It has been a bit overwhelming trying to find a way to start writing out this story. Childbirth, especially for the first time mom, is literally an unprecedented experience no matter where it happens or in what kind of global crisis or time of peace it takes place. My story just happens to take place in Honduras, Central America (a country considered third world), far from family, and in the middle of a global pandemic.
I will try to use respectful language in describing my childbirth experience in this foreign country as to not cast a negative light on customs or medical practices performed here. Much is similar to the care I would receive in the states but there is also a great deal that is very different. I do want to stay true to my story and personal experience, though, including the expectations and worries I had in comparing U.S. medical care to Honduran medical care. So, with caution and respect for medical professionals in Honduras I describe here some of those differences that affected me.
In a way, as someone once said to me, having your first baby in Honduras is probably better than having your second. There is room for fewer expectations and no previous experience with which to compare. I have to begin by saying that the idea of birthing a child in general used to scare me to death. There were moments in my adult life when I wondered if it was even something I wanted to (or could) do. Then upon seeing the positive pregnancy test on January 1st of this year, all at once I was elated and convinced that I was meant to be a mommy. An instant change occurred in me and it propelled me on a journey of education and empowerment as I learned about how my body would house and nourish a little life for nine months and then bring him into the world.
I studied everything pregnancy and childbirth as if I were getting a degree in obstetrics/gynecology. The two most beneficial books I read during this process were Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (although I’ve never been interested in natural birth) and Pregnancy, Childbirth, and The Newborn: The Complete Guide. I have had countless fellow moms reach out to me offering support and answering all my questions. The camaraderie and connection I have felt during this time of quarantine and isolation was an ironic and unexpected surprise. Thank you, mommy friends!
When we found out I was expecting, we had not fully decided if I would give birth in the states or in Honduras, where I reside and work as a full time missionary. I preferred 100% to have my regular obgyn back home deliver my baby, with his English speaking staff, in my home country, near my family, and take advantage of the comfortable (luxurious even) hospital amenities and resources. COVID was a factor in deciding to give birth in Honduras but it mainly caused a chain reaction of other factors like: international borders closed, my Honduran husband not being able to reapply for a US visa in order to be with me, the possibility that my child, not having Honduran residency, wouldn’t be allowed entry into Honduras for an indefinite amount of time, etc. So we ended up making the best decision to keep our little family together which was having baby Kairo in Honduras.
Coming to accept this decision was not easy. It was not part of my original plan. (the theme of this entire year, am I right?) I still hung on to the hope that 1. I would be able to visit home at some point during my pregnancy and that 2. my mom would be able to travel to Honduras in time for the birth. Neither ended up happening and I mourned it over and over in various stages.
We found an obgyn and private clinic in our town by word of mouth and I started my prenatal checkups. I will forever be grateful that my husband and I could share those special moments together seeing our son grow in my belly via ultrasounds. (Which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible had I continued my prenatal care in the states) We planned to shop around for a doctor because I had been forewarned by other missionary moms here of certain things that weren’t customary or even allowed, the biggest of which being whether the father is allowed to be present in the labor and delivery room. That was my first question to Dra. K on my first appointment with her and she assured me that Natán would be able to stay by my side through the entire process. (She later approved that our doula friend, Kellie, be present as well. We were sold and decided to stick with her.)
In preparation for the birth I wrote up a type of birth plan – I called it “birth preferences.” This is rarely done here. I realized it was a very uptight gringa thing to do but it gave me peace of mind in the middle of so many unknowns. I created this “plan” based on my research, friends’ previous birth experiences, and questions/conversations with my doctor here. I presented it to her and her staff (with much apologizing and excusing away this possible cultural taboo) and explained that it was not to tell them how to do their jobs but was a way to keep everyone on the same page and to help me feel organized and prepared. After all, I am a low context culture individual living in a high context culture – I like things explained explicitly and I’ve learned that too often too much is left to assumption here.
In the end, not a lot went according to my birth preferences but I had prepared myself emotionally for that anyway. If any part of my personality has been challenged since moving to Honduras it is my control-freak nature so I’ve already been on this lifelong journey of learning to “let go and let God” for a little while now. Why would a Honduran birth be any different?
Some things that did not go as planned:
- I requested to tour the birthing center months in advance to get a visual idea of what labor and delivery would be like. What I missed in conversations with our doctor was that they were planning to completely move from one location to another. The weekend that I completed 38 weeks gestation they moved their practice to a building in the downtown area of our little city. I found this out days before we ended up scheduling my induction and it threw me for a loop.
- I wanted to go into labor naturally but at my 39 week checkup my amniotic fluid was low so we scheduled an induction for two days before my due date (Sat. 8/29.)
- I was determined to receive an epidural even though it is not commonly offered for vaginal births here. I was assured from the beginning that since I requested it an anesthesiologist would be available to administer the epidural. (The anesthesiologist would be traveling a bit of a distance to get to the birthing center so before scheduling the induction I understood that the possibility existed that he just wouldn’t be able to arrive in time. We tried to convince a mutual friend of ours & the clinic’s, a nurse anesthetist, to be on standby as backup but she wasn’t completely comfortable with it. We basically accepted her no.) At about 30 weeks gestation I was notified that there was an epidural catheter shortage in the country and that it might not be a possibility after all. I started searching for epidural kits (in country and to be sent from the states) and started to prepare myself for the possibility of a natural birth. We eventually got our hands on a kit here and had a backup sent from the states.
- While researching U.S. prenatal standards I realized that a Group B Strep test is required around 36 weeks. I expected it to be the same here in Honduras but it is not. In fact, there are many countries (not just in Latin America) that do not require this test. Due to risk of infection of the newborn it is considered protocol in many places like the U.S. to administer penicillin during labor for any mother who didn’t get tested or whose test came back positive. It was uncomfortable to insist on getting tested and request antibiotics as a backup but I had to make the decision that I felt most at peace with. This whole decision process emphasized the tension of living between two countries and cultures and I was very emotional over it. I consulted medical professionals in both countries and each had strong opinions on what was acceptable. I ended up getting tested (swab had to be sent to a lab a couple cities away) in my 39th week and it came back negative within days of going into labor.
- We were told on a Monday that I would be induced the following Saturday. Thursday night we received a phone call that my induction would need to be rescheduled for Friday, the following morning, because of the anesthesiologist’s availability. I was nervous but excited to have the date moved up a day and rushed to finish up all last minute preparations for baby. (Although my hospital bag had been packed for a month – bag including EVERYTHING needed for newborn and postpartum care. It is rare that clinics/hospitals here provide much more than acetaminophen.) Oh, and that anesthesiologist never did actually show up…
- I halfway prepared to play some selected music during labor and delivery until it became obvious once inside the clinic that I would not even be able to hear my own music over the construction noises and reggeaton music from the neighboring gym. I listened to these things for the majority of my labor.
Induction Day – Friday, August 28
- We arrived at the clinic by 9:00 am. The induction process got officially started around 10:30 or after.* They were concerned that for several hours my contractions were increasing but I was not dilating enough. I walked and used the birthing ball for most of this process. Our doula friend Kellie helped me move and relax as contractions increased.
