and the symphony master orchestrated it all to rise and fall, kind of like a wave at the football game. When it died down a bit, the cicadas, tree frogs, and other buzzing and humming insects, birds, and animals chimed in.

By early dawn, only a few birds flitting through the trees sang a song or two, yielding to the sounds of wake up alarms going off in the schoolhouse rooms we had been assigned for mission team members to sleep and work in. The third night we were there a few gunshots punctuated the post-midnight quiet that settled over the town, and then fireworks joined the cacophony, kind of like the cannons booming at the end of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, in the early morning hours.

We were part of a Baptist Medical and Dental Missions International mission, thirty-five strong, including doctors, nurses, and dentists. We treated thousands of people—literally—in three and a half days, pulled hundreds of hurting and diseased teeth, and the team, sponsored by the Valley View Baptist Church and led by Stan Gray, also gave out thousands of prescriptions, eye glasses, shoes, and clothes collected by Stan’s team over the past year.

Moroceli is a town of about 5,000. To call it rustic would be a disservice to the word rustic, which carries a whiff of quaint to it. There is nothing quaint about largely unpaved and rocky streets, donkeys, horses, chickens, bulls, all sharing the urban environment, outhouses, and a dust that seemed to paint everything desert grey.

There is no way to capture what went on that short week in a single column. People came from near and far, many traveling hours beginning in the predawn darkness in the early morning chill, on buses, old trucks, cars, bicycles, many walking, to see the doctors and dentists. Most have little access to things we take for granted, like regular medical and dental care, and the teeth were pulled in the open air central courtyard of our school “headquarters” by the hundreds, the wails of the children always a small hurt on our own feelings, small in comparison to the gratefulness of those receiving attention.

Children were everywhere. Our population in the U. S. may be aging rapidly, but the Hondurans are multiplying happily. That’s one reason why so many are on our borders, clamoring to get into the land of the “free and the brave.” While employment is the principal attraction, escaping an increasingly violent drug culture figures in the equation.

It is ironic that hundreds and thousands of Christian missionaries from all across the States descend regularly on Honduras, while thousands, and millions, of Hondurans and other Central Americans are going the other way. There is some cosmic balancing act going on here, beyond my ability to explain, and, it appears, beyond our politicians to solve. This makes the mission so satisfying to me, and I would say, without taking a formal poll, to all the other members of the team.

We are there serving Jesus Christ, and we gladly let him take care of the grand political, social, and economic tectonic movements in the world while we direct attention to one frail old man or feverish child at a time.

For a few days I left aide the slaughter going on in Syria, Hebrews and Palestinians waging their bitter war over land and history and religion, and the growing dysfunction of so much of our own world.

My principal goal—other than taking care of normal bodily functions, like showering, bathing and others I’ll not mention to not offend sensibilities—was to preach two or three times a day to the hundreds who jammed into a small church to hear Ford Nixon, my younger colleague, or myself tell them about Jesus Christ. It was a simple salvation message, connecting Jesus with the good work of my fellow team members who were there out of love, pure and simple. I delivered mine in Spanish since I have spoken it as a child, my mother being Chilean and having been reared in South America.

Not everyone listened. It was hot by the time the third or fourth wave of people got to a service in the middle of the day. The languid fans in the ceiling of the small one room church were more ornamental than efficient. The vast amounts of children running around, an occasional stray dog perhaps looking for a scrap of food, and, always, some nursing young mothers, confounded the normal décor one thinks should prevail in a church service, even if you are a Pentecostal, Spirit-filled Christian who starts by clapping and ends up with Hallelujahs. Hungry dogs are not part of even those services.

I remember seeing a small grandson struggle to push his grandmother, one leg having been amputated last year from diabetes, on an old wheelchair up the rocky, uneven, dusty lane that passes for a road from the church to the mission headquarters in the school. He simply could not lift the front wheels off the huge rocks, and he almost dumped her once.

I quickly recruited one of our translators, Daniel Crespo and Ford, both a lot younger and stronger than I, and the three of us shoved and pushed granny up the hill, careful not to spill her, to the mission doctors.

The next day I was sitting around waiting at mission headquarters for lunch. The organizers had told Ford we wouldn’t have the next service until 1 p.m.

At about 11:30 a.m. I headed up the hill to the church, a ten minute walk. I passed a young Honduran pastor and we I chatted about something in the Bible that troubled him. I felt like Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in the desert road to Gaza contemplating what the prophet Isaiah had written about Jesus.

When I got to the church, it was filled. So I walked around to the side entrance that led into the stage. Everyone was waiting. The small band was in place, the pastor sitting behind the pulpit.

“We’re just waiting for you,” he said.

I’m ready, I said. The band started, warmed up the people waiting to go to the mission, and I preached.

Why did I leave an hour and a half before I had to go? I think the Holy Spirit tapped me on the shoulder and told me “you’re on.”

It reminded me of Isaiah’s answer to God’s call. “Here I am Lord, send me.”

I have been in and out of Latin America all my life, and have seen the suffocating poverty of a Haiti and, on the other hand, the prosperity of a Chile, one almost unbelievably crushing and endemic, the other a mirror image—like the capital city of Buenos Aires in Argentina or Mexico City—of our ultramodern world here in America.

I know students of world history find answers to how we became what we are by employing the techniques of the economists, political scientists and others of that ilk, of which I admit to being one, an historian. I also admit to being puzzled how the world works.

I do know, however, that good in the world, at least in the Christian world I’m familiar with, comes from God working through each one of us. One of my favorite verses of the Bible was spoken by the brother of Moses, Aaron, when he looked around him, knowing he couldn’t deal with all of it, but, upon reflection, said “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

I think that’s the way most felt. We can’t change the world, but we can make a difference with one person at a time. The fact that more than 3000 men, women, children, and babies passed through the mission, is not irrelevant among the bean counters. That each and every one was loved on is most important.

Published Sunday August 3, 2014 in my column The Port Rail in The Tuscaloosa News as Missionary Medical Trip Unforgettable