Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our First Christmas in Honduras

There may not have been fat man in a red suit, but our first Christmas in Honduras was pretty jolly nonetheless. We were invited to spend the holiday with our Spanish teacher, Gloria, and her family in their hometown about two hours from the capital, Tegucigalpa.

La Paz is a small, friendly colonial city where friends and family can safely meet in the central park, even late into the evening.

We took this photo on the steps of the cathedral in the central square
where Gloria's sister and niece took us to enjoy some late-night ice cream.

As with many families in the U.S., Hondurans celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. But instead of settling in early for a long winter's nap, families here stay up all night chatting, visiting friends and neighbors and eating traditional foods. Much to our happiness, we welcomed Christmas in the wee hours of the morning sitting around a kitchen table laughing and playing cards with our new friends. And despite the late hour, we didn't forget to share our own Christmas tradition. Before heading off to bed, we read the story of Christ's birth from the Bible together—for the first time ever in Spanish.

Just like at home, ladies spend much of their time cooking the Christmas meal.
Here Gloria, her daughter and niece prepare beans, rice and fresh tortillas.

Our Christmas Eve photo around the tree. The family also invited two
U.S. Army officers stationed at a nearby base to join us for the celebration.

Steve really missed having his nieces and nephews around. But Gloria's
grandson, Josue (aka Superman) managed to keep him busy playing.

On Christmas Day, we rested late into the day and after filling our stomachs with baleadas, we left La Paz to visit Gloria's other sister. After two hours of bouncing and winding around the mountain road, we finally arrived in Santiago. We shivered in the cool breezes of the higher altitude and it reminded us of the cold winter Christmases to which we are accustomed. We were welcomed once again with delicious food and warm, comfortable beds. We were exhausted!

Despite the cooler climate, the Santiago house was surrounded by gardens of beautiful flowers and trees.

Gloria's sister used her outdoor kitchen to prepare delicious food for her tired and hungry guests.

Of course, fresh, homemade tortillas are a staple of every Honduran meal.

The family posed around the table before a delicious Christmas lunch.

After a good night's rest, we set out to explore the family's coffee farm. Santiago is comprised of families that make their living growing, processing and shipping coffee around the globe. Gloria's family owns a small coffee plantation and we spent the day learning the ins and outs of producing some the world's finest coffee. And after a little taste of the brew, Nick discovered he may be a coffee-drinker afterall!

The plant is more aptly called a coffee fruit here in Honduras, rather than a coffee bean. Workers are paid by the pound to hand-pick the harvest. They can earn up to $10 a day, an excellent wage for the area.

Banana and orange trees grow alongside the coffee and shade the plants from harsh sunlight.

After being processed, the coffee is left out to dry in the sun before being packed and shipped.

Sadly, our celebration with Gloria's family was cut short when her husband, Elvis, received news that he'd lost his brother-in-law after a long battle with cancer. We accompanied the family back to Tegucigalpa as they prepared for the funeral. 

Despite the tragic ending, our first Christmas in Honduras was filled with joy and celebration. Perhaps most surprisingly, we were surrounded by family. And when you're a long way from home, that is a true Christmas gift.

We have been blessed by our substitute family this Christmas. Here, Gloria and
Elvis pose with their grandson at scenic overlook near the coffee farm.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Tonight is the big Christmas celebration with the staff and their families at El Sembrador. For this year's gathering the missionaries were put in charge of decorating and providing a little gift for each family. It was a little last-minute, but we put on the Christmas tunes and got to work. Despite the warm temperatures, we're starting to feel a little Christmas spirit around here!

It takes a lot of ingredients to make over 600 cookies!

We only had one afternoon to make all those cookies, so it took some real teamwork. I mixed the dough.

And Steve prepped the cookies for the oven.

By the end of the afternoon we had enough cookies to give a dozen to each of 50 families.
While his parents made cookies, Nick assembled and decorated the Christmas tree in the conference center where the celebration will be held.

Fellow missionary, Laura, purchased poinsettias for some of the centerpieces and I helped her wrap them with colorful cellophane and ribbon.