- My water broke at 5 cm after having increasingly stronger and frequent contractions for several hours. I wanted to shower and since we couldn’t get the hot water to work I took a cold shower.
- When it came time for an epidural it took a while to finally get our nurse anesthetist friend (our plan B) to come to the birthing center because, for a reason we never heard, the anesthesiologist was in fact not available. By the time the IV and epidural process was started I was experiencing very strong contractions and was already at least 7 cm dilated. In the middle of administering the epidural the ENTIRE BUILDING’S POWER WENT OUT. Apparently an electrical fire had broken out in a business a couple blocks away. I finished receiving my epidural in the dark illuminated only by cell phone flashlights. In one moment of peak pain and frustration I screamed at the top of my lungs OH MY GOD and thought this is so like 2020.* Once the meds kicked in I did tell our nurse anesthetist friend that she was my favorite person! And I MEANT IT.
- After the epidural I labored in my room a few more minutes and started pushing. I got to 9 cm and baby’s head was visible. I was then transferred from the bed to a wheelchair, wheeled into labor and delivery, and was helped to step up into the stirrup delivery chair.* Within half an hour of pushing, Kairo was born! The epidural had greatly alleviated the pain but I felt everything that was going on. It was extremely difficult but I found it AMAZING to be able to feel his little body slide out. From that moment I was giddy and on such a high. He latched on to start feeding on his first try, within 20 minutes of being born.
I am still so in awe of the miracle of birth and also at how natural and normal it felt. There were several moments during labor and delivery that I truly felt like I wouldn’t be able to go on; I just didn’t think I could do it. It was one of the hardest and most glorious things I’ve ever done. There is a photo (thanks to Kellie and Valentina for capturing such special moments) right before the very last push when I’m leaning back on Natan and feeling completely depleted. That is my last photo before becoming a mother and when I look at it now I wonder who that person even was. I’m sure I will spend the rest of my life discovering all the ways motherhood has and is changing me.
*I provide a few more details and photos in a private password-protected version of this story, shared upon request.*
I am preparing for my first baby (overseas, in the middle of a pandemic) with my husband who is not from my home country. It would be a grave error in my opinion to not discuss the very different ways in which we each grew up. Sooo, these last few months have been full of interesting conversations. (Thank you, quarantine, for giving us ample time to reflect and discuss – we are currently on day 118 of lockdown here in Honduras) We each have differing expectations when it comes to birth and parenting. I mean, when my husband was born here in Honduras he came home from the hospital in the back of a pickup truck over rocky dirt roads. Ladies, imagine traveling like this a couple days postpartum! My mother in law is a rock star.
I didn’t imagine having to actually make the statement that my newborn would be transported home in a car seat. This is just an example of what, for many homogeneous couples might be “no-brainer” decisions, for us have to be unpacked and explicitly discussed. After almost 8 years of being in a relationship together although we know each other well, I think parenting will be a new level of learning about each other.
Since anything I personally might be able to contribute to the topic of cross-cultural parenting is pure theory and not yet practice, I asked 19 bicultural couples with children to complete a survey on the subject. These are the cultural combinations of the couples who participated in the survey:
- U.S.-Dominican Republic
These couples vary in where they are raising their bicultural children: some in mom’s culture, some in dad’s culture, and some in a third culture. Two things stood out in several of the responses and would serve as a good preface. 1. Several mentioned the importance of esteeming a biblical culture over either of the parents’ individual cultures, and 2. remembering that individual personalities and upbringings can be as much or more of a factor in parenting style as the individual’s general culture. I thought these were both great points.
For reference, here is an illustration defining culture and how it affects all of us. (No one on planet earth is exempt.)
Since marrying Natán over three years ago, I often find myself wondering in moments of differing opinions, “Is this a personal/gender difference or is this a cultural difference?”
I didn’t start recognizing or analyzing my own culture until I was exposed to others, specifically in my travels to Latin America. In Sarah Lanier’s brief book, Foreign to Familiar, she does a wonderful job of guiding the reader through what she calls hot- and cold- climate cultures. As I read, I found myself thinking specifically about where I grew up, where I’m in ministry now, and the context in which my husband grew up.
One particular part of her book stood out to me as I thought of a clear example of my upbringing vs. that of my husband. She explains that cold-climate cultures (the U.S.) tend to be more individualistic and that affects how we accumulate and care for personal possessions, whereas a more hot-climate culture (Honduras) values sharing and collective ownership more. In a family setting I see this illustrated as follows:
I grew up with my own room and my own “stuff.” Siblings taking my things without permission was the highest offense and family members giving us “communal Christmas gifts” like a game or movie to share was at the least an unspoken disappointment. My husband grew up sharing the most basic things like a bed and underwear (!!!) with his siblings until about high school. Yes, this comes down to a difference in economics but it is also such a big part of the culture. Here in Honduras you will hear much more plural possessive adjectives like “our” instead of singular like “my.”
I do hope that my children learn to share better than I did.
Other decisions that bicultural parents have to make are which traditions to implement with their children. As evident by the survey answers, this will depend on the dominant culture in which the family is living and just how important certain customs or traditions were to each parent during his or her upbringing. Some admitted that they didn’t really strictly adhere to keeping traditions and that from year to year they might change. Some customs can be seen as old wives tales but some might be esteemed as extremely important, and the pressure to follow them often comes from extended family. According to several who gave wise advice in the surveys: you and your husband ultimately decide what is best for your family, not the grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
Susana, who raised her son in a third culture, said, “The best practice is to do what is in the child’s best interest, regardless of culture or traditions. What worked for the parent while growing up might not be the best or relevant in raising a child in their time.” Great advice for any parent!
Some specific traditions/customs that came up in discussions among couples: (and some that Natán and I have often discussed)
- Christmas: church service, fireworks at midnight, tamales, waking up early, Santa, gifts?
- Losing a tooth: does the tooth fairy come or do you throw your tooth on the roof for the mouse?
- Halloween: innocent fun or devil’s holiday?
- Newborn baby & child care: will you spoil them by holding too much? Tape a marble to their belly button? Rub spit on the child to cure hiccups? Should they always be wearing socks, shoes, hat? How involved should dad be?
- Postpartum care: will eating green veggies or egg during the first few weeks cause infection?
- Etc (what else would you add?)
The survey responses were very interesting and fun to read through! It is obvious that one of the best “tools” to keep handy while parenting with someone from another culture is an open mind. Hannah said, “Sometimes it means compromising and learning a new way to do things that you never would have considered before marrying a person from a different culture.” I would be lying if I didn’t also mention how frequent I read things like, “it’s definitely a challenge” and “it takes a lot of patience and a lot of work.” As many included that parenting in itself can be difficult, I think most would agree that the cross-cultural aspect is an extra challenge.*
Despite the challenge, I do not feel discouraged. As Megan concluded in her survey, “We believe that the blending of cultures is a huge advantage for our kids and not an obstacle. Hold on for the ride! It’s the greatest adventure but not for the faint of heart.”
