Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Brief Introspective Honduras Update: The Look in the Mirror

We don't have a team down here this week and Easter week is typically a week of diminished activity at the base. This has allowed for more time to think and ponder, whether wanting to or not. Some random thoughts and perceptions:

Living in community sounds Thoreau-like but often plays out more WWIII than Walden. Don't get me wrong--Mercy International is not characterized by cat-fights and brawling. It's just that living in community is always difficult, regardless of the context. Les and I have lived in community on two prior occasions. Those prior occasions brought to the surface and caused me to confront my own judgmental attitude and my selfishness. This occasion is no different. I need grace to bestow grace.

Living in this harsher environment as also accentuated the strengths in our marriage, but simultaneously has brought to the surface the flaws and deficiencies. It's like a crucible. Great things are being ground out in our relationship; we have laughed more the past two months than we have in a long time. We have felt a sense of accomplishment in working together on some projects. The crucible is also making obvious and grinding out some impurities. That look in the mirror has made me see that there are times when I am more loving toward a poor Honduran than I am toward my wife. I won't unleash on one of them what I will spew upon her. I am very thankful for her patience and graciousness in living with and loving me.

I'm somewhat of a germaphobe. So here I am in rural Honduras. Go figure. For years I was very hesitant to "get dirty," meaning I hedged on touching dirty and, at times, smelly children. I am embarrassed to say this. I now experience a much greater comfortability in holding and hugging them. (I still will not share a water bottle with anyone, so if you ever come down here, bring your own.)

Though not appearing in this update, due to all my pics being on my laptop and my laptop having no Internet connection this week and therefore I am using a computer in the office-- I love taking pics. I find myself taking pics of the children predominantly more than that of the scenery or other elements of the country. I'm discovering that it's the children that capture my heart. And the Honduran women who struggle to survive.

One last introspective glance: the tension between DOING and BEING has become magnified while here. I can DO loving things without necessarily BEING loving. e.g. I can build a house for a poor family (plenty of DOING) while grumbling, complaining about the poor quality of the lumber and the lack of help (scarcity of BEING.) I trust that God will continue to diminish the seemingly expansive gap between the two and that some day I will truly BE loving and also Do loving things.

Until then I'm thankful for my wife and some close friends who love me in spite of the gap.

Be thankful for what and who you have.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Honduras Update: A Week at the Base and Home

Greetings from the two of us!  (A rare photo which includes my shy and beautiful wife)

This week we didn’t have a team come down from the States, so other than hauling gravel from town to the base we worked at the base itself.  We also dug a foundation in order to begin the next house when another team comes in next week.

Another program of Mercy International is an attempt to keep kids in school.  Education is a primary key to breaking the cycle of poverty.  So many of the girls become pregnant and drop out and so many of the boys become apathetic and quit.  Once either sex makes that choice their fate is typically sealed.  Many of the kids are raised in poor families and the father or mother cannot afford to send their children to primary school, much less college.  MI provides scholarships to kids who demonstrate a significant need as well as motivation and determination.  The program is called Hope and a Future, directed by Cindy Lowman.  People in the states sponsor a child for a school year.  (For more info you can go to

The last team interviewed some of the girls who are now going to school because of gracious individuals who have provided them scholarships.  Here is a photo of the interview and then some excerpts: (I represents  the interviewer; S,  a student)

 I: What would you tell your mom if she were sitting here? 
S:  I’d give her a kiss and tell her I love her because she never had an opportunity like I have.  She gives me the strength to go after my dream.

I:  (to another student)  How is your life different than your mom’s?
S:  The last baby my mom had was very difficult for me.  This is very personal.  My mother made a big mistake and she had a baby from a married man, and I saw that another child has come and I was afraid of what people would say.  People have always told me I’m going to be just like my mom. I can show them NOW that I am different.  NOW my goal is to graduate and have work.

I:  If you girls someday have a little girl what will you say to her?
S:  Be careful with the boys.  Keep your zipper up all the time.
I:  Why keep your zipper up?
S:  We have a goal, a dream and if we get pregnant this dream will be worth nothing.

I:  How different would your life be if you weren’t in school?
S:  If I hadn’t gotten a scholarship I’d probably have children now.  I wouldn’t be a Christian.  My brothers and sisters wouldn’t be motivated because they now see me as an example.  I give thanks to God to have a different opportunity than my family.

I will use the rest of this space to provide you a slice of life where we live, since we’ve been at the base and home all week.  Here's me at the mission base.  (Les always prefers to take a photo rather than being in one.)

Life here is full of contrast.  You can see a kid with a whip in one hand as he mans an ox-cart, and a cell phone is his other hand.  Go figure.  (Unrelated, this is the road we walk from the base to our apartment.)

The outdoor markets are lush with the freshest strawberries, pineapples, watermelon, apples, blackberries—and we can’t touch it without first bleaching all fresh fruit and vegetables.  It can drive a guy like me—who hates to delay gratification—absolutely over the edge.

The tap water is not safe to drink; we’ve also been instructed to keep our mouth shut when showering.  Speaking of the shower in our apartment, apparently the plumbers in Honduras missed Water and Electricity 101.  Notice the exposed electrical wiring running into our showerhead so that we have hot showers.  I am now very anxious when I shower and have developed a nervous tic.  One raised hand to wash an armpit and I could be fried.

Nonetheless, life is good here and the people are beautiful.

Be thankful for what and who you have.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Harris Honduras Update: Stories of Brokenness, Futures with Hope

 One of the objectives and ministries of Mercy International is to nurture and empower women.  Many of the males in Honduras (not that it is unique to Honduras only) are, quite frankly, pigs.  “Love ‘em & leave ‘em.”  Many women live with either abusive or unfaithful husbands.  Typically, the men provide the income and therefore have the leverage—“What are you going to do about it?  Leave me?  You can’t survive without me.”   If anything, the husband will leave his wife, because he wants less responsibility and more casual sex with a number of women. 

