Category: A Journal from Honduras

An informal journal of my mission trip to Honduras during the summer of 2014.

Home Again

And so, after about five and one half months, I have returned home to the United States. This is going to be the last post in my “Journal From Honduras” series, even though it isn’t being written there. It feels strange to be back… good, but strange. I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings, and it may be awhile before I’m through with that, but as I doubt I’ll want to share all those things on a public blog, I shall go ahead and make this last post now.

 

….but it’s difficult to know what to say. How does one just sum up such an experience? I’m very glad that I went. There were certainly disappointments–one of them being that I didn’t get to do as much mission work as I had hoped. But on the other hand, some of the disappointments I learned from, and others worked out for good–if I had done as much mission work as I’d hoped to do, it’s doubtful that I would’ve had the time to think and pray that I so very much needed. So all in all, the trip was very good; I feel like a new person now. I’ve learned a lot of things about myself and about life, have found some much needed healing, have grown closer to God and gone much farther in my spiritual life. I’m not the same person that I was before I left. I still have a long way to go, but here I am, and life is open before me.

 

Some highlights: traveling about with my friend Rick to Copán, Utila, Costa Rica, and seeing all those beautiful places and going on those adventures; bringing food to the scavengers in the city dump; all the times I saw the ocean and heard the waves and smelled the salt; enjoying new foods I’d never tasted; getting to talk about Jesus and the Bible in a school. But the most enduring aspect of this trip, or at least, what seems so at this point in time, I think will be the way God spoke to me while I was there. It was a time that He used to minister to me far more than He used me to minister to others, which is not really in line with the way I would have planned it, but has proven to be precisely what I needed at this point in my life. I am so much more at peace than I was before I left. I feel stronger, calmer, more centered, and ready–because this was, I believe, a time of making ready. I don’t know what will happen next, but I am eager to see what awaits me.

 

And I would like to say thank you, very much, to everyone who prayed for me, provided for me, and talked to me while I went off on this adventure. I couldn’t have done it without your help. And an extra thanks to my lovely aunt and uncle, who so kindly gave me a place to stay and food to eat all the time I was there. I couldn’t have done it without them, either!

 

I feel like this is barely adequate to cover the experience. But ah well; these things are hard to describe. I hope that your lives may be joyful, dear friends. Be courageous. Take up adventures wherever they find you.

~ Jared

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Snorkeling and the Sea

Well, I’ve got just about a month left of my trip to Honduras. I think it’s fitting that this last stage has been opened by a lovely trip to the Caribbean, from which I just returned last night. I was staying on the island of Utila (off Honduras’ northern coast) with a few friends, and I  really had a lovely time. One of the friends I was with, Amanda, has been interning here for the past two months; the official reason for the trip was to debrief her before her return to the US, but we spent most of our time enjoying the island and the ocean.

 

Oh, the ocean! Every time I see it I fall more in love. During this trip I got to go snorkeling for the first time in my life, which showed me a whole other side of it that I’d never really seen before. I’ve been to some very nice aquariums and seen videos of the undersea world, but never experienced it personally, and it was absolutely enchanting. On the first day we snorkeled in the very shallow water right near the beach. At this part of the shoreline, the sand only extended a short way into the ocean before being overtaken by weeds and sea grass, which were mostly too near the surface to swim over (the spiny sea urchins living in the grass would’ve made it dangerous to crawl or walk over it). But swimming along the edge of those weeds was still fascinating. It was like going along the edge of a tiny cliff, with a whole host of life living there. Dozens of varieties of tiny, colorful fish lived along the borders of the weeds, so that it was like swimming through a painting alive with splotches of color. At times the weeds would circle around the sand, creating a sort of very shallow underwater grove, which was delightful just to hover in and watch as the fish swam by. At other times a whole school of minnows would dart in front of me and swim off into the distance, so that I would feel almost as if I was flying along with them. I never knew how much life there was along the shoreline! Looking at the water from above, even if it’s clear, doesn’t show a fraction of the fish that live within it. A little later I found a section of shoreline where the weeds were deeper, so I was able to swim out over them, and there is nothing quite like the feeling of looking down upon a vast underwater field as you swim over it, the occasional fish darting past the water receding into gloom in the distance.

