Honduras Journal

In the Summer of 2006, I went to Honduras on a Mission Trip with a group from my hometown church - Columbiana United Methodist. I cannot begin to summarize what an amazing experience this was. What follows is my daily journal from the trip.

Day One - Thur, July 20, 2006
It is my first night in Honduras and it has already been an adventure. My flight out of Chicago this morning was delayed because of bad weather. I landed in Atlanta about 10 minutes before my flight to Honduras was leaving. As soon as the wheels touched down I called Sharon (my step-mother who also went on the trip) who informed me that she and the rest of the team were getting ready to board. When my flight FINALLY started unloading Sharon called back and said they were already seated. I frantically sprinted through the airport praying to make it to the gate before I was left behind. At least I got a tiny bit of marathon training in (yes, I'm training for a marathon. stop laughing) though I know I could never sustain that pace for 26.2 miles. I was already running through my mind my plans for staying in Atlanta for the night when finally Gate E5 came into sight not a moment too soon. Totally out of breath, I shoved my passport (never been used) and boarding pass into the hand of the gate agent and squeaked out, "Did I make it?!" She smiled and said that I was in luck because there had been a minor maintenance issue that had delayed the plane just a few merciful minutes. I don't think it was luck at all. As I stepped onto the plane a blob of neon green t-shirts (like the one I was wearing) erupted with cheers. It felt so good to see their faces. I found out later that before I got on board, the pilot had dimmed the lights and closed the door and, in moments, was going to pull away when the problem occurred.

When we got to baggage claim, I was certain that there was no way my checked bag had made it to San Pedro Sula with us. To everyone's amazement, it had. Again, no one thought of these little miracles as luck.

On the van ride to La Ceiba, I yucked it up with Corley (my cousin) and Shane (a high school friend) and thought about things like why would a gecko have a British accent. Or is it Australian? Australian probably makes a lot more sense. Either way, we don't hear much of either in Alabama. I digress. Mostly I thought about the events of the day as hard evidence that I am needed here and whatever I encounter will likely be life changing.

Day Two - Fri, July 21, 2006

Today started at the compound. Our team prepared for what we would be doing at "The Dump" later. There wasn't enough for everyone to do so I spent a lot of time looking around and chatting with the others. The compound is where Sister Eleanor lives. If anyone on the planet has one of those phones that dials directly to God, it is her!

I also met Cornflake who insisted on being called by his proper name - Senor Edwin. Apparently, on previous visits, Edwin had a self-imposed diet consisting strictly of Cornflakes - hence, the nickname. At the ripe old age of seven he speaks near perfect English.

A highlight of the morning was meeting a furry next door neighbor - a monkey named, Panchito. Panchito was confined to the yard but had plenty of room to move around. I was fascinated. Shane was the bravest of all of us. He walked right into the yard and slowly approached our new friend. Pretty soon the little guy was crawling all over Shane and nibbling on his ear!

Well, this I could not resist. I went over and made friends too.

Eventually we headed over to "The Dump." They call it that because that is what it is - a garbage dump. People have made their homes there from the trash that other people take there to cast off. I was immediately struck by the number of children that greeted us. Such beautiful little faces in the most devastatingly impoverished environment I have ever seen. 
The faces. That is what will stay with me. They could express hope, sadness, desperation, gratitude, and playfulness all at the same time. We jumped rope, we danced, we sang, and we just sat quietly together. Thank goodness they love to have their pictures taken.

The pastor held a lively service for the children, and it was a real joy to hear their cheers and singing voices lifted up in praise.

Our real purpose for being there that day was to serve them one of only 2 hot meals that they get each week. These little ones bring their plates, bowls, and cups to stand in line for vegetables and rice, bread, and a cup of milk. There are just no words to describe what its like to fill their bowls and cups. Heartbreaking. I was totally overcome and when I had a moment away from the children, the tears came. I just wanted to hug and kiss each one of them and tell them that I'm sorry that I can't do more.

Back at the hotel, wouldn't you know it? Another little miracle! I saw the most awe-inspiring rainbow ever. We could see the full arc of it in the most vivid color. Pictures could never do it justice, but we tried.

Tonight, more than ever, I am baffled at how anyone could question God's presence in this world. I saw Him in every little face and in the eyes of my team members today. And I think if we had come outside just a little sooner we would have seen His great hand sweeping across and painting the sky just for us.

