The Refugee/Immigration Crisis and Missions

I am a community development worker (also, missionary, if that term doesn’t make you roll your eyes) in Honduras, Central America. My work involves seeing firsthand the havoc that an unstable economy, lack of education, gang activity, generational poverty, violence, and the drug trade can wreak on families. The truth is that, not unlike our Central American neighbors, the situation here is not great. And that’s why I’m here.

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But? It’s not all bad. This is a beautiful country with such a rich history and culture and beautiful people. (so beautiful I married one of them) Yes, I have to be much more cautious living here than back home, but I’m not here because my main priority is self-preservation obviously. There’s a greater purpose.

Note: I recently read an opinion article by the daughter of Honduran immigrants living in the U.S. and she tore this country up talking about the danger. It was pure sensationalism. She literally said that when she came here recently the airport provided her group with police escorts in order to travel down a main highway to a city several hours away “because of how dangerous it was” – a route that my husband and I take at least 3 times a month. Major facepalm because… that’s just a little dramatic and completely unnecessary.

Although much of my naive idealism from my college days has dissipated, I still believe that small, consistent efforts can bring lasting change. (I have to add that I am only one of many here, foreign and local, in Honduras who are promoting change) I am here because I answer to a higher calling and I can be here because, honestly, I have a certain safety net that others here do not. To live the poverty that those around me experience on a daily basis means to have limited options and limited resources and that leads to a lifestyle that is tunnel-vision focused on surviving day-to-day. The pain of not being able to make choices about your own life is one of the most hopeless feelings. It’s so much deeper and complex than just a financial desperation.

I’m writing this in the middle of what has become an international crisis: the majority-Honduran caravan of migrants headed to the U.S. border. About a week ago my husband and I heard about a group of about 1,000 Honduran migrants meeting at the San Pedro Sula bus terminal with plans to march to the United States. (google it if you haven’t heard) It has since grown and each day as we read articles or see news clips, our hearts hurt. Not because it could be a political stunt or because it makes so-and-so look bad or even because it will certainly incite an uproar and/or reinforce stereotypes – but because among the crowds there are probably many desperate people, just like the ones we encounter every day, truly in need of asylum, refuge.

And guess what? Some of you reading this probably only ever have to think about immigration as a hot-button political issue and only when it’s breaking on the news. Here in Honduras it is woven into the fabric of almost every life and comes up in every other conversation. Here it has very little to do with politics and everything to do with quality of life or even survival.

I don’t like breaking rules. I follow laws and I expect others to do the same. Did you know that arriving at the U.S. border to seek asylum is legal? There is actually a legal process to protect those who arrive at our borders fleeing oppression or violence. One of the many loopholes in the system is that many asylum-seekers are unfairly denied representation in court and therefore aren’t able to plead their case. And they are sent back. This system has been broken for a while but you only hear about it when a major crisis comes up. (Unfortunately, I don’t think the caravan is the best way to seek asylum. I worry how this is going to unfold.)

I’m reminded right now of two particular individuals that I knew personally who died as victims of violence here, one who should have fled and one who had just returned from the states as an undocumented immigrant. Maybe their stories would have ended differently had they been granted asylum.

For every person who flees their country there is a unique reason, a push factor. It would be irresponsible to say that every person flees for the same reason or has the same fear or needs. (We also can’t deny the very real pull factors that exist in the states either.)

In some of the communities where we work it is resoundingly clear that the two great aspirations that young people have to choose between is drug trafficking or migration. (This also includes internal migration toward industrialized cities) They simply have no options.

