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Build/Dump

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“Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.” (Proverbs 22:2)

The team had a busy and emotionally moving day today, spending much of it in the communities around the Tegucigalpa city dump—a world and life so far from anything any of us have ever known that it is truly difficult to put into words.

The Tegucigalpa city dump is located about six kilometers outside the city limits. It covers acres of mountainous land and is surrounded by settlements of people living in tiny houses constructed primarily of scrap wood and tin. One of the tasks of the team today was to build a house in one of these nearby settlements for a woman named Norma, her husband, and her two children, because their previous house was falling apart so badly that they had not been able to stay there at night when it rained. We were joined by David Logue, Mark and Lori Connell, and several other experienced builders (not to mention a number of Honduran men and boys) for this house, and it went up very smoothly and quickly. As members of our team, the family that would be living there, and others from the community gathered inside the house to give thanks and ask God’s blessing on it, I was literally moved to tears by the sound of many voices praying “Gracias, gracias, Senor” with a fervor and depth one seldom hears in our North American churches. This indeed is we why we came: to be instruments of God’s love to some of the people in greatest need in our world.
It became painfully clear to us just how deep and desperate the world’s needs are when we visited the dump itself midmorning to deliver food and water to the people there. It is difficult enough to see and imagine the life of men and women who support themselves by scavenging a mountain of trash; it is even more disturbing to see and know that entire families—including babies and children—live there, and that for many this world of burning, stinking trash may be all they will ever know. As a truck pulled up and dumped a load of trash, people would immediately start picking through, searching for recyclables—and food. We came with Marc Tindall, who has been involved in feeding and outreach to people at the dump for several years, to feed people a simple meal of rice, beans, and tortillas. People lined up at the back of his pickup truck and received a bowl of food and members of our group distributed bags of water to people who were digging through piles of trash or sitting or standing near us. It is estimated that over a thousand people live here, and others also depend on scavenging to support their families. A bleak picture, indeed; I truly feel that no words I could write would express it. And yet even here, God—and God’s image in every person—is not absent. Smiles and snippets of conversations with people there remind us of our common humanity, even if this itself serves to deepen the sense of injustice and disquietude at the fact that so many are forced to live in conditions so unworthy of the image of God.

After serving food at the dump, many members of the group went to a nearby settlement known as Buen Samaritano to play with the children who live there, since the full group was not needed to finish building the house. Although it was obviously a very poor community, one felt that it had a certain dignity that many of the places we’ve visited did not: the dirt streets were orderly, and the small homes—several of which had clearly been built according to the same 16 x 16 foot word and tin pattern we had been building this week—looked relatively well kept. We parked near a large open dirt field and soon more than forty children—girls and boys of all ages—showed up and joined us in coloring with crayons and playing dodge ball and freeze tag. A few members of the group gave out small toys and candy, as well. I was amazed at the interest these children showed in just about whatever we had to offer, but it seemed they were far more interested in our time and attention than in the stuff we had to offer. It was a good and rejuvenating time, and showed us, once again, the beauty and joy of children.

Our final stop in Tegucigalpa today was brief, but made no less of an impression for that. We visited a very poor neighborhood in an area known as Veinte-uno de Octubre and distributed clothing out of a church there. This was a neighborhood of tightly packed houses (most built of scrap wood and metal) on a steep hillside, with a small wooden church building at the bottom of the hill. Residents greeted us as we walked down the path through the houses, and quickly lined up outside the church when we began to assemble bags of clothes to distribute to them. It was a quick stop, because several members of the team had made an appointment to play soccer at 6pm at a place near our hotel in Valle. The young Honduran boys who had been travelling with us this week formed one team; the gringos comprised another. Although I wasn’t present, reports indicate that the Honduran team blew out the Americans.

After dinner, we finished assembling food bags for distribution and had a long debrief on things we were grateful for this week, as the Helmick family (and others with them) are flying home in the morning. It was a beautiful evening, following a challenging day that called us to recognize the presence of God in the poor.

