The headlights of my car pierced through the washed-out darkness, and my tired eyes wandered skyward. The lights of suburbia had reduced the night sky to an empty blackness that hovered above me as it watched without interest or compassion. As I struggled to find the pinprick stars marooned in the alien blackness, my mind wandered back to a place where I fell asleep under the design of the entire Milky Way painted across the heavens.
Instantly, I’m back on the Pecos River, so far from civilization that electricity was only a distant memory. The first day of our journey was beginning to wane, and I was quickly getting accustomed to my kayak’s movements.
Haley, one of our river guides, was quietly paddling beside me. We were wel
l ahead of the rest of the convoy, so the waters were undisturbed and had nothing to hide. Bats overhead swooped without a sound, their silhouettes blotting out the cacophony of stars that were gaining strength in the navy blue sky. Fish the size of my forearm darted into the safety of the tall reeds as our kayaks pierced the still surface.
As if on cue, the slender reeds parted along the shore only a few yards away to reveal three wild horses. The moon bounced light off their pelts as they stepped into the shallows and regarded us with the curiosity of wild beings who had never seen a human before.
Haley’s voice found its way to me. “I’ve never seen wild horses like this on the river,” she whispered. I nodded mutely, afraid that my voice would shatter the dream. The only sound was the timid splash of our paddles as they parted the water. The stallions followed our kayaks downstream until we reached a bend in the river, where they disappeared as quickly as they had come. Haley and I were the only two who caught that fleeting glimpse into the wild before they dissolved like mist. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a sign of things to come—out of everyone, the horses revealed themselves to me, allowing me a connection with this place; like the moment when you just know that you are going to thrive no matter the hardships because that’s where you belong.
We reached the first campsite when darkness was in full bloom, when the lights would quietly flick on back home.
Despite the images of a semi-maintained plot of land my mind had conjured at the mention of a campsite, it was nothing more than a relatively flat and bare slab of white limestone. No, on this journey all luxuries, even the basic ones such as bathing and having a pillow and a blanket, were stripped away. After eating a small dinner that involved pieta bread and a melted slab of cheese in a Zip-lock, I washed my single dented metal bowl and spoon in the river and forced myself to take a drink of water from my water bottle instead of the inviting Pecos water. Throughout the five day journey, we had to boil our drinking water in the same pots we cooked all of our food in. The result was a diabolical concoction of warm, strongly mango-packet flavored water with an aftertaste like burned sausage.
After saying goodnight to everybody, I located my wafer-thin sleeping pad among the sixteen that were scattered about the rock. I was unwashed and stinging from a sunburn I didn’t know I had, but as I later learned, anywhere you lay down is a comfortable spot on the river. As the dark waters sang their steady song just feet away from me, I fell asleep with nothing separating me from the wild desert or the endless sky above me.
As we rested at the fall of the sun’s light, so too did we rise with it. The dawn was our only alarm clock as it peered over the distant white limestone ridges that were topped with darker stone like a drizzling of chocolate. After we packed up and hastily swallowed smashed granola bars for breakfast, our ten-kayak parade got underway. The 100 degree heat beat down on my already sunburned arms and legs which had become swollen and purple overnight. My hands were so burned that one of the river guides had to bind them in cloth for me, because I found it impossible to bend my fingers out of the generally curled position they assumed when I paddled. The severity of the burn would shadow me for the duration of my adventure, but I think the ceaseless pain forced me to enjoy everything else just a little bit more, because losing hope and quitting was not an option.
The lazy current of the wide and shallow river by our camp immediately narrowed into a growling rapid with a mine field of rocks to get caught on, giving us no time to remember how to maneuver our stubborn kayaks. Kirsten, our other river guide, was first in line and she made it through safely, but after that it was chaos. The next kayak was almost clear when the girl attempted a sharp turn that got her wedged broadside between two submerged rocks, which caused a traffic jam for the next two in line, while another got the bow of her kayak stuck in the reeds. Still another boat, one with two passengers, got beached in a deceptively shallow area. The next few kayaks, including mine, tried to play a game of bumper-kayak to get them unstuck, and after the second ram, the freed group wasted no time in propelling into the one still stuck between two rocks, which promptly tipped and spilled the girls and their dry-bags into the water.
