Archives for June 2013

The Least of These {The Boy Who Changed My Life}

We had walked at least two miles through a maze of dirt roads, splashing through and sinking in the mud. We’d given up dodging the puddles and swampy grasses brought by the morning’s rain.

We have four tickets left.  It’s up to us to choose four families – just four – out of so so many.  These four plus 46 other families will receive a bag of food in the afternoon – rice, beans, baking powder, lard, flour, and soap.

The rest?  I can’t think of them.

Need is everywhere.

But so is joy.

We’re joined by a group of kiddos who are laughing and splashing as if the rainy season is the best thing since sliced bread.   I have no idea what they’re laughing at as they speak Miskito – a language spoken in La Moskitia by the indigenous people there.

Their words are irrelevant. The language barrier irrelevant.  We’re all speaking the language of smiles as they run in and around us.  Kiddos being kiddos.

And I am tempted to complain.

I’m recovering from malaria.  It’s humid and hot.  My backpack is burning against my back, and I really want to toss it in the mud.

My $120 Brooks running shoes are water logged and mud covered.  I am sure most of that mud has a little (or lot of) sewage mixed in as evidenced by the smell emanating from the pools of swampy water and my feet.

And then we arrive here…

 

And a little boy no older than 10 sees us coming.  He finds a board, making us a bridge to his home, knowing that the water would be thigh deep for us. He struggles to position the board  – wanting it to be just right.  I am watching as my feet sink into black mud, wondering if that boy’s board is even going to hold my weight.  I consider not crossing – staying outside.  I even voice my thoughts…I’ll stay back.

 

One look from my friend communicates what I already know…I am staying back and holding back because this has all become too much.

Too real. Too sad.  Too painful.  Too wrong.

If I stay outside, I don’t have to know what’s inside.  The houses I have seen remain structures in photographs, not homes.  I am about to see how they live, survive.

Once again, I am about to know a name.  Meet a face.

I walk across the sweet boy’s makeshift bridge and up the stairs to his home – careful of the porch boards that feel weak under my weight.

Inside, the boy has a brother and three sisters – two of which speak Spanish.  There’s no dad.  Their mom is out gathering wood, and she should be home soon.  Before the family can get a food bag ticket, we talk to them and pray with them, so we decide to wait on the mother.

The boy’s brother lying on the bed confuses me.  I know something isn’t right.

 

Our missionary friend, Morgan, explains…

At about age 10, the boy (who is now 22) went up to the mountain to find work.  When he came home, he had essentially lost his mind. For 12 years he’s laid in the bed, speaking random Moskito words that make no sense even to those who speak his language.

What happened to him?  It’s a mystery.  He either was drugged or saw something too traumatic for his young mind to digest.

Her next words break my heart.

Sometimes they have to tie him up, attaching his hands together and to the bed so he won’t hurt himself or others.

What?  Tie him up?

But, they have to.  What other options are available to them?  There’s no special hospital or schools for him. There’s no medicine.  There’s no other good option.  For everyone’s safety, he sometimes needs subdued.

I am undone.  Holding back so many emotions, I think I am going to pass out.  I step onto the porch.

In the distance, I see the most precious sight…the group of kiddos who’d been following us have stripped down and are literally flipping into a huge pool of water.  Their laughter and flips and splashes are truly a gift from God in that moment.  I felt God saying – almost audibly…my framework and perspective is not yours, Sarah.  You are viewing this place through a North American lens.  I am not.  I am love.

 

At the moment, I see the kiddos’ mom walking toward home, carrying wood on her head.   She sees me on her porch, and I can only imagine what I must look like to her.  Standing on her porch with my Nike backpack in my cargo shorts wearing pricey running shoes and oversized sunglasses.

And I want to kick my self-righteous, whiny self.

Her bare feet wade through the water.  She’s 50 according to her children.  She unloads the wood and approaches me with a smile, extending her hand.  I envelop her hand and offer a Spanish greeting but realize she only speaks Moskito.

But, we both speak “smile.”

I follow her into her home.  It’s about 14 by 14  – just one room.  Inhabited by six people.  Six people who are smiling from ear to ear and welcoming us with open arms – literally.

Through her daughters, we explain that if she walks the few miles to the missionary’s house at 1:00 pm, we will give her a bag of food.

She smiles again.  Thankful.

We pray in Spanish – her daughter translating to Moskito. She hugs each one of us, offering thanks – ok, I have no idea what she was saying, but it was thanks.  One just knows a thankful heart.

We leave that home, wading through water to meet three more families.  All with stories I hope to tell in the future.  But, I begin with this story because it has changed my life and will forever inform how I see poverty and God and others and more.

For in that moment, when God sent me “to do unto the least these,” I realized I am the least of these.  I may have more material resources than that entire Moskito village, but in that moment…

Their material poverty met my spiritual poverty.  And together we were both the least of these, serving and loving one another, speaking the language of smile.

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’  Matthew 25: 40.

Our Time In Honduras So Far {The Short-Term Mission Controversy}

Down, down, down we walk into the small community of Fernando Caldron.  I carry two bags of food filled with rice, beans, salt, sugar, coffee, pasta, tomato paste, and lard.  It’s a narrow path lined with people at their home’s entrance.  Americans walking through their community surely draws attention.

We give one bag to each home.  I turn up a path and am in shock at the number of “households”  – each “room” is the home of a separate family.  It’s a maze of makeshift buildings.

With my broken Spanish I meet Wendy, who lives at the end of the path.  Alone.  Pregnant.  Her son is due a few months.  She will name him Jose. She relates this with a huge smile.  I am out of food but promise her a bag.  We wait together for her food, smiling and “chatting.”

I love her.

This was her manna from heaven today.  Feeding her and her unborn child.

And for THAT – I am thankful.  My heart is full.

But…

I struggle with the concept of short-term missions.  I’ve served on – even organized – a few teams, and each time I land in Honduras I wonder…will the Americans swooping in help or hurt?  My American attitudes and cultural context aren’t even close to those in Honduras.

Will they see us as savior instead of Jesus?  Will our gifts of food and clothing and a house be attributed to us?  Or to Him?  How can I communicate that it’s all Him?

As I had breakfast with two long-term missionaries this morning, I am more convinced than ever that there’s NO easy answer.  No rule.  No solution.  No one-size-fits-all.

And when we THINK we know the right answers or have it all figured out because we’ve just read When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity, then we are only perpetuating the problem with our blanket statements about what’s “best” or “right.”  I know because ideas I held so tightly  just one week ago have now been blow to bits by reality.

Regardless of your “side” regarding mission work, we all agree that Jesus must be center.  We all say that – we even mean it – but WHAT does that even look like? Does it always look the same?  If I pass out food or build a house and never mention Jesus, am I still on mission for Him?  Is He center?  After all, HE knows my heart.  He knows my motive.  Won’t he honor that?  In my weakness, he is strong.

I just don’t know.  I wish I could share some earth-shattering revelation about how we can answer our call to help and love the poor better, but I can’t.  I can only hug sweet Wendy, pray for her and unborn child, and try to see Jesus in it all.

So, whether you “buy-in” to the idea of short-term missions or not, I want you to know…pray you understand…that Jesus is here. Many we meet already know Him (The idea that Americans must evangelize those poor people in third-world countries is another post entirely!)

But, He’s here.  He’s shown up again and again for the people of Honduras and for our team.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since Friday…

The team arrived and didn’t even settle in at Villas de Valle (think small cabins) before packing 400 bags of food.  We ended the day “grabbing mops” as Kage Queen led us in amazing worship, preparing our hearts for the week.