Build Day Numero Dos

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“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; and yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25)

The group split up for our second day of building, and actually completed two 16 x 16 foot wood houses today in a community known as Liquidamar, not far from where we are staying in Valle: one of these will serve as a house for Oscar, his wife, and six children, and the other will be a meeting place for a church that Oscar will pastor. Although two members of the team had fallen ill the night before, others worked hard to make up the difference. The two sites were close to each other (you could actually see each site from the other across a large valley), but quite different in terms of the layout and maneuvering needed to build each house: “site 1” was up a steep path from a rather busy road near the homes of several other Honduran families, while “site 2” was on a grass bank off a rural dirt road. Most of our group began the day at site 1 so that we could help carry wood up the hill, but then we split up.

We have two guest bloggers from the site one team, JT Spivey and Carrie Fitzwater, to tell about the highlights of their workday:

JT: In the beginning of Acts, the writer depicts a community of Christians who care so well for one another that there is no need among them. Every time I come to this country, I am amazed by how well the people of Honduras live this out on a daily basis.
On site #1, we had the privilege to build Oscar and his family a house that would not fall down the to the road below it during a heavy rain storm. The reason Oscar and his family needed a home was because the government had altered the land on which the house was built, causing the once stable land to became insecure. While many of Oscar’s richer neighbors received retaining walls so that their more elaborate vacation homes would be demolished, Oscar was left relying on God to keep his home standing or find alternate means to protect his family. When the government has failed this man, God has answered his prayer.

The group on site one was slightly smaller than the other group, but where we had deficiencies, the people of Oscar’s community stepped in. During two points in the day, when the “gringos” were not working (either because we were helping the other group move wood or during lunch), the Honduran people constructed large portions of the house. At times, it became frustrating to have nothing to do because five Honduran teenagers were building at a pace that was difficult to keep; however, it is infinitely more important to allow the people of the community to better someone who was important to them. This is this kind of community that I believe the writer of Acts speaks about; when there is a need—the community remedies it; when those with power find little worth in a poor man’s home—the community builds him another; and when a group of rich “gringos” who have very little experience building houses and have minimal Spanish skills shows up—the community welcomes them and works together hammer next to hammer.

Carrie: Well, I would have written an elaborate post of all the work that was done today. However, the previous blogger was seeking perfection. I am cutting it short since Hay (Jay) Leno will be coming on in mere minutes. Earlier in the trip, I heard from the team leader that he was shooting for only ending the trip with 75% of the team he started. I think if we keep building houses we might only end the trip with approximately 50% of our appendages (specifically thumbs) left. We are building with what seems like little to no experience in the world of house building. Some thumbs have taken heat due to novice hammers being thrown around. In the end though, bloody thumbs/legs/etc. all seem worth it when the new homeowner hugs us in appreciation. It is worth the world to be allowed to be a part of that.

(Jess) Cite two was at a breathtakingly beautiful location—overlooking a small farm and green-blue mountains for as far as the eye could see—owned by Teresa Searcy, an American who has been coming to serve in Honduras since 1991 and who now resides here and helps to support the local community (Ms. Searcy also provided us with lunch today). The structure we built there today will provide a worship space for the people of the area. Although the land dropped off sharply after a few feet, the site was located close to the road and the house went up pretty smoothly once the lumber and the full team arrived. Before that, I am told, the five initial team members “were like a state road crew”: digging holes, sitting around for a while, filled the first holes, dug new holes, and sat around until the lumber arrived.

A highlight of the day for several members of the team—myself included—was the opportunity to ride a burro, the pick-up truck of many Hondurans (apparently these animals are not only very strong, but also sure-footed on the steep mountain paths that people in the rural areas must navigate). A man walked by us with two animals, one carrying a large load of grasses or palm leaves, and the other wearing a homemade saddle. Someone from the group asked the man if it would be okay to go for a ride, and he said yes. It seemed such a fun and novel thing that several others also took a turn; even for those who didn’t themselves ride, it was a happy diversion for a few minutes.