*I am an advocate for professional counseling/therapy. I think it should be a more normal part of life for all families. I’m curious if there exist therapists that specialize or have a background in helping cross-cultural families. I think it’s needed! Do you know of any? If not, what other resources are available for cross-cultural families & parenting?
Read Part 1 here: Preparing for Baby Overseas During a Pandemic
On New Year’s Day 2020 as most of the world was making resolutions and naively promising to make this the “best year yet!”, my husband and I discovered some extra determination and hope for that promise to be true. We found ourselves in the doorway of our tiny bathroom blinking back tears as we stared at the positive pregnancy test. What a way to start the new year… and new decade! A new little life was forming inside me and I had not been ready for how happy that actually made me. We had questioned whether this was “a good time for our family” and I honestly did not have even a hint of baby fever up to that point but in that moment all those doubts were overshadowed by this great feeling of joy.
Fast forward 5.5 months and I’m in my pajamas in the middle of the day (which day exactly I’m not sure), probably sweating because we live in a tropical climate without air conditioning, wondering what mess of a world I actually had the nerve to bring this little human into. I was already anxious considering just what preparing for my first baby while overseas in a developing country would entail, but then life had to throw a global pandemic into the mix.
As most humans around the world have had to do this year: we’ve had to change some of our plans. I’m not experiencing the kind of pregnancy I expected to have (health-wise I’m great thank God) and I won’t have the kind of birth I had imagined most of my life. In part, this comes with the territory of living as a missionary/expat in a foreign country. Add being married to someone not from your home country and you already have a recipe for a lot of unconventionality and unpredictability. But throw in the global pandemic and at this point I am just surviving in the hazy whirlwind of a complete loss of control. Whereas before, this might have made me anxious, right now I am hands-in-the-air, Jesus-take-the-wheel accepting it.
It reminds me of a favorite verse from Proverbs that says, “We humans keep brainstorming options and plans, but God’s purpose prevails.” (19:21 The Message paraphrase)
Can we all stick that on a mirror?! How real is that verse for this beyond-strange year?
Of course it’s so human of us to shake our fist to the sky and demand, “Why me?! What exactly is your purpose in this?” (side note: a global pandemic is far larger than the inconveniences it causes to our personal plans yet God in His sovereignty has a specific purpose and lesson to teach us in every disruption or tragedy we go through)
My running list of questions for God is as follows:
- Why can’t my husband and I travel to my country together? (I won’t go into this very personal issue but I’ve written previously on how fickle the U.S. immigration system is)
- Why are international borders still currently closed – making round trip commercial flights and international shipping almost impossible? No easy way to visit family during my pregnancy and return to my home abroad / husband, no way to fundraise for our organization and our growing family as missionaries as we had planned, no way to shop for gadgets or products, no way to ship anything from online retailers.
- Why has my entire second trimester been in law-enforced lockdown?
- And even as I mourn these seemingly insignificant yet real losses I worry about those around me suffering from legitimate crises like food insecurity and violence – Why, God?
With all of that said, here is how I am preparing for baby boy in the small ways within my ability:
- I am reading a lot! I’m learning about childbirth and our miraculous bodies and nurture parenting. I’m especially interested in how I can create a safe and secure environment for my child’s emotional and cognitive development.
- I can’t do a lot of nesting right now (we don’t have room for a nursery where we currently live, and right now we can’t – and possibly won’t – buy much baby furniture/equipment) but I’m dreaming and planning to change and rearrange a few things around our small rental house to better accommodate a new baby. We aspire to a minimalist lifestyle and plan to stick to that even after the little one arrives.
- I’m talking to him, singing to him, and praying for him – just not specifically by name since we don’t have that picked out yet. I already feel such a bond and deep love for him that I can’t imagine the sensation of finally holding him in my arms!
I am also preparing myself mentally to feel naturally maternal in some ways and completely inadequate in others. I’m preparing for the great responsibility of molding and teaching this little “clean slate” of a human, yet remaining open enough to learn from what this completely “other” being is able to teach me. I cannot predict his temperament nor affinities nor physical appearance. I’m prepared for much of our parenting lessons to be on-the-spot learning. I’ve felt a deeper love for my husband in the last few months and I’ve been reading and reflecting on how to nurture and prioritize our marriage relationship postpartum as well. I don’t want it to be put on the back burner as I’ve heard couples complain of before.
Some parts of cross-cultural parenting, and being far from family, seem daunting since I don’t have much personal reference other than a few other moms I’ve met recently. A couple friends and I have joked about eventually writing a book because I haven’t found a good one on the topic of cross-cultural parenting (parents from different cultures) yet. (send book recs if you know of any!)
With the extra down time due to ten weeks of lockdown in Honduras because of COVID, I’ve been able to journal, reflect, and analyze with my husband on different upbringing and parenting styles. I think this is a challenge enough for homogeneous couples that are just from two separate homes but the subtle differences in expectations and value systems and traditions of two people from different countries/cultures trying to make decisions as a united front for their child might require a little more intentionality. May God grant me patience, humility, and stamina for the challenge ahead.
I might write more in-depth on some thoughts I’ve had about preparing for cross-cultural (and bilingual) parenting so for now I’ll leave the topic at this. Please send thoughts, questions, or resources on any of the above!
For now, I am honestly enjoying this pregnancy stage so much. Carrying this precious baby boy and feeling him move and kick inside my womb has already been the greatest gift. I am praying for the next three months to go smoothly and that this time would serve to form and prepare my husband and me into the kind of parents that the Lord would have us be for this little one.
This piece is written about a family we know from a village in West Honduras. This essay describes the reality of an impoverished rural family and a morning that we met with them to take the oldest daughter back to the city where she is temporarily living in a host home and attending school. Names have been altered and some details slightly changed. Although I took some creative liberty in the description of emotions and internal dialogue, the story is based on true observations and firsthand accounts from the girls and their mom.
4:00 am – Iris
Iris awoke on the bare mattress next to her three small daughters. She grabbed in the dark for the tiny flashlight, the only thing that would break the oppressive black that clouded her vision. They had not yet gotten electricity to her one-room adobe brick house, nor had they added a single window because this living arrangement was supposed to be temporary. It was makeshift because soon, better times would come. Of course Iris only halfway believed this because her 36 years of life had taught her otherwise. Most hope is empty and most plans for the future end up being the worst possible disappointment.
This is why it took every ounce of strength in her tired body and weary soul to muster up even the flicker of hope needed to believe that her oldest daughter, Rosy, might have a better chance with these strange people in the city. Could it be that God directed them from so far away to end up visiting this tiny corner of the world? Could they have ulterior motives? The whispers of her neighbors and even family members planted more doubts. But nothing so far had validated those claims and Iris had to do something, anything, to help her daughter. It was worth the risk. And maybe, just maybe, God was real and really good and actually saw her.
These thoughts weighed heavy on her mind and on her frail shoulders as she gently lifted groggy babies to get them ready for the day of travel they had ahead of them. There was no time to grind corn or light the wood-burning stove for a few tortillas. They would have to leave on empty stomachs. This was nothing new, of course. How many mornings had Iris awoken with an empty stomach and lain down again at night with the same hunger pangs?