In the end, we all had to jump out of our kayaks and lead them through the rapids by their strings. The boats were like unruly dogs on their leashes, but with some grunting and shoving and a little bit of slipping on rocks we were back in safe waters. It was my mission from then on to be in the front of the group, because I soon found out that navigating the rapids was one of my strongest skills.
The river’s face was never the same twice. At times we found ourselves in an endless maze of flutes, where we would walk on rocks in ankle-deep water as we tugged our kayaks along in the avenue of deeper water that ran parallel to us. In others it would be so deep that it faded into the dark blue of deep water before we could see the bottom. Reeds would line the shore at times, and at others it would be nothing but cliffs that the river had carved over its lifetime. Enormous boulders of white limestone stood alone like sentinels in the middle of the river, as if they had just fallen out of the sky. In a moment’s notice the wide berth of the slow current could branch off into a tunnel of rapids lined with reeds that barely allowed enough room for our kayaks to glide by. Those roller-coaster areas were always marked by the thrilled screams of the girls that had already entered.
On the third day, I had just glided away from one of the lesser rapids when I heard Kirsten behind me. She told me that we could stop and wait for the others, because the white waters were just ahead. We beached our banana yellow kayaks in a sort of hollow just before the point of no return, where the rapid’s current would suck us in. The searing heat of central Texas, especially in the middle of a summer drought, caused us to continually seek shade. It was a rare commodity on the river, so when the hollow became cast in the shadow of the ridge I nearly jumped with joy.
As it turned out, the drought had sapped the water level as well. The rest of the group eventually managed to limp their way slowly to the hollow, but only barely. At least half of the kayaks had holes in them—they were made of plastic and weren’t meant to be repeatedly scraped over sharp rocks. My kayak was still in good condition, because I was in a single and I was pretty good at getting through the rapids unharmed, but most of the group was riding double. Not only did they get easily stuck in shallow water, but having a partner also made maneuvering more difficult because they had to communicate with each other. All of these factors led to their kayaks developing holes in their bottoms that let water in and made the kayak twice as heavy as the intruding liquid attempted to drown it.
The river guides were stumped. We were only halfway through our journey, completely cut off from the outside world with no tool to fix the problem. Their solution? The ultimate form of improvisation.
Some nylon string that was attached to our kayaks was melted with the cooking torch and molded to hold some of the holes shut, but doing that for all of them took time that we did not have. So instead donations of chewing gum were collected and stuffed into the rest of the holes, secured by athletic tape. It was meant to be a temporary solution, but the gum somehow defied the bounds of belief and lasted for the duration of the trip. We felt that we had to take a picture of it, or else nobody would believe us.
With the wounded kayaks patched, our focus shifted to the rapids. All the other ones combined looked like a teacup poodle in the face of this roaring lion. The uncompromisingly deep water frothed as it jostled its way between looming boulders that stood like the walls of a maze. We actually got on top of an overhanging cliff to map out our course, because one wrong turn in this monster could mean getting tipped, and being out of the safety of the kayak for only a second was not an option.
Kirsten went through first, and we all waited with short breaths until we saw her waving her arms from the top of a boulder at the end of the obstacle course. She was acting as our guide, showing us the right way if we got turned around.
One by one, each kayak disappeared behind the first boulder as the current swept them away. Our only proof that they made it to the other side was the sound of Kirsten’s cheers.
Then it was my turn.
I paddled tentatively forward, and the greedy grip of the current caught me by surprise. My heart raced with a mixture of unimaginable excitement and terror, and as I entered the gauntlet any planning for my course was gone in the roar of the water. Rocks blocked my path save for a skinny flute, so I plunged my right paddle in with no hesitation as I shot forward. The sheer force of the water almost stole the paddle from my grip, but I managed to clumsily glide through the opening. I desperately tried to control the narrow body of my kayak as it was tossed and smashed against the sides of boulders. The swift rapid was relentless as I attempted to steer straight, and I felt like I was fighting for my life. It was the most exhilarating experience I’ve ever had—I was fighting with the river, and I was winning. I couldn’t feel my sunburn, or the blisters on my hands; I couldn’t taste the dehydration in my mouth.
As my kayak slid between the last two boulders I heard Kirsten’s cheers above the roar of the rapids, and even louder I could hear the wildly triumphant laughter bubbling up from my core. The current swept me downstream for a few more seconds like a waterslide, and then I beached my kayak on the side of the river where the other girls were waiting.