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On Saturday, we built two houses.  These houses are 16 X 16 wooden structures that cost about $1600.  They have one window and a door.  A family of eight will occupy one – another occupied by a family of four.

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After the houses were finished, our team prayed with the family and read a blessing over the house.  (Unfortunately, I missed this part thanks to dehydration. But, I can tell you Honduras has a really nice hospital 😉

Sunday reminded us that God, not us, is in control.  We showed up at church only to discover church had been cancelled for a funeral.  So, last minute, we headed to another church – La Iglesia de San Miguel.

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This switch was a gift from God.  The pastor knew Jen, our leader, and welcomed us with tears and joy.  I LOVED that not having enough communion supplies did not faze the pastor.  He ran to the nearby pulperia (small store) and purchased grape pop.  Best communion I’ve had.

Jen asked the pastor how we could best serve his church, and he asked for shelving to organize Sunday school supplies. So simple.  We plan to build those this week.

After worship, we distributed food bags in Fernando Caldron, Colonia Manzanal, and Ojojona.    We played with the kiddos at Casa de Esperanza before heading with them to the junk cross for dinner and devotion.

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Yesterday and today we are coming alongside missionaries already serving full-time in Honduras.  We asked both ladies…how can we best serve you?

Miss Valerie at the Nashville School needed another classroom and wanted a porch for her small home. We built both.

Miss Janet in Comayagua asked my daughter, Hannah, to teach the teen moms in her program how to crochet while some of our team played their children.  These young gals are moms because they’ve been abused.  They’ll use their new skill to create and sell items to support their children.

Han teaches crochet

The rest of team is cleaning off two pieces of property in preparation for building. One in Comayagua and another in Ville de Valle.

And while I am STILL struggling with short missions as I type this afternoon, I do know one thing:  God is sovereign.  He loves each of us beyond our comprehension – so much so that He died in our place so that we might serve and glorify Him, bringing His kingdom to earth.

I may not have all the answers.  You don’t either.  No of us do.  But, I can be on mission today in this place – as you can be on mission today in your place.  I can love Him and love others.  I can ask…

How can I best serve you today?

He Gave His All {Green-Eyed Honduran Boy}

I walked toward him.  He tentatively peeked from behind hanging laundry.  I bent down, asking his name.  I couldn’t understand him, but he smiled.  A huge smile that reached the greenest eyes I’d ever seen.

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I snapped his picture with my phone.

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In Honduras, the kiddos love for you to take their picture then show them the photo.  Some have never seen a photo of themselves.  I hand him my iPhone, and he giggles  – delighted at his image. I continue photographing him and his brothers. They alternate swiping through my photos.  Laughing – as if not a care in the world. IMG_0355

He plucks a flower off the nearby bush and hands it to me, smiling coyly with his fingers tucked into his mouth.

I am undone by the gesture.

I take the flower – muchas gracias, little one.

He gave me the only gift he had to give – a flower wildly growing from a bush near his home.  I have never loved a gift more.

And I wonder…what do I have to give?

I consider handing him lempira (money), but my wallet is in the truck.  I wish I had a stuffed animal or toy truck – but I don’t.  I hold my flower tightly, wishing I had something to give.

The rain comes, and everyone heads toward the truck…I need to go too…but I want to do something – anything – for this sweet child who lives in a house where chickens roam on the kitchen’s dirt floors.

I smile and pat his head, joking as I return to the truck – humor is my defense always.  If I want to cry, but refuse, I joke.

As we drive up the mountain, I silently ask God why…why the green-eyed little boy with a vibrant smile lives in such poverty. Fatherless.  I wish I had something to give.

And God reminds me of how my culture has conditioned me to believe that giving has to be “something” – a specific action or physical object.  Maybe I gave that little guy something – a moment to play and see his picture on a phone that cost more than his family makes in months.  A hug.  A smile.

Because I gave that, he gave all he had – a flower.  And a smile that will forever be imprinted on my heart.

That’s why I am here.  To give all I have…even if to just one…because HE gave all he had.  His only son.

It’s the verse the churched know so well…16 For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

He gave all – his one and only son so I could live eternally.  So, how small is my gift this week – and everday of my life – to give my life up for him.  To die to self and to live for Him and Him alone.

Just like the little flower-giving boy, I pray I give my all this week – and always.  For His glory.  Simply because He gave all for me. IMG_0370

Go for One or 1,000 {We’re in Honduras!}

We entered the wrong door.  A sweet lady smiled and asked if we were visitors.  Her hushed tone was the only indication that we’d actually interrupted a class by choosing the wrong entrance.  We responded yes, and she hugged us.

We were welcome in this place.  I felt loved.

The floors creaked as we greeted others.  Light streamed in the beautiful stained -glass windows, reminding me how much I LOVE older churches.

THIS is a church family.  THIS is a place where strangers are welcome, and Jesus is loved.

I felt it.

I watched as my friend stood in front of the congregation and shared her passion for people – particularly the people of Honduras.  With each word said and each picture projected, the listeners leaned in wanting to know more.

Wanting to understand.   Wanting to know different, so they could do different.  Wanting to know Him more, so they could follow more closely.

Tears trickled down my cheeks as I watched her speak.  I share her heart for these people and this place.  I know more of her story and heart than she could possibly share in 30 minutes from a stage.  I know the plight of the poor, the widow, and the orphaned is much more to her – and me – than the pictures and videos and stories to which they’ve been reduced.

The faces have become her family.  Her friends.  They aren’t statistics or profiles. They have names.  They have hearts desiring food for their bellies, shelter over their heads, and love for their hearts.

They are real.

She finishes her presentation and a teen gal tentatively approaches her.  Tears have been streaming down the gal’s cheeks during the presentation.  She asks about Honduras and taking a trip.  She takes a card and calls my friend later that night.

She’s ready to make a difference.

Over lunch, we ask our host about the gal.  Her story?  Horrific.  Devastating.  Unexplainable.  A story that makes me wonder where God was in the midst.

And I am reminded that often we go for one. Perhaps God sent my friend to a small church in the country last Sunday just for the sweet teen who needed a reminder of WHO God was and is.

Sometimes we go for one.

I was reminded of this sweet time at the country church as we landed in Honduras this afternoon. I have no words for how my heart feels when the plane’s wheels touch down, and I step onto Honduran soil.  It’s a place I feel at home.  A place I love.

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And, I wonder…why am I here?  For one?  For many?

Whether one or one million –  Jesus’s command to go into all the world includes that small church in West Union, West Virginia and the homeless, hungry family in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.  That includes your neighborhood and your workplace.  That includes the grocery store and Ethiopia.

15 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Mark 16:15

The command was ALL the world.

Not just the places we feel most comfortable.  Not just the places that have captured our hearts.  Not just the far away countries that make us seem as if we are more “on mission” than others. (I am NO MORE on mission in Honduras today than you are at home or in your office.)  Not just our neighborhoods.  All.

Because I love Honduras so much, I have to be careful.  Careful not to love this country or these people MORE than I love Him.  It’s so easy for my heart to shift when I see so much need.  Instead of being on mission for Him, sharing HIS love, I begin to plan what I can do.  How I can help.  I forget to lean into Him and heed his plans for His people and my time here.

All need Him.  We are on mission for HIM, not for ourselves or for a people of a certain country or a certain church.  HE is the call.

And, why wouldn’t we embrace this command- this call?  If we love Jesus and believe He gave his LIFE for our sins, why wouldn’t we desire to go, give, love, and share?  Why wouldn’t we GO in His name whatever the destination may be?

After all, when the disciples asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he responded:  37 ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22: 37-40

Because of His love, we desire helping hands, listening ears, going feet, and loving hearts.

We go.  We love.  We serve.  All in His name and for His glory.