The bus will be here soon! Iris hurried her two oldest daughters, Rosy, 14 and Maritza, 10, as they packed Rosy’s bag and helped put shoes on the little ones despite their sleepy protests. They were shoes that Rosy had brought back as gifts for her family from the city, luxuries really. When had Iris imagined that one day all five of her daughters would have their own pair of shoes? Of course they didn’t wear them around the dirt-floor house so as to keep them as clean as possible. These shoes were for special occasions, like today. For the first time Iris beamed with a little more pride as she imagined all of them traveling by bus and arriving in the bustling town of Copán Ruinas decently dressed.
It was a good 15 minute walk in the dark on a mountainous road to the entrance of their village where the van they referred to as el busito would arrive for its passengers. Iris didn’t travel much but it was known that every day there was one bus in and one bus out of this little cluster of villages. They waited. And waited. Iris and her oldest daughters took turns carrying Rosy’s suitcase and holding the little ones while they drifted in and out of sleep, occasionally lifting their heads to look around and cry out until they were soothed back to a state of calm. Still they heard no sounds of an old van bouncing up the rocky dirt road; only roosters crowing and a distant mill whirring away grinding someone’s corn for their morning tortillas. The sun was still at least half an hour away from peaking up behind the rolling green hills.
Finally someone down the road called out to Iris and the girls – ¡buenos días! – telling them that if they were waiting on the bus that it wasn’t coming today. They’d have to catch the other bus two villages away that would be arriving any minute. What? Iris jumped up from where she was sitting and nursing the baby, jolting little Anita into wails again. We don’t have enough time! Disoriented from sleep-deprivation, the five girls and their mom took off on foot in the dark again right as a light drizzle descended.
It was a miracle that the six travelers actually made it to the bus stop (a mango tree where the dirt road comes to a split) before the rusty van pulled away. They had had to run, sloshing through the mud and dragging a suitcase, for several miles. Breathless, tired, sweaty, thirsty, hungry, and at this point drenched from rain… Iris and her daughters loaded into the van and she handed the driver some damp and crumpled lempiras, the few dollars it would cost to take them to town, two hours away. It was all the money she had. She wasn’t sure when or if they’d be able to eat this day but she had to get to town.
7:00 am – Rosy
Mom, if they don’t come I’ll just go back to our village with you. Rosy and her family had only been sitting in the town’s central park for seven minutes. She was now torn between two worlds and was secretly hoping to stay with her mom and her sisters. For years Rosy was like a second mother to her younger siblings. When she was away from them she only worried about their well-being. Was she making a mistake by taking this opportunity to study in the city? Would they be okay without her? She couldn’t escape the worries about the future nor the memories from the past that haunted her. She feared the worst. Would her remaining family members face the same fate as the others? Her father and little brother had both spent weeks in bed suffering before malaria took their last breath; her other little brother was mysteriously found in the woods dead. Her mother now struggled to keep food in the house. Was she not abandoning her vulnerable family when they needed her? She questioned whether it was the right thing but one memory rang loudly in her mind: her mother telling her, I don’t want you taken by a man and having babies at 14 like me. If you stay here you will have the same life I had. Go and study.
7:23 am – Maritza
Of all of Iris’s children, Maritza was the most curious and precocious. She had heard a lot of talk from a lot of grown ups in her village, and a lot of it was about her. Problem child, rebellious, nosy, too talkative, and the dreaded diagnosis that was neither scientifically proven nor dared to be questioned… unable to learn at school because she doesn’t pay attention. In Maritza’s village, this was a case-closed prescription for life at home because no overwhelmed and overworked teacher could stand her in their classroom. With fifty boisterous children in one dimly lit cinder-block room, spanning over three grade levels, who could blame them?
All of these “problematic” personality traits were exactly why Maritza would not accept being left at home on this momentous day while the rest of her family traveled to the big town. She could not miss out on the adventure (and the subsequent gossip she could pass on to her friends and neighbors upon her return). At 7:23 in the morning, sitting in the town’s central park, damp and muddy and hungry and nauseated from the jostling bus ride down the mountain, Maritza was not feeling as much excitement as she had the previous day. Her mom and older sister were acting more bossy and irritable than normal and she was starting to wonder if these people were going to show up anyway.
The couple that had made the arrangements to take her older sister to the city were not technically strangers. For the last few years they had been visiting Maritza’s village to help and teach the people there. They recently built an outhouse for her family, the very first toilet they’d ever owned. Because she was a self-appointed village lookout, Maritza was almost always the first to detect the rumble of the Diesel engine and then the sight of the bright red truck coming into view around the curves and through the banana trees that lined her village’s dirt road. She would then enthusiastically take off on foot (often barefoot) to alert neighbors and the school that the Honduran city pastor and his gringa wife were arriving. This would allow plenty of time for anyone who so desired to scramble to the windows of their home or the edge of the road to wave or simply stare in curiosity at the outsiders.
Today, although in a much different space and a greater state of delirium, Maritza was on the lookout again. From the park bench she had patiently watched countless vehicles and motorcycles and the typical red and white mototaxis boasting their rambunctious ranchera music zoom through the town square, all of their drivers and passengers important and focused on their destination. All at once she spotted the red truck coming up the cobblestone street and she jumped up from the bench where she was sitting with her family. Maritza recognized the pastor and the gringa’s familiar goofy grins through the truck windows and she took notice that they were in contrast to Rosy’s expression of consternation. It was all so exciting but deep down, she too, would have been happy if her sister ended up going back home with them to their village.
Pleasantries and greetings were exchanged, including those strange hugs that the gringa always gave. It had taken Maritza a while to get used to an affectionate pat or embrace since no one typically exchanged physical touch in such a way in her village, not even parents with children. Slowly, after several repeated visits from the red truck couple, she began to interpret an extended arm as something other than a threat. Today Maritza willingly wrapped her arms around the gringa’s waist and was relieved to hear her say, busquemos desayuno. Let’s get breakfast!
On just a couple other occasions in her life Maritza had visited the town of Copán Ruinas. To her, this town was another world. It was a world of commerce and trade and government work and where her mom has to go after having a baby so that she can register the child and bring home their birth certificate. Maritza was not too young to recognize that her family didn’t fit in here. The busy people walking up and down the streets, standing in line at the bank, coming and going from the stores all had an air of confidence and belonging that she knew she didn’t quite possess but hoped to imitate. As the group approached the door of one of those establishments, Maritza felt a jolt of exhilaration.
The pastor and the gringa had to prod and encourage Iris to step inside with her girls. Maritza observed the natural way the red truck couple glided into this place, this restaurant, as if it were their own home. Did they have permission to walk in like that? If they did, surely Maritza and her family did not. Who were they to just open a stranger’s door and walk through it? Maritza received no clues from her mother, verbal or nonverbal, as to whether it was really appropriate to enter this strange place but curiosity got the better of her and she stepped through the door.