At the time, I believed that those rapids were going to be the most insane part of my trip. How could there be anything more extreme than that? What I failed to remember was that I was on the Pecos River, and we had only gone half of our sixty mile journey, and nature had a way of finding the limits of your endurance. Once those limits are established, it does everything it can to make you go beyond them.
At one of the deeper sections of the river, Haley hailed for us to stop and take a break. Once we suspiciously hauled our kayaks halfway onto the shore, Haley began climbing up the sloping side of the cliff that bordered the water, beckoning for us to follow.
“What are we doing?” one of the girls asked with a hint of frustration in her voice. I knew the answer before Haley even said it; I’m pretty sure most of us could have guessed it by now.
“Wafo,” smiled Haley. Some groans were issued from the group. Wafo, or ‘wait and find out’, was the go-to answer to any question regarding the plan. It was only later that we found out that wafo was usually the answer when the guides really didn’t know what we were doing next. Most of the trip was made up as we went along.
Feeling especially sore and scraped up, we were in no mood for a surprise. That was our attitude as Haley led us up the cliff laced with thorns and ankle-twisting crevices. The higher we climbed, the more our sense of dread grew. Finally, forty feet up, she stopped with her back to the sharp drop.
“Okay, who wants to go?” she asked with a broad smile, sweeping her arm out to indicate the sparkling blue Pecos river below. There was a moment of silence as we all mentally pictured ourselves hurling our bodies off the cliff. Everything looked small from up there, even the banana-yellow kayaks perched on the shore far below. Haley assured us that it was safe to jump, but none of the girls took her up on her offer. I took a cautious peek over the edge and watched the sapphire water ripple in the breeze. At the start of the trip I had promised myself to jump into everything wholeheartedly, and this was no exception. I knew I was going to be the first to take the plunge, and I knew that I was going to do it alone.
I’m not going to say that it was easy, because it wasn’t. My heart was pounding and my throat went dry when I squared up to abyss. There were strict instructions: land feet first, arms in. Count to three and jump as far as you can. If you hesitate, you’ll hit the rocks on your way down. The first part sounded easy enough, but the problem was that the countdown gave me time to psyche myself out. One. Here I go. Two. What did I get myself into? Three. My voice trembled, and there was a moment of stillness as my common sense staged a rebellion, but it was too late, there was no going back. I leaped into the void.
The scream died in my throat and I forgot how to breathe. The same sense of falling that you feel on a roller coaster overtook me, except that I didn’t have the comfort of a safety harness. If I landed wrong, the force could shatter bones.
I frantically tried to arrange my limbs into the right position, but it felt impossible. When my body finally slapped the wall of water I was in more or less the right angle, but the impact still set my sunburn on fire and sent the breath from my lungs. In two words, it was freedom and triumph. I had set the precedent, and suddenly everybody else had the courage to take the plunge. As we set off down the river again, nothing seemed impossible anymore.
After two more days and a total of sixty miles from start to finish, we were finally reunited with civilization in the form of a dinky fishing boat that towed us the last two miles to the dock. Two hours later we had our first freshly made meal with a cold drink: Whataburger. We must have looked homeless as we staggered into the restaurant. My hands were still wrapped in tatters of cloth, my shorts were torn and my shirt was stained; my hair was matted and a peeling sunburn covered my unwashed body. The employees looked a little stunned as we devoured our burgers and moaned over the icy coolness of our milkshakes like it was the ambrosia of the gods.
When I look back on the river trip, I find that the images and the sensations have been stamped into my memory as if they happened last week instead of two summers ago. And yet, looking out at the mundane streets with freshly cut grass and manicured lawns it hardly seems real. The harder I look at the blank canvas of the sky, the more I doubt that it could have been as amazing as I remember.
It may seem silly or even insane to have such a connection with a place that caused me such hardship, but when I look back at the Pecos, I feel like I have lost a friend. It stretched my ability to endure, and to love, and to trust to a point that I can scarcely perceive. I will return to the River someday—I feel like I have no choice, in the end, for it captured my heart on the first day when it welcomed me with the gift of moonlit horses and every star in the sky.