Day 3 - Sat, July 22, 2006

Today was primarily a travel day. We spent the morning at The Compound preparing for our journey to Limon. We packed up a U-Haul size truck full of groceries, medical supplies, and all the things we will need for the days to come. The trip to Limon was long (about 4 hours) and BUMPY. I want to pause for a moment and thank Jim for his driving which subsequently straightened out my scoliosis (or made it worse - the jury is still out).

To pass the time I finished a light chick-lit book I was reading. Without going into too much detail, the ending brought tears to my eyes, because the conclusion played out a scenario that I have been praying for for myself. Then it occurred to me that, though this was considered a happy ending for the book, maybe, after all, it wouldn't make for "happily ever after" for me. As I closed my book, I looked out the window of the van and saw a group of small children standing outside of what I could only assume to be their home. One of them only in a cloth diaper. At that moment, I wiped the tears quickly from cheeks and felt a pang of guilt. It was the little dramas in my own life that led me to the decision to come on this trip. I have been dwelling way too much and I know I need to be reminded that, in the grand scheme, my struggles are minor. I thank God for calling me to this place.

When we got to Limon, Ezzman, Mario, and a few more of the local children greeted us with big smiles and hugs. We all got settled into our rooms which are a lot nicer than I had expected. There are several bedrooms on each side of a large common area. Girls are on one side, boys on the other. There is a big wonderful porch/deck that faces the ocean. With no air conditioning inside, we all sat out there for quite a while and enjoyed a great breeze. We had spaghetti for dinner and we all ate together. I looked around the room and thought about how I never would have predicted I would be on a team with these particular individuals, but I am so thankful for it. We spent the rest of the night preparing the clinic for the week.

I am already thankful for the days to come.

Day 4 - Sun, July 23, 2006

I made so many new friends today! This morning, Gloria took us to a church service that could only be described as a celebration. That place was jumpin! My favorite part was the music. The only instruments were a drum and a tambourine. But that, combined with about 250 voices, makes for a joyful noise, indeed. The children's Sunday School was very much the same. Little feet and hands dancing and little voices singing loud. I've learned that one of the best ways to communicate here is through a smile. I know that sounds sappy but it is totally true. The smiles they give back melt my heart every time!

This afternoon we went to Plan de Flores and were again greeted by lots of children. Many of our team members had previously "adopted" some of the kids and their families, so they were so excited to see familiar faces. Corley and Edwin had quite a reunion. It has been a couple of years since Corley has been here and some of our team members said that, when they went back without Corley, Edwin was so disappointed that he would go off by himself and cry. Needless to say, Edwin never left Corley's side for the whole afternoon.

I made a special little friend myself today. Her name is Kenia and I think she is 8 or 9. We played together, had a piggy-back ride, and I painted her fingernails (along with many others). We would get separated every now and then, but it wouldn't be long before she reattached herself to my hip. All of the children seemed to have a really great time with our group - they played with balloons, got their faces (arms, ears, hands, fingers...) painted, and just had lots of smiles and laughs together.

I also saw a mama pig nurse all of her little piglets and a trio of baby armadillos out on a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Toward the end of our visit, Kenia and I were sitting quietly together. I got out a wet wipe to clean my hands and then saw Kenia's dirty little feet. I thought about the Bible story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. Jane, our team leader, just talked about that story in our devotion last night. Jesus probably didn't use Kleenex Wet Wipes, but, hey, that's all I had. I took her little feet in my hands, one at a time, and wiped the dirt off as well as a wet wipe can. She giggled because it tickled. I don't think Kenia had any concept of our special little moment, but I sure did. As we were leaving I hugged her about 87 times and assured her that I would be back on Tuesday. I hope she is looking forward to seeing me again as much as I am her. 

Day 5 - Mon, July 24, 2006

What a day! Our group divided into 2 teams - medical and construction. I really had no preference as to what team I worked on, but I ended up staying in Limon at the clinic. I was nervous! I barely know the difference between a stethoscope and a microscope. We had a meeting, led by Sharon, before we got started. I was really impressed to see Sharon take the lead like that. She was great!