She froze. All within the same second a blast of cold air hit her skin; she inhaled a strong aroma like she had never experienced before of high quality coffee and pastries and a variety of foods; her ears caught the strange sounds of machines and music that seemed to come out of the walls; and her vision was bombarded by two big screen TVs in opposite corners and the most pristine and orderly floors, tables, counters, and workers all dressed in matching uniforms. It was dizzying. Maritza’s senses were instantly overwhelmed and her fight or flight response kicked in. She whimpered and curled up in a corner. It took the couple another several minutes to calm her and coax her over to the table where they would eat and help get everyone seated. Iris was still uncomfortably standing in the doorway with baby Anita on her hip, possibly experiencing a milder version of what her second daughter had just faced. The odd situation was compounded by the uniformed servers staring on suspiciously at Iris and whispering among themselves. They had been trained to swiftly and inconspicuously usher beggars out the side door in order to maintain the utmost comfort of their customers. And this frail woman with the downcast face certainly fit the profile of a town beggar.
Becoming aware of the increasing tension, the couple stood and motioned with big gestures for Iris and her baby to join them at the table, hoping to reassure the nervous mom as well as the onlooking servers. Now it was time to choose something from the menu.
Knowing how overwhelming the experience was becoming just within the first few minutes, the pastor suggested setting aside the menus and ordering a simple breakfast of traditional baleadas (flour tortilla with beans, cheese, and cream) and a cup of coffee for everyone. Maritza realized how famished she was but was also perplexed by where the food would come from. She certainly smelled food but saw no fire or stove or pots and pans anywhere. The large table where the guests were seated had little boxes in the center with paper napkins and little paper packets of something. Were these free to take?
Her question was answered when one of the uniformed workers arrived with steaming mugs of black coffee for everyone. The gringa showed Maritza which of the little paper packets had sugar in them and she tore them open and emptied their contents into the beverage. Maritza crumpled the empty paper packets and let them fall to the floor beside her chair just like she would normally dispose of any trash in her village. She noticed the gringa watching her and heard her giggle as she leaned down to pick up the paper. Here we leave all the trash on top of the table and these workers will throw it away in a trash can when we leave. Oh.
As they waited on the food Maritza was focused on the TVs. She’d never seen a screen so big with images so lifelike! There was a glass display with cakes that caught her attention as well. How did this place have so much food? The gringa showed her how to sit correctly so she could reach what she needed at the table. When the food arrived Maritza was again intrigued by the heavy silver forks and knives that were wrapped in more paper napkins. For all of these things Maritza wondered, why? The couple closed their eyes and talked to God and thanked Him for the food before eating. Is that where these plates came from?
Maritza watched with intense curiosity as the workers went back and forth bringing whatever the couple requested out to the table. Her mother never dared to speak to the workers directly. She barely looked them in the eye. Maritza observed the servers disappearing around a corner on the other side of the cake display. What was back there? She couldn’t finish her breakfast – it was so much – but to her relief the gringa asked a worker for something to pack the leftover food in and the girl brought a piece of foil to the table. Maritza figured that she wasn’t allowed to carry the ceramic plate out to the street so she had thought about using one of the paper napkins from the box to wrap her food. As everyone began to stand up the precocious child grabbed her plate and utensils and marched herself right past the cake display following the lead of those in uniform. She was cleaning up after herself as she assumed she should! The workers smiled and took the plate from her before she ended up too far into the restricted kitchen area.
She stopped at the cake display to admire in awe. She wasn’t hungry anymore but just what were they going to do with all that cake? Maritza noticed that Rosy had just come out of a door that led to a little room. Do you need to go to the bathroom? The gringa suggested that Rosy join her sister in the restroom to help with anything she might not understand about indoor plumbing. It was all impressive to Maritza, a toilet that flushes, paper and soap in boxes, but the most fun was the giant mirror where she shied away from looking at the weirdly clear image of her own face for too long. The mirror was too exciting to keep to herself so when she finished and opened the door she motioned for the gringa to step inside so they could both see their reflection in the same frame and giggle together.
It was time to leave and with teary eyes and full bellies the sisters softly told each other goodbye. The gringa encouraged hugs although they weren’t entirely natural-feeling among the girls and their mom. Rosy swallowed a pill that the couple had bought her for carsickness, since past experience proved road trips to be rough on her stomach. She climbed in the back seat of the red truck leaving her family standing on the corner and watched their forms get smaller and smaller until they faded from her view. Then with determination she set her sight firmly on the road ahead and slowly yielded to the hum of the engine and drowsiness of the anti-nausea medicine. Thinking of the world she was leaving behind and the world that lay ahead, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.
What a significant decade in my life! So many ups and downs and interesting experiences. So much learning and growing! So many dreams accomplished and so much evidence of God’s providence and faithfulness. How can I not be thankful?
I still consider 2009 to be one of the most significant years of my life. I would say it was the peak of my existence but that’s a little dramatic and also kind of depressing for the rest of my years here on earth… *ahem, nervous laughter* so, anyway I thought I’d share the highlights from that year and then the highlights from the rest of the decade. Maybe I’ll throw in some lowlights too just to be real…
The year I turned 20! I finished my sophomore year at Lee University and started my junior year in the fall. I had gotten involved in a community tutoring and mentorship ministry in an immigrant neighborhood near my college campus that I would end up leading the following year. The experiences and friendships formed through this ministry were nothing short of life-changing for me. And my Spanish advanced exponentially this year!
The summer of 2009 was packed for me. I don’t remember the specific order but it involved traveling as a volunteer to Honduras, Mexico, and DISNEY WORLD. Yes, I went to Disney World on a paid trip as a volunteer Spanish interpreter with a Mexican family for a type of make-a-wish dream vacation. Occasionally I think about that opportunity and wonder WHAT IS MY LIFE. (that trip was not without its mishaps and fails – which make for hilarious stories – but it was overall truly MAGICAL)
After having traveled for 5 years with teams, my cousin and I were able to travel to Honduras solo for the first time as independent volunteers. I think the trip was a total of about 3 weeks, which was cut short because of Honduras’ infamous MILITARY COUP that took place smack dab in the middle of our stay. Of course, at 20-years-old I was more concerned about my missions adventure being thwarted than the actual political ramifications that it meant for the country. #typical
Thank God that I have grown as an individual and as a missionary since that trip. I was naïve in so many ways.
We were also in Honduras when Michael Jackson died but that had no implication on my life. I just remembered that being big in the news.
The Disney World experience was enriching in so many ways. I got to see the incredible collaboration of Children’s Hospital of Alabama and the organization, Magic Moments, in granting the wish of a precious little patient whose cancer was in remission. The organization, Give Kids the World, in Kissimee, FL was super impressive as they provided housing, food, and activities to all their guests – families of children with terminal illnesses. One activity in their “village” allowed the sick children to write their name on a gold star and choose where they wanted to hang the star along the roof of “Castle of Miracles” along with thousands of other stars from kids in similar situations. We got park hopper entrances to all Disney parks and to Universal Studios, fast passes to every ride, park meals and souvenirs covered, and the patient’s Give Kids the World button she wore on her shirt signaled all characters in autograph signing lines to stop the line and direct their attention to her. I had never seen anything like it.