Black = EVERYONE
As we walked out of the humid airport, squinting our eyes in adjustment to the bright sun, and focusing our ears to a familiar language, we boarded a bus that smelled similar to a mixture of saw dust and charro beans. We had made it. The area of land reminded me of a few scenes from the movie Pearl Harbor – desolate for the most part with the exception of random palm trees and worn down buildings. From this point on, for the next hour or so, I don’t remember anything past the buzzing sound of my team’s excitement and then driving off from the airport. As the minutes began to pass, I sat in my seat gazing out the window. I was determined to not miss anything. Not faces, not signs, not houses – I had to take it all in – I NEEDED to take it all in.
I saw people roaming all over. I saw kids taking care of kids. I saw guards with guns posted on every other block. I saw women, men, and children pacing up and down roads at stop lights with their hands lifted up to sell fruit or vegetables to anyone with their windows down. I saw half completed homes and buildings that had defaulted as trash dumps. I saw huts, and shanties, and tents that served as living spaces. I saw scrawny dogs and boney horses that would have made a SPCA commercial debut if they were in America. And just as the sights would transition from block to block, so would the smells – ranging anywhere from smoke and dust to food and manure.
We were no longer in the land of opportunity.
We were now in a land of poverty.
I want to tell you that our team took a cure to these people to remove them from the endless cycle of very little to not enough, but we didn’t. I want to tell you that we took a never-ending supply of food and water to these hungry and thirsty people, but we didn’t. I want to tell you that we were able to construct homes and shelter for all of the people living in shanties or bursting at the seams in their single room cinderblock homes, but we didn’t. And I want to tell you that we took Jesus to Honduras, but we didn’t.
What we were able to do though was renovate their lives in such a small but powerful way.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of the word ‘renovate’ is as follows: 1. to restore to a better state / 2. to restore to life.
This is exactly what Jesus had enabled us to do.
He had called us to Honduras not to bring or create something new, but to renovate what He had already set as a foundation there. This single thought was such a beautiful relief. The realization itself removed the burden of having to take Jesus to a place where He wasn’t, and instead revealed that we only had to point out to the people where He already was.
Though we weren’t building homes for everyone in the village, we were for the Lopez and Rodriguez families. We were able to share in and live life with them for a week. I saw the eager and servant driven heart of a father who helped build his new home. I saw the quiet and benevolent strength of a mother who walked 45 minutes to get us drinks and snacks during our work day. I saw a little daughter find complete joy through playing with bubbles and a small wooden home I had built her out of scrap pieces. I saw the children from surrounding families gather at their home to play endlessly with us. I saw my team members with sweat on their brows, dirt on their jeans, and children in their arms every single day.
As we were working to renovate the living conditions for these people, Jesus was working to renovate my heart at the same time. He was giving me a love for people that I had just met. He was clearing my vision to see their contentment despite what little they owned. He was opening my ears to hear His good news even when I didn’t understand the language it was being spoken in.
Isn't He good like that?
What I have discovered in my time of reflection after Honduras is that renovations - both physically and spiritually - not only take time, but are also reoccurring. There is always something to be fixed, something to be added, something to be made better, and the work is never done. Though we have left Honduras for the time being, isn't is a sweet peace to know that Jesus is still endlessly at work there?
I'm thankful for God meeting me in Honduras. I'm thankful that He's the same God, no matter where I go. As I leave you with only a feeble glimpse into what amazing things He was up to during our time there, let me share with you Isaiah 61. It is my prayer that this would not only be our call as we travel to renovate places far away, but also the charge to better and revive our own surroundings.
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted ; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted , to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God ; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praisein stead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness - the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations.”
Our missions team have made it safe and sound to Santa Elena, Honduras! Heart to Honduras has a camp that our staff are able to use as a home base called Campamento Extremo Internacional. Yesterday was desiged to be a day of preparation as the team visited several local areas and prepared for the work ahead. While visiting various areas, they were able to stop in and see one of the familes that we built a home for last year! What a blessing it was to visit with the family and see how the home has been a blessing!
This morning, our staff began construction on homes for two different families. This is the family of 37 year old Marvin Rodriguez and Maria Luisa 38 years old. They have been together for 18 years and have 3 children: Sandra Elizabeth - 17 years, 14 year old Marvin Javier, and Karen Mabel 5 years old. Mr. Marvin Rodríguez and his son are laborers. Sandra Elizabeth is in ninth grade and Mrs. Maria Luisa is a housewife.
The second home is for Gumersindo Lopez, 47, laborer, his wife Maria Eusebia Perez, 47, a housewife and her daughter Vilma Lopez Perez Orbelina student and 8 years old. They are a family that have long been praying and waiting for assistance for housing. Pray for our staff as they work with these families to build a safe, dry home for years to come!
This afternoon, our staff head to a local orphange to run day camp! The afternoon will be filled with energizers, A/O Showdown, Bible Study and bunch of crazy games! They even brought wrist rockets down for the kids to practice their aim! Pray that God use our staff to build relationships and impact lives for Christ!
More often than not, whether consciously or not, we address Christmas as a ‘holiday’. Not that anything is wrong with this, but it simply concerns me that we aren’t giving Christmas the gravity it deserves. Upon hearing the word ‘holiday’, what do you think of? Fun, laughter, celebration, cheer, decorations, food, smells, gifts, vacation time, etc. – right? Sure, I think we all do! But in order to unwrap Christmas (pun definitely intended) down to its strongest components, I decided to take a different angle. I simply pulled out my Merriam-Webster dictionary – alright, we all know I just used Google – and looked up the definition of ‘holiday’. Here it is:
Holiday (Hol-i-day) N: A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.
Yikes… I know right away there are probably some parents scoffing, maybe even muttering a “Yeah right!” under his or her breath, because there is always something or another being done to prepare for ‘festivities’ and ‘recreation’. But here’s the thing, regardless - why do we (as believers) refer to Christmas as a ‘holiday’ when this is the definition? “A day of festivity or recreation when no work is done.” What!? This is not accurate at all. Dissatisfied, I went to hunt down the definition of the word ‘work’. This is what it read:
Work (Werk) N:Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.
After reading this second definition it struck me as completely mistaken and counterfactual that Christmas could then be considered a ‘holiday’. Christmas is not a time where work isn’t done. Christmas is the coming of Christ where He did work, son! Okay okay, that was probably a sentence directed more so to the camper audience. Rob and Big, anyone? Hmm, moving right along then.
God didn’t make His way to earth in human form just so that He could kick back drinking egg nog, eating peppermint bark, and watching the Texans play. He sent Jesus as our advocate and intercessor to wreck shop! Jesus came to"destroy the works of the devil." (1 John 3:8) Ben Stuart, the leader of Breakaway Ministries, puts it simply. "Christmas is about destruction! God wanted something destroyed. And I know a lot of you squirm at that idea, and think that Jesus just came to save people, to bring peace, and to heal the hurting. But in order to save someone, it must mean that they were being held captive by something. In order to bring peace, it must mean that He was coming into a situation where there was no peace. And in order to heal, that must mean that there was an indwelling disease that needed to be cut out. Liberation requires destruction, and that's the exact purpose Jesus appeared for." Jesus came to do work and He came to achieve a purpose! Isaiah 61:1-3 reveals it beautifully:
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,because the Lord has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,to proclaim freedom for the captivesand release the prisoners from darkness. He has sent me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion. He has sent me to bestow on them a crown of beautyinstead of ashes, the oil of joyinstead of mourning, and a garment of praiseinstead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness,a planting of the Lordfor the display of His splendor."
Jesus came to do all of this! This is the Good News that came alive on Christmas day, the day that Jesus was born a helpless infant into a world full of sin and darkness. We miss out on so much of the Gospel's power when we take Christmas for a 'holiday', rather than a day full of continued liberation from the chains that once held us captive. Because of Christmas and what that means for us, we continually reap the goodness and grace of Jesus through His living word and work. He is actively pursuing us, loving us, redeeming us, and fighting for us.
Christmas is the highlight of a joyful and hopeful waiting for the Savior to come. Love came down at Christmas and love came down to stomp out the enemy. On Christmas, the Word of God was incarnated, henceforth, salvation is fulfilled, revealed and experienced by us. This week, as we celebrate the miracle birth of a baby who would grow up to be both man and God, who would lay down His life as a sacrifice for the sins of those who would believe, we should also remember that He is still with us. Like Christmas itself, the reality of Christ persists and grows stronger. He was born, lived, died, and rose again. He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father, to make intercession for us; and He sent His Holy Spirit to live within those who would receive Him. If you don't do any 'work' on Christmas day, work to realize and understand that He is our only source of true hope and has come to fight on our behalf.
When it comes to Texas summer camps, Cho-Yeh takes first place. Summer camp is a place where campers grow in their faith, make new friends, become more confident and build their self-esteem. Through all of our crazy activities, trust, hard work and integrity are taught in fun and lasting ways. Let’s not forget about about having fun! Christian youth camps like Cho-Yeh work hard but also play hard. Campers enjoy archery, baseball, banana boating, field sports, water sports, dancing, fishing, shooting, mountain biking and tons more! Campers enjoy a safe, uplifting environment that helps build character, lasting relationships with new friends and grow stronger in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Summer camp is a truly life-changing experience.
Let me first start by saying that our trip to Honduras was hands-down the most incredible experience I have ever had. I have never been able to be a part of God’s blessing to others in that way. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my job and the way God works through Cho-Yeh. My phone calls and emails with moms sharing the way their children were impacted by Cho-Yeh is the reason I do what I do. But there is something so powerful in serving a place and a people outside of my comfort zone. I am not normally one to step too far outside of those comfort boundaries and heading to a third world country was definitely stretching it.
There is a quote from St. Francis of Assisi that we use around the office: “Preach the Gospel at all times and if necessary use words.” I had no idea how much this quote would come to life for me on this trip! The language barrier was the thing that I was the most nervous about, but God is so incredible and proved rapidly that Christ’s love conquers all confines of the tongue.
We were blessed upon arrival to Honduras by multiple Heart to Honduras staff members and volunteers who were there to translate during our journey. I was so grateful for so many who could help us cross that cultural divide but they were 5 and we were 21. How was I going to be able to talk to the kids? Would they know why I was there? Would I be able to tell them who Jesus is in my life? Could I even play with them without words?
The first day of day camp put an end to those worries when I realized that some things needed no translation. Tickle…no words necessary. Hug…no words necessary. Throwing a ball or a Frisbee…no words necessary. Blowing bubbles…no words necessary. Smiles are universal and there was no shortage on the faces of the kids both in the village and at the orphanage! They realized that we were there because we loved them and wanted to share Christ’s love with them even when we couldn’t ask any more than their names and ages. And they loved us back for it!
I am often afraid to step outside of my comfort zone to share who Christ is in my life. I worry that my words won’t be right and that I will end up making a fool of myself and more importantly, God. What an incredible experience learning that actions can overcome any words! The way we show love to others speaks as much about who Christ is in our lives as any words can convey.
Ultimately, the translators were able to help us share why we had come to Honduras but I am confident that the kids had received our hearts long before those words were said.
Our trip to Honduras was centered around 2 main projects. The first was to build 2 homes for Honduran families in desperate need of shelter. The second was to put on 2 day camps: The first was held at the camp where our team was staying in Santa Elena and was for local children from the village. The second was at a well established orphanage in a small, neighboring town. We were able to put on 2 half-day camps for nearly 100 orphans that were living at this facility. This unique and eye—opening experience is what I want to tell you about. It was one that I will likely never forget.Before arriving at the Pan American Health Service (PAHS) orphanage in Peña Blanca, we were briefed by Heart to Honduras’ staff on many of the things that we could expect to see. Ready to see some hurting children, our team stepped off the bus and watched as numerous well fed, ruddy faced children began to scuttle in our direction. I was shocked to see so many beautiful, healthy, smiling faces on these children who had tragic stories and literally no permanent family to take care of them and love them. It was so obvious that God had been at work here before we arrived. Many of the kids came running up to us, beaming from ear to ear and motioning to be held or touched. Others were a little wary and watched cautiously from the playground where they had been, from behind trees, and from behind their protective orphan brothers and sisters. I’m sure they were all very curious to know what these large white people were doing here and what we had planned for them. I watched happily as many of our staff made immediate beelines to the playground area and to the room where we had been told the infants were housed. Eventually, almost all the orphans were out playing and laughing with various members of our team. It was exciting to see them warm up so quickly to this crazy bunch of foreigners. For a few of our counselors, the child they picked up would refuse to leave their arms for the rest of the afternoon. It was pretty clear that these children were looking for as much love and affection as they could possibly get. We were more than happy to help the orphanage in offering these things profusely! As many of us played with the children, the rest of our staff began the process of setting up for the day camp we were about to put on.It didn’t take long for us to prepare and before we knew it camp was in full swing! Our day camp consisted of teaching the orphans camp energizers, putting on humorous skits, playing Gaga Ball, having A/O Showdown, eating yummy American snacks, reading God’s word, putting on a drama communicating the love of Christ and a facilitating a debrief in Spanish to explain it, and finally allowing the orphans to participate in a truncated version of Flex Time where they could try wrist rockets, arts and crafts, more Gaga Ball, 4-square, and field games. Needless to say, the kids had a blast!One of the fun things about this orphanage is that they owned 3 small monkeys that were very people-friendly and loved to jump around in the trees, steal our snacks, crawl on our shoulders, and cause endless mischief. They were very entertaining.Additionally, many of us also were blessed with the opportunity to meet the wife of the man who founded PAHS in 1959. Verlene Youngberg and her husband Dr. Stephen Youngberg moved to Honduras in 1960 and had been there ever since running this orphanage and taking care of children in need. In 2001 Verlene Youngberg was widowed, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing her service to these lost and hurting children in Honduras. It was an honor to meet and talk with a fragile but very friendly Mrs. Youngberg and to hear some of her amazing story.I’m a man and for whatever reason I don’t like to dwell on things that make my eyes water, but I’ll admit that my time at this orphanage was very moving. I am so blessed to have met and served these beautiful children and to have shaken the hands of the small number of workers who give so much to care for them. I hope you will join me in continuing to pray for the kids at PAHS and for the staff who serve there. Pray also that the message of the gospel will sink into the hearts of the children who heard it from us and who will hear it from other workers of the Kingdom!
My wife, Brynn, and her little friend for the day
Last week, I had the privilege of leading our first annual staff mission trip to Honduras! On this tip, Camp Cho-Yeh partnered with a Heart to Honduras and brought 7 full time staff and 14 summer staff to Santa Elena, Honduras. In planning the trip, our hope was to meet the physical needs of people while doing what we do best – loving kids with the love of Jesus Christ! The trip went perfectly! Undoubtedly, God was with us along every step of the way!
For the first four days, we spent our mornings building two homes for families in desperate need of a home. Before our team arrived in Honduras, Heart to Honduras worked with a local church to identify and select two families who need a real blessing. They helped the families secure a plot of land for their new home and then laid a concrete foundation for us to build upon.
Our team broke into two groups – each building for a different family. Let me introduce you to the family I got to work with: The Canales Family! Rueben and his wife have 10 children and lived in a tiny home that was made of broken bamboo, scrap wood, old tattered tarps, a rusty tin roof and dirt floors. Walking up to their old home was truly a reality check – my heart broke immediately. It leaked when it rained and wind swept right through it in a storm. Needless to say, this home was not a place anyone would want to raise his or her children.
When we arrived on Monday, it seemed like every child in the neighborhood came by to see what all the “gringos” were up to! For the first two hours, many of the girls in our group were consumed with playing with the children. Instantly, we had 15 new friends! They didn’t speak a lick of English, and our high school Spanish class was nothing but a distant memory, but frankly, it didn’t matter. A bond was formed instantly and these children they knew we loved them.
As I looked around, the poverty these families lived in was heart breaking. The children only had one set clothes and none of them were wearing shoes. Seeing some cesspools of water in various spots, I was afraid to ask where they went to the bathroom. On day two, I brought a bunch of shoes and clothes with me that my children no longer could fit into. You should have seen the look on their 3 year old’s face when he tried on Buzz Light Year shoes that lit up when he walked. Suddenly, I wished I brought down an entire closet worth of clothes and shoes!
While it was supposed to take us the full four days to complete the new home, we were able to finish it in two. At the end of the second day, Rueben gave our group a tour of their old home. I’ll never forget standing in their old outdoor kitchen embracing a grown man while he wept with joy. What a blessing it was to see the way our service impacted that family physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The reality is, the Canales is family is still living in desperate poverty. They are still very poor. They don’t have many clothes. They have limited access to clean water and they have 12 mouths to feed on very little income. But at the very least, they now have house that they can truly call a home.
1 John 3:17-18: "If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."