 

The next day, we took a dingy out to Water Cay, a tiny island to the southeast of Utila. It was like being on a little desert island, like the sort you would imagine being shipwrecked on, though it was much closer to the shore than those generally are. I could walk across its length in probably five minutes or less. That was fun in and of itself; but more exciting was snorkeling around the island, which had much more variety of environment than the shoreline of Utila (or at least the section of it where we had been). There were rocky portions, fields of grass of a different variety than at Utila, sunken trees, open sands… and most exciting and beautiful of all, a coral reef. How lovely that was! How magnificent! I can’t adequately express the delight of the place. I swam in between the reefs until they opened out into the wider sea, a sandy bed which stretched off further than I could see. I was afraid to go out too far, so I stayed close to the reef and didn’t go looking to see if there might be even more impressive reef on the other side. I wish I had! But snorkeling uses muscles I’ve never really used before and I was pretty tired by that point, having had to take a somewhat circuitous route to reach the reef around all the rock beds. Swimming amongst the coral was like swimming between panels of stained glass. It was so lovely.

 

I think it was snorkeling that made the biggest impression on me during this trip, although I did a few other things for the first time as well. Overall, it was quite excellent, and I look forward to my last month here and especially to going home.

 

~ Jared

Charlas, and Other Things

Well, I suppose it’s time for a small update on my life in Honduras. Let’s see… in my last post, I talked about reaching the halfway point of my trip and also about going to Costa Rica. Well, now I have two months left before I go home, and I have to say, I’m really looking forward to being back. Not that I’m having a bad time; in fact, so far this second half of the trip has been a lot better than the first half. I’ve been able to get out more and do more work, see more places, and I’ve been doing a lot of studying, thinking, praying, introspecting, and have learned a lot. A lot of things inside me are changing and it’s pretty amazing when you start seeing almost daily progress on certain issues that have been with you for a long time. But, I’m ready to be home. Ready to see my family again, and my friends; ready to be able to talk to people without stumbling over my extremely limited Spanish vocabulary; ready to have good pizza and good hamburgers and Indian food and diverse ethnic cuisines again; just ready to be back and start moving on with my life again. But I still have two months left, and plenty more mental/spiritual/emotional progress to be made, as well as more work to do. I’m looking forward to that, but I will also be glad to be home.

 

So, anyway, the main thing that I’ve  been doing lately, as far as mission work goes, is Charlas Biblias–Bible Talks.  I have been joining Rick and Amanda (the same people I went to Costa Rica and Copán with) to go to a couple of different high schools and give talks to the students about various aspects of Christianity and the Bible. It’s really been interesting, to see the high schools and the students, as well as to be part of sharing the Gospel with them. I also find it quite refreshing to be in a country where we’re even allowed to do that; if Christians in the US tried such a thing there would be an outrage. It’s rather silly, because isn’t school supposed to be about learning? Shouldn’t anyone have the right to present their beliefs to students, so the students can make an informed decision about their own? At any rate, the whole experience has been rather cool. It was interesting also to observe the differences between the students: in the one school, which Rick has been doing Charlas at for a long time, the students are more friendly and familiar, but also less attentive and participatory; while at the other school, which none of us had been to before, they were almost uniformly intent on what we were saying, and we had great results with those students. These Charlas are something that I will likely continue doing for the rest of my time here, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else happens as we advance.

 

What else is new? Yesterday I accompanied my uncle as he went to present a lesson to a church in one of the rougher parts of town, way up on the hill where all the roads are steep. I helped him to carry things and set them up, but unfortunately I couldn’t understand much of the lesson, since it was all in Spanish. Still, it was interesting; I got to see a part of the town I’ve never been in before and meet a few people. This city becomes gilded in the evening, and as ugly as some parts of it can be during the daytime, it’s all beautiful as the sun is setting. Lately I’m seeing more and more of the beauty of life and the world. It seems that the more I see of the world, the more in love with it I fall. It is a stunning creation, and nothing more stunning than the people who inhabit it.

 

At the end of the month I’ll be going up to the Caribbean coast again with Rick and Amanda, for Amanda’s debriefing at the end of her internship. That should be cool, especially as we’ll be spending at least one day with an island all to ourselves! I am blessed to be able to visit the ocean not once or twice, but three times while on this trip. This wasn’t something I expected, and I am grateful. I don’t think I could ever get tired of the ocean.

 

Well, I don’t think I have anything else to say at the moment. May your days bring you joy!