The biggest mishap of the trip was that I was the only licensed driver of the group (and the only English speaker) and the family’s vehicle broke down somewhere in south Georgia on our way to Orlando and it was a Sunday and we couldn’t find any mechanic shops open. This was also before smartphones so I guess we were just calling random people asking for help. (we actually waved on a police officer who stopped to ask if we were ok) We finally got in touch with a friend of a friend, some latino mechanic who came and helped us out. That day I learned the Spanish word for spark plugs. And I learned a few other things about my own privilege.
For the first part of this year I was working as an office assistant and board operator at Christian radio station J103 in Chattanooga.
I visited Costa Rica for the first time with a group from college this summer. I tried gallo pinto (Costa Rican rice and beans) and my life hasn’t been the same since.
I think this was the year that I started working in retail – JCPenny!
This was the year I graduated from my incredible alma mater, Lee U, with a bachelor’s of arts in Telecommunications, minors in Spanish, Latin American Studies, and Religion. I was interning (and eventually worked) at Church of God World Missions editing video footage for missionaries around the world. I loved it! I eventually had to leave Cleveland, TN and was super sad.
My highest highlight of the year was visiting Puerto Rico for the first time. ¡Me enamoré con la Isla del Encanto! And I halfway learned to dance Bomba. Second highlight was getting my first DSLR camera (Canon T2i).
In the fall of this year I moved to Panama City, Panamá for three months as a volunteer with a Honduran missionary family.
This was the year I started getting more involved in fighting for comprehensive immigration reform, and specifically against a state-level anti-immigrant bill that was promoting self-deportation of undocumented immigrants. I wrote to my representatives and traveled to the state capital by bus with a group of activists to rally against it.
I went back to work with the World Missions video editing team for the first part of this year then I was invited to move to Honduras in August on an English teaching contract. I was nervous about teaching and living there for A YEAR but I jumped at the chance. One fateful month after starting my teaching job in San Pedro Sula, Honduras I met Natán Martínez at church. My first impression of him was him standing up in front of the congregation praying a passionate missions prayer for some chosen country of the month… it I weren’t so skeptical of these kind of things I would say it was love at first sight… or love at first prayer… idk. Basically a few weeks after that we were officially dating.
This was also one of the last years that I was into death-defying stunts like hiking through a roaring waterfall with an amateur guide. (NEVER AGAIN) Yes, those tiny people in the photo are my friends and me.
This year I traveled to Belize for the first time.
I finished my teaching contract in June and made plans to move back to the states. Natán was preparing to start seminary in Guatemala and we were already talking about getting married. We both knew we wanted to be in ministry in Honduras but didn’t know what that would look like. I still had about $20,000+ of student loans to pay off and he had 3 years of seminary to get through. We pledged to do long distance until we met our goals. AND WE DID. 2013 was the start of 3.5 years of LONG DISTANCE dating (kind of already engaged) in two separate countries.
For the last half of 2013 I started the job search. My first contract job was teaching English to adults through a literacy program grant for Hoover City Schools at an elementary school. I eventually started teaching Spanish with a homeschool co-op, and doing Spanish interpreting in medical facilities and Tarrant City School System. I loved each of these jobs. At one point I was working 5 contract jobs at once!
I also started using my photography/videography as a side hustle, doing photo sessions and videoing events.
Natán and I would see each other about twice a year when he’d go home to Honduras for break and I’d travel to see him or travel with a missions group. Finally, in spring of 2016 I traveled to visit him in Guatemala and then again in November to see him graduate. This was when we took engagement photos to announce our wedding date for the following March.
This was the year I paid off the last of my student loans! FREEDOM. And Natán graduated from seminary. I had started raising monthly missions support and that has sustained us in our ministry. We accomplished what we set out to do before getting married and starting our lives as full-time missionaries.
WEDDING TIME! Natán and I (finally) got married in an intimate ceremony on the Caribbean island of Roatan on March 27, 2017, four days before my 28th birthday. IT WAS A DREAM. It was at my dream location, I wore my dream dress, DSW clearance high heels, my grandmother did my hair AND made our delicious strawberry wedding cake. (don’t tell anyone she iced the cake in our hotel bathroom) We found a great local photographer and were surrounded by closest friends and family. Those who couldn’t be present watched via Skype.
In February of this year I lost my paternal grandmother and it was really hard but I thank God that I happened to be home on a scheduled visit during her last days and I was able to say goodbye while she was lucid.
We got a slow start this year as we founded our poverty alleviation nonprofit organization and we kept hitting bumps in the road. The last few months of 2018 were pretty stressful in our personal lives but we made it through. I was glad to see 2018 go.
Four highlights were: loving married life, visiting El Salvador for the first time, having my mom and grandparents visit us in Honduras, and photographing the birth of my nephew, Brooks!
In 2019 we officially got 501c3 status as an organization! We hit a few important goals and had our first official benefit event for our org in Alabama. I also turned 30 this year and it felt fabulous.
This last decade brought many pleasant surprises but also a couple painful disappointments. I learned some ugly truths about the world but I think I grew and gained wisdom from it. I am not as carefree and naïve as I was at twenty but that would be kind of weird if I was.
I might not be exactly where I’d like to be for 2020 but as I reflect over the last ten years I think I can say it was a freakin’ good decade. I really don’t have any regrets. Here’s to the next!
[The wall would have a door.] And if someone wanted to come into the Land of the Free, that person would knock on the gate and someone would check them out. And if they were freedom-loving they’d be let in and if they weren’t, they wouldn’t. It was that simple.
What a nice sentiment. Is it that simple?
This is an excerpt from a troubling children’s book by Eric Metaxas that just released called “Donald Builds the Wall.” *insert the hardest eye roll*
Sadly, many Americans today think about immigration with that same children’s book logic. It is a gross understatement and an offense to those who have been trying for years to do things the right way. (and honestly, to those who had no choice but to cross the border looking for security) Let me just walk you through the preliminary steps to applying for a visitor’s visa from a country like Honduras:
- find a computer and place with reliable wifi (since 62% of the population live below the national poverty line they are already at a disadvantage)
- go to the U.S. embassy website
- click on a couple links redirecting you to “read more about…” pages
- find an external link to a travel docs website to start application
- determine your type of visa
(abbreviated list of visa categories – full list here)
- a couple hours later start the application
- realize it is only in English
- find someone who understands English well enough to assist you throughout the application process
- receive multiple error messages because the website glitches out frequently
- hours (or days) later finish application
- print application and confirmation number
- stand in line for a couple hours at your local bank to pay $160 for your pending embassy appointment
- call the embassy to schedule your appointment several weeks or months out
- start checking off the elusive what-you-need-for-a-visa checklist like: a large amount of money in the bank with bank statements, a notarized letter from an employer, documents of any property or assets owned (again, a large portion of the country is already disqualified), a letter from someone in the U.S. inviting you and offering to cover in-country costs, your passport with possible foreign trips to neighboring countries, etc etc (there is no definite list of requirements; the point is to prove significant ties to your country of origin and financial stability)
- travel to the U.S. embassy the day of your appointment (often hours and many bus fares later) and after just minutes with an agent receive the decision with no further explanation: DENIED
Countless hours and days and money are wasted on another futile attempt just to visit the United States.