31961152_10214799927644436_3892517732104536064_nAs a missionary and immigrant activist (yes, they can be synonyms) I like to think that the work we do in Honduras, even on a small scale right now, is helping eliminate some of those push factors in our target communities. Without blatantly saying it we are communicating, “Stay. There is opportunity for you here. You can provide for your family and you can contribute to your community.” We can’t buffer every need or eliminate real threats or even convince every individual to stay who personally tells us that they’re considering the trek north. We can remind them that the “American Dream” is not necessarily all it’s cracked up to be. We can speak positively about the nation of Honduras, discourage escapist mentalities, and plant a seed of hope for the future. I truly believe that a generation is coming up that is going to change the course of this nation for the better. ❤

That’s why we are so adamant about the formation of little minds – education is so important and will have a much bigger impact on a much larger scale down the road. As for the migrants headed north, only God knows what they are truly running from, but I pray this over them as they’re on their journey:

Jesus see the traveler

Jesus see the traveler on their long, hard road

See the mother, see the father, see the child

Have mercy on the traveler

 

Lord make soft the strangest bed

Rest the weary feet

Of the mother, of the father, of the child

Have mercy on the traveler

[written by Sara Groves]

*For extra inspiration listen to “God Help the Outcasts” from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame*

I’ll add one more note: If you have a heart for foreign missions or you have been touched personally on a mission trip or by a friend from another country, I hope you allow God to soften your heart toward the immigrant and refugee. If you know a missionary working in a country from which immigrants are fleeing, support them! They’re essentially working against all the conditions that expel individuals. I won’t quote scripture here because I’m embarrassed at how it has been used as darts against those who don’t agree with us but know that the Bible/our Savior is clear on what posture we as Christians should have toward the foreigner. If you don’t have a personal connection to this heavy topic of immigration I pray you become friends with someone who does and you’re able to hear them out on a human level. As author Sarah Quezada has said, “Relationships are an anecdote to fear.”

Good resources if you are curious about the topic of immigration from a Christian stand-point:

  1. World Relief organization and the book, Welcoming the Stranger, by Matthew Soerens and Jenny Yang
  2. Love Undocumented by Sarah Quezada
  3. Podcasts: The New Activist, Upside Down Podcast, Chasing Justice
  4. Evangelical Immigration Table

I wrote about my first immigration encounter in high school here.

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Newlyweds on the Mission Field

It’s time to give you the lowdown on what we’ve been up to these last few months! And give you an idea of our 2018 plans.

Natán and I are living in the northwest region of Honduras and have been settling in quite nicely to newlywed life. I really can’t say enough just how thankful I am to have married someone so selfless and caring. Not only does he care for me well but he has such a heart for the marginalized and oppressed. I couldn’t ask for a better partner as we navigate this new phase of life as esposos, missionaries, directors of a nonprofit, and – for me – an expatriate in a new land and culture. It takes a lot of adapting and compromise.

We certainly couldn’t do what we do without the backing of an incredible support and prayer team back home. Even though we haven’t personally reached 100% of our monthly support goal, the Lord doesn’t cease to amaze us and continually proves Himself as our Provider.

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In our work we see heart-breaking scenarios and subpar living circumstances. 62% of the population of Honduras live below the national poverty line, or in other words, under $2.50 a day. Most of these people live in rural settings and work in agriculture. Limited education, improper nutrition, lack of clean drinking water, inadequate hygiene practices, and lack of employment opportunities or unpredictable crop yield all contribute to cycles of poverty that continue for generations. Our goal is to help families break these cycles through holistic community development programs.

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According to the CIA World Fact Book

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Lenca Indian girl in the kitchen of her home – Intibucá

We’ve identified two needy villages to begin with in the west and southwest region of the country. We’ve started with some exploratory trips and small-scale initiatives but our goal is to implement projects in 2018 that will result in self-sustainability during our 3 year involvement. (The first villages will be our pilot programs and each year our goal is to initiate new holistic programs in new needy villages.)

I posted the following on my Facebook page this past July:

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Elderly lady in the “living room” of her home – Copán, Honduras

While we don’t want to create dependency among our villager friends or base our friendship on what we give and what they receive, we recognize that certain groups of people are especially vulnerable with little chance of reaching self-sustainability such as the abandoned elderly and disabled. The lady pictured above is one example of that and is a recipient of food “handouts” whenever we visit her village.