We found these little trees made from old bed springs in a box in the office attic. So Andi and I glammed them up with some gold glitter and Laura helped me fill them with cellophane to complete the centerpieces.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Perspective Changes Everything

You think you have problems. Then the Lord comes and whacks you over the head to change your perspective. Suddenly the things that seem so important and difficult become tiny and insignificant. The past few days I've been discouraged, defeated and broken-hearted for the relationships we are trying so hard to build here in Honduras. But suddenly those words I found so offensive and the embarrassing moment that brought me to tears don't seem to matter so much.

I overheard a brief, but emotional phone conversation between our friend, Andi, and her sister. You could hear the heartache in Andi's voice. Her 9-year-old nephew has been in a coma for the last eight days. He fell out of a tree he was climbing and has already undergone two different surgeries on his brain. I couldn't help but eavesdrop and what I heard gave my perspective a knock-out blow. I listened to my friend encourage her sister, who has rejected a relationship with Christ over and over again, with Scripture and with such conviction and compassion that I knew the words could only be from the Lord Himself. While her own heart was breaking, Andi calmed and soothed her sister with the words "Have faith. God is in control of all things. And He has a plan." She repeated the phrases several times until I could almost hear the sigh at the other end of the line as her sister's hysteria subsided.

As certain as I am that God gave Andi the words her sister needed to hear, I am convinced that He gave me the ability to understand every Spanish word so that I would also hear. Pray for little Bryan lying in that hospital bed today and for his mom who is suffering. But also pray for me. Pray that the Lord would continually adjust my perspective with a good solid whack when I need it.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Not too different

This year we have a lot to be thankful for. When you live in another country with so little, Thanksgiving takes on a whole new meaning. And while it wasn't the same as celebrating at home, our Thanksgiving turned out to be a day full of food, laughter and celebration surrounded by people we love. Ok, maybe it is like celebrating at home afterall!

The head of our little family, David,  carved the turkey (which was actually a heaping plate of steak, chicken and sausages).

We may not have had sweet potatoes, but we did have the best onion rings in all of creation.

Nothing like sharing a plate of meat with a good friend. Dan will be leaving for the U.S. in just a few days so Nick was grateful for this time together.

My friend Sarah has been part of our family since we served together in 2010. She was able to arrange her busy field visit to include our Thanksgiving celebration.

It's no comfy sofa, but this could be Steve's favorite new Thanksgiving tradition.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Passion for Community Transformation

Our friend, Andi, lives in a little village close to El Sembrador. She belongs to a little country church in her poor community. In fact, she's the Sunday school teacher. Every Sunday she instructs about 30 kids of all ages while the adults are in the worship service. She has no resources, no lesson plans, no toys and no supplies other than her Bible. But she loves it. And she knows that she has been given the awesome responsibility to help shape the future of her community.

Andi's daughter, Scarlett, introduces Uno to a few of her friends from church.

When we first arrived at El Sembrador earlier this year, Andi asked for my help to fix up the Sunday School room. She said it needed fresh paint. When we went to look at the room, we found that it needed a little more than some sprucing up! The kids were meeting in a dilapidated building with a leaky roof and littered with moldy wood, rusty nails, old paint and the droppings of some unwelcome critters on the concrete floor. To make matters worse, the village public school was also using the building for its Kindergarten classes every day.

Andi confessed that she had been struggling with the church leadership. They were completely focused on the Sunday worship service and viewed her as the babysitter that made it possible for them to minister to the adults on Sunday morning. She was frustrated at their lack of vision and their inadequate investment in the children.

Andi also helps plan activities for holidays and special events for the kids in her village.

So I agreed to help. But first, she would have to gain the support of her church for the project. I helped her think about her priorities and we came up with a reasonable plan and budget together. Then Andi went to work. Over the last several months, she's held meetings, planned work days and recruited people and supplies. She has gained the confidence of her church family and the community has begun to contribute to the project. Some have donated toys, others have worked to repair the roof or painted the walls. And now Andi is working with a local businessman to build a wall to separate the children's area from the storage area the church needs.

I helped Andi design simple murals to paint on the walls of the children's chapel.

We have limited our involvement in the church to a small $100 donation from our ministry fund and some encouraging words. Another friend from Minnesota also donated $100 to the cause. But Andi has done all of the work. In the process, she has earned the respect of the community and has become a leader in her church. Perhaps most importantly, she has gained the confidence to share her ideas with other leaders. I'm guessing this won't be the last project Andi will initiate. And if she has anything to say about it, there will be entire new generation of leaders with the same passion for community transformation.

