My Week in Honduras
Every year, the week before Spring Break, our school takes students on missions trips. Some groups stay local and serve in the Tampa/St. Pete area, others go to a different state, and the rest go overseas. I had the privilege of going with 20 students to Orphanage Emmanuel in Guiamaca, Honduras.
We lived in Costa Rica for a year, so I thought I was prepared for what we would see when we landed in the capital city of Tegucigalpa. I was not. Honduras is far poorer than Costa Rica – we passed a community who lives in a dump, houses made out of materials gathered on the mountains. As we drove the two hours to the orphanage, we saw village after village of literally dirt poor families striving to survive.
Then we pulled into the gate of Orphanage Emmanuel. It was like an oasis in the desert. Beautiful buildings and landscaping, pristine conditions – even drinkable water! There were greenhouses where they grow fruit and vegetables for the residents, mammoth tanks where tilapia are raised, hundreds of chickens and pigs…
Then there were the children. 500 precious souls who live at Emmanuel because they have no other home. A few are true orphans, but most are brought here because their parents do not want them, or they have been removed from their homes by the government. Many have experienced unspeakable horrors at the hands of their families.
We were there to spend time with the children – to treat them to snacks at The Store, to play soccer and paint nails and do crafts. We thought we were there to be used by God in the lives of the children. But, as we quickly learned, the real reason we were there was for God to change us.
As our group shared on our last day there, we each had learned something different. Some had been challenged by the missionaries who worked there – their testimonies were faith-filled examples of the power of God in the lives of his servants. Others were touched by individual children – their love and joy in spite of difficulties. I was moved by the children, as well, but in a different way.
Because I am able to speak some Spanish – I’m not fluent, but I can carry on conversations – I spent a lot of my week talking and listening. And, because I naturally gravitate to teen girls, I spent most of time talking and listening to them.
Here’s what I discovered: These girls have dreams and plans, they have boys they think are cute. They have music they love and movies they watch over and over again. They complain about rules being too strict and skirts being too long. They fight with other girls and some of them hate school. A handful are sure that, if they can just leave Emmanuel and get out into the “real world” – a world without rules and uniforms – their lives will be so much better. They are, in short, just like the girls I teach! They aren’t a picture on a missions poster, a sad story someone tells. They are real girls with real names and real histories and real feelings. They are the daughters of the King who understand, some far better than I, just what it means to adopted as heirs of Christ.
This picture – taken of a sweet little girl named Catarin – best explains my experience…
If I had seen this picture on a postcard or a website, I would have assumed this poor girl was forced to work. I’d imagine her as a Cinderella or Cosette with evil adults ripping away the joy of childhood and requiring her to slave away for her meals.
But here’s what I know – behind me, there was a joyful game of soccer being played by girls who had just finished their morning devotions. Catarin had prayed, sang, and reviewed her Bible verse, holding hands with her friends. Afterwards, she picked up that broom, not because she was forced to, but because she thinks it’s fun to sweep the floor. That’s her game of choice. She did that until it was time to get in line and head to school. I saw her the next day, doing the same thing. Having fun, laughing, talking, and sweeping.
My husband and my daughter were on this trip with me – each of us returned with different stories, different lessons, we each were impacted in different ways. But one thing we all agreed on – this trip was life-changing and amazing. We are so glad we went, and we would encourage everyone to do the same. s my husband told the group, education is far more than time spent in the classroom. Our “teachers” in Honduras gave us far more than we could ever give them.