We have a couple friends who are on board with the program in Copán and give financially specifically to fund our efforts there. We are planning a few end-of-year fundraisers to kick the program off so stay tuned! You can find giving info here.

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A recent visit to our village in Copán teaching appropriate hygiene practices and disease prevention

To get a better idea of how we distinguish relief work (which is not our focus) from development work, check out this chart developed by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

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The Art of Being Real on the Mission Field

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This isn’t a how-to article. I promise I’m not another expert. This just happens to be something I am trying to learn myself as I make it through this missionary/expat/immigrant journey in Honduras.

The love of travel and love of missions are not always the same thing. For me, they go hand-in-hand. It is a dream come true for me to be able to live as a missionary in Latin America. I’ve seen the wholistic transformation that happens when the Church steps up to care materially and spiritually for needy brothers and sisters. – A biblical mandate I believe –

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Line of patients waiting to enter one of our medical clinics in Copán, Honduras

As a newlywed and a newly-returned-to-Honduras foreigner, this stage of life comes with a lot of transition. I’ve been traveling to Honduras (+ other Latin American countries) for exactly half of my life now and I previously lived here for a year teaching, so it’s not like this whole experience is brand new. In fact, I’ve lost the sense of novelty in a lot of aspects. I have to be intentional about seeing this country and culture with fresh eyes in order to maintain a sense of wonder and appreciation for its differences.

And let me tell you, it has its differences.

It is different from my life in the U.S. probably in more ways than you expect. (even though I bet it also has more similarities than you would expect.) I want to take the chance here in my blog to lay out a few realities in the most gracious way possible. In no way would I want to:

  1. disrespect the wonderful people of Honduras, nor their treasured traditions & customs
  2. display any type of ethnocentric arrogance
  3. “poor mouth” to receive pity as if moving to Honduras was some form of holy suffering for the Lord
  4. or, on the contrary, ignore the obvious and pretend that I am living life as a typical North American newlywed

…because I’m not. Here, I am stretched and challenged in ways that I wouldn’t be back in2017-05-07 09.16.06-2 the states. I’ve given up a few comforts and conveniences. (necessities or luxuries depending on which perspective you have.) At my worst moments, I am grouchy and whiny and look for someone to share in my misery or at least feel sorry for me. Thankfully, my Honduran husband, mostly undeterred by the little things I find  uncomfortable or inconvenient, patiently brings me back to reality and reassures me that whatever I was frustrated over is probably not that important in the grand scheme of things. (he gives great pep talks)

For example, back home I am used to complete climate control inside my home: everything from the temperature to pest control to aromas to noises – not even an ant or foul odor would sneak by without my noticing and inflicting vengeance.

Here I HAVE NO CONTROL. It is pure chaos for the five senses. There is hardly a distinction between the outside and the inside therefore I am totally exposed to whatever elements – heat, wind, critters, dust and dirt, the smell of my my neighbor’s lunch on the stove, the scent of the garbage truck passing by, the sound of my neighbor sneezing, the incessant honking of a car down the street, the party music at a ridiculous level all night long – decide to invade the house at any given moment. (a lot of this due to living in such close proximity to so many other houses)

Because we live in the city we are also in close proximity to other helpful resources like the grocery store and banks. *thumbs up*

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The fine line that we walk as expat Christian workers is how to communicate our reality to those back home without sounding like grumblers. The truth is that no matter how many times I post online or call my mother to complain about how much “I am drenched in sweat and it’s not even 9:00 a.m.!” it doesn’t cool me off any more and she really isn’t going to understand what it feels like in the day-to-day unless she is here living it with me.

A more serious and difficult subject is violence and corruption. These are deep-rooted social problems that can affect the expat’s life in real ways. We often don’t know how to talk to those back home about the implications that these factors have on our daily lives. Generally it means going about daily activities with a heightened sense of caution and occasionally fear.

This brings us to the reality that many missionaries deal with battles that aren’t manifested in physical form. Emotional and psychological trials are real and can be underplayed if we aren’t careful. Loneliness and sadness can be painful parts of the missionary’s journey – but how do you casually drop that hint in a newsletter? For those back home, pray for discernment on how to best care for your missionary friend in this area.

