Dear friends, family, supporters, and prayer warriors,
That’s all of you! It’s hard to believe it happened and that I am sitting here again at our kitchen table where it all began: writing support letters, organizing notes from meetings, prepping for the next meeting, and so much more that goes into a trip such as this. Your prayers and support carried me through the stressful times when I was balancing home responsibilities and the Honduras trip ones too. I hope I can convey just a little bit of the success of the trip to you all. It meant more to me and the people of Honduras than I could ever dare pray it would.
The entire team met in Miami Florida at a hotel quite close to the airport. As it was, we all flew in the day before and flew out less than twelve hours later, so our trip leaders made the accommodations with travel in mind. I was the last team member to arrive so when I walked in with Señora Kelly, I was pleasantly overwhelmed with an onslaught of names and hugs. I looked around for the person who invited me to join the team, who helped me pursue my passion for language, and who graded every Spanish word I said and put on paper. “Señor Poortenga, you’re famous,” I said and gave my online, High School, Spanish teacher a big hug. I had waited for the day that I would meet him and be able to share in person just how big a part he played in my long term mission pursuits. I anticipate many other students from the Potter School in that hotel room felt the same way.
Our evening before departure included worship, Bible study, and meeting logistics. Señora Kelly and Pastor Chris headed up those details and Señor Poortenga led worship (whose name I had to relearn from Spanish class…POOR-din-ga…NOT Poor-TEN-ga). Looking back now, I see how instrumental each leader was to equipping our group. From spiritual nourishment to trip details to praising God, the Lord provided for all of our needs in the people he brought from different parts of the country to that tiny meeting room.
Travel was as expected to Tegucigalpa. It included a landing on the world’s most difficult airport landing strip (which I did not know until everyone on the plane started clapping and applauding the pilot). I looked out the window and our plane stopped moving at the very end of the runway. Mission Predisan met us right outside customs and loaded our bags for us. Little did I realize just how closely we would be working with Predisan. At our hotel for the night, Señora Kelly gave us our rooms keys and room assignments. Charlotte, my children’s trip assistant, and I found a note from Predisan group Director Hellen. She left each of us with a small box of Honduran sweets. Nibbling on a fig, I suggested to Charlotte that we share our goals for the trip. I said 1) I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to speak Spanish and 2) I wanted confirmation from God that He is calling me to missions. I was asking God for some pretty big things there, and let me tell you that He heard me and responded.
That evening before our first Honduran meal, we made the blessings bags for the children with all the supplies people donated. We set up tables and started organizing all the supplies: the crayons, washcloths, stickers, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, notepads, gospel tracks, and ziplocs. Many of these items came from people like you. YOU blessed the little children in Honduras and gave us the opportunity to tell them that Christ had given them an even greater gift—the gift of life!
The next morning with bags in hand, Predisan staff started rolling in. Every few minutes a land rover would pull up until we had three or four lined up outside the hotel. I think I just sort of took it all in half stunned, partly just observing, always praying. That morning had been an intense morning getting to know the mission Predisan a bit better but also spending time at one of their outreach centers for drug rehabilitation in Cerepa. Mixed among the patients, our TPS group heard one of the most powerful volunteered testimonies from a young man on the mend. In brief, a life of drugs and alcohol had led him to a surgery that he could not pay for nor was there hope for survival even had he had the money. At the end of his testimony, he lifted his shirt and showed us a scar that ran from his solar plexus to his lower belly. He was alive and not without a daily reminder that God is the master physician, life-giver, and transformer. After the time of sharing, we initiated conversation with different patients and even started a game of pick-up soccer. After thirty minutes in the hot sun on their small cement courtyard I hopped off to keep from burning. I hadn’t seen him before but Carlos, the man who gave the testimony, was sitting on the side watching us play. I jumped over and sat down, introduced myself, and thanked him for sharing his story. It was all a time of mutual encouragement to share life and stories with one another.
Back at the hotel, we divided up into our groups and hopped in the rovers for another long drive into the mountains where we would be serving. Gerson, one of our interpreters, and actually Ashley too, the other interpreter, rode in our vehicle. This group became inseparable in the days ahead. Our first day in Cedeco was spent in San Antonio getting to know the people. They hosted Las Flores and TPS group to celebrate the ten years that TPS has been serving them. It was in that moment, when I saw all the little children holding signs and the streams of banners and balloons, that I realized the shoes I had put on. I was taking part in something so much bigger than I realized. There was a history here that I was blessed to take part in. I was humbled. That afternoon I went through all the gear bags to organize what I needed for props and materials. It took me all afternoon and all evening. I started to fear. At eleven o’clock I was zonked but still needed to pack for the next day. Would every night be like this? Morning after morning consisted of rising early, eating, and leaving by 7:30. We would sing with the children, do a puppet show, and then break into 1-3 and 4-6 grade for Bible and English classes. As a team, both the TPS and Predisan staff members (drivers and translators) would eat the food that Cedeco prepared for us and then afternoons were spent chasing soccer balls, loving kids, braiding hair, coloring the Bible verse banner, and acting out the drama for the day.
