I have been procrastinating in writing about my experience I had a little over a month ago with the Tolupan ethnic group. I hardly have words to describe what I saw – the most extreme poverty and unhealthy living conditions that I have ever witnessed with my own eyes. After much processing, I am gathering my thoughts and trying to express what I felt that day and continue to feel so deeply. My heart is bursting to share with you about this trip. This indigenous group maintains the majority of their ancestral customs. They are polygamous, they answer to their chief, and they speak a dialect called Tol, although most adults also speak Spanish.
We started out in Honduras’ capital city, Tegucigalpa, bright and early Friday morning. 5:30 a.m. We loaded into Brother Orestes’ extended cab pickup truck, the New Life Honduras Non-Profit team – a Honduran missionary couple from Tegus with their newborn baby, my boyfriend Natán, a local pastor, Brother Orestes and me. It took us a little over four hours by car to reach the base of the mountain where the Tolupan people live. On the way, we stopped by a small village where a new church had just been planted – the first in the area – and visited the pastor and his family and prayed with them. (this pastor’s daughter and husband were the missionary couple with us) We took the opportunity for a bathroom break (lean-to style outhouse) and to stretch our legs. The pastor asked if I had ever visited the Tolupan community before and when I told him no he told me to be prepared. I thought he was referring to the physically challenging hour and a half hike up the steep mountain to reach their village… but he put his hand to his heart and said, “prepared… right here.” We parked at the base of the mountain called Montaña de la Flor, as far as a vehicle can reach, and all piled out. About half an hour before arriving we had approached a Tolupan couple walking along the side of the road headed home so we offered them a ride and they hopped in the truck bed. They had already been walking for hours and it would have taken them several hours more to reach their community up in the mountain. Then we started the hike up the mountain… I would probably include it in the top 5 most strenuous physical feats I have ever attempted. Of course, considering my drama queen, wimpy nature, it only felt as if I were going to pass out and die in the moment.
Through the huffing and puffing and
swearing, I mean sweating and complaining and accelerated heart rates and breaks to rest, I really didn’t have much of a desire to record video or take photos on the way up. (I seriously question that theory about exercise releasing happy endorphins) We finally reached the clearing where several Tolupan families of one particular tribe have made their homes. Because of the extreme isolation in which these people live I had no idea how they would react to me, a tall white female with reddish hair and blue eyes. (other than one child screaming and running when he saw me, all went pretty well) I was accompanied by 5 Honduran males so I was definitely the odd one out. When we approached the clearing with their little huts set all around, I felt as if I had been transported into a movie. It felt staged or something other than real life. Children and their mothers began to pour out of tiny, poorly-constructed mud and stick huts. It would be an understatement to say that everything was dirty… because how do you really clean a dirt floor? Or dirt walls? Or a bed made of tree limbs? Every house we entered was entirely empty of food. One mother told me that was her greatest need – food in the house. (They live off the land and were a hunter and gatherer group until recently when diminution of land affected their ability to hunt sufficiently) Their large stone stoves inside the house with little to no ventilation often cause health problems. Chickens and dogs sleeping, eating and leaving waste in the same living space as humans also contributes to many health risks. There are countless other risk factors such as moist dirt floor, unhealthy hygiene practices and their thatch roofs which contribute to parasite problems. A lack of access to common medication has even resulted in death from sicknesses as simple as the flu and diarrhea. This father had recently lost his wife to “the flu” and was left to care for his children in their tiny hut without walls.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people. May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy. May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done. – Sr. Ruth Fox
My next post this weekend will be about the holistic development that New Life Honduras Non-Profit is doing with the tribe, how I am involved, and how we need your help to continue. Please pray for these families and that their hearts would be open to Christ. Pray that their physical and emotional needs would be met. Pray for the Honduran missionaries who are diligently and humbly serving the tribe, making sacrifices that go unnoticed with a silent faithfulness that goes unrecognized.