Daily, I ask the Lord to give me patience and grace to deal with my circumstances. I voluntarily moved to this country (which I have loved for some time now) and count it an honor to have the opportunity to serve here. How can I complain about trivial discomforts when I am living in what most of the world’s population would consider luxury? I don’t make it a habit to guilt myself into feeling the awareness of my privilege. It’s important to be aware but guilt is not what drives our service or our generosity. Being caught up in the gaze of our Savior and His assignment to a hurting world is what propels us.

I apologize if I’ve ever made unfair generalizations about the country of Honduras or taken advantage of someone’s unfamiliarity with the culture to exaggerate a situation in my favor. This is not the work of missionaries. We should try harder to communicate with respect and truth and pure motives. We should try to be more open and direct with those who offer help, not playing the role of “poor pitiful me” nor that of a superhero.

We are human and we have weaknesses. I thank God for a husband, an ideal partner, who is strong when I am weak, and for a Heavenly Father who is stronger than both of us.

“…how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” Matthew 7:11

I choose to count my blessings right before I turn to share them with someone else. I might not have all the earthly comforts I sometimes want so badly but I’m called and equipped for an assignment bigger than my desires.

Mrs. Martínez got Married on a Monday

It has been about 10 months since I have posted a new blog entry but I am back to announce that Natán and I got married 3 weeks ago on the dreamy island of Roatan, Honduras!! All I have to say is that we are loving married life and are in the preparation stage of a new ministry opportunity (that we’ll share soon) aaaannnddd are still just oogling over our photos from David Díaz Photography:

Dear Younger Me: First Mission Trip

This is a letter to my almost 15-year-old self on that very first exhilarating mission trip to Honduras in February 2004. Note: mission trip (STM) refers to evangelical Christian humanitarian work typically in another country. My teenage self would probably roll her eyes at this letter, but… Little Idealist, these are lessons you will eventually learn.

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In a medical clinic during one of my first trips. El Jardín, Copán, HN.

Dear Younger Me,

Finally! You’ve been waiting and praying about the chance to go on a mission trip and it’s finally here. So much expectation and anticipation (and let’s face it… drama, because well, you’re 14.) It really will prove to be more life-changing than you can even understand in this phase of life. I know you have done so much preparation and feel like everything in life has been leading up to this big, glorious moment. It will actually prove to be just one of many gloriously small moments that will ultimately string together in a beautiful way that only God can orchestrate. Just wait.

Journal this experience. I know you do this anyway because you’ve always been the weirdo kid who documents EVERY. THING. Good for you. One day, you’ll be 27 and a more experienced, slightly wiser version of yourself and you’ll be going through your old things and come across your old mission trip journal and you will sit in your room and cry over the pages because of how faithful God has been. And you’ll laugh at how cute and naive you once were.

LEARN. That is your first responsibility as a team member on a mission trip: to learn. Learn the language. Learn the culture. If you are serious about opening your mind and heart up to this new part of the world and want to effectively serve in some capacity with these people then there is only one option that makes sense… LEARN TO COMMUNICATE WITH THEM. You can’t build a ministry in another country through hand gestures and handouts while thinking like an American (read: United States-ean). Relationships are key and the foundation is communication and understanding. Do the hard work: learn the language.

Being a learner means you realize that you actually don’t know best. Do you know who does know best? The natives, and usually, the missionaries. The ones who live there day-in and day-out. They know what is appropriate and what is not. They know which situations are dangerous and which are not. As a team member, an outsider (no matter your age), it is not your place to question their leadership or decisions. Like, if they tell you to stop laughing obnoxiously loud in a public restaurant because you are being disrespectful of the country’s social norms don’t roll your eyes because “ugh, what a party pooper.” (Other than already attracting probably more unwanted attention than necessary, you are reinforcing a negative stereotype of North Americans – being disrespectfully loud and dominating of public spaces). You are also part of a team of people who is representing a local ministry or organization. LIVE BY THEIR RULES. It might seem super stuffy or strict compared to your church back home but… you are not at home. Respect the hosts’ rules.