~ Jared

Halfway, and a Trip to Costa Rica

Well, here I am, halfway through my trip to Honduras. A little more than halfway through, actually–I left the US on March 18th and will return on September 10th, so my real halfway point was a few days ago. In order to get my visa renewed for the second half of the trip (they’re only good for 90 days), I went  south to Costa Rica for a few days, returning to my aunt and uncle’s house last night with a new visa good for the remainder of my time here. It was a pleasant trip, though I would not care to repeat the 17+ hour bus ride anytime soon, or ever. Unlike the last trip I took to Copán, which was focused on learning, this trip was focused (at least for me) on relaxing and enjoying the time; which seems interesting in light of the fact that I think I probably enjoyed the Copán trip more. Perhaps when enjoyment is the primary goal it becomes harder to find than when it is pulled along in the wake of something else. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself! I very much like Costa Rica. The scenery is gorgeous, and San José, the capital city (where we were staying) is clean, open, and has a friendly feeling. The city’s downtown was quite nice, and it was fun to see the sights there, although I wished we had more time for exploring. On the second day of the trip we spent the entire day at a resort, where we enjoyed a beautiful rainforest trail and one of the very prettiest beaches I’ve ever been to in my life. This is the second time I’ve been to the ocean during my time here, and I am grateful, because I didn’t expect even one trip to the sea. All in all, from the very brief glimpse I got of it, I think I rather like Costa Rica and its culture. I could see myself living there much more readily than in Honduras, although I still would not like to live in a place  that never had winter.

 

Halfway… I feel like I’ve been here longer than three months, yet at the same time, it is a bit surprising to see the halfway point having come and gone already.  I had very few expectati0ns for this trip before I came–I don’t tend to expect a lot of things when I’m going to a totally unfamiliar place and doing things that are far outside my experience. Honestly, I just wanted to get away from my day to day life and take time to rethink and soul-search, and if I could do some things to serve God and help others at the same time, then so much the better. And so far the trip has allowed me to do those things, though it has been lighter on the serving part than I had hoped (but this should soon change as I work more with the people who I went to Copán and Costa Rica with). I really did need time to think; I have been able to slowly and gradually work through many mental, spiritual, and emotional issues that I have needed to work through, and am still I think in the midst of that journey. Putting aside the physical (as always, I probably ought to be getting more exercise and more sleep and less sweets), I feel healthier than I have in a long time. I am learning to be at peace and my ability to wonder at the world and take joy in simple things is ever-growing.

 

I am looking forward to seeing what develops during the second half of my trip. It’s strange to think that, in the context of this trip, I have just as much time ahead of me as I have behind me! A lot could happen during that time. I will be a different person by the end–everyone I know could be different–life changes in the blink of an eye. I think that’s beautiful, and more beautiful still are the eternal things that stay with us no matter how much the physical world shifts and changes. There is beauty everywhere, and the rampant ugliness only serves to highlight it, and I learn to see that more every day.

 

Peace, and I hope that your road leads you home–

Jared

Copán

And so, it is time for a new post. For the past few days (since Tuesday the 3rd), I have been in the town of Copán, site of one of the most important cities of the old Mayans, doing internship training, seeing the sights, and in general having a very pleasant time. I am coming up on the halfway point in my trip–in fact, I’ll be there in less than a week–and so it might seem odd that I am just now doing training. Because of the way things worked out, I wasn’t able to do this when I first arrived, but I am now working with a friend of my aunt and uncle’s, Rick, and this should allow me much more opportunity for mission work. I’m also helping him with a writing project, which I won’t go into details about here. Anyway, I joined Rick and the intern that he’s brought in this summer, Amanda, and we had an excellent time learning and exploring. And here is the gist of things:

 

Rick and I arose at 4:30 in the morning on Tuesday to go to the bus station, a ghastly hour which I hope I will not have to rise at again any time soon. Our bus left Tegucigalpa a little over an hour later. I’d never traveled by bus before, so that was interesting–no more uncomfortable than an airplane, although we were on one of the nice buses and not on the repurposed schoolbuses that you generally see driving around here. Due to my mishearing the name of the bus line (Hedman Alas) as “Edmund Alice,” I now have an idea for the big interstellar transportation company in my sci-fi universe. That’s about the most exciting thing that happens that morning, as we are then in the bus for several hours before arriving in San Pedro Sula where Amanda’s plane is landing. We pick her up at the airport and it’s another few hours to Copán, the portion of the bus travel which probably feels the longest out of the entire trip. When we arrive in Copán it’s raining, but our hotel isn’t very far away so we decide to walk. It’s a rather nice hotel, quite small–more like a house than a hotel.  I think there were only five or six rooms in the place. But it was very clean and nicely decorated, with the grounds being a lovely little garden. Unfortunately no wi-fi, but there wouldn’t have been much opportunity to use it in any case, as we were out and about a lot.

