San Pedro Sula- Central America
Honduras, a country of some 8.5 million people, suffered an average of 19 murders each day in 2013, down from 20 the year before.
December 24, 2013- The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that the level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/honduras-travel-warning.html
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has the world’s highest murder rate. More than half of the population lives in poverty and per capita income is one of the lowest in the region. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html
While there are many reasons to visit Honduras like, it’s a tropical paradise with gorgeous islands, lush rainforests, Mayan ruins and picturesque mountains. My own personal reason for visiting was one of adventure and of compassion for my fellow man. Outside of the main tourists areas you find high crime, despair, corruption, and poverty. In a little village near San Pedro Sula, we worked to complete a medical clinic for the local villages. This clinic would offer treatment for various illnesses and diseases, while treating the people with dignity and respect. In these remote mountainous places of Honduras, medical care can be non-existent or hours away. On average there is only one doctor for every 1667 people. While there, we witnessed a car wreck with injuries and it took hours for an ambulance to arrive. By the time help arrived, the injuries had turned into fatalities. Large crowds gathered around the wreckage in hopes of finding anything of value to remove from the victims.
I knew in an instant when we were flying over San Pedro Sula that this was going to be an adventure to say the least. On our final approach I could see many villages made up from the smallest houses you could imagine. It seemed that every house was on fire or had a fire in front of their house. I later found out that propane is the main source for cooking and heating, and since it was expensive, most people would bring in sticks and firewood to cook with. Smoke would come out of every orifice of these homes while cooking meals. This also leads to the amount of respiratory issues that people have been inflicted with. The small fires I had seen from the air at each home were from burning of trash. Since there is no trash pickup, this seems to be the best way to get rid of it. This smell of burning trash would be with me for the rest of the week. The airport had several men from the Military Police roaming the grounds with automatic weapons. These men looked to be teenagers at best; I tried to always keep a low profile around these guys. The ride from the airport to the village was heart breaking. Every STOP sign children from all ages ran into traffic in order to sell whatever they had in to help support their family. We were instructed not to buy anything as this would draw unneeded attention to us behind our tinted windowed van. One moment of concern was the local people pulled a rope across the road blocking our path. During this stop I noticed hired guns protecting shops and other business places looking at us. After our guide spoke with the locals we were free to go on our way and start our mission.
So, how and why does one prepare for a trip like this? P and P, “Prayer and Preparation” were important to the success of this mission. In June 2013, people were sent to this area to make sure our trip in March 2014 would be possible. Water was a key concern as the local water sources are not safe to drink. We found a local company that delivers fresh water and could accommodate our needs. The next time you turn on the faucet to brush your teeth, think to yourself “What if I couldn’t use this water?” To brush your teeth with this water would cause dysentery. Imagine taking an ice cold shower and not allowing any water to get in your mouth. We would always keep fresh water on hand in a bottle for teeth brushing, drinking, etc. With a water source secured, we verified our other basic needs were obtainable.
We were able to bring our own food by using plastic totes. This, however, proved to be a little troublesome getting through customs. While officers were inspecting our totes, local people stood close by to our food and occasionally asked to take some. Given the fact that food production has been insufficient for the country’s needs, widespread malnutrition complicates the population’s fragile health. So, we wanted to make we had enough food to last. We were fortunate to find some locals ladies to prepare our lunch each day as well as take care of some cleaning needs. This worked out well for them and us, as they received compensation and we enjoyed a little local cuisine each day.
Shelter and security were also a big concern for us. We were able to stay on location at the medical facility during our stay. The 10,000 square foot building was very secure with fencing all the way around. The front gate was the only way in or out. The gates would stay open during the day to allow local people to come by for medical treatment, but would stay locked all night. Our method of transportation was a Ford 350 pickup and an older van. It would seem that traffic laws and or speed limits are only a suggestion, as people drive as fast as they want to. Our location was on one of the busiest roads, the Pan-American Highway. This road runs through the mainland of all the Americas. This is the world’s longest drivable road. This makes it very dangerous as drugs are hauled back and forth on this road, from South America to North America. One moment of panic was when passing an 18 wheeler uphill in a blind curve. Our driver would laugh each time we showed any panic. Our guide and translator would always go along with us as we needed supplies or just to visit the country side. My own personal security was tricky as I could only carry a metal pen and a tactical flashlight on my person on the flight to and from Honduras. Both of which are allowed on aircraft. However, at no time did I feel threatened due to the fact we were well prepared for the trip.
Having a translator for the trip was a blessing. We relied on her from the start. From dealing with customs to what to and not to order at local restaurants was so helpful. If we needed to communicate with local families we could do so with ease. However I do recommend reading up on some basic Spanish before making this kind of trip. As some slangs words or expressions might just get you in trouble.
We did experience times of power outages which gave me a glimpse of what an EMP attack would look like. I would walk outside at night during an outage with a flash light and turn it off and without any street or house lights I would notice the only light would be the stars. Soon the power would come back on and that sense of helplessness would fade away. Water as well would stop flowing for some reason, no more than a few hours each time.
Many times we experienced moments of joy as when the local children came to us for gifts that we had brought them. The gifts were only a backpack filled with little things like pencils, paper, crayons, and etc. Parents came from miles away by walking, cab, driving, or hitching a ride just so their kids could get in line for these items. At one time we started to have too many kids as word been traveling fast, so we had to close the gates. Parents would then push their kids over the gat
e. We also gave away several hundred Nerf footballs. Some of the kids played with them, some would hide them so no one would take it. I had wondered why such excitement and craziness was given over these little things. To my surprise I learned that this would be the one time of the year the kids would receive any kind of gift. My own kids would have just treated these items as an everyday treat. It was really an eye opening experience to visit a place where people have barely anything but are grateful for everything. As opposed to living in a country where we have everything but are grateful for little. I went on this trip to make a difference, give hope, and to work on the hearts and minds of people. When in fact my heart was the one changed. In the scriptures we as Christians are instructed to “Go” to all the nations to make disciples, while some may not have the gift of evangelizing, however we all have a gift to do something, in our own cities, country, and or world that furthers Gods Kingdom.
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