Once you get to truly know the people and the culture you’ll find that they aren’t that different from you. You’ll get past the point of identifying all the differences and will start to celebrate and relish in the similarities of your common humanity. You’ll see dignity in each person and will be less likely to make blanket statements about their culture or race. As time goes on and you start having more conversations with the natives you’ll realize you stop talking so much about the natives. You’ll probably start out quoting faulty statistics about the country to friends back home or making wild generalizations about the local people as a whole… (Yeah, you’re gonna think you’re an expert on the entire Honduran population within your first trip or two. You’re kind of annoying.) Then you will get to know their hearts and will feel silly for making all those ethnocentric assumptions. (Thankfully, your Honduran friends are gracious people. Most will forgive you.) 😉

You’ll undoubtedly come home from this first trip with excitement and tears and pictures, sharing stories of what you saw and felt. Who wouldn’t? You might encourage a couple other friends or family members to join you on following trips. Some will listen intently, some will get bored from your stories pretty quickly because they didn’t experience it with you. They’re not going to understand. They don’t get why you cry because you have such a nice house and so many don’t, and why suddenly you are borderline taking a vow of poverty. You just went though a real emotional journey over the last seven days and those who didn’t experience it can’t exactly relate.

Speaking of poverty… YOU ARE NOT A POVERTY TOURIST. You did not pay $1,200 to travel all the way to Central America so you could “experience poverty.” (Which you never actually did. Seeing poverty is not experiencing poverty.) The thousands of people who live in rural Honduras and are trying to survive off a dollar a day are not staged for your entertainment or learning exploit. This is their real life. I know you’re excited about all the pictures you get to show to everyone back home but count the cost of that photo you just snapped with your iPhone* in that family’s private space while gawking at their extreme lack. Be sensitive and consider each person’s dignity before doing anything.

*I went through 3 entire disposable cameras on my first trip 12 years ago

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Apparently all I did on my first trip was hold other people’s babies.

Now, let’s talk about your clothes for a second. This isn’t a pertinent issue necessarily but it reflects your attitude toward those you are serving. If you show up uncharacteristically dressed like a bum in cut-off capris and cut-off ratty t-shirts, the message you are conveying is: you aren’t worth my best… or at least, you aren’t worth my average. I’m telling you now, there is no need to raid the thrift store for the nastiest items before your trip because “you don’t want to ruin your good clothes.” This is a fine excuse if you are helping with hard labor or a messy job like painting but consider your activity… washing hair for lice? Giving worm medicine at the entrance of the pop-up clinic? Dress appropriately and show respect in that.

Ok, I know you most likely will not receive this well right now because you are high on enthusiasm and naive idealism but you will come to learn this with time and it needs to be said… you are not the hero. Like, it is not about you at all. Take your piece of humble pie and swallow it well because no one likes an arrogant team member. You are one of many team members and unity is key. First of all, you are doing the humbling job of serving other human beings, so esteem them higher than yourself. Secondly, you are working with other volunteers as a unit and any individualism on the job has to go. Thirdly, you nor your team are the first nor the only ones to do this kind of work. It is valuable and needed! But it is not exclusive to your group. You don’t have a monopoly on “free medical clinics in Honduras”and you certainly didn’t invent the idea. Celebrate the fact that you are joining so many others in the effort to share Christ’s love in a tangible way!

It all feels glamorous right now but it won’t always be. You will experience more fear and pain than you even imagined but you will find more love than you even imagined also.

Let this experience move you to inward and outward change. You will slowly start to see the world completely differently. You’ll probably have a slightly different perspective on success, faith, politics, and current events than others. Let it move you to make a difference at home as you dream about going abroad again. You didn’t have this awakening inside your soul just to apathetically return to abundance and self-indulgence. Your eyes will be open to hurting people all around you. DO SOMETHING. Don’t sit casually waiting on your annual mission trip to come around again. You have a bigger purpose and there is too much at stake for you to put on your missionary hat for only one week out of the year.

