“I want you to join our mission trip to Honduras!” That was the enthusiastic invitation I received from Pastor Gary Olson of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Naperville. I agreed to think about it – and then politely declined at a later date. When I mentioned the invitation (rather unenthus-iastically) at a council meeting the response was an energetic: “Yes! Go for it, we are with you!” One of our council members, Dan Bielenberg, agreed on the spot to go with me. There was no way out of it! I was going to Honduras. I was excited and not a little afraid.
Good Shepherd has partnered with the mission organization World Gospel Outreach. WGO has been in Honduras for many years ministering to abandoned children and giving North American churches an opportunity to serve in medical brigades, evangelism and construction. They care for children from infancy through high school by providing homes, education and loving Christian support.
I expected this mission trip to be grim. What I experienced was powerful and exuberant joy! Upon our arrival in poor sections of Tegucigalpa, we set up shop in a local Honduran church. For two days the church building was transformed into a M*A*S*H* type hospital. People lined up for hours in order to avail themselves of some medical care, get medicines and have teeth pulled. While the adults took advantage of these ministries, their children were ministered to as well.
We partnered with physicians, nurses, dentists and optometrists in providing medical care to hundreds of families. We learned how to sterilize equipment, read sophisticated optical instruments, and assist dentists. We gave away medicines, Bibles, and eyeglasses. We built concrete floors for people living on dirt floors. We took part in a Vacation Bible School style children’s ministry, telling them in words and in song the story of Jesus. Afterwards we washed the children’s hair to remove lice. We shared the Gospel with each adult, inviting them to know and follow Jesus, and become part of the community of faith.
This ministry was done in partnership with the pastor and people of the Honduran congregation. Language barriers were overcome with the help of many fine translators. We were able to get to know many Honduran families, and experienced life in a setting and culture far different from our own. Honduras is the poorest country in Central America. We saw that poverty up close and personal. However, the people were not broken by it and had a joy of life I do not often see.
Powerful friendships developed among team members, the love we received from the Honduran people, and the number of what we called “God Incidences” combined to make this a truly amazing week.
Each night we returned to the mission house, had dinner, sat around a giant table and packed medicines for the next day. We shared around a circle what happened in our teams. We talked about the people we met, looked at
pictures from the backs of small digital cameras, had great devotions and found out what team we would be on the next day. Most of us did something different each day. I participated in evangelism, children’s ministry, construction and assisted the dentists. I was filled with the great energy of making new friends, knowing that we were experiencing something extraordinary.
It was remarkable to see people from all walks of life in the United States engage in ministry with the Honduran people in so many ways. This was a sudden immersion in servant-leadership. I saw each and every member of our team grow.
One story serves to illustrate: In our location for the first day (the neighborhood of Suriapa), the poverty looked extreme to me. The homes near the church were made of wood scraps, cardboard and metal fragments on dirt floors. They were smaller than the prefabricated sheds we use in suburban Chicago to hold our lawn equipment, the type seen in front of Home Depot. In those homes lived large families of five or more people. The kitchens were outdoors and consisted of old metal oil drums reconfigured as stoves. The streets and alleys were filled with lots of small thin dogs.
World Gospel Outreach’s forward team arranged in advance to have us put in a concrete floor in the home of a widow. WGO tries to give priority to widows and single mothers as they make their schedules. It can take up to one day to put in a concrete floor, with scraping, mixing, and whatnot. The guys from our team got the job done in record time.
Grateful, the family invited their neighbors to see the new floor. In celebration, the children held the hands of the guys from Good Shepherd and the family served them what they could. When the guys saw the nearby homes in the same condition (and since it rained and they saw those dirt floors become mud floors), they got busy and put floors in for all the homes on that street. It was an extraordinary effort. It was very humbling to
see the soulful gratitude of these fatherless families. The hugs, the prayers with the families and the connections that the team made with them were powerful. What a first day!
When we returned, Dan and I told our stories and invited our congregation to join us next year. Rejoice Lutheran Church has responded to this invitation. In October 2007 we will return to Honduras with over thirty people to serve this mission. We can feel the prayers, the love, and the creative initiative this outreach to Honduras is inspiring at Rejoice.
I’m thankful for Pastor Gary Olson’s example and invitation! Thanks be to God!