I was assigned to assist Gloria in the lab. We hit it off instantly. She taught me so much! I learned how to do a urinalysis (which someone just had to spell for me). I learned how to say "Go back to your doctor" in Spanish. I even took someone's stitches out of his finger (yes, me. shaky hands and all, and I didn't do anymore damage to him. Oh ye of little faith). My main responsibility of the day was pregnancy test. The first 2 I did were negative, but the rest (probably 4 or 5) were all positive. Gloria said she wasn't going to let me do anymore tests because I was making everyone pregnant. She also showed me a lot of slides under her new microscope that she is totally in love with. We decided it needed a name. From hence forth, he shall be called Lewis, and I was bestowed with the dubious honor of serving as Lewis' Godmother. I don't know what I will do with him if anything ever happens to Gloria.

In our downtime, Gloria and I talked a lot about her father who founded the clinic here in Limon. In fact she has written 2 books including one about her father's work. She said that she needed some help with her English grammar for her book, so I volunteered. She seemed so genuinely grateful. She started calling me her Love Daughter.

The excitement of the day was brought in by 2 very pregnant women who were in the early stages of labor. After they were examined, they were sent home, but we are all hoping we will see some action on our watch. Fingers crossed!

At lunchtime, Anna, Jean, and I went to the church to serve food to some of the locals. It was a lot like what we did at The Dump except we served Tang to drink instead of milk. When we were finished, I was covered in Tang but every mouth had been fed and given something to drink.

At the end of the day my heart is full. I had a day full of special moments - a tiny baby sleeping on my shoulder, the sight of 2 brave little girls who never shed a tear when getting their tiny fingers pricked, and the satisfaction of knowing I played a very small part in so many people getting the care that they desperately needed.

My day concluded when I met Amy, Douglas's daughter. Douglas is one of the local residents who helps us in more ways than I can tell you. Amy is a little ray of sunshine. She is eleven and so pretty. She is learning English and absolutely ASTOUNDED me by reading several pages of Rick and Bubba's Expert Guide to God, Country, Family and Anything Else We Can Think Of (STAY IN IT!). I am looking forward to seeing her again on Thursday when she will be back to do my hair. oh yeah.

Day 6 - Tues, July 25, 2006

Both teams spent the whole day in Plan de Flores today. I had planned to work with the construction team and discovered that that primarily consisted of keeping the kids out of the way. Kenia spent most of the day with me along with Annie and Michel.

That Michel (sitting in my lap above) is such a beauty but also quite the diva. If you make her mad, you can bet your tamales you will know about it. Michel is Corley's big sister. Yes there is a little boy named after my cousin, Corley. There is also a little Jane. They are brothers and sisters along with Jarmany, Edwin, and Liseth. Almost as confusing as my family, huh? Sharon is really hoping for her namesake but it hasn't happened yet.
The medical team ran a clinic out of the church and stayed busy all day. They had 178 patients one of whom was Julisa. I had only met Julisa a little while earlier when she braided my hair. The doctors and nurses said she had one of the worst in-grown toenails they had ever seen. Now that may not sound like an earth-shattering medical emergency, but if you have ever had one then you know it can sure feel like one. They gave her some shots that were really painful to numb her toe. Looking into her teary eyes, I felt so bad for her. I held both of her hands and we both looked away while Dr. Eric removed the nail. I walked her home a little later.

I also found some time to spend with a baby pig.

We had Bible School at the end of the day which was really fun. They even sang some of the songs I remember from Bible School as a kid.

I am noticing that my Spanish isn't as bad as I thought it was. I would love to take a class back home and teach more English to the children on a future trip. I've already learned so much from them.

Day 7 - Wed, July 26, 2006
Well our prayers were answered today. I witnessed the birth of a baby girl named Sharon (you guessed it) Dorinne Chavez!

Sharon (my stepmother, not the baby) came in to wake me up at around 4:30am this morning. Papa was yelling up to the house to wake us up for help. We all rushed downstairs in what could only be described as (somewhat) organized chaos. We tore around the clinic to gather everything the nurses needed. A classic case of hurry up and wait. The next couple of hours consisted of helping mama (and papa) through the progressively more intense contractions. My job was to make sure mama stayed as comfortable as possible by putting a cool towel on her head. This woman was amazing! She was going through full blown labor with NOTHING in the way of pharmaceutical pain relief. She was bleeding some which made us a little nervous.

It is amazing how much we take for granted living in the good ol' US of A - fetal heart monitors, epidurals, sonogram, etc. We didn't have any of that, so we really didn't know what was to come.