So, in conclusion, little 14-year-old going on 15, your years ahead have so much in store. Don’t worry about learning all these lessons at once. It will happen in its time. Just you wait,

27-year-old You

(who still anticipates more lessons in the future)

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Then in college I wrote this poem in an attempt to express the love affair I have with the country & people to which I don’t belong.

A Call to Love

Broken streets and broken souls call
I am compelled to answer, answer them all
Your small hands have taught me more than textbooks could contain
Your selfless joy is like my heart’s refrain
I’d choose you over a city of gold – all of you, every inch
I’d choose you first and I’d choose you again
I am a jealous lover, it’s my heart you win
You’re more than a memory, more than a friend
More than beauty and dirt and land
More than a good story to tell, more than I can stand
I am who I am because of you
It’s taken years to express, but for years it’s been true
My commitment to you runs deeper than a flutter in my chest
You have all of me, my worst and my best
I love you longer than seven days
Beyond borders and languages, my love stays
I love you stronger than a smile or a tear
Because I choose to love in the face of pain and fear
I’ve felt welcomed, accepted, rejected and betrayed
I was close to giving in and letting apprehension have its way
But I am led to you by a greater Hand
And my trivial emotions are irrelevant to His plan
I haven’t forgotten you, I never could
You are my first love, and my love is for good

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Oh yeah, 27-year-old me still likes holding other people’s babies. 🙂 Nueva Alianza, Copán, HN.

 

A reflection on violence, poverty, fear, and Christian missions

Our response to violence and fear says a lot about us as individuals, as a society, and as people of faith. A lot has happened in the last few weeks. But a lot has been happening around the world and continues to happen under the radar that we don’t give a flip about.

It’s not our fault necessarily that we aren’t aware of every massacre that takes place across the world. To be honest, I know I couldn’t emotionally handle being aware of that much evil anyway. It is important to mourn when there is a catastrophe. It is important to put ourselves in solidarity with victims. It is quite curious to see which tragedies get headlines and which don’t. I certainly don’t want to add to the voices of people who think they can tell everyone which events we should be in mourning over. We all react differently. The taking of innocent life is horrific in any situation.

I try to be a relatively positive person so the purpose of this post isn’t to launch you into the depths of despair… but every now and then we need a little reality check.

Some recent world events and two great books I’ve been reading by Gary A. Haugen about the links between violence and poverty (The Locust Effect, Good News About Injustice) have prompted this reflection.

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I’m not an expert on economics or legal issues or theology. There are so many more experienced and more well-spoken people who could contribute to this discussion than me. …but well, I have a blog and I like to share my amateur opinion. 😉

I said yes to being a missionary as a child. I began that journey through short-term missions as a teenager. I admit that it started out as a largely glamorous and vaguely adventurous dream. When you travel in a secure group and stay in gated hotels and only spend a couple weeks a year in the country and don’t speak the language very well it is easy to carry out a very blissful existence more or less unaware of severe issues. Once you get a taste of the daily grit and grind, it gets way more complicated.

But I thank God that I felt Him nudge me toward missions and that I said yes in my naivety. I’m glad I committed before I knew what the heck I was getting myself into. It is a commitment that I plan to keep, even after I have since come to the realization that saying yes to sharing God’s love with hurting people means putting myself in the middle of suffering and probably coming face to face with violence. It is so messy, guys. We are all born with a natural inclination toward self-preservation. It isn’t wrong to be concerned with our own safety and that of our loved ones. But something in my heart whispers, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it; whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matt. 16:25)

I saw a FB post that said, “I should have known that following a man with pierced hands and feet wouldn’t be safe.” Ditto.

I’m either in this thing 100% or not at all.

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The violence is out of hand. And not just because a group of religious radicals decided to cause horrific terror and send a twisted message to the rest of the world a couple weeks ago.

This tragic event has made me think a lot about violence, and victims of violence, and poverty, and the refugees make me think about how people have been coming for centuries to this country in search of safety and freedom. Because insecurity and oppression is a daily part of so many people’s lives in the majority world, y’all. Like, millions of people live in extreme poverty — REAL POVERTY — not oh poor things they can’t buy new shoes. I’m talking poverty of every kind of resource that you and I enjoy. No freedom to even have a fair chance in court when faced with false charges by the very people who oppressed you. Every odd stacked against you, no way out kind of poverty. The kind of vulnerability that causes psychological damage. In developing countries, money is power and those without it have no fighting chance.

“Violence significantly raises levels of depression, suicides, panic disorders, alcohol and substance abuse/dependence, and post-traumatic stress disorders -to a point that the poor endure a level of psychological damage comparable to living in a war zone. The locusts of violence do not simply destroy your financial prospects – they destroy your life.

This is perhaps the greatest catastrophe of all, for the greatest devastation of violence is invisible – it is the destruction of the person inside. For victims of slavery, forced prostitution, sexual assault, and other intensely violent forms of oppression, the psychological wounds of trauma are invisible; they receive almost no treatment in poor communities; and they do not simply heal with time.” – Gary A. Haugen

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I realize that we do not have a perfect justice system here in the U.S. And even though is it mostly fair, there are those who abuse their power. They should be held accountable. But I know that if I am done wrong I will find someone to advocate for me. I grew up with the worldview and expectations that if something is dealt unfairly to me I will get justice.

A lot of people around the globe simply do not have this luxury.

“We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will only be an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.” – MLK Jr.

Helping individuals who are victims of oppression and violence is a difficult task in itself… but confronting systemic injustice?? That is daunting.

I have the Law and Order: SVU mentality of justice. Like, defend the victim, find the dang perpetrator, and bring him to justice. Get detectives Benson and Stabler on it. (Don’t get me wrong, I totally pray for a change of heart on behalf of the perpetrator. God has turned terrorists into evangelists so who am I to doubt?) And if nothing is being done, raise your voice! That is our right here in the U.S. We speak up when things aren’t just. We call authority into accountability. We believe that as members of this nation we have inherent rights and power.

This is not the case in the developing world.

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>> A friend from Guatemala told me bluntly that growing up in her small village there was a known policy that if a thief was ever caught that he would be publicly beaten by members of the community. Sometimes even kids would join in. This was their kind of “justice” and it was just a way of life. You had to take care of yourself because the government surely wasn’t going to defend the poor or powerless.

>> I remember being told by a friend in Honduras that he had just witnessed a murder. Infuriated (and quite naively) I asked, “Did you give a description of the shooter to the police??” It wasn’t until years later that I learned that many gangs and drug traffickers operate under complete impunity and/or in cooperation with “public safety” officials in Honduras. And many times the murderers or “hitmen” come back for any witnesses. Their message gets through loud and clear: Keep your mouth shut. Or else.

  • Which is why I was advised not to even publicly acknowledge when a dear, young former student of mine was found brutally murdered last year. I can’t describe the suffocating feeling of hopelessness that came over me knowing that justice would likely never come for his family. (Honduras doesn’t have enough forensic scientists in the country to even investigate half of the homicides that occur. Families of victims are left knowing that their loved ones’ murderers walk free.)

>> Just last week at my Spanish interpreting job I was chatting with a lady from Michoacán, Mexico. I asked if it was a nice place and if she ever wanted to go back. She casually said, “It used to be. The delinquency is too much now. Just recently I got news that some friends of mine were found decapitated. I won’t ever go back.”

I thank God that I have not personally experienced violence in my travels. But I hate to admit that I have let fear intimidate me to the point that I have questioned my calling.

