Mission to the Americas Honduras Ministry Survey, January 16-22, 2001
Travel Itinerary: Lemoore to Fresno, California (car). Flights to Los Angeles, Mexico City, Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa (Honduras), San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba
I arrived in La Ceiba in late evening after a very long flight on Taca Airlines. I noticed some earthquake damage in the airport in El Salvador, and encountered my first “transit fee” ($20.00) as I walked from one part of the airport in Tegucigalpa to another. My role on this trip is to assess the ministry of Mission to the Americas in Honduras and other countries in Central America as a member of the Board of Directors.
The country of Honduras is very “third world”, with the second-poorest per capita income in the Western Hemisphere (followed by Haiti). Only 13% of the country’s roads are paved. Honduras is one of the great banana producing countries in the world and the inspiration for the term “banana republic”.
The following three days were spent meeting in session with the rest of the board and administrative staff. With breaks for meals, we met from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm. Some of the highlights included opening two new countries as fields of ministry for MTA (Nicaragua and Panama) and the appointing of Luis Matute as the first MTA missionary to Panama. We were encouraged to learn that among the ministries of MTA, a new church is formed on the average every 11 days in Central America and Southern Mexico. The methodology is called TEE (Theological Education by Extension), and was developed in the 1960s by pioneer missionary George Patterson.
Wednesday through Friday the Board visited ministry sites in various parts of the Northern coastal area of the country:
Wednesday: we traveled by bus to Songaguera, where mission funds had helped rebuild homes as well as a church and school after the devastations of the recent hurricane. The people greeted us warmly and thanked us for the mission’s assistance. We brought greetings from the churches in the U.S. At a lull in the service a little boy of about 6 looked directly at me and said in Spanish, “Hey Gringo!” (Everyone laughed.) The ice was definitely broken.
Thursday evening we attended an evening church celebration of the ethnicities of Honduras. Featured were churches from the coast and from the mountain areas. Meskita Indians, blacks of the Garifuna language people (from near Belize) and English speaking black people from Roatan Island were represented and presented their worship music. More than 200 people were packed into an upper floor about 20’ by 50’ with walls open at the top for air circulation for a two-hour service. The Directors of Honduras Extension Bible Institute, Hector and Carmen del Arca were honored for their contribution to training Christian leaders.
Friday we traveled by bus to the coastal settlement of Belfate, where MTA has sent medical personnel to staff a hospital serving that area of the country. Part of the way there I sat beside a Garifuna pastor who, as a young man, had lost both thumbs in the fishing trade. His despair at losing his livelihood had been the catalyst to bring him to Christian faith and then, through the TEE program, to Christian leadership. It was a very inspiring conversation.
Saturday and Sunday the Board split up into teams to visit various fields in Central America. I was assigned to travel with a small group to the mountain areas of Honduras. Missionary Patrick O’Connor picked us up and drove us by car to the town of Gracias, where we met Pastor Victor Almendarez and his wife Virgilia. This couple has started 15 churches in the area over the past five years, focusing on the remote towns and villages. I was able to present them with some non-English specific Sunday School materials from my church, Grace Baptist of Lemoore, California.
On Saturday evening, we drove over very rugged and stream-filled roads to the mountain village of Zarzal for a “youth service” in a newly established church. On the road to Zarzal, our jeep’s headlights revealed many small groups of people (there were dozens of them) walking in the pitch dark with machetes. I asked what they were doing out in the darkness and was told they were walking to church. The machetes were for protection against snakes and other dangerous creatures.
The service was led by youth, but really everyone comes to these things. The building was maybe a year or two old and was approximately 20’ by 40’. The sound system and instruments were powered by two truck batteries. The room was lit by kerosene lantern. Nearly 50 people were packed on benches, singing hymns and reciting verses of scripture. I greeted the mainly indigenous believers on behalf of their American brothers.
On Sunday, we traveled to Copan on the border with Guatemala, where the O’Connors work among the Chorti-Mayan people. We visited a village of some very poor folks, bought some items at their little store and prayed with a small group of the people there. We managed to visit the ruins of the Mayan city of Copan later that day. What an amazing archeological site! I estimate that only about half of the ruins are excavated.
Monday, Patrick drove me the couple of hours to the airport in San Pedro Sula, where I flew home via Houston.
Items of cultural interest:
Delicious black beans and incredible fried plantains (little sliced bananas). Very strong coffee and sweet bread. I had a conch for dinner one evening in La Ceiba (it tasted like a huge clam). The most colorful parrots I have ever seen in were at the Copan Ruins. The ugliest birds in the world have got to be the vultures you see periodically along the roadsides. Overall the people were very friendly.
My heart was energized for cross-cultural ministry. I would love to return with a team from my home church to assist these people in what they are doing!