There was one time that we had to set up the props for the drama. Gerson, wanted to put palm tree branches up for the display. We just had to figure out how to make them stay. I offered my services to tie them to the beams above our heads. Climbing up on his shoulders he slowly stood up. I grabbed the beam, swung up, and tied the branches with my hair ribbon and some twine that Dennis our driver threw up to me. Unfortunately, we were a major distraction for the 1-3 graders and it took a little bit for me to help Lauren get the kids to focus again.
Every afternoon at around 2:30 the rains would pour down. At that point, it was of utmost importance to load and leave in order to get back to Cedeco. We had to ford 9 brooks or quebradas as they called them. Once we left a little too late and the water sloshed up into the back of the rover. Every time we crossed a brook and landed on solid earth again, our car full of girls would applause and cheer for Denis. He caught on pretty quickly that we appreciated him and would chuckle. It had stopped raining but when we returned it poured harder than I had ever seen it pour in my life. We scattered from the vehicles but when I felt the rain hit my especially sweaty body I stopped and stood there as the rain came down. My feet were planted. If I were a tree, I would have grown five inches. The pure power of the rain purified me. It was no surprise the next day Sarah and I got sick from standing in the rain for an hour. Eventually, half our team would fall sick but somehow we all recovered enough to make up for the next person to not feel well. We worked as a team, played as a team, slept hard as a team, and quite quickly became family.
It seemed the worst day of my sickness, I had the biggest bag to unpack. As the children’s team leader, I grabbed the material bag that weighed probably fifty-sixty pounds depending on the day and unpacked it. I had showered and eaten and just had to unpack and repack before bed. It was still late, but it had to be done so we could leave on time. I unzipped and started digging out stray crayons and markers. Papers were crinkled in a million crevices and my lungs and temples throbbed. Every time I took something out and put it where it belonged, it seemed a new item would jump in. I stopped probably looking utterly dejected and just looked at the bag. Señora Kelly came in and laughed. She started to help me. She asked me for the markers to put on the table. I grabbed the bag and a flood of markers poured out in every conceivable direction. If things couldn’t get any worse…they did. That was it. We died laughing. I ended in a fit of coughs, but it was enough to get me to the finish.
The night I no longer had to pack it with materials, I celebrated. Zipping myself up inside of it, I rolled like a big black potato up onto my feet and started hopping out the door where the drivers and team were hanging out on the porch. I hopped down the ramp and started hopping across the driveway totally concealed. The next thing I knew was two of the drivers had grabbed the straps and were rocking me like a baby higher and higher until I shrieked. They laughed and put me down only to pick me up again at my request and put me on a chair. I asked Peter, one of the Predisan leaders, to tell his testimony which impacted me tremendously. Our team really was family we could go from bouncing for joy in gear bags to crying together about how God redeems.
Late nights that brought me to the end of my candle were not uncommon . Late nights for this early riser most often meant nights where I slept five hours instead of eight or nine. It was a sacrifice I gladly made, for every morning God blessed me with a sunrise like no other. It was July 23rd my Father´s birthday. I wished I could have wished him so in person. I wished that all was well at home. I wished I could have shared this adventure God had given me with him and you all. I looked up on this first morning in Cedeco and saw a mountain that looked like Camel’s Hump (a mountain here at home). It was as if God transplanted my mountains at home and plopped it in front of my backdoor in Catacamas.
In each community before leaving, we would gather the children in a classroom and pass out the blessing bags. They waited expectantly with big eyes and eager hands. It was hard to say no to several women who came up to us afterwards asking for more. We still had San Antonio children, so we couldn’t pass out extras.