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A couple years ago on a typical trip to Honduras I was traveling by bus with Natán and we had planned on catching a taxi once we arrived at the bus terminal. As we got closer and closer to the terminal and the bus was swerving faster and faster along the twisting mountainous roads my breathing starting getting faster and more shallow. This had been an especially difficult trip because just a week earlier while I was still in the states I got news that an acquaintance from the church in Honduras had been gunned down and killed while in his car coming home from work during rush hour one evening. I was distraught. I’d never had to deal with news like this before (unlike many of my friends in Honduras who have had to face similar difficult situations) Once we got to the terminal I could barely speak and starting freaking out when Natán tried to help me into the taxi. It was the closest I have come to having a panic attack. I refused to get in the taxi. I was so irrationally fearful. We had to call a friend to come pick us up.

I just pray, God, don’t let me give in to fear.

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Author and founder of IJM, Gary Haugen, explains that most violence is hard for outsiders to see for three important reasons. 1. The perpetrator works really hard to hide it. 2. Paradoxically, the victims might even hide it due to the intensely sensitive and traumatic nature. (This means that when you are on a short-term mission trip, it is very likely that many you come in contact with are victims of horrific oppression and violence and they wouldn’t even consider letting you know it. You think their greatest problem is that they only have 2 tortillas to feed their entire family but you don’t see the underlying issues.) 3. “Finally, for many poor people, the threat of violence has become such a part of the air they breathe that they rarely speak of it as a distinct phenomenon. They simply absorb it.” (I will note that it doesn’t specifically apply to the “poor” but anyone who has grown up in a society where violence is the norm)

That last point for me has probably been the most shocking realization that I’ve had during my time spent in Honduras. I have found myself on many occasions getting outraged by some act of violence I heard about while those around me seem to be unaffected. My questions of, “What can we do??” have been met with blank stares and shrugs of shoulders.

The simple fact that I even have a choice as to whether I use my voice to raise awareness about violence or stay silent shows one of the great disparities between my life and those of the majority world.

God’s desire is to defend the powerless and to bring reconciliation of all creation to Himself. If He weren’t the one with the master plan it would be a hopeless situation. I am thankful that He invites me into the larger redemption story and that neither my courage nor my intelligence determines the outcome. What he wants is obedience and willingness. In my weakness, He is strong.

photoHere I am, Lord, send me.

#detailsdeHonduras

Photo collection from my travels in Honduras and some interesting things I learned about the country in the process. This is an ongoing photojournalism project.

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|| Nature || Honduras has numerous plant varieties (630 out of 6,000 are orchids) and animal species (250 reptiles, 700 birds and 110 mammals — half of them bats. The tropical-to-temperate climate permeates its mountains, plains, jungles, coasts and islands — as well as its cloud forests, which can rise up to above 9,800 feet. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/centralamerica/honduras/index.htm

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|| Security || Crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. The police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime or may not respond at all. Members of the Honduran National Police have been arrested, tried, and convicted for criminal activities. Many more are under investigation. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is still in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions. http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/honduras-travel-warning.html Most houses are surrounded by security walls with locked gates. Businesses and restaurants contract armed guards to stand at the entrances. Many car windows are tinted to 100% for the safety of those inside.

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|| People || The latest population census has shown that, for the first time in Honduran history, more Hondurans now live in cities than in rural areas. This is a reflection of the working conditions outside urban areas are much less than ideal, which should be of concern to governments of a country that does not yet have a strong industrial sector. Honduras is a young country, with just over 50% of the population under 19 years old (only 3% of the population is 65 or over). The population is split approximately evenly between men and women. http://www.thisishonduras.com/People_and_Culture.htm 64.5% of population live at or below poverty line. (World Bank)

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|| Water || In 1998, Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch which left 75% of the country without safe drinking water, and the country has not yet recovered from the damage to the infrastructure it has caused. Currently, infrastructure and basic healthcare is lacking and repair works are still ongoing. Today, 1.2 million people in Honduras have no access to improved water sources. Coupled with the lack of infrastructure, the health standards in Honduras are dire. A severe lack of water has led to much hardship amongst the locals, especially in the rural areas. Diarrhea and hepatitis are some of the illnesses which are rampant, especially among the young which can be fatal in some cases. (Wikipedia)