It has now been over a week since I returned home from a mission trip to Honduras. When people ask me how it was, I find it difficult to answer. I guess ‘bittersweet’ would be the most accurate response. My time there was both beautiful and heartbreaking. Through this blog post, I hope to share with you all the who, what, when, where, and why of the trip itself, but I also hope to share with you a few of the lessons I learned along the way.
THE TEAM AND THE SETTING
Every year for the past four years Grace Point Church (GPC) has done a weeklong mission trip to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. While in Honduras, GPC partners with the Churches of Cristo Centro, founded by Pastor Julio, a great man with a warm, lively sense of humor and a huge heart to build up the youth of today to be leaders now and for forever more! Together these two international church organizations came up with a new outreach program: The ‘Grace Point Kids’ project, lead by one of the most incredible, strong, grounded, organized, loving, and Godly ladies I have ever met, Lesly. The project is based out of a community center right next to the Barrio Rio Blanco, a series of small homes crammed together along the river. It is a shantytown that almost seems endless, although the official population is listed as two thousand people. Lesly has deeply bonded with so many of the members of this community. She walks along the narrow barrio pathways, weaving through the homes, calling on families, finding out their needs, and then sharing and seeking provision for those needs. Pastor Julio, Lesly, and the whole amazing Cristo Centro team strive to provide the children of this community with physical, spiritual, social, emotional, and intellectual care. Their mission is to give these children the opportunity to become empowered citizens, move away from the prevailing socioeconomic vulnerability of their environment, and respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We had seventeen GPC team members on the trip this year. Our team was such a diverse group! Few things besides God Himself and the deeply ingrained desire to help our fellow man could bring a group of such different people so close together. One of the coolest aspects of this outreach is that every year the GPC Youth Pastor takes a group of high school students along. I was also extra excited about the fact that my Mum came along on the trip too! Our team was blessed to have two leaders, Lori and Don, who already had really meaningful, longstanding connections with Cristo Centro, and plenty of missions experience. We were all super blessed when it came to food and accommodation as well. There was a pool literally one step right outside my hostel room door! I have never experienced anything like that on a mission trip before! While the vast majority of our time was filled with ministry, we did also have a few free afternoons spent swimming and also hiking to the top of what is unofficially called ‘Coco Cola’ mountain because there is a large ‘Hollywood’ style sign advertising the soda that sprawls across the hills we climbed.
Vacation Bible School: The ministry that definitely occupied most of my time was Vacation Bible School (VBS). I was in charge of VBS for our trip, and we had seven sessions, with four different groups of kids, over four days. Before we left, I filtered through and selected online crafts to order, packed playtime supplies, planned different lessons, constructed some special props, chose a few dramas I thought the kids would like, and rallied a group from our team together, who I then taught the dramas to. All that hard work, organization, and planning would have been nothing without the awesome teammates I had who were ready to wholeheartedly share all these things with the kids! Even then, things changed, new circumstances arose, obstacles appeared, and there were times when it looked like we didn’t have enough crafts and everything was pure chaos! Thankfully, when it comes to ministry (and just life in general) God is always in control… so no matter how crazy things got, it always just somehow worked out. Thank you Jesus for bubbles, stickers, and hugs. These seem to always make everything better in the eyes of a child!
The overall theme for our VBS time was ‘Always There.’ God was there before us, He has been there every step of the way, and He will always be with us. He is with us during every activity and loves to be in relationship with each one of us. Whether you are at church, with family, at school, playing sports, with friends, sad or happy – He is always there! The lessons we were able to teach on, and share related crafts and dramas with, included: Creation, the Fall, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the healing power of Jesus, the importance of living a life with Jesus as our foundation, and of course just the simple fact that God says we are all VERY GOOD and VERY LOVED by Him!
A definite highlight for me would be how intensely focused all the kids were while they were watching the dramas. One of the little girls even started to cry when we mimed Jesus dying on the cross! Her expression of pure relief when He rose again was priceless. It turns out the Cristo Centro team are also passionate about performing! There were several occasions when the kids shared dramas and dance with us. They did such an amazing job. They truly poured their hearts into worshipping God through the arts, and it filled me with so much encouragement and joy! Also, seeing the kids proudly present and share their crafts at the end of every session was incredibly moving as well. Each child we interacted with was just too precious for words. I am so grateful to God for how much He is growing them in love each day, and I feel so blessed that He allowed me to be able to see that growth, even if it was only for a few days.
Sports Camp and Playtime: Unfortunately, we were only able to have one session of Sports Camp this year, and I don’t know much about it because I was doing VBS at the same time. What I do know however, is that the kids LOVE soccer (football) and playing any sort of game really. Despite only having one official session of Sports Camp, we had plenty of free time with the kids where we were able to play soccer, volleyball, hand clapping games, tag, pop the bubbles, pretend that people are jungle gym equipment, and tackle the foreigner with stickers. Even though the rules were very unclear to me for a few of these games, I was always enthused and mesmerized by the children’s smiles and laughter.