With the digging and re-digging and waiting on lumber and burro rides, we hadn’t finished the roof of the house when the crew from the other cite, who had finished before us, arrived to help. Carlos and Edgar and others who were most competent working on the roof took over, and others went to the village to check out local stores and purchase souvenirs and guests for friends at home. The full group had a delicious meal of fajitas at another local restaurant called Las Tejas for dinner, before returning for a low-key evening back at the hotel…

Build Day Numero Uno

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“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)

An exciting day for the team today as we pulled together to build a 16 x 32 foot house (a “double-wide”) from the post holes to the tin roof. This structure was built to serve as a home for Ms. Valerie Rosentreter, who is currently serving as director of the Nashville School, a private bilingual school serving children in Valle, Santa Lucia, and nearby areas. By building a house for Valerie, our work today will help to free up resources for scholarships and other needs of the school. The school grounds where we built the house today were modest but beautiful, and included a basketball court, playground, bathrooms, and several other buildings (a few of which were similar to the one we built today, and which had, in fact been built by teams from previous years).
We began by laying out the tongue-and-groove pine boards along what would be the perimeter of the house. Roy and Joe—the most experienced Honduras house builders of our team—directed the rest of us as we laid out lumber, dug holes for 4 x 4 and 2 x 4 posts that would serve as the building’s framing structure, leveled and nailed in wall and floorboards, and completed a variety of related tasks. Carlos took the lead with framing and laying out the tin roof. It really was impressive to watch as the structure grew from several upright posts to a simple but beautiful wooden house. But one of the most impressive parts of the day—at least for me—was how well the group worked together as a team, not only in people’s willingness to volunteer for physically demanding (and sometimes dangerous) jobs, but also in the ways they supported one another, both literally and figuratively, as we worked.
Probably the greatest challenge of our day was figuring out how to nail the higher wall boards to the supporting posts; we didn’t have scaffolding or an adequate ladder, so team members resorted to everything from hammering while sitting atop another person’s shoulders to hanging off the side of the building to standing on top of an overturned bucket on top of a rickety picnic table. One person remarked that our motley crew probably could have won a contest for “what not to do” in workplace safety. Aside from a few sore thumbs and toes, though, we were blessed to have made it through the day unharmed.
We left our building site around 5:30 and hurried back to the hotel for a quick dinner before getting back on the bus to bring dinner to and visit Breaking Chains (www.bchonduras.org , bchonduras.wordpress.com), a ministry to the homeless in downtown Tegucigalpa. Amber Foster, who began the ministry in 2009 and who currently not only works as director but also lives in the structure we visited this evening, welcomed us and told us a bit of the story of how the community—and it is more “community” than “organization”—came to be. In addition to feeding a large number of people during the day, they also offer housing—very rough housing—to about forty guests, with whom we visited this evening.
As we got off the bus, we were met by a number of people hanging out on the street, many of whom seemed to be under the influence of some sort of intoxicant or narcotic; I noticed a man interminably shaking hands with a team member beside me while sniffing something from a bottle, while a woman who called herself Mimi offered me hugs and kisses. The structure housing Breaking Chains was actually more like an enclosed courtyard, separate from the street but open to the sky (and indeed, one of the most striking things for a number of members of the group was the variety of birds, cats, and dogs who also found a home there). A large number of the group helped to distribute chicken dinners to the residents, and many others played games with the children there. I brought a guitar, and was immediately met by excited and affectionate little girls asking me to Canta! (“Sing!) Soon, other children wanted to have a turn “playing” the guitar. I asked them what music they liked and was simultaneously surprised and tickled and slightly horrified when they enthusiastically shouted “Justin Bieber!” and began singing “Baby, baby, baby, oooohhh…” Another girl sang the ABC song to me almost perfectly, and quite a few others were excited to sing “e-i-e-i-oooo.” They were delightful.
I was really happy we made the trip out to Breaking Chains, even after a long day of building. The people were warm and I found the visit truly enjoyable, even if the brokenness and poverty there was inescapable. We had another long bus ride back to the Valle de Angeles, and another night’s sleep to prepare for another day of building ahead…

The Farm @ Zambrano

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Honduras 2012-Part Dos

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“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me.  Don’t stop them!  For the Kingdom of Heaven belong to those who are like these little children.” (Matthew 19:14)

We had an intense day today—many interactions with the people of Honduras  who are poor or suffering, and a beautiful evening of worship with brothers and sisters in Christ at the statue of Christ at Picachu.

We started the day by distributing one hundred bags of food to the people of a rural village in the Valle area near where we are staying.  It was immediately apparent—even before we saw the very rough houses and steep washed-out dirt paths that led up to them—that this was a very isolated area.  We soon saw that it was an area where people seemed desperately in need of food—and seemed incredibly grateful for even provisions as simple as rice, beans, corn flour, salt, sugar, and coffee.  As word spread through the area that a group of Americanos were distributing comidas, one could literally see people streaming down the mountainsides toward our car.  A particularly striking part of the visit was when a group of a dozen or more children in their school uniforms (one can only guess that the teacher let them out of class for this purpose) came running down the road toward us, asking for bags of food to take home to their families.  It was heartbreaking to have to tell a mother holding a baby or a young child that there was “no mas” after we had given out the last bags of food.

After we had finished distributing food in the village, we drove to Casitas Kennedy, a government-run home for children which is intended to serve as a “holding place” for orphans (many of whom were “orphaned” through abandonment) until they can be transferred to other homes, but which unfortunately often becomes a long-term residence for many of them.  A number of the staff were on strike in the front courtyard as we arrived, which brought a bit of additional tension to an already bleak environment.  The team brought coloring sheets and crayons and some people colored with kids, while others played soccer with the older kids (mostly girls) or held the younger ones.  We also brought pizzas, soda, and cupcakes to give the children a special lunch, and they did seem to be very excited by las pizzas.  Lunch was chaotic, and it seemed that communication across the language barrier was especially difficult in this context, but it was clearly appreciated.  We were forced to clear out of the cafeteria area when they began to fumigate the building without warning.

We weren’t able to eat with the children at Casitas, so we stopped for lunch before going to the Hospital Escuela, an urban hospital which is also publicly funded.  We divided into small groups of 5-9 people and split up around the hospital—especially pediatric areas—to offer small gifts (stuffed animals, coloring sheets and crayons, balloon animals, and gift baggies with snacks) to people there.  At least for me, this was one of the most challenging places that we visited all day: a massive institution, confusing and chaotic and run-down—far different from our experiences of hospitals in the United States (which are often bad enough)—and full of people with tired eyes, holding or waiting by the bedsides of sick and injured children.  As before, the small gifts that we brought were received with muchas gracias and many smiles—though as before, the need was far greater than what we were prepared to meet.  In one waiting area, the group I was with was overwhelmed by the people there, again finding ourselves with “no mas” to give.  In many ways, though, the most memorable parts of the day came when we were forced to “give” of our own selves—through reading or singing to patients in a pediatric oncology ward or emergency room, for example.  Indeed, the “talents” that God has given us to invest in the Kingdom are not of the sort that can be bought and sold, but rather the personal gifts of courage and love, of spirit and song, that come from deep within us.

The many gifts of the body of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit were beautifully manifest this evening, as we gathered on a mountaintop at the feet of Christ—literally—with brother and sisters from Los Pinos Iglesia de Cristo.  A busload of both children and adults, friendly and full of love and hugs, met us at El Picacho National Park, where the city’s iconic statue of Christ is located.  The view of the city or the immense presence of the statue alone would have been worth the trip up the mountain, but sharing food and songs with this beautiful group of people was even more so.  Our group and Los Pinos took turns, singing songs in both English and Spanish, and then prayed for one another.  As one team member remarked on the way home, the time of worship with our hermanas y hermanos was like a balm after a busy and challenging day.  Thanks be to God for the many graces and blessings of this day.

