Day One: Low Ropes
The day started off freezing outside, and since we were to be outside from 8am-5pm I was hoping it would be a little warmer instead of snowing in May. But I made it through and it was an overall good day despite it not getting hotter than fifty degrees. Out of the eleven other people on my team I knew all but two really well. Most of the members came from either team ECHO or FERVENT, the team closest to ours. So I can’t help but love them already.
The day consisted of many various team building exercises to stretch us and grow us as a family. I believed we worked really well together and I have confidence in us as a team. There were a few stress levels reached and a few buttons pushed, but nothing we couldn’t overcome with encouragement, listening, and love. Honduras is going to be a great mission trip mostly because of the team we have.
That night we had a prayer meeting for Honduras and Germany. My host dad came and I got to pray with him for awhile which was really great because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to see them before I left. I also got about twenty minutes in my schedule where I had time to call my mom and dad. It was great to hear their voices and tell them that I loved them a ton. Saying those words to them gave me a resounding peace about going to Honduras. Now if something were to happen I would feel rest in the knowledge I got to speak to them and remind them of how much I love them.
Day Two: The Trip
Going to bed at 1am in the WPC and waking up an hour and a half later to gather everyone together to head for the airport did not pose well for my attitude. Just getting off of the couch I was sleeping on was really tough. Then having to sit and wait for everyone for another forty five minutes was not pleasant for both me and the people around me. I feel bad for not being willing to talk but it felt like having a conversation would be pointless. I had no problem keeping a positive attitude I just had no desire to talk to anyone. It did help that most everyone was too tired to hold a conversation for very long.
As soon as we prayed and loaded on the vans, all twenty four of us, my head attempted restlessly to find a spot to relax. That spot after many failed attempts and I managed to get another hour of sleep on the way to Denver. After arriving at Denver International Airport my brain went into a sleep deprived overdrive, it felt like a super powered auto-pilot. I no longer felt tired or dreary. Getting to the airplane was a surreal experience considering I’ve never flown. From the baggage check to having to take my shoes off and getting stopped for having water in my water bottle to riding a train through the airport, everything was quite interesting. Fast forward three hours and it’s time to board the plane. I started off sitting in an aisle seat but Nick graciously gave up his window seat so I could watch us take off and fly. Surprisingly I was very calm for it being my first flight. I loved it a ton, especially the moment where the wheels of the plane leave the ground and you feel weightless. Then the ascent is a lot of fun because you get to watch everything get smaller and smaller. Plus I found out land really does just look like squares.
We had a four hour layover in Miami so some guys and I walked around joking about how everything is so overpriced. Since we had a layover I got to experience two plane rides in one trip which was just awesome. The clouds were amazing and looked like they were sitting on the land. I sat and stared at them for quite some time. The earth itself seemed so peaceful and content with being itself. It was a feeling I’m really grateful I got to experience.
Once we landing in San Pedro Sula, Honduras we had to go through a series of tests to make sure we didn’t have swine flu. Along with this we had a few girls who were feeling bad and had a fever. One of the tests was a temperature gauge and it was all God that we got past every checkpoint with no hassle. Without hesitation we grabbed our bags and got outside quick. The humidity was wonderful and reminded me a lot of Iowa. The kind of humidity where you begin sweating as soon as you step outside, the kind where you can taste the water in the air. It was wonderful.
When our bus arrived we helped load all our bags onto a large rack on top of the bus. He then strategically tied them all down and jumped into the driver’s seat. Our contact’s son, Michael, joined us for the two hour drive to La Ceiba while his father, Jeff, would be driving ahead of us. I sat up front right behind Michael so I could ask him a lot of questions about Honduras. He definitely knew a lot and was very wise for a thirteen year old. I asked about the people, bugs, climate, and all sorts of other stuff and he had an answer for everything. Michael quickly became my go-to-guy for most everything, plus he was a blast to hang out with. The bus ride itself was far from pleasant. There was little room and I kept dozing off and waking up with a really sore neck. So for the last hour I became more and more frustrated with everything. I attempted to stay awake but that only cause me to become grumpier. Apparently we passed large stretches where fields of bananas and pineapples grew by the hundreds. But the smell that stuck out the most was the fields of marijuana; the smell of burning marijuana is quite distinct and quite potent.
Once we got to the house I passed out as soon as possible.
Day Three: Relax
This was the day where we got to break ourselves into the climate and atmosphere of Honduras. Since we were all coming from Colorado there were drastic changes such as; the elevation dropped a mile or so to where we were sea level; and the humidity rose from a very low percentage to a percentage where it felt like we were swimming while walking. Many of us needed a day to acclimate so we wouldn’t pass out on the mission field, that wouldn’t be very fun at all.
After getting up and having breakfast, Jeff gathered us around for a welcome/information meeting. He told us about how his father was a missionary in Honduras all his life. That’s how Jeff fell in love with the Hondurans. His wife’s parents were also Honduran missionaries and that’s how they met and fell in love. Recently, Jeff’s parents died and he decided they would take over for his dad. Then he told us about Honduran culture and how God led him up a seemingly desolate mountain only to find a small community of very poor people in need of help. Somehow he convinced the government to help out a little and they built a dirt road for him up the mountain. This would be the place we were to spend the majority of our time. Jeff told us his vision, how we could help, what we are to do for the time we were there, and his main focus and goals for the trip.
After the meeting he asked for some volunteers to help him out. He needed to go into downtown to pick up stuff for care packages and exchange our money into lempiras, the Honduran currency. Immediately I raised my hand so I could go. Not only was it a great opportunity to talk with him and his family more but it gave me a chance to see what a normal day in downtown La Ceiba looked like and how the people interacted. Four of us plus Michael jumped into the bed of his truck, which is legal in Honduras, and headed out. I quickly found out that pretty much every vehicle including mopeds, bikes of any style, four-wheelers, and even horses were street legal. It was very interesting to see such a wide array of transportation. Once we got in downtown I saw the setup and the traffic. All the shops are connected together, the only reason they split at any point is because of a street being between them. Outside of each shop is a cop or security guard of some sort carrying a shotgun locked and loaded. (Made me never want to steal in Honduras). Along with shops there were many people walking around with cart loads of either fruit or bootleg DVD’s, one fella was selling hammocks and another was attempting us into buying a “ruby and sapphire studded in silver” earring. Needless to say the “silver” was rusted and the “gems” plastic so we didn’t buy, too bad. We headed around to a few different shops that looked like small garages and bough rice and beans for the care packages. Then, after walking/driving around a little we headed back to our house on the beach along with a school bus to carry us all around in.
Unloading the hundred-pound packages of rice and beans wasn’t as bad as it would seem. As soon as the bus was clear Jeff made the announcement that we would be heading to the river to swim. So we all rushed to our rooms and changed into our swimsuits and rushed back to the bus. When we arrived it didn’t look like a river, it looked like a farm because of all the chickens, a single house, and a lot of flat ground. It cost ten lempiras to get in which is a little over fifty cents. After paying we walked to a trail way out back and began to climb a mountain. Five hundred yards came and went before I saw the river, but it wasn’t like I had pictured it. When I hear river I think a streamline flowing river. Well this river was complete with four waterfalls and five large bowls of water, each descending down the mountain on after the other. Some others and I decided to climb to the top waterfall and hang out up there. Proceeding up the ledges around the waterfalls was no easy task, I had to turn around many times and help girls up a slippery spot. It was quite fun though. When we reached the top bowl we measured the depth of the water. Perfect depth for jumping off a rock cliff nearby, not too big (about four feet), just enough to get the adrenaline pumping before you hit the water. We spent the next hour or so jumping, taking pictures, and hanging out in these natural pools. All of us were having a great time, it was totally worth the ten lempiras it cost to get in. it was crystal clear and beautiful. Afterwards we each got a trash bag to fill up since Honduras is very unkempt when it comes to trash. Let’s just say almost all twenty four of us came back with a pretty full trash bag.
Once we got home we showered and began making the care packages for the next day. Inside each one was; a ball, a bag of rice, a bag of beans, vitamins, toothpaste, toothbrush, medicines, a toy, a soccer ball, a Bible, and some other stuff that I can’t remember like cooking stuff. We made at least fifty packages placed in large plastic bowls they could use in their homes. The care package itself was not the main idea, the idea wasn’t to even share the gospel with them, and the main idea was to love on them so much that it would build trust so they would be open to hearing the gospel from Jeff who could communicate it in a much better way. So each group got five packages to give to five houses.
Day Four: Care Packages and Church
We made our way around playing with the kids and talking with the families about whatever came to mind, never spending less than forty five minutes at each house. The day we delivered the care packages was by no means a beautiful day. From the moment I woke up until after dinner mother nature decided to rain down on us as much as possible. Even with a raincoat I was drenched the entire day. Making our way around in the mud and rain was brutal. Mostly because the houses we were to visit we reached by trekking down steep hills which were very dangerous due to the rushing water, mud slides, and care packages we had to carry. We managed through it all but my rain coat became a nice clay/mud color. All the houses we visited were very nice and loved talking to us about whatever for however long. The rain also turned out to be an amazing ministry opportunity. The Hondurans have a superstition that being in the rain brings illness. It’s got some credibility to it considering they have no way to warm up after coming in out of the rain. So going around from house to house in the pouring rain showed them how much more we cared about them other than our own health. A few of them called us crazy but most of them loved us and honored us even more than they would have.
Side note: every house we saw had both a dog and some chickens.
Rewinding back to breakfast that day and the delicious food. I, being the food and water person on our team, got to cut fruit for breakfast while a couple people cooked pancakes. I immediately went for the pineapple for obvious reasons; let’s just say about ten percent of the pineapple slices never made it away from my mouth. And the rest of it went quick, there is nothing like fresh cut pineapple.
That night we went to a prayer meeting at the church Jeff attends. Let me tell you how fun this was. These people are very spiritual and very diligent in their prayers. They start out with about forty five minutes of worship which was very involving of everyone, that is everyone knew the sweet beats with clapping their hands. Their clapping was nothing like the services I’ve been too, they had neat beats and all the songs were generally upbeat, especially for being generally an older crowd. Once the worship ended a woman joined the worship leader on stage. This lady was nothing short of intense. Yelling and shouting in talking to us and in her prayers. While the pastor of the church walked around praying for people who were getting slain in the Spirit. All of the praying and yelling was in Spanish so I could only pick out certain words but that didn’t matter, I was still getting goose bumps and feeling all the emotions surging through that room. Then they had us, the gringos (white people), line up in the front and they all walked by and prayed for us while laying hands. It was very very powerful. I would realize later on how much of an impact it actually had.
Afterwards I talked with a couple of guys on the bus ride home. Despite the language barrier we talked and laughed about all sorts of things. I realized how much broken Spanish and body language can communicate. One of the guys actually had a hat that said Iowa on it so it gave me an ice breaker.
Day Five: The Latrines
This was the start of our manual labor days. This was what I was looking forward to for so long, I thoroughly enjoy manual labor ministry. It gave us a chance to show them how a Christian is different from a typical American. What they see on tv is self-centered, egotistical, uncaring brats that only look to be served. When we come in and dig ten foot deep holes under the hot sun so they may have something to poop into, they see that service. I could see in their eyes how much of an impact it was making on them. Honestly, they could have done it themselves without our help, they really didn’t need us. But for us to make ourselves servants and “wash their feet,” placing ourselves lower than those in poverty showed them the love we have for them. It also showed them the love of Christ even if they don’t quite know it yet.
My shoes, still soaked from the day before, never seemed to dry at all the whole day, but that didn’t slow me down. As soon as we got there we split up into our four teams and headed to our digging spots. Our team grabbed three shovels, a mattock (which is like a pick ax), and a side trimmer, filled up our water bottles and started on our four foot by three foot by ten foot hole. The first three feet were very easy to handle with two shovels going at it. It took about an hour to get those feet done. But once hat was finished we could only fit one shovel since the person had to start going into the hole to shovel stuff out.
The lady whose house we were building for was so kind and caring to us. Her husband had died about ten years ago and she was raising six children, a couple of which have children of their own. She was so happy we were doing this for her that she took the day off work to hang out with us while we dug. Also, she was always making sure we felt good. Whatever we needed for the job she seemed to have. Gloves to prevent blisters, a bucket to haul dirt out of the hole with, and she carried around a machette which she cut the grass around the hole with and would cut the handles of our shovels and picks so they would fit in the hole. She offered what she could for help but we didn’t make her go in the hole. Just her company was enough to make us work harder. I very much enjoyed talking to her, or at least attempting to communicate, during my breaks. I didn’t get much time being one of the two guys in the group; I was usually digging, picking, or pulling the bucket full of dirt out of the hole. So when I did get time I made the most of it. She had a granddaughter that shyly came up to join us. This little girl named Carla-Isabelle was one of the cutest little girls. She and Jana hit it off really quickly after a couple minutes of Jana trying to get her to open up. But once she did you would have thought Jana had known the girl all her life. It was so fun to watch the motherly spirit in Jana.
Throughout the day we dug the cleanest and deepest hole, only six inches from ten feet. The last foot was the hardest part. Already having three blisters form and break with more on the way my hands weren’t feeling the best. But every time I got down in that hole I didn’t feel the pain, not sure why. The heat was still brutal however. Tyler and I dug the last six inches of the day in ten minutes. He dug three then I jumped down and dug three more. We didn’t have much time so we both just went at it with what strength we had left, which wasn’t much. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do considering the hole was like 110 degrees and we were fatigued with little water. It would have stunk to pull someone out of a ten foot hole. But we are safe and we only left four to six inches for tomorrow’s team, while all the other groups left nothing short of three feet. Our team felt pretty good after figuring that out.
I went back to the compound tired, with five blisters that dad come and broke open, and satisfied with the day’s work. After taking the thirty second shower I was allotted I put on my most comfortable clothes and plopped down in the closest hammock. Once situated I sunk into this pseudo-inebriated state from how tired I was, which made that hammock the most comfortable hammock that ever existed. It was wonderful. The only time I got up out of the hammock was when dinner came and I was even reluctant to get up then. I just felt like I could fall asleep for days. It was glorious!
Day Six: Mo’ Diggin’
The day started out normal with getting up and me making breakfast for everyone. But then it turns out only half of us were there. The rest had left extra early to go somewhere that I would find out later. So Tyler and I made the thickest pancakes I had ever seen and they were delicious. Those pancakes we made became the topic of discussion and song that morning. Then we packed up and headed to the mountain.
Our main goal was to finish the latrines so we could start pouring concrete the next day. So Aaron and I, the only two guys in the group that could work, busted our tails off digging through five or six feet of hard clay. Making sure we were getting water consistently since we were losing it through sweat and work very rapidly. I probably lost a gallon or two of water and drank a gallon and a half of water at least. I drank a half a nalgene (that’s sixteen ounces) every time I emerged from the hole. We allowed the girls to dig every once in awhile, I was not about to discount their experience and make them site there the whole time. Also, every once in awhile, men from the village would check on us and help us out. One in particular had Nick hold his gun for him while he dug, that was awkward. After many trips into the hole by ladder, pulling up a bucket tied to a string and filled with dirt, ripping up my bandana and wrapping it around my hands to help my blisters, and drinking more water than I ever have before, we were finished with that hole.
Walking to the next hole that my group worked on the day before and only had a few inches left to dig; Aaron became extremely fatigued to the point of not being able to walk anymore. The girls began to take care of him, giving him water and fanning wind towards him. I felt well enough to continue on, but first I ran and got some water for Aaron and anyone else who needed it. Then we slowly brought Aaron up the hill to Tyler’s group who was closer to the mountain’s entrance. After setting him down and making sure he had everything he needed, we set of to our next destination.
We were all exhausted but our mindset was to get the holes done for tomorrow. I, being the only one able to dig anymore, jumped down to dig the last inches. As soon as the first strike of the mattock hit the dirt I felt my weariness hit hard. But my mindset was “get it done, get it done,” so I swung even harder hoping I would just get through it. It was no more than two inches dug when my vision started blurring and I began to feel very heavy. The girls easily noticed it so they knew they had to get me out of the hole. They told me to stop and as soon as my mind registered their word I realized how legalistic and task-oriented I was behaving. I stopped, handed up the shovel, and climbed out of the hole with very little energy to show for it. If it wasn’t for them I could have easily passed out in that hole. I owe them a lot and am thankful they were there to talk some sense into me. Jeff, our contact, looked at all the holes and gave the “ok” to start on the cement work tomorrow. We all went home very weary that day and in need of much rest.
That night was our biggest struggle of the whole trip. The people sick were getting sicker and the amount of people sick would not stop growing. We had to all wear facemasks because of it, which was very annoying. But this night would not be a physical struggle; it was to be a large emotional struggle for everyone. Ben, our leader, gathered us all together, sat us down, and explained what the next few days were to look like. The two girls that had been sick since the beginning were going home a 12:30am the next morning. Before telling the rest of us about what we would be doing, Ben took a time and recapped what we had done so far that week with great detail and good insight. Then he told us that everyone that was sick would be going home the next day as well along with some who weren’t sick. He then divided the remaining people, myself included, into two groups which would be heading home the next day and the day after. Which means we were all to go home five days prior to our scheduled departure because the executive staff at New Life Church had made a decision to bring all of us home for safety reasons. It was a major disappointment but we all knew it was the right thing to do. It was easy to see the facemasks becoming soaked with tears.
Since we were leaving Ben Johnson gave Nick about 500 lempiras to buy pop and snacks so we could have a party. We walked down to the small shop down the street with a group of us to pick out whatever we wanted. The girl in the shop spoke very little English but it was just enough to where she understood our very broken Spanish. We bought out a lot of their stuff, especially their pop. Spending no more than fifteen dollars we bough enough food to feed twenty people ready to party. It was fantastic. We played in the ocean, I played my guitar, and then we just sat and talked about stuff for awhile.
It was then that I found out what the others had done that day while my group was hard at work. They went to a tourist island and their day was filled with snorkeling, boating, swimming, among other fun stuff. Also, my group wouldn’t get the chance to go since we were leaving early and the best course of action would be to work our butts off until we had to leave. So it was a bummer but I would much rather work in the time we had left, so I trusted Ben.
(It is taking way too much time to write out everything so I’m going to shorten it significantly)
Day Seven: Cement
Waking up with a surprising amount of energy we started on breakfast, making our thick “mancakes” with eggs on the side. I also made “manwhiches” for lunch which I will explain later. Despite half of us gone the morning was not gloomy because we all weren’t about to let our emotions stop us from making the most out of this opportunity. We were ready for the day, whatever it might bring. This was the hardest and most rewarding day or them all. We arrive and us men, the four left, began to work on the first project.
We chopped stairs in the side of the hill for easier access to the top. Then they brought the concrete and rebar to reinforce the concrete. I worked with the rebar first, then I carried five gallon buckets full of concrete up the hill. After a couple hours the first job was finished with the help of a few locals.
We moved on to the next three places and had to carry the dirt even further than before. This was easily the most strenuous day. But much to our contact’s surprise we finished it all. He was sure it would take two and a half days at least to do all that. And here we are with half the people getting it done in one day, which is a miracle.
Because of the horrible heat and tough manual labor we were required to take a water break every five minutes. For lunch we ate the pb&j’s I made with about an inch of peanut butter and half an inch of jelly, yum! (and messy) Then they treated us to Baskin Robbins ice cream which was delicious and welcomed.
Before we knew it we were done, I think our muscles knew it pretty well though. We headed back to the compound to relax and chill after all that work. It was definitely a good day to end on.
That night we walked around downtown and I bought a ring for a dollar, a wristband for four dollars, and a sweet hammock for ten dollars. It was a blast seeing all the different sorts of people and shops.
Day Eight: Coming Home
I wrapped up five bottles of pop to take back to the states, first each went in a piece of clothing, then a sack was around them, then a garbage bag, then another garbage bag. If they were going to break because of the pressure they sure weren’t going to go far.