I can’t tell you how many times this exact same scenario has played out before my eyes with personal family and friends here in Honduras. (medical doctors, completely bilingual individuals, pastors, etc) And I can’t express emphatically enough how this broken system affects me on a personal level. Let me say this for those hard of hearing: THEY ARE NOT PASSING OUT VISAS LIKE CANDY. It is a very vague and unpredictable process. Don’t you dare compare filling out a form and getting your passport photo taken at the post office to applying for a U.S. visitor’s visa, Sharon.
We have heard from a trusted source that many times the U.S. embassy here in Honduras has already determined the decision before the applicant even arrives at their offices. (!!!) How unfair is that?
It is ludicrous to believe that just because an individual was fortunate enough to be born in a rich country with powerful passports, or just because an individual was fortunate enough to be approved at their visa interview (by some luck of the draw!) that they are somehow more worthy of living in the U.S. than others.
We can all agree that foreign convicted felons and terrorists lost their chance of entrance. Period. But why is it so hard for the average, honest, hard-working immigrant (who shares more values with conservatives than many of our “conservative leaders” I MIGHT ADD) to be allowed in? (Don’t get me started on the new refugee cap, the LOWEST in U.S. history)
This is what comprehensive immigration reform is, people. It is not open borders.
I would not be so opposed to talk of a wall (because yes! national security is important) if I actually heard politicians at the same time proposing actual plans to FIX THE BROKEN IMMIGRATION SYSTEM. If being freedom-loving were the only requirement, so many people that I love and care about would have a fair chance of traveling to the U.S.
I AM, for the record, opposed to indoctrinating children through a book that their undocumented immigrant classmates are “swamp creatures” and inferior. What the heck?! And this is being endorsed by Christian leaders in our nation. I am severely disappointed today.
In conclusion, don’t buy this book for your child… or any child. Teach them understanding and compassion instead. Here’s a good list of 11 children’s books about immigrant stories to get for the kids in your life instead.
If you do talk to your kids about weirdly political topics like this I hope it is so you can remind them that it doesn’t matter a person’s status, or where they were born, or how they got here… they’re human and have inherent dignity just like anyone else. Maybe then your child will be the one inviting the lonely Hispanic kid to sit with her at lunch instead of leading a group chant of “Build the Wall!” during P.E.
I am part of an online community of missionaries and expats around the world. I’m super thankful for this space that helps me find people in similar situations like myself and it makes me feel less alone. One of these groups has weekly discussion themes and encourages the expat women to post and blog according to it. This week the theme is opposites.
After reading some of the posts, I have come to reflect on some seemingly opposites in my own life. In the last year I’ve become a little obsessive with comparing my life here in Honduras to my life back home in the states. I don’t know if this is a stage of culture shock and I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to justify or reconcile in my own mind but I annoy my own self with frequent comments that I make like, “back in my country…” reminiscent of Phoebe from The Magic School Bus.
So, inspired by a guest blogger on the group’s blog, I thought I would just make a little list of things contrasting my life now to what it might be if I were living in the U.S.: (as interesting as my daily life in Honduras might seem to some in the states, my daily life in the states seems pretty interesting to many in Honduras – for example, it is quite shocking to people in the majority world that we in the states let our central heating and air units run almost nonstop year-round)
- in the U.S. I would use a dryer for my clothes; in Honduras I use a clothesline (this is just one reason why clothes-washing is a more complicated and involved task from start to finish – there’s no throwing in a couple jeans to wash last minute because you need them the next day.)
- in the U.S. I would wear a lot of makeup and fix my hair more; here I wear minimal makeup and opt for braids or buns most days
- in the U.S. I would probably use a dishwasher (depending where I was living); here I hand wash dishes multiple times a day and my hands and nails suffer from it
- in the U.S. I would ashamedly eat lotssss of microwavable foods; here I cook more (thus dirtying up more dishes) or eat dirt cheap street food
- in the U.S. I would live in a completely climate controlled atmosphere at a comfortable 68º pretty much 24/7; here we use only fans with open windows and can’t control the temperatures, smells, or noises that bombard our senses
- in the U.S. pest control is a breeze; here it is almost a daily battle with ants, mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, and geckos (and once, an iguana in our bathroom)
- in the U.S. I would keep up with my favorite T.V. series like This Is Us and Law and Order: SVU; here we have no T.V. (but thank God for wifi & Netflix! even with fewer options than in the states)
- in the U.S. my water pressure would be great and I’d have constant hot water in any faucet!; here we use an external heated shower head that is only hot when the pressure is really low (not to mention we can’t drink from the faucets)
- in the U.S. I would have SO. MUCH. closet and drawer space; here my husband and I share a single zip-up mobile “closet” and use foldable storage bins
- in the U.S. I would drive solo anywhere at literally any time of the day or night on great road conditions; here the roads are hazardous, traffic is typically heavy, other drivers are unpredictable, my husband and I share a vehicle and it is stick shift and I’m not comfortable driving it just yet… so I don’t drive (but I will! It’s a goal of mine)
- in the U.S. I would speak mostly in my first language and communication wouldn’t require much mental energy; here I will go days on end without having a single conversation in English and sometimes it leaves me feeling exhausted
- in the U.S. I would feel comfortable in public (just the right amount of being acknowledged + being ignored); here I’m stared at everywhere
- in the U.S. I can suggest to group of friends that we go out for dinner and everyone understands they will pay their own bill; here “he who invites pays” so group outings are few and far between 😉
etc., etc… The above list is specific of my particular situation in either of my “two worlds.” It’s not to say that it would be representative of all living in the states nor all living in Honduras. This is also a very superficial list and doesn’t touch on the subject of violence and fear that is one of the biggest factors of any psychological and emotional changes that I might have experienced in the last couple of years – changes that I most definitely would not have undergone had I stayed in the states. These are my opposites. I live every day trying to figure out how I can stay active in both worlds… and if I should. Some days, I wonder if I’m holding on too much to my comfort zone and other days I wonder if I’m losing my true self in the midst of assimilating into a new culture. Some days I feel brave and accomplished and other days I beat myself up for wallowing in self-pity. (because, I definitely have days when I just want ac and crown moulding and chick-fil-a and a hot bath and to feel comfortably normal)
What if I could settle for living with these two opposing sides – appreciating the parts of me that have “Honduran-ized” while not feeling guilty for still wanting little American pleasures while living abroad? What if it was God’s plan all along that my upbringing, affinities, calling, and all the new experiences blended together to form a completely unique me?
I visualize it like I’m right in the middle of a Venn diagram where it’s overlapping and that’s where the really interesting stuff happens. I shouldn’t feel forced to sort through things placing them neatly on one side or the other. And if something is temporarily out of reach on a certain side I don’t have to feel like a martyr because it isn’t part of my life at that particular moment. I know I would never be fully content completely on one side or the other anyway.