 

So that first night we just wandered around town a little, went to the town square, asked a couple of girls selling roasted corn for directions to a good restaurant. The town of Copán is excellent. It had a very Old World feel, unlike places I’ve been in the USA: the streets were cobbled with a variety of interesting stones (some of them marbled green and white; those were the prettiest) and the buildings were small and close together. There’s little shops and restaurants everywhere, and the town is much cleaner, friendlier, and calmer than Tegucigalpa where I live. I felt that I could really relax there, whereas Tegucigalpa is always a little on edge. Copán is the sort of place where you can just wander around on foot, never need a car, maybe hire a taxi if you need to go someplace a little further away. We did travel by taxi a few times–they’re little three-wheeled contraptions in this town, not cars, rather like the pedaled rickshaws you might see in India, but motor-powered–but mostly we walked, going all over downtown Copán. How to describe it? It is sun and green and color, with rainy afternoons and no one in a hurry. The sort of small town I could really enjoy living in.

 

On our first full day there, Wednesday the 4th, we went to place called Macaw Mountain, which has lovely gardens, a river, and of course, lots of macaws. It reminded me rather of the Arboretum, a big botanical garden I used to go to in Kansas, except in a tropical setting, which was really quite interesting. At one point we stopped on a large balcony overlooking the river for some coffee, watched the butterflies, and just chatted, taking in the scenery and the niceness of the day. That night we went to a restaurant called Don Toño’s, which I mention because it is named after the man who was our guide when we went to the Mayan ruins the next day. Don Toño was an excellent fellow! With a straw hat and only two visible teeth, he is definitely pretty distinctive, and is the sort of venerable old fellow who more or less everyone in town knows. He was extremely knowledgeable about the ruins, and I was able to learn a lot from listening to him. The ruins themselves were amazing–as I for some reason only realized today, they are without doubt the very oldest manmade structures I’ve ever seen or been in. It is very strange to think that it’s been more than a thousand years since they were inhabited, but they’re still standing, and generally in quite good condition. I love old things. The history is incredible. The end of the Mayans–what an interesting time that must have been! It seems from certain evidence that they knew they were ending. The last king of Copán seems to have known that he was the last king.

 

The next day we returned to Tegucigalpa after a leisurely breakfast at a nice little cafe. A side note on the restaurants–I found the way they did things to be a pleasant change from the North American fashion. We ended up spending a lot longer in the restaurants than I’m used to. The reason for this is two-fold–one, because Honduran society is much more focused on personal relationships than North American society, restaurants-going is an even more social occasion. It is considered rude to bring the check to the table or to hurry guests out the door, and so a check won’t be brought until it’s asked for. You’re expected to be there for quite a while, and no one will think it odd for you to spend an hour or two sitting and talking at your table when you’re finished eating. And the other reason is that, at least in all the restaurants that we went to, the food was not prepared until we actually ordered. I actually watched the cook cutting up a fresh onion for my meal in one restaurant. Nothing had been pre-prepared and set aside for later; it was all made on the spot, as far as I could tell. So of course the food was quite fresh. As someone who has always enjoyed the full experience of eating out and takes great pleasure in my food, I can say that the restaurants were definitely an excellent experience. At any rate, the return bus trip was uneventful, and after staying the night at Rick’s house, I have returned to my aunt and uncle in the middle of the big city.

 

As for the actual training we did, that was very interesting also. We spent probably about half of each day discussing various topics related to living as a missionary in Honduras. Rick is an experienced missionary and has plenty of stories to tell, and so Amanda and I were able to learn a lot. I took careful notes for my writing project, and I feel that I was really able to expand my knowledge and understanding. After all that, I’ve been able to better understand certain things that I’ve dealt with, and also I feel better prepared to navigate the remaining half of my stay here. The time in Copán was very relaxing and rejuvenating, and has left me with new interest in this country and a new excitement for doing mission work and learning Spanish. All in all, it has been an excellent few days! I am eager to see what awaits me between now and September.

 

~ Jared

In Which I Bring Food to People

So apparently it’s been almost a month since my last post. That’s a bit surprising. I hadn’t thought it was that long! At any rate, I really haven’t had a whole lot to write about. I’ve just been going on as normal, helping my aunt and uncle with things around the house, writing, etc. But today something exciting happened!

 

Today my uncle and I joined a group of people who were going to the local dump to bring food to the scavengers who live there. This was exciting both because I’ve been eager to go out and help people in some way, and because I’ve thought for years that it would be interesting to write a story about people who live in that sort of situation. Sadly, I did not get a chance to ask questions of any of the locals (though it’s doubtful that my Spanish would’ve been up to the task, anyway), because I was too busy handing out plates of spaghetti. But still, I think after ruminating for a little while that I may have some ideas, which might fit very well into the sci-fi universe that I’ve been developing off-and-on for the past few years.