Jessica Wrobleski

I Saw

     In the past, numerous respectable Christian leaders have tried to convince me I was rich by way of persuasive sermons, lessons, lectures, and conversations. I have tried to convince myself out of a knowledge that others were going without, but it was always a superficial and generic knowledge. It was not the kind of knowledge that I realized today. Today’s knowledge was the kind that pierces your heart and shakes you to the core. As I consider the eyes that might read this post from back home, I reflect on the eyes that I looked into today.

I looked into baby eyes and elderly eyes and everywhere in between. I looked into the eyes of sick children, hurting teenagers, and scared moms. I looked into the eyes of victims of rape, victims of corruption, and victims of gang violence. The issues plaguing this nation will not be solved as a result of my short term mission trip, but the moment I chose to look into those eyes there was no way I could go back to my casual appreciation for being well off.

I saw houses and businesses with massive walls and fences with rolls of razor wire at the top to keep gangs and thieves out. That is…if the family can afford the luxury of such protection. If the family is able to afford a small field and plant some corn, they have to be prepared to guard that field with razor wire. People are so desperate that no amount of food or other belongings can go unguarded. In the U.S. farmers feel safe enough to leave hundreds of acres of corn unguarded. I cannot imagine what the people here would think to see the rows upon rows of corn, wheat, or beans growing unguarded in the field.

When we delivered food bags in a needy village, I saw mothers swarm for food for their families. When we went to an orphanage I saw sick and handicapped children laying on mats in a gazebo gratefully smiling at the simplest gestures of kindness. I saw pregnant teenagers who are likely victims of rape and incest. It is heartbreaking to consider the pain that will be theirs to carry through the rest of their lives. At the hospital I saw children sick, I saw children pained, I saw children scared. Through the sickness, pain, and fear illuminated the biggest smiles at the simplest of gifts. Balloons, stuffed animals, or books are such a rarity for many of the children there. “Bello nino” I told one little girl as I saw her scared face light up to a smile. She was around five years old standing alone in the hallway. There were no single or even double occupancy rooms at the hospital. The rooms were all communal and the hospital was in disrepair. The poor conditions are impossible to describe adequately in any blog, article, or video. The emergency room is truly an emergency room. One large room filled with people waiting for treatment. One man stood in the middle of the room bleeding all over his face with his eye swollen shut perhaps from some kind of terrible fall. Several people on gurneys waited to be treated for all manner of injuries. One man was bleeding badly from his leg, another with bandages covering both feet. All were waiting in the open room with no space for private rooms for individual treatment.

I looked into one pair of eyes after another. I struggled to speak a few pathetic words of Spanish. I gave a balloon or stuffed animal. I walked away with a sense of longing to make everything better in an instant; longing to make the pain and the fears stop for these young and innocent lives. I could not take those pains and fears away today…but today…I saw.

Jerry Welker

Honduras 2012

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Hola to all the people back home who I am sure are anxious to be hearing from us here in Honduras. We are all finally here safe and sound despite some issues back in Columbus. Fortunately God worked it all out and it is all good. The past couple days have been tiring, fast-paced, and filled with the craziness of being on a mission trip in Honduras. One of the team members, Jessica Wrobleski, has volunteered to be our blogger for the week. She will be giving an overview of what exactly has been going on with the team. The hope is that someone else on the team will also contribute each evening to share what happened through their eyes and in their heart. Pictures are taking too long to load and I am beat so hopefully pictures will follow tomorrow sometime!! It has already been a fun and interesting trip with much more to come each day. That’s all from me this evening the rest is from Jessica!!

Garrett

“So neither he who plant nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (I Cor. 3:7-9)

Today, Tuesday, June 26, was the team’s first full day in Honduras—a day that was educational and inspiring as well as full of good hard work in the Honduran sun at the farm at Zambrano.

