“We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Some days this week, I have had a more difficult time choosing a scripture to “frame” our work than other days. But this Sunday truly felt like a day of hope, sustained by the love of God poured into us by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and so these verses from Paul’s letter to the Romans—a few of my favorites—immediately seemed like the right words to capture the spirit of the day.
We began by driving to Santa Ana, a rural community about forty minutes outside the city, and met with another missions team for worship at the Monumentoa la Cruz de Chatarra—the “Cross of Junk.” Atop a mountain and surrounded by cornfields and gigantic, energy-producing windmills, the monument is a large cross that has been beautifully constructed entirely of old bus parts. Beyond the fact that it is an innovative work of art, the symbolism of this cross is also deliberate and remarkable: apart from God, each of our lives is a piece of junk, but through the cross, we are welded together into something beautiful. The service was led by members of the other service team who were from the Church of Christ in Oklahoma, and from the songs we sang to the Welch’s grape juice at communion, it felt like a familiar piece of home in a strange land.
Following worship, our team travelled a short distance to Casa de Esperanza—“House of Hope”—an orphanage that is sponsored by the Church of Christ and which our team leader Jennifer Wright and others (including Joe Marillat, who was also with us for the week) had worked to start in . Other members of the team had also served as interns there, and the “little boys” who spent the week with us—Jonny, Giovanni, Marvín, Mario, Francisco, and Antonio—came into Jenn’s life when they came to stay here a number of years ago (I have not yet mentioned the boys in this blog, but would be entirely remiss not to do so at some point. Getting to know and hold and laugh with these six brothers—and they have two younger at home!—was for many of us, as significant a part of the week as anything else we did this week). We ordered a catered lunch for the kids and ourselves, and spend an hour or two visiting and playing with them. I somehow found myself at the center of a group of 9-11 year old girls, who were beautiful and sweet and delightful. One of them, Rosy, was deaf and mute, and the girls all helped to communicate with her, including her biological sister, Sisi. After explaining to me that they were sisters, I said that they were probably all como hermanas—like sisters—here, and another girl agreed: si, hermanas in Cristo. Perhaps this sums up the difference in atmosphere that many of us experienced here in comparison with the other children we visited; one felt less of the presence of the suffering, crucified Christ in them, and more of the spirit of resurrection, brotherhood, and hope.
We stopped briefly at a “neighborhood” where I understood Saul and Carlos—another set of brothers who spent the week with us, much to our benefit—to distribute food bags before stopping at Mi Esperanza (www.thewomenofmyhope.org), an organization that was founded in 2002 by Janet Hines and Lori Connell to promote women’s development and empowerment through education (primarily training in sewing, computer skills, and salon services) and microfinance. Not only here but throughout the developing world, one can find countless stories and statistics to show that not only are women often the poorest of the poorest of the poor (some writers even speak of the “fourth world” of women in underdeveloped nations), but also that promoting women’s empowerment is one of the surest ways to bring greater security and prosperity to entire families and communities. As founder Lori Connell explained to us, they saying goes that if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime; but if you teach a woman to fish, you feed her children and her community as well. Mi Esperanza—“My Hope”—is not only trying to do this for the women of Honduras, but also helping then find a pond to fish in by marketing the beautiful textile products—handbags and wallets, t-shirts and dresses, jewelry and leatherwork—that they have learned to make. We had the opportunity to shop for all these things in the store there—all proceeds of which go directly back into expanding the work that Mi Esperanza does among the women of Honduras.
Finally, we travelled back downtown to Breaking Chains, to worship with the homeless community there and to help serve them dinner. The service, led by a young Honduran man in a Breaking Chains t-shirt, was entirely in Spanish of course, but many in our group later commented on how engaging they found it nonetheless—that the Holy Spirit was ministering and interceding “with groans that words cannot express,” testifying that we are all God’s children (Romans 8:16, 26). Whether we are dirty and high and impoverished or wealthy and educated and well-dressed, God’s love is poured out to every one of us.
We left several suitcases of clothing at Breaking Chains and headed back to Valle for what would be, for many of us, our last night of a truly unforgettable week. We ate dinner and gathered for a devotional/debriefing on impressions of the day. “Where did you see Jesus today?” had been a focal question for many of our evening devotional meetings this week, and as members of the team shared their thoughts, there was an overwhelming sense of gratitude expressed—not only for the things that we learned about God through the people of Honduras, but also through each other. It really was a remarkable week in terms of our own group’s dynamics—never a conflict that I am aware of, always a pervasive spirit of humility and service and cooperation and joy. It may seem strange, but I think I can honestly say that I laughed and smiled more on this trip than I have for a long time. As I write this final entry from the comfort of my own kitchen table in West Virginia, I feel both full and empty at the same time—wanting desperately to live in solidarity with those who are poor or suffering in Honduras and throughout the world, wanting to keep the spirit of love and joy alive as I step back into my own world of privilege, struggling with feeling the unfairness of it all, and trying to find hope that in God’s great economy of grace, my small life can make a difference for the kingdom.