The roof in the children's chapel has been improved, the walls painted and cute Bible scenes decorate the walls thanks to Andi's efforts.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

You Fall Well with Me

The phrase "I like you" seems so much more profound in Spanish. Literally translated it says "You fall well with me." For some reason, this expression strikes me as a beautiful sentiment. Maybe it's because the idea of falling in like with a good friend seems more meaningful that just liking someone.

When we first moved to El Sembrador and started to get to know the students, one little boy stood out to me right away. He's a pest. Annoying, moody and always in trouble, Lou is an obnoxious young man. His name is really Luis, but I call him Lou because he hates it. Actually he likes to pretend to hate it.

At first Lou seemed like he'd do anything for attention. He picked arguments with me, taunted me and generally pushed all my buttons. He just seemed to want my reaction. But I did my best not to respond. I didn't yell at him to calm down or tell him to stop it. I just answered his ridiculous questions meant to bait me into an argument. I didn't let him divert my attention from the other boys. And if he got too out of control, I just ignored him altogether. Lou was a real pain.

After several weeks of torturing me, Lou met me at the soccer field one evening in a particularly rotten mood. He spent at least an hour telling me how much he hated our new puppy and how he had plans to sneak in our house and steal him. Gradually, his taunting turned into threats on the poor dog's life! But I just ignored him and struck up conversations with the other students who all wanted to know more about our new pet. At the end of the night, Lou walked up to me and stuck out his hand for a handshake. "Kelly, you fall well with me," he said matter-of-factly before heading off to bed.

I didn't know it at the time, but that sentence signaled a change in our relationship. Lou was a different kid from that point on. Oh sure, he still gets into all kinds of trouble. But he's the first for volunteer when I ask for help with something. He's polite and open with me. He takes correction well and doesn't talk back. He even asks about the puppy once in a while. Recently, he opened up to me about a bad day and I got the opportunity to pray with him.

I guess sometimes Lou feels like he's got to push a person down just to see how they land. I, for one, am glad I fell well.

Lou, you fall well with me too buddy.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Toe Massage

Some people think living in a third-world country can be dangerous. And Nick couldn't agree more. First he "severely sprained" his finger playing soccer. And now this!

Yep, Nick is hobbling around on a crutch. But it's not as bad as you may think.

A few month's ago a pig stepped on his boot while he was cleaning poop out of a stall in the pens. We didn't think much about the pain in his little toe until it didn't get better. Finally, we couldn't take the whining anymore. So we took him a doctor in Tegucigalpa last week. 

Nick got another souvenir of our time in Honduras to match this one. If this trend continues, we'll have a portrait of Nick's entire skeleton by the time we leave next year!

The good news is that Nick's little piggy isn't broken. The bad news is that there appears to be some invisible injury to the nerves. The toe hurts a lot, as evidenced by Nick's dramatic howling. So now, we're off to town three times a week to have a 45 minute toe massage. Yep, a toe massage. 

When she woke up this morning, I'll bet this poor woman never imagined that she'd be massaging the stinky toe of red-headed gringo boy!

In addition to the "therapy" on his toe, the school nurse, Esther, is also performing daily massages and has relieved Nick from his work duties in the pig barns for the time-being. While this treatment plan seems to be agreed upon by all the medical professionals involved, the toe's prognosis is a mystery. So we're stuck keeping up this ridiculous toe massage regime until something changes. Oh well. Nick is enjoying the attention, even if it includes the occasional piggy joke and a whole lot of chuckles!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Day of the Bible

It's hard to imagine a city parade celebrating the importance of the Word of God making it's way down Main Street, U.S.A. on a hot summer's day. But that's exactly how we celebrate Day of the Bible in Honduras. This year, the El Sembrador students and staff marched in the parade and picked up garbage along the parade route. Meanwhile, Steve and I drove to different points along the road to give the students cold bags of water from our cooler in the back of the car.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ping Pong Prowess

In addition to having lots of activities to keep the students busy during their downtime, the rec room also hosts events. Last Saturday, we held our first ever ping pong championship. The winner received a jar of hair gel and 20 Lempira (about $1) to spend at the campus store!