It’s nice to be back in a place where you can flush toilet paper.
My son Luke and I spent the week of July 9-16 in Honduras as members of a short-term mission team from First Colony Church of Christ. Every year the church sends its graduating seniors on a trip to a ministry we support called Mission Lazarus. It’s located in a very rural, mountainous region of southeast Honduras near Nicaragua.
I mention the toilet paper because the wastewater treatment systems in Honduras are primitive and can only process human waste. Toilet paper clogs the system, so it must be disposed of in a trash can next to the toilet. As disgusting and uncivilized as that may seem by our American standards, it’s actually a minor inconvenience compared to many of the things Hondurans experience as part of everyday life.
The places where we worked and served throughout the week are very rural and very poor. One of our objectives was the installation of latrines at homes in areas that were unimaginably difficult to reach. I’ve never seen people so humbled and grateful to have an outhouse before. When you live in such circumstances, the ability to flush a toilet is a rare luxury, as is toilet paper.
Before going into more detail about the trip, let me give you some background. Honduras is a Central American country of stark contrasts. It is mostly mountain jungles with very rocky soil. Pine, palm and oak trees grow side by side with hundreds of other varieties creating a lush green landscape. What I’ve seen of the land is exotic beauty scarred by impoverished hovels carved into hillsides. In communities you will see reasonably modern structures intermingled with shacks of scrap wood, corrugated tin, and adobe.
Where we were, pathways that passed as roads were little more than what most of us would consider rugged hiking trails. Mission Lazarus has a small fleet of Toyota Hilux trucks that would just about put a mountain goat to shame by the way they were used on those roads.
Mission Lazarus is actually based in Tennessee but runs missions in Honduras and Haiti. The Honduran mission operates a refuge for abused, neglected and abandoned children. It’s a lot like an orphanage. They also operate schools and a training center where children who have completed their education (at the sixth grade) can learn valuable trades, such as sewing and leatherwork.
Santos, the pastor, oversees a small church on the compound and another church in nearby San Marcos de Colon. The mission also operates a small coffee plantation that is overseen by a woman, which is practically taboo in Honduras.
Mission Lazarus is also one of the best employers in the region. Staff and laborers are paid a significantly higher wage than their urban counterparts, but they work long, hard hours for what they receive. The time and labor they put in for the wages they earn may seem unfair by our standards, but it is more than fair by Honduran cultural norms. I’ve been told that for every person working there you can find 10 more waiting in line to have their job.
Learning that helped me better understand some of the issues surrounding the immigration influx at the U.S./Mexico border. Although the border issue is far too complex to delve into here, I now understand that many of these immigrants legitimately want to work. They are not here to mooch of the system and get “free stuff.” Jobs in Central America are hard to come by and many of these people have families they are trying to support. They are willing to work long hours of demanding physical labor because it is what they grew up with and expect and also because minimum wage in the United States is much more money than they could ever earn back home.
Getting back to the First Colony mission, there were 34 of us and we stayed at the Posada, which was a working “resort” with a restaurant and cabins. Everything was very rustic and open air. The food was fresh and very good. We were divided into three groups and rotated through work areas each day. My group made concrete bricks on our first work day, which was back-breaking work. The next day we conducted a vacation Bible school for children at the school in San Marcos and then did latrine installation that afternoon.
On the third day we worked on paving a road with concrete bricks. The portion of the road we were paving was steep and curved. It was really physically demanding, as we were constantly hauling wheelbarrows of dirt and sand up the hill, moving bricks around, and chiseling a trench in the rocky road to make the concrete curb.
On our final work day, we were again divided into groups. Some went to work making the concrete slabs for latrines, others did carpentry work at the refuge, and Luke and I were back on the road paving crew. By the end of these four days we were physically exhausted and very sore. The feeling of accomplishment and knowledge of the lasting impact we made on the Honduran people, however, made everything worth it.
The next day was Sunday and we participated in services at the church in San Marcos. It’s really beautiful to see the blending of cultures and languages in a church service. After church we were treated lunch and ice cream. We then returned to the Posada to rest and later to watch four baptisms. On Monday we did a tour of Mission Lazarus, which took us to their coffee plantation, schools, dental clinic and the refuge. After lunch we were bussed back to the Capitol of Tegucigalpa, where we stayed a night in a hotel before return to Houston the next day.
Each night we concluded with a devotional time of music and what basically amounted to a daily debriefing. I was impressed with the depth of spiritual understanding and cultural observation of the kids. It was incredible to see how much they matured in that week.
On a side note, this was a second trip to Honduras for Luke and I. Luke went with Sandy in 2013, and I went with a team from our former church in Colorado in 1999, right after Hurricane Mitch devastated the country. I was pleased to see how much things had improved in 20 years.
We’re due to go back in two years when Colton, our youngest child, graduates high school. Although I doubt the sewer systems will be upgraded by then, I am anxious to see how lives were changed by the things we accomplished there.