I have a never-satisfied longing for my fam back home to truly understand my daily life in Central America. I have to accept that they are not going to understand. I have a never-satisfied longing for my husband to understand my upbringing that is quite the opposite of how he was raised. I have to accept that he won’t truly understand my emotionally-charged nostalgia surrounding the holidays and family beach trips. He’ll one day get to experience that with us stateside but it won’t compare to the memories I have as a child. And I have to accept that our kids will most definitely have a very different experience than either one of us had growing up. They too will have to learn to live with a divine blending of cultures and that will bring its own challenges and rewards.
So, here’s to moving forward and being fully present in the middle of the diagram! Opposite worlds can blend and our lives are enriched because of it.
The three villages we are focused on this year are known as PVII, Copán; PSP, Choluteca; and SM, Santa Barbara.
Health and Hygiene
In the village, PVII, we have started medical checkups with school age children. After our preliminary checkup with a local Honduran doctor, we discovered that out of the 103 children evaluated, 45 suffer from mild to severe malnutrition. Because of generous donors, at the checkup we were able to provide each child with anti-parasite medicine and iron, and multi-vitamins for those with malnutrition. We’re looking into therapeutic food options for the severe cases.
In Honduran villages, outhouses are the most common kind of bathroom. In PVII, 70% of homes have no toilet whatsoever. Our goal for 2019 is to be able to install outhouses for 50 families in various villages. (We have 29 of 50 donated so far!)
We sent 150 kids to school! Generous donors helped us provide education awareness training for parents, a backpack full of supplies, and a complete uniform for a total of 150 kids in 4 different communities. On a recent visit we left a sack of 100 lbs of rice with the teacher to be used during lunch time for those who often don’t have food at home.
In PVII there are almost 100 children enrolled in a 2-classroom schoolhouse with a leaky roof. The kindergartners meet out on the patio and have no desks or materials. We are writing a proposal to be able to supply them with the necessary resources and repairs by the end of this year, 2019.
We were able to invest in a pig farming micro-business in PSP that is helping a family build a new house, and will benefit several other needy families in the community once piglets are born.
Our single mom entrepreneur, “momtrepreneur,” in Copán is still running her secondhand clothes micro-business; and we are investing in the startup of a food vendor in Comayagua.
In the area of spiritual formation, we are partnering with the local church of PVII and their new pastor to help strengthen the congregation, especially their children’s program.
Last week we brought a pre-teen girl from her village to the city to live with a family while she recovers from chronic malnutrition and catches up in school.
The only way we could do what we do is because of monthly ministry partners and friends who give to each project. We are in awe of God’s faithfulness!
A donation in any amount can make a huge difference. Click here to give to VER International PayPal.
If I have learned anything over the last couple years it is that we are are not superheroes. We are not invincible. We are not immortal. And we don’t run the show like we sometimes think we do.
I’m talking about the Christian cross-cultural worker and humans in general.
Life and health are fragile things and just when we think we have it tight in our grasp we lose our balance and it is ripped from us in a moment. It leaves us at a loss for words.
I never had reason to consider the fragility of life until recently. I took my safety and health for granted. I’ve recently been confronted with the painful reality that we have no idea what could happen tomorrow. We cannot see the future or, much less, determine it. As a cross-cultural worker I live in a region that is more dangerous than the environment in which I grew up. I’ve had to face the normality of violence and death in a way I never thought I would. Recently, I have experienced heartbreak within my own family and it leaves us feeling vulnerable. I have seen friends go through agonizing loss and face the uncertainty of grave diagnoses. We all question why. Everything was going so well. The control was in my hands!
The American value of self-sufficiency and autonomy is not necessarily a biblical one. We praise those who make it on their own with no help. The desire of self-governance is at the core of our rebellious hearts and is the retort of the atheist. Like toddlers, we push away the hand that feeds us because for a moment we stubbornly believe the delusion that we can actually make it on our own. We imagine that we are the ones in control and that we are strong and capable and independent and free. At our best, it sneaks into our self-conscious as we silently applaud ourselves, and at our worst we give in to self-aggrandizing behavior with disregard to how we belittle others.
Ironically, Webster defines humility as the freedom from pride or arrogance. To be truly humble is to be free. The constant striving to need others (or God) less is like a ball and chain.
An excerpt from my devotional by Paul D. Tripp the other day said it perfectly:
Don’t fear your weaknesses. Be afraid of those moments when you think you’re independently strong.
In a world where all you have in the end is your thinking, your drive, your performance, and your achievements, weakness is a thing to be regretted.
But God’s grace makes weakness a thing to be feared no longer.
And really, the only way to accept the life-altering grace of our Savior is to admit how weak and unrighteous and not-so-know-it-all that we really are.
How difficult it is for the prideful man to truly know God.
Christian Cross-cultural Work
I have been studying the book, Walking with the Poor, for literally, over a year. It is heavy and oh-so-good and relevant to the work we do in Honduras. Chapter 7 touches on principles and attitudes that a holistic practitioner on the field should have. Myers lists the characteristics that workers should aspire to in Christian development work:
- Be patient
- Be humble
- Everyone is learning
- Everywhere is holy
- Love the people, not the program
- Cultivate a repentant spirit
- Act like dependent people – Myers says, “We need to show daily that we are a people dependent on God and not on our professional skills, our development technology, or our financial resources. People will see for themselves in whom we most truly place our trust. We need to be sure that our actions and our lives communicate that our trust is in the God of the Bible and nowhere else.“
This is something that is so important for my husband and me in our poverty alleviation work. We immediately posture ourselves along with the “recipients” in giving thanks to God for His provision. We all are the receivers and our good God is the giver. No one is assuming the role of Superhero.
Humility as a cross-cultural worker also means having the vulnerability to voice certain defeats or challenges and speaking up when your health (physical, emotional, financial, etc) is spiraling. Humility is recognizing that our human bodies and emotions have limits and require rest. Humility is accepting help, like possibly going to a professional counselor or learning boundaries and when to say no. All of these can be especially challenging for someone on the mission field who has been taught that they should have unending energy and compassion, superhero characteristics.
There is something about the daily exposure to poverty and other ills of society which tends to tear away faith and make agents of change some of the most cynical people around.
– M. Maggay
Myers suggests that when our soul starts longing for the Sabbath that a “sanity escape” can protect our inner lives; this is a time to “withdraw from our work and sit back and look for what is good. [Holistic practitioners] need to be able to hear the music, listen to the silence, pray, and sit quietly before the Word. Smelling the flowers, walking on the beach, and reading a good book are essential to sustaining our humanity and spirituality.”
Advice for a sending agency or congregation that is trying to care for workers on the field, Myers says, “We have a responsibility to help holistic practitioners free themselves in a way that allows them to make a gift of themselves, their character, and their skills, to all their relationships, beginning at home.”
In the day-to-day, we should learn to balance being driven and trusting in God’s sovereignty as described in the Serenity Prayer: