Honduras, July 2 & 3

On Saturday, we went to the market. I spent a lot of time pointing at fruits and vegetables (frutas y verduras) and repeating their Spanish labels, asking Josue if I got them right. After the market, we went to Mi Esperanza to organize the food into buckets. Then we loaded up the trucks and the bus and drove to Nuevo Tiempo to deliver the food.

That’s where the day changed. We had a to wait on the mayor before we could pass out the food. There was a lot of standing around and then walking here and there. I stayed with a group of other adults, and we mostly observed VBS and checked out the house being built nearby. There was some political debate between the mayor and our people, but the food did eventually get delivered. By the time we came back to the hotel, I was more tired than I had been the day before.

Yesterday was Sunday, a rest day on this trip. We went to Mi Esperanza for some shopping after breakfast, grabbed lunch at Wendy’s (I got my banana soda) and then headed to Valle de Angeles, a touristy place. When it was time to leave, the buses were stuck in the lot. Our guys had to literally pick up cars and move them so we could leave. It was crazy. Always an adventure in Honduras…

We ate at El Gordo’s last night, and I love their cheesy bean dip. However, I realized fast that I had reached my limit for extroverting. So I skipped evening worship and spent an hour reading in my silent hotel room while the other 3 occupants were with our group. Then I got to sleep early and felt a lot better today.

I will post about today tomorrow. I’m ready for dinner now. 😉

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Honduras 2016, July 1

After being awake more than 36 hours, I slept well last night. We hiked up a mountain to build today. We were building a house in memory of my friend’s father. It rained off and on, but the temperature was great. I was able to steal a few moments to journal, so I will just type up what I wrote…

From Heather’s Journal, July 1

I’m sitting high on a mountainside, backpacks piled beside me, the taste of honey on my tongue. Below me, teen girls from Mississippi blow bubbles with Honduran children. The language they share is play – jugando. To my right, a home takes shape. The air buzzes with chainsaws and my heart drumbeats with hammers, no rhythm save hope.
Neighbors hauled pizza* and soda up this steep mountain. They wanted to thank us with food. It’s a heavy meal for the work day, but their eyes were beautiful as they gave us this meal. In a moment pepperoni is made holy. A small skinny dog feasted on the remains our communion, bubbly Coke pure wine inside my body.
There are cheers as a door opens. The woman had an accident. Half her body is scarred from fire. We are nailing her happiness together, opening a door to new dreams, framing a window from which she’ll look forward, plan tomorrow. She is beautiful, speaking joy over us, “¡Yo contento!”
God bless her. Please bless her bigger than we can
* I wanted to add a note to tell you all pizza is not a normal part of a build. The mayor of this community bought the pizzas. He was very excited about the houses our groups built today. Normally, we eat what we carry up the mountain. My regular lunch today included turkey jerky, a handful of BBQ sunflower seeds, and a couple of honey straws.

Why Honduras?

A friend asked, “Why did you choose Honduras?”

At the risk of sounding corny and cliché, I didn’t choose Honduras. Honduras chose me.

I went to Mexico when I was 16, and I always thought I would go back. I never did.

I met my best friend around ten years ago. Much of her family lives in Haiti. I raised money to send there after the earthquake. I wanted to go to Haiti.

We began sponsoring a child through Compassion International three years ago. Nathali is in Nicaragua, and when my husband mentioned planning an international mission trip for the youth ministry, I had hopes it would be to Nicaragua. I wanted to meet Nathali.

My husband chose Honduras because he had a solid contact in our then-town that could help him make the trip happen. I wanted to go, but so did a lot of other people. Since our church had just paid for Corey and I to visit the Holy Land, I decided to opt out and let someone else have that free trip (in any youth ministry my husband leads, chaperones go on trips for free).

I didn’t realize how badly I really wanted to go on the trip until I went to see them off. Standing among suitcases and teenagers, my heart broke over being left behind.

Still, when it was time to return the next summer, I chose not to sign up for the trip. Instead, I focused on raising money to build a house in memory of my friend. I knew I couldn’t afford to both go to Honduras and build the house. I chose the house.