The plane ride was short and sweet and I sat next to a man who used to own a cruise ship. A man from New Life met us and gave us his credit card to get dinner. Then we went and stayed at the Marriott Hotel, which was probably the most expensive place I’ve ever stayed. Although I was there for no more than six hours because I was leaving extra early with Pastor Rionne all by myself. And I slept in my silk sheet on the ground because it seemed more comfortable than the ground after sleeping in it for a week.
Day Nine: First Class
That’s right; I rode first class the rest of the way home. Because Pastor Rionne flies over 100,000 miles every year they upgrade everything for free. So I got to enjoy the Admiral’s Club which is this fancy place in the airport with free coffee and food and computers with comfy seats and sofas everywhere. And a full service bar but I wasn’t allowed to get anything.
First class was a totally different experience than coach. The hostess gave me two options for breakfast and I didn’t know what to say so I said “yes” and she had to repeat the question. In first class they give you breakfast, lunch, and dinner, anything you want to drink (including wine), and are constantly making sure you have everything you could want. It made me feel bad for the coach passengers.
Before I knew it I was home.
The kids were so fun and always wanted to play or just hang out regardless of whether we could communicate or not. They were always joyful and so content with what they had. A few of them were always around me and I loved it.
It was so amazing to gaze upon the beauty of the ocean with its unrelenting waves and beautiful sunsets. Then turning around you see the majesty of the mountains lush with foliage.
The bugs were large and in multitudes. The fruit was fresh and the best tasting I’ve ever had. The geckos were a blessing since they ate all the bugs and were quick little suckers. The food cooked for us was legit. The lady cooking had her own recipes and special ingredients.
Houses all over were surrounded by barbed and razor wire, including churches and schools. Every house seemed to have a dog as well. I had loads of cuts and scrapes all over my body. Peroxide really hurts with that many cuts. I carried a few girls that were tired or had injuries.
I touched the ocean for the first time in my life on May 19th, 2009 at 6:32pm.
And for the grand finale….
Miracle: God’s Perfect Timing
We arrived back home on Sunday the 24th of May with everyone safe. If we would have stayed we would have left on the 27th, that Wednesday. Those who were sick were slowly getting better and eventually feeling perfectly fine. One girl, however, felt worse and went in to check it out. Turns out she either had her appendix burst or she had an ovarian cyst, either way she needed immediate surgery which happened on Tuesday the 26th.
The Wednesday during God time Ben Johnson got up in front of all of us and told us a sad yet God-praising story about La Ceiba, the town we were staying in. At 2am that morning there was a 7.1 earthquake in La Ceiba, Honduras. At 5am that morning there was a 5.0 aftershock. Everything was shaking around the area.
(Let me, for a moment; write as if I had been there)
I woke up to the walls shaking, dishes breaking, and everyone looking around trying to figure out what’s going on. After it stopped I couldn’t get back to sleep, a few of the guys and I sat and talked about what we thought might be going on. I lay back down around 4am and was just falling asleep when the wall began shaking violently again. After everything stopped shaking a friend and I rushed to where the women were staying to make sure everyone was fine, we checked and everyone was safe. Ben gathered everyone and explained to us about the earthquake and aftershock. Afterwards we packed up our bags and loaded on the bus to head to San Pedro Sula, where the airport was. There is only one bridge in San Pedro Sula with a large river underneath. About two miles from the bridge the dead traffic began. Absolutely no movement at all. It wasn’t too long before we found out the cause of the traffic. A passerby explained how the earthquake demolished the bridge, our only passage to the airport. Sad day. Any thoughts of trying to cross the river on foot were quickly usurped by the high and strong current. So all we had left to do was drive back to the compound and wait for either a temporary bridge to be put up or for New Life to find an alternate route.
(Whew, that would have been tough. Back to reality and hindsight.)
Talking with missions pastors and staff I found that we would have been stuck there at least another week. Considering we had sick people getting sicker, healthy people getting sick, and a girl who needs immediate surgery, another week in Honduras with miniscule medical help would have been terrifying to the point of life threatening.
God pulled us out when He needed us out. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”