Visiting the Barrio: A huge part of the Grace Point Kids project is child sponsorship. Members of GPC are invited to sponsor a child or multiple children of their choice. Every year, many of the sponsors wish to share gifts with their children. Also, many of the team members on the mission trip sponsor children and want to visit them too. It is a very humbling experience when someone you barely know warmly invites you into their home. As I spoke about at the beginning of this post, the conditions most these people live in are extremely challenging. Most of the homes only have one room, but anywhere from four to ten residents. Many of the kids end up sleeping on concrete blocks because there just isn’t enough room for multiple beds, or the family cannot afford any beds at all. Most of the homes we visited were void of any food.
The neighborhood is surrounded by bits of dangerous trash, barbed wire, and metal scraps. Bees, flies, and mosquitoes swarm around. Thick, suffocating smoke fills many of the homes due to poor ventilation. One mother actually lost her newborn child last month to a deadly amount of smoke inhalation. The river these homes border is narrow and dirty. This is where the people wash their clothes, wash themselves, wash their animals, and dispose of all their waste. This river also happens to be their only supply of drinking water. It is actually worse when rain comes because then the river rises and many of the homes are swept away.
Despite all this, we were welcomed with open arms and deep, genuine appreciation. The kids are so happy to have you over to their homes. During our time in Honduras, my mother and I both chose to sponsor a child each. We gifted them with just a few dollar store things we happened to bring along, and in return we received delight and gratitude like I have never heard before. The mothers didn’t have to force the little ones to say thank you, they just immediately spurted out long lines of ecstatically excited Spanish. While I couldn’t understand most of the specific words, the intent was so very clear.
I think it is impossible to visit the homes of these beautiful people and not want to do anything and everything you can to help. Two of the high school students went out and purchased a brand new mattress to take to their sponsor family. Another group of us ended up bringing a ton of food and supplies to a family that was in great need after seeing their struggles first hand. My Mum will wholeheartedly tell you that getting those items was the best shopping experience of her life. The people we visited seemed to feel so much joy and hope when we came to their homes, even if we came bringing only something very little. Hearing them tearfully say that being sponsored was a total answer to prayer, and that they in turn are always praying for us, is unimaginably moving. These visits definitely showed everyone on our team how much is needed in this community, and it gave us all the drive to want to share this information and call on all our resources to continue to help in whatever way possible.
Hospital Visit: One of our days was spent visiting a local hospital. The hospital visit was really heartbreaking and hard. We were in the children’s ward, just going room to room with little toys, bubbles, books, and games, trying to bring some entertainment and love to the seemingly endless days of waiting and healing. Some of the children were recovering from surgeries or injuries. Some were so malnourished that they seemed to not have an ounce of muscle or fat on their bodies, and because their sensitive stomachs could not handle solid food, they needed to be hooked up to an IV in order to finally get some nutrients. Others had serious lingering health complications that would probably last their whole lives. Since it’s a public hospital providing free healthcare, the conditions are really shocking. The patients just laid there on plastic mattresses, no sheets or blankets. The bathrooms were dirty, with overflowing toilets and nothing available for people to wash their hands with. There were many families from far away little towns. They can barely afford to be there, so while the children are in hospital beds and receive some food, the parents have nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat.
Despite the fact that they were suffering, all the little ones greeted us with huge smiles and lots of love. Every parent I spoke to in my exceptionally limited Spanish was so grateful when I offered to pray for his or her child. The faith and joy I saw in these people who are faced with such adversity left me speechless. If I didn’t also have faith in God and know that He has a plan for everyone, I would have left that place feeling numbingly helpless and hopeless. As it were, I left feeling a newly strengthened desire to always keep each and every person I encounter in my prayers.
Medical Brigade: Another one of our days was spent setting up a medical brigade outside the community center where the Grace Point Kids activities are always held. The morning of the medical brigade, a smaller team woke up extra early to meet a doctor at the community center and get everything set-up. I was a part of the group that arrived later, and by the time we got there everything was functioning so smoothly! It is always so awesome to see other people stepping out and thriving in an area of ministry they are very passionate about, so I loved seeing the early morning team caring and providing for the patients so well! Patients would arrive, check in, wait to see a doctor, get a full check-up, and then wait to receive whatever medicine they needed that we were able to provide. Those of us who weren’t part of the morning group played with the kids as they patiently waited to be seen. I also got to partner with one of my team members (who beautifully speaks fluent Spanish) and ask people if they desired prayer for anything in particular. I think it was a truly great day of caring for physical and spiritual needs. At the end of the medical brigade, eighty-one patients had been seen and treated.