When things started moving along the nurses felt confident about her progress. During the worst of the contractions mama would hit and grab at papa in that "this-is-all-your-fault" sort of way. I even had to fill in for him for a minute and got my own "love pat" on the arm from her. Thankfully dad quickly returned to his post. At Sharon's request, Brooke (our church pastor's daughter and fellow missioner) led the team in a few spiritual songs. I thought that "She Works Hard for the Money" would have been perfect, but that didn't really catch on. Besides, I figured the mom was in enough pain without hearing my voice in the wee hours, so I just tended to my cool towel.

When the Midwife came in, it got really interesting. She had to be in the neighborhood of 80-years-old and feisty as all get out. She knew exactly what she needed and went straight to work.

Now it was show time - PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!

Midwife was the grand Marshal of this parade and she popped mama on the leg one good time when she lost focus just in case she needed reminding. When it was time, Sharon called me over and I positioned myself into a front row seat, as it were. First we could see the head with thick black hair. On the next push our gal came right on out, pretty as you please. Every woman in the room was crying and Shane (who used to be a vet tech among other things) commented that "this ain't nothin' like birthin' puppies." Little Sharon entered the world at 7:20am weighing in at a whopping 9 pounds!

While all of this was going on, the rest of our team was upstairs praying as hard as they could. They did a bang-up job because mama and baby are both doing very well.

It occurred to me today that the over-lying theme to this trip has been new life. We have seen babies EVERYWHERE - chicks, ducks, piglets, armadillos, puppies, and now baby Sharon. I think I came on this trip needing to leave some things behind and start over. I can't help but think this has all been a not-so-subtle message that it's about that time and that I can do it - we all can.

I spent the rest of the day with the construction team and my little buddies in Plan de Flores.

Day 8 - Thur, July 27, 2006
The construction team spent our last day in Plan de Flores today. It amazes me how little time it took for me to fall in love with these children. Christian and his songs. Julisa's toe and her braiding my hair. Annie and Kenia fighting over who will hold my hand or sit beside me. Sara, Marlen, and their little sisters with the most beautiful eyes you'll ever see. And Jarmany, Edwin, Liseth, Michel, Corley, and Jane - the sweetest hearts and smiles on earth! Jarmany is the best big sister I have ever seen. She not only loves and takes care of her little brothers and sisters but she is an amazing leader to every child there.

We knew we would have to say good-bye to all of them at the end of the day, but that didn't make it any easier. When it was time for us to leave they ALL followed us out to the van. I tried so hard to keep the tears at bay, but it didn't take long for the dam to break. Little Michel and Liseth broke my heart into a million pieces. They couldn't catch their breaths because they were crying so hard. I scooped Michel up from the ground and held her as long as I could. When time ran out, I felt comfort in handing her over to Jarmany who, I knew, would eventually dry Michel's tears and her own.

This afternoon, Amy came over to do my hair. Hay! It seemed like it took forever, but we enjoyed final serenades from Ezzman, Mario, and the gang to pass the time. "GIMME ONE CANDY! GIMME ONE COOKIE! HEY! HEY! HEY-HEY-HEY!"

I have to say, the finished product ain't half bad! I look like a cross between Bo Derek (from the neck up and scalp back only) and a Nubian Princess - beads and all.

Days 9 & 10 - Fri & Sat, July 28-29, 2006
The last two days of our trip have pretty much been travel days. We left Limon for La Ceiba on Friday. The drive back to La Ceiba gave me lots of time to reflect on the week and the experience. It is something I will never forget and something I am sure I will do again. There are so many memories that I wasn't even able to mention in this journal.

I have especially enjoyed spending time with my cousin Corley. He and my brother, Rux, are very close and always have been, but I have never really spent much time with him "all growns up." He has such a wonderful heart and is such a pleasure to be around. I will always remember this trip for many reasons - one of them being that Corley isn't just Rux's friend anymore. He's mine too.

Every member of our team will always have a special place in my heart. Of course it was wonderful to share such a special experience with Sharon. And Shane pretty much kept me laughing the whole time. Each person had a specific purpose on this journey, and by the end of it, though it's impossible to describe, it was clear that everyone had achieved what they came to do.

I am back in Chicago now, and I think it is hotter here than it was in Honduras! I am going to try hard to do what we talked about in our last devotion together - take what we have learned on the trip and use it everyday. I think this experience has made me a better person and I know it has helped me refocus on what is really important in my life.

To my new friends in Honduras - You have changed me forever, and I will be grateful to you everyday. I already miss you and I hope we meet again soon. And I am really sorry if I misspelled your name (or anything else).

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