 

Anyway, that’s getting a little off-topic. We got up early to prepare milk (big five gallon jugs of it, for the children and pregnant women) and medical supplies, and then went to a church, where we boarded a bus with several others who were also going to help feed people. There were maybe ten or fifteen of us, and then of course we had all the food and medicine, plus some clothing to hand out to those who needed it. It took us a little while to drive through the city, because big buses don’t exactly get anywhere fast in this town, but eventually we reached the dump. It was a rather forboding sight: the sky was grey today, and the dump is on a hill, so the first thing I saw was a collection of vultures circling over a grey ridge of land with clouds for a backdrop. Then as we came closer, I was able to make out piles of trash–though not as much as might be expected, from what I’ve been told, because apparently dumps in America are much fuller (I’ve never actually been to one before). This is because the people who live there live off the trash–they eat what they can find and scavenge any useful items. And so a large part of the trash was just the layer of plastic bags that virtually carpeted the ground. But before I actually saw any people, I saw cows. I was rather surprised by this, because I didn’t expect to see what amounted to a small herd of cows just wandering around the dump. I should think that people who have to live off trash would’ve killed and eaten them a long time ago, but I suppose they might belong to someone. What’s more puzzling is the large amount of dogs that are wandering around, and I have no idea why those don’t all end up in soup pots. It’s the animals I notice first: the people blend into the piles of trash, because their clothes are dirty and provide excellent camouflage. But eventually I do see the people. Many of them carry large bags, which they must be using for scavenging, and they’re dressed in a motley assortment of clothing, most notably a number of unusual hats that they wear as if they’re perfectly normal. When we parked the bus the people started to gather around.

 

And so for the next couple of hours–I’m not sure how long, but the time passed pretty quickly–we gave food, medicine, and clothing to the people of the dump. It was interesting to observe them; many of the children would try to trick us into giving them more food, while the adults would often barely look at us as we gave them their plates. People got much more excited when it was time to hand out clothes. That line sure formed in a flash! And so once everything was given, we got back into the bus and headed home. I was able to make a couple of friends during this trip, one of whom is a native Honduran who speaks only a little more English than I speak Spanish, and so that gave us both an excellent opportunity to practice each other’s languages. Overall, it was a very pleasant break from day to day life, and I’m quite glad that we had the opportunity to go.

 

I shall try not to let quite so much time pass between this post and the next. Peace!

 

~ Jared

A Small Update

Well, since my last journal post, I have joined a construction team and contracted an awful fever. The fever just came in today, during the night. I have no idea where I got it from or why, but my aunt says that for the first six months or so that she lived here, she got sick at least once a month just because her body had so much to adjust to. So I have that to look forward to I guess. Yay. I seriously don’t think I can remember the last time I had a fever this bad….

 

Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to read about me sitting here complaining. The construction team was a pretty good experience. My uncle and I drove up to join them this most recent weekend, on Friday and Saturday; we worked from around 8 to around 4 each day, and those were long days, let me tell you, especially the first–I was poorly placed the first day, having been put on a flooring team that didn’t really need the extra member, but by the time I was able to switch over to a different team, those men had already all fallen into their roles and there wasn’t really anything left for me to help with. That was a very frustrating day. But the next day was much better, because I stayed in the same place the entire time and was able to fall in as a bucket carrier. I spent that entire day carrying buckets of concrete back and forth. My shoulder is still sore!

 

The project we were working on was a church, called Noah’s Ark Church. We were laying bricks to build up the walls and putting down a concrete floor on the altar. We also put in concrete floors in a couple of nearby homes, and one team built an entire house from the ground up. It was an interesting place we were working–the church itself was at the crest of a high hill (technically I think it’s a mountain, but having lived by the Rockies for eight years, most anything shorter looks like a hill to me). It had a great view of the valley below, the walls of which were entirely covered in terraces of shacks with tin roofs. It would’ve been an excellent place to do some parkour, and was quite inspiring to look down over. I know the people living there are very poor and do not have very nice conditions at all, but the I couldn’t help but think how cool the view was as I took it in, and it would not have been the same if the people had bigger or nicer homes.

 

So I suppose beauty can come out of even ugly things, which cannot ever make up entirely for their ugliness, but still must make it easier to bear.

 

I was pretty exhausted on Sunday after all that work. I opted to sleep in instead of going to the church service at the place we’d been working on (because it was rather early and I really was exhausted), and have had a fairly relaxing couple of days since, though I have been struggling once again with depression and loneliness. And now I have this fever. At least it seems to have driven the depression away.

 

~ Jared

 

P.S. Oh, on another note, this is the first really “mission-trippy” thing I’ve done since coming here, so yay for that!