The last three days we spent in San Antonio. While my Bible and English leaders taught class, I met a little girl named Maneli. I knelt down and asked if she liked to read. Her big eyes and little puckered lips said yes. I grabbed the sheet for the puppet shows, snatched up Ferdinand the Bull and laid out our reading spot outside our meeting room. We started reading and minute after minute news got round that a twenty year old gringa was reading Spanish children’s books. Several other little boys peeked around the corner of the building but gave themselves away in fits of giggles when I exclaimed in Spanish that Ferdinand the Bull had sat down on a bumblebee! From that day on Maneli (along with many other little three year olds) was my partner in crime. We played tag, colored, read, and played hide n’ seek, and every morning I braided her hair. She was glued to my hip.
The last day I picked her up in my arms for the presentation that San Antonio wanted to do for us. Little girls danced on stage with red and yellow ribbons tied to their wrists, the youth played their guitars and sang “Olancho,” and the community watched and applauded. I found Maneli behind a post watching me. I scooped her up in her fancy rose dress that she wore for the celebration. The sun beat down and the two of us started to sweat. Her head became heavy, and in no time, she fell asleep. I held her thinking about everything I wanted to be, where I wanted to be, the differences and similarities in our culture, the life that she lived, the life that I lived, and the fear of not seeing her again. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about her, cry a little bit, and long to return to Honduras. “Mi hermanita,” I whispered. God gave me two sisters and this little one too. Her Mother woke her up so she wouldn’t miss out on her blessing bag. I reluctantly let her go.
The next day we returned for a final celebration. Las Flores joined us in San Antonio. Just as soon as we arrived I realized I had forgotten an important bag that belonged to the community. Pastor Chris and I decided I would go back for them with Denis. On the way back I had one of the best conversations in Spanish that I have ever had. I asked Dennis about work and new Spanish Vocabulary. I asked what his dream job would be. He told me he wanted to be his own boss. I reflected on my own Father, and respected Denis a lot for that answer. He wanted to spend more time with his family, and being his own boss would enable him to do so. I shared with him that my own Father was self-employed and mentioned the challenges and joys of being such. One of my favorite memories from that conversation was about the snow vs the mud that Honduras and Vermont each has. Both make dangerous driving conditions. Denis was describing something that we use to keep from slipping. He was using vocabulary that I was not familiar with to describe the studs in tires. “Como dientes (like teeth)?” I asked him. “Sí sí sí,” he responded his eyes and face lighting up. I was pleased with myself. We had communicated the message. It may have taken longer, but it gave me confidence in myself and joy in the process of coming to a point of understanding. It was like playing twenty questions…just in Spanish.
Back at the village, after returning the bag, I found Maneli. I scooped her up, kissed her, and smiled. She squeezed something in her hand. I realized it was the washcloth that we put in her blessing bag. It was small, white, and soft…like a stuffed animal or small blanket. That day was hard. Hard to say good bye. Hard to realize that I could only pray to return. Hard to see myself anywhere else in the world but doing life with these people. The day ended with my presentation to both communities. I thought and thought and thought about what I wanted to say. I considered writing it all down, but at the end of the day I prayed. Before taking the mic I prayed. “Dear God, speak through me.”
Looking at these wonderful people I started, “Hola Buenos dias. Este es un nuevo día que el Señor ha hecho, no? Ayer pensé en lo que quiero decirles a uds hoy. Pero la verdad es que me faltan las palabras decir todo que me siento en mi corazon. Padres, gracias por compartir sus hijos con nosotros. Gracias por compartir sus vidas con nosotros. Ojalá que El Señor nos traiga juntos en el future.” I still remember what I said. It was simple. Short. Inspired by God. They nodded in agreement as I presented each community with a signed soccer ball from our team.
There is so much more to say, and not sufficient space to say it. In the same way that I long to write a novel to you all I conclude with sincere appreciation for your support. What I said to the community In San Antonio, I say to you all also.
Good day! This is a new day that the Lord has made. Yesterday, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I want to say to you all. But the truth is, words fail to describe the feelings I have in my heart. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. I can only hope that the Lord will allow me to visit with you all again soon.
As I conclude, I do want you all to know that the Lord has abundantly supplied my TPS trip fees. I do have a number of small personal expenses that cost me roughly 300 dollars. If you were not able to give financially, but would still like to support me financially I am praying that God would provide for those expenses.
I also want you to know that I am still processing the enormity of this trip. As I shared with Charlotte, God met my goals. He gave me the words to speak when I needed to, and He set in my heart a burning desire to serve in missions. I have needed to learn to be content with where God has me in life right now. It is a great gift to have been able to spend so much of this summer with family and a great joy to go back to school where I will continue studying Spanish and the Classical Education. I anticipate teaching as a career, Lord willing in Central America. Never before have I felt so focused or driven towards something. Thank you for joining me on this wild ride called life!