Consequently, many of the women are left destitute and terrified of the prospects of providing for their children.  Mercy International teaches women several different trades that generate income and now a number of women can provide for their families and have hope for the future.  Here are two skills that are being taught to local women who come to the mission-base and apply their newly-learned skills.

Women are taught to make beautiful baskets out of a natural resource—pine needles.  Honduras is covered with pine trees.  The needles drop, and these women gather these needles, form a “stalk,’ tightly wrap thread around that stalk and join another stalk to it and form a continuous stream of needles to create different baskets, etc.  They make their baskets, bring them to Mercy, and Mercy pays them for their work, and the mission, in turn, sells these baskets to people in the States.

Yesterday we interviewed several of the women involved in this project.  One woman stated, “I have 9 children and my husband left me. I had no way of providing for my family until I heard about Henry and Cindy Lowman (the directors of MI.)  Now I have hope for my family.” 

Another trade that is being taught is the craft of making fly-fishing jigs (if you’re not into fishing, think “lures.”  Mercy purchased some basic equipment and now teach women how to make these jigs that are then marketed in the states.   Upon learning either of these skills the women gain a sense of confidence and also become empowered to break out of the victim mode.  Prostitution no longer has to be option; now they can provide for their families.

In the process of learning a new marketable skill and meeting Christ-followers who are women of integrity many of these same women also become women of faith and in nearly every one of their stories gratitude is expressed to God for his love and for bringing people into their lives who have given them hope.

As I listened to their stories I silently wept.  Tears of sadness about their hard life, tears of thankfulness that they have a future.

And they're providing little guys like this the possibility of a hopeful future, too.

Be thankful for what and who you have.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Honduras Update; Focusing on Shelter and Medical Needs

The previous update I mentioned that I had become ill in the mountains and halfway through the return hike I had to ride a pack-mule back out.  I want to thank a number of friends for their emails of empathy as they told me there’s gotta be a joke about an ass in there somewhere.  :>)

Actually, when we got back I was feeling so depleted I had some lab work done and discovered I contracted a stomach bacteria, H. pylori.  It’s common in Third World countries and often asymptomatic.  Unfortunately, mine was fully symptomatic--the “just shoot me” strain.  I’m on 3 meds for 3 months to counter it.  I’m already feeling exponentially better and doing well.

A team from PA has come down and we’ve accomplished several important objectives this past week.  We have begun building a house in an area called “The Invasion” on the outskirts of La Esperanza, about a thirty minute drive.  My understanding is that 7-8 years ago this area was flooded and a number of people lost everything.  There is no government infrastructure here; if a disaster hits this area you’re basically your own. If you are fortunate enough to have resources and a network of people around you, you can rebuild.  If you are poor, which the majority are, you rebuild with nothing.  These families basically “squatted” on a little parcel of land and scavenged around looking for anything that would help to form a wall.  They’d find a single rough piece of scrap lumber, a square of sheet metal, plastic sheeting, anything they could gather and they put up these shacks in order to survive, initially.  Sadly, these families had little or nothing before the flood and their status hasn’t changed and so they have lived in these houses of sticks all these years.  No floors, no electricity, no running water for many.  They cook over a fire in their “kitchen” and the interior of the shack is coated in black soot due to the smoke filling the living area.  I have no idea what respiratory problems will develop in these children. 

One of Mercy International’s driving purposes is to build houses for people who reside in The Invasion.  This week we began another house.  We dug a 20 ft. x 24 ft. perimeter trench and constructed a foundation and then poured a concrete floor two days ago.  We also constructed trusses upon which the roof will go.  The walls have gone up, and we should have the house finished in a couple days.  I am getting to know the family.  The mother, Maria, has four children living with her.  Her 16 year old daughter, Kenya, has a one year old boy, as well.  The first day we showed up on the site, I was trying to get to know Maria, and I asked if I could see her house of sticks.  She took me inside and then pointed to her knees.  She explained that because the shack is on low ground the back half of their living quarters will be covered with water up to her knees.  You can imagine how excited she is at the prospect of a house (which we elevated) made of concrete block that will protect her family and last for generations.

We also held a medical clinic in neighboring village yesterday.  A local doctor and a dentist donated their time to provide medical care and we assisted them.  Hair was de-liced and washed, antibiotics and varying meds supplied, and teeth were extracted.  A very primitive setting—an open air structure.  Scrawny dogs wandering in and out.  I chose to assist the dentist and, at times, had to do some deep-breathing to maintain a standing position.  A school chair was used for the patient to sit in, and a Hefty trash bag draped over the back of the chair for the person to spit in after their tooth was extracted.  I served to shine a flashlight into the patient’s mouth so the dentist could see wherein the pain was located.  Upon successfully pulling a person’s tooth she had me then clean her instruments in some solution, dry them with a towel, and proceed to the next awaiting patient.

 My wife, Leslie, worked the “pharmacy,” meds donated by people in the States. Everyone who filed through the clinic needed and received meds.

 After an individual or a family received treatment several team members would then pray for them, after which the children were given clothes, flip-flops, and a beanie-baby to cuddle.

Everyone waiting in line in the hot sun was patient, humbly waiting their turn throughout the day. One of the team members commented, “I came down here to give to these who have so little; I feel like they have given me more than I have provided them.”

It’s true.  Though poor and often destitute, they have a gracious and kind spirit that is rare in affluent America.  May we, indeed, learn and receive from them.

Be thankful for what and who you have.

Grace and peace to you.