The Soccer Tournament: As I mentioned before, people in Honduras absolutely love soccer. Like seriously love it. You watch even some of the real little ones play, and your jaw drops at how skilled they are. On one of our last nights, the whole community gathered around a concrete playing field for a tournament. A team from our missions group played a bunch of teams made up of members from Cristo Centro and locals around the community. I’m really not much of a sports person, so I figured the extent of my support for this particular ministry would be cheering on the sidelines. It actually ended up being one of my favorite experiences! Everyone from the community seemed to be at this tournament, and they 100% made us all feel like we were family members who had always been around. I don’t think I have ever felt so welcomed, wanted, comfortable, or belonging before; definitely never after just a week of knowing people who I can barely even speak to!
While the teams played, I sat with a group of mothers and children and we cheered together, watched together, cuddled up together, and just bonded together over little things like braiding hair or looking at pictures on my phone. Another hugely exciting part of this night was that our team came second in the tournament! That is huge! Supposedly every other year our team has come last. This year however, our new Youth Pastor is straight up legit at soccer. With his skills and leadership, and some great communication and enthusiasm, our team did so well! Again, it is always really encouraging to see other people use their unique God given gifts to really succeed in a certain area of ministry. I left feeling so much love for and from the community, and so proud of my fellow mission teammates.
LIFE LESSONS LEARNED
God’s Calling > Age Limitations: One of the big ways I really saw God move during this trip was through seeing how He was able to use and grow every different person on my missions team so specifically. I have spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the high school group, and it was really exciting to see them reach out and serve so passionately. High school students in general tend to get called self-centered and lazy pretty often, and yet we had a group of young people on this trip pouring their hearts into caring for the needs of others. Rather than spending their last days of summer vacation lounging around at the beach or partying with friends, they sacrificed a week of their time to partner with God and try to make a difference in the world.
Now I have done mission trips before, and missions is a huge part of my life, so being able to share that love with my Mum right alongside me was one of the greatest blessings I could have ever asked for. It was her first mission trip though, and she recently has had a lot of problems with her health. There were two other ladies on our team that were also new to missions. I was blown away by the work God did in these three women, who laid aside everything they are used to and majorly stepped outside of their comfort zones in order to serve. Any worries they had seemed to be zapped away as soon as we arrived, and they were just all in, advocating for the needs of these children, and sharing testimonies and lessons from God that will last with me forever.
Whatever stereotypes there may be about a particular age group, and no matter how true those stereotypes may often be, God is not limited or held back by a person’s age. If God has a particular calling for us, a message He wants to share through us, He will make it happen – regardless of any walls we think stand in the way.
God’s Strength > Our Weaknesses: As a sort of continuation of the first way I saw God move, I also saw Him move in the way that He blessed me with strength even when I was feeling at my weakest. Right before I left for Honduras I got a really bad cold. The plane ride was pretty rough because my ears refused to ‘pop’ which sent a searing pain through my sinuses. The whole week I kept ducking away to blow my continuously runny nose and cough uncontrollably. I also very quickly got a stomach bacteria and was experiencing some of the worst cramps in my abdomen that I have ever experienced before. I think that these things actually worked out as positives however, because they forced me to be praying constantly, asking God for strength.
The verse that I kept repeating over and over again in my head was 2 Corinthians 12:9: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” I would wake up feeling miserable, and yet somehow everyday when it came time to teach a lesson, be in a drama, set up a craft, or just interact with my new friends, the pain would cease, I would get a boost of energy, and God’s strength would pull me through. I am such an organized, efficient person, that so often I just want to plan everything myself, do it myself, and forget that it isn’t about me and what I can do, it is about God. He is the one who makes everything possible, every good thing I have is from Him, and all the glory belongs to Him.
Let me finish with this: If you serve in a third world country and the only thing you come away with is ‘wow they have so little and I have so much, they are so poor and I am so rich’ then you have totally missed the point. Yes, we are blessed with great material wealth. Yes, we should learn to better appreciate what we have. Yes, we should learn to better share that with others. But the people I met in Honduras are not poor, though they may not possess many materialistic things. They are rich in a kind of caring community than our individualistic Western world seldom sees and rarely understands. The stuff that we have, that we think makes us so rich, also happens to so often tear us away from God and community. We think we have it all. So, we only rely on ourselves, rather than turning towards, reaching out to, and opening up to God and others.
I know that with God (and only with God) I am able to make a difference, even if it is only in one other person’s life. I know that I am able to share the gifts He has blessed me with to lift others up. But honestly, I am also very sure that I gained just as much, if not far more, from my beautiful new friends in Honduras.. Isn’t that just the absolute beauty of fellowship and community? God calls us to all be family to one another, no matter how different and far apart we may be, because He knows how much it encourages and teaches us when we see that every kind of person, all over the world, has unique lessons, discovers, and adventures to share.
I already miss everyone I met so, SO much! I can’t wait to see them again next year, to see how God has grown them in that time, and what new things He is doing to bring love, healing, and joy in Honduras.