Then, someone had to back out of the trip and I was given an opportunity to go for free. Luckily, I already had a passport, due to the Holy Land trip a year before. One of my kids was gone to his grandparents’ house for the summer and the other would be at camp for part of the trip. A friend stepped in and offered to pick David up from camp and keep him the last few days before we returned from Honduras.

Now let me back up and tell you about my friend, Emily. I met Emily when we lived in Brandon, MS, around ten years ago. She loved Honduras and went there multiple times. She was especially passionate about a ministry called Mi Esperanza, and I have a bag and a skirt from Mi Esperanza, thanks to Emily.

When Corey called me from Honduras on his first trip, I was floored to find out he had actually visited Mi Esperanza. It turns out, he was there with the same group that Emily loved so much, working with many of the same people.

When we landed in Honduras last summer, and our first stop was Mi Esperanza, it was like stepping into a dream, a world I had heard about suddenly became real.

I knew. I just knew that I needed to be there. I wanted to be there for more than a week.

How is it possible to feel like you have returned to a place you never visited before? I don’t know, but it has happened to me twice, once in Jerusalem and once in Honduras.

Usually, a few months after a mission trip, the experience begins to feel distant. I expected that to happen with Honduras, but it hasn’t. If anything, as time passes, I feel more drawn to Honduras than ever. My heart aches for it.

Jesus and me have been going back and forth about my dreams, about just what it is He has called me to do with my life, and more and more I am sure… Honduras plays a huge role in my future. So I am going to chase after it. I am going to follow my heart as far as I can go.

Learning a New Language

The line at Aldi’s stretched almost to the back of the store. The lady in line behind me made a comment about them needing to open a second lane. I agreed, but I wasn’t bothered. Honestly, after seeing the photos of that drowned toddler that washed ashore… After spending the last week with my heart heavy for the refugees from Syria and similar people groups… I just couldn’t work up any impatience over the line at Aldi’s. I had a buggy full of food and money to pay for it. I had no cause for complaint.

In front of me was a family, a couple with their small child and two other women. They were speaking Spanish, and I challenged myself to translate in my head. I heard one of the women ask the little girl where her shoes (zapatos) were. The little girl pointed into the freezer beside us and asked for chicken (pollo).

As people inched forward, another cashier appeared and we split into two lines. I was behind the couple and their daughter. The husband put a divider on the conveyor belt so I could unload my buggy without mixing up our groceries. I thanked him.

In Spanish.

It just popped out. I’ve been learning Spanish for two years, intermittently. For the last month, I’ve been studying daily, using Rosetta Stone. I have almost completed level 1. I have no Spanish speaker to practice with, so I’m much better at reading the language than speaking it. But when a Spanish-speaking man did something kind for me, I automatically said, “Gracias.”

He smiled.

I wanted to say more. I tried to catch the little girl’s eye. In my head I rehearsed, “Tu pelo es bonita.” It’s probably not a perfect Spanish sentence, structurally, but I was pretty confident it would be understood as, “Your hair is pretty.” I also could have asked the mother, “¿Cuántos años tiene tu hija?” That means, “How old is your daughter?” Currently, my most important sentence is, “Estoy aprendiendo español.” That means, “I am learning Spanish.”

I said none of these things.

After he heard me say gracias, the father continued to look back at me. His eyes no longer skimmed over me. I became a real person. His wife looked at me too. I had every chance to speak, but I didn’t. I didn’t even manage an adiós as we parted ways. They were unloading their groceries into their SUV right beside my car.

I never opened my mouth.

Why?

Because I was scared.

What happens if I speak but don’t understand a single word said in reply? Will I look like a silly white woman playing at language? Will they be insulted by my stumbling Spanish?

This didn’t scare me in Honduras. There, where everyone around me spoke Spanish, it felt natural to try. Here, I feel out of place, like I am trying to insert myself where I was not invited.

Also, I don’t like to look stupid.

Learning something new often means making a fool of yourself. You can’t learn a new dance without messing up a few times. You will look silly. Want to learn to ride horses or ride a bicycle or drive a stick-shift? You might struggle, fall down, stall out. You might follow every word of the recipe and still have your peach pound cake fall apart.

People might laugh at you.

People might laugh at me.

All day, I thought of that family and my inability to do the one thing I have been so anxious to do… speak Spanish with Spanish speakers.

I’m going to have to suck it up and take some risks if I want to accomplish anything in this life. From speaking Spanish to selling a novel, it all requires me risking rejection, taking the chance that I might look silly or make a mistake.

What are you afraid of, friends? What would you do, right now, if all that fear got wiped away?

In Psalm 51, we read, “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.”

When I was in Honduras, I understood that my Spanish need not be flawless. The people I spoke to appreciated my attempt to connect with them. Maybe the family in Aldi’s would have laughed at my halting Spanish, but probably not. Probably, they too would have appreciated my attempt to connect, to see them and speak to them in their own tongue, to recognize them as fellow human-beings.

Maybe, just maybe, if I learn to follow my heart and open my mouth, someone else will know their life has not escaped God’s notice. Maybe God will use me if I lay down my pride and just try.

 

*originally published on Middle Places

Some Thoughts on “Voluntourism”

I’ve seen a few articles on “voluntourism” going around Facebook. Having just returned from Honduras, I feel the need to step up and defend mission trips, but the truth is… a lot of what these articles have to say is right. I thought this one had fair things to share from both sides.

In my opinion, the real difference is relationships.

Our previous church has been building a relationship with the people of a village in Honduras. As a church body, they have sent people twice a year to build houses and distribute food, yes, but they have done more than that. They have built school buildings and worked to get the kids of the village into school.

I love giving people things they need, like food and clothes and shelter. Those are crazy important things. But you know what I love more? Giving kids the ability to read and the desire to learn. They won’t outgrow reading. Reading won’t wear out or burn down or be taken away from them. If they can read, and they want to learn, they always have options.

The trips like the one I took this summer are also good for us. And I know some will cite that as a bad thing, but it’s not. Or, it doesn’t have to be. If you go to a third world country and return saying, “I have learned to appreciate what I have,” then, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you got it. At the very least, that is just step one, and a good documentary could have produced the same result.

Going to a third world country and making connections, building relationships, will do more than make you grateful for your own life and your own blessings. It will get in your belly and not let go. You will agonize over “Why me?” Because, really, why was I born in America with money and education and options and this child in my lap was born here with nothing or very little? And, instead of being grateful for what I have, I am burdened by it. Because what am I doing with it? Am I making the world a better place for God’s people or am I just saying thank you and building up my own storehouses a little bit more.

My trip to Honduras has brought me good stories and wonderful photographs, but if all of the pictures were lost and I could never tell you a word about the trip, the trip would still have been worth it. I met some amazing people. We have friends who live in Honduras and we listen to their wisdom in how best to help the people there. Throwing money and stuff at poverty is not the answer. Education and relationship… connection. Those are answers. Or they are the beginning of answers.

My favorite part of our trip (aside from building the house for Nattie) was Mi Esperanza. They don’t just sell ethical fashion items. They teach women skills. You can find all kinds of success stories on their website. They offer micro-loans and they pour their profits back into the community. I have my heart set on doing an internship there one summer. Because a week was not enough time in Honduras. My heart longs for more.

The way things have lined up for my Honduran experience to even happen? It is so God that I cannot begin to deny I was supposed to go there. I was supposed to meet the people I met and be changed by them. Call that “voluntourism” if you wish, but don’t dismiss it too easily. Read the articles and consider the angles and be careful about where you invest your money. Don’t rush to dismiss what someone else feels led to do. When you want to do good, you should do good. When you feel God leading, trust God’s wisdom.

I promise I will be blogging about building the Nattie house soon. I want the post to be perfect and that has kept me from writing anything. But, it’s coming, pictures and all.

Mi Esperanza

My summer got rerouted in the best way ever…

A year ago, my husband traveled to Honduras on a mission trip with the youth of FUMC Tupelo. He came home in love. I fully expected that passion to fade, but it hasn’t done so. In January, Corey was back on an airplane, headed to Honduras. He went with a smaller group from FUMC Tupelo. They took the money our church had raised and provided for EVERY CHILD in the community of Diamante to go to school.

Every. Child.

While there, they took inventory of what was needed to make the school run smoothly and started laying plans for a trip this summer. I won’t fill you in on every detail in this post, but when we left, there was a functioning system of school buildings complete with desks, white boards, etc…

Let’s back up though. When they started planning this summer’s trip, I was not going. I began, instead, working to raise $1500 to build a house in memory of my friend, Natalie. I knew I could raise enough money to either build or go, and I chose to build. I did raise the money and picked a verse for the plaque. Corey promised to take a million pictures of the Natalie house being built, and I would rejoice from afar.

Let me first assure you, I was okay with this plan. I was not pitying myself for not going on the trip. I was honest-to-goodness joyful over the Natalie house being built and over my husband’s continued passion for Honduras. His eyes are so beautiful when He is loving.

The eyes of Christ are so beautiful when HE is loving… and HE is always loving us.

When a friend called my husband and said one member of her family needed to back out of the trip, she offered the ticket to us. Neither of my sons have passports and the trip was two weeks out, so I accepted the ticket. I arranged childcare, rescheduled appointments, and started brushing up on my meager Spanish skills.

Talk about a reroute.

We boarded a plane in Birmingham, connected in Houston, and landed in Tegucigalpa around lunchtime on June 25th. Our first stop, after lunch, was a place I had heard about for a decade.

Mi Esperanza

My Hope

I first heard about Mi Esperanza from a friend who went to Honduras on mission trips. She told the story of a beautiful dream, women helping women. Please take the time to visit the Mi Esperanza website and learn more, donate, or shop. You will never be sorry you did.

Back when Emily told me about Mi Esperanza, I bought a bag through her and I still have it. She also gave me a beautiful red skirt made by the women there. I loved it, but somewhere in the span of two moves, it disappeared. I couldn’t imagine where it had gone, and it was on my mind as we planned our trip to Honduras.

Packing to move, guess what my husband found in the corner of my closet, tucked behind boxes, hidden from sight?

My red Mi Esperanza skirt.

skirt2-300x300

That it reappeared days before I was to board a plane for Honduras filled my heart with joy. I cannot believe it was a coincidence. It was, instead, an affirmation. I was following the right path… Jesus was there in front of me.

So, that first day on Honduran soil, we visited Mi Esperanza. I stood there, saying hello to one of the founders, looking around at bags and necklaces and sewing machines, my feet reaching the end of a pilgrimage I never knew I was on.

It felt right.

I have a lot of stories to share over the next few weeks or months. There are truths to be unpacked that I can only process through writing. All of those stories… every last one of them, centers on hope.

Esperanza

Whatever else may come… whatever detour this life takes… That is who and what Jesus is…

Mi Esperanza… My Hope

For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. -Psalm 71:5

 

*originally published on Middle Places

A Hallmark of this Home

 photo Why3_zpscf6593ff.gif
The above gif comes from my favorite scene from Parenthood. The cancer storyline on that show took me back in time. It walked me through losing Natalie all over again. By the end of the season, I sobbed and didn’t know what I wanted to happen. If Christina died, it would be so unfair. I didn’t want her to die. But if she lived… it would make me angry. Angry because if my friend didn’t get to live, why should this fake person on TV?
I don’t claim to be logical where death is involved.
So, when Christina lost her friend to cancer and gave this amazing speech, I was right there with her. I got it. And I cried with her.
Tomorrow, Corey and I will board a flight to Honduras, and I will help build a house in Natalie’s memory. So many of you helped make this whole thing possible. Thank you for helping me honor my  friend.
It will never make sense to me… the random selection of death. Why did Natalie have to die and I am still alive? I don’t know. But I do know I can do something with his life of mine, however long I am going to have it.
And I am going to sign off now before I get overly sappy.
Prayers over our trip are appreciated. Specifically, please pray for the family that will have a home with Natalie’s name on the wall. Pray the hope and gratitude that marked my friend’s life will become a hallmark of this home as well.