After breakfast, the team loaded into buses for a long ride through the city of Tegucigalpa—up and down steep and winding roads, past hillsides full of tiny houses that seem to be perched one on top of another, and along a newly constructed four-lane highway—until we reached the rutted dirt road that brought us to the farm at Zambrano.  The farm’s website (hondofarm.com) explains that the farm “aims to be a sustainable and sound model of agriculture as we strive to feed the hungry, give jobs to the underemployed, and bear witness to Christ and His Kingdom.”  It is sponsored in large part by the non-profit organization Bread for a Hungry World (givebread.org), whose founder, Marc Tindall, was so moved by the desperate need of the people at the Tegucigalpa city dump that he began to invest in this project as a way to provide food and employment for them.  The on-the-ground director of operations at the farm is Donnie Anderson, who gave us a tour and put us to work when we arrived today.

It is fair to say that as a sustainable farming operation, the farm at Zambrano is still a work-in-progress, but the vision that Donnie outlined for us as we toured the existing construction seemed both inspiring and well within reach.  An important part of the operation is an aquaponic farming system that utilizes a natural symbiosis between tilapia (whose waste provides valuable nitrates) and fruit and vegetable plants (which “filter” the water for the fish).  Beyond the food and income that such aquaponic farming can provide, the farm is also utilizing conventional farming methods (drip-irrigations systems, composting, companion planting) in new ways that suit the climate and needs of Honduras.  Donnie seemed especially excited by the promise of the moringa trees, which are super nutritious and grow well in the Honduran climate.  Eventually, Donnie hopes to employ several Honduran families as caretakers on the farm, and also make it available as an educational resource and “retreat” facility for outside groups.

Our team split up to work on a variety of tasks around the farm: some of us joined a hard-working group of Honduran men (including Roberto, a caretaker who lives with his family in a small house on the farm) who were breaking up large rocks and digging a cistern, while others shoveled and raked dirt to fill in the yard at the main house.  Others painted overhead metal beams to prevent corrosion, fixed plumbing in the bathrooms, sifted gravel for use in the aquaponic system, or played soccer with Roberto’s children.  Although the work was physically demanding, the beauty of our surroundings—the magnificent view of the Honduran countryside from atop the mountain (4200 feet above sea level), the sunflowers and pine forests—provided a reminder of God’s presence with us as we worked.  Our work today also shed light on what it’s often like to work for the Kingdom: the work can feel tiring and tedious and insignificant, and we may never see the fulfillment of our labor, but we trust that if our vision is of God, God will make it grow.

We had one minor incident on the drive back to the Hotel Villas del Valle, where we are staying this week—several miles from the hotel, our bus got a flat tire and had to stop.  Fortunately, the company was able to send a replacement bus fairly quickly and we were home in time for a dinner of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes (and an impromptu chili-eating contest among some of the braver—or more foolish—members of the group).  After dinner, the team went to work sorting food—corn flour, rice, beans, sugar, salt, tomato paste, vegetable shortening—into 200 donation bags which we will distribute tomorrow morning.

6 DAYS …

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May I just say that I’m pretty stinking delighted that in 6 days I’ll be wrapping these arms around some brown boys necks that I adore.  I’ll walk off the plane and smell that familiar “Honduran aroma” and I will be kneeling in the dirt (mud actually often at this time of the year as it is rainy season) and living out of the part of my heart that I believe God crafted a long time ago and is revealing to me more and more as we journey.

I will continue to post over the next several days as we prepare and finalize the itinerary, hoping that you’ll pray with us and be a part of all we are about to experience.

May He continue to grant us Kingdom hearts and Kingdom eyes wherever we find ourselves on the planet.  At the end of the day that’s all that matters.

Lord may YOUR kingdom come, may YOUR will be done on THIS EARTH as it is in HEAVEN!!  Amen.

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