“How far will you go?” This was a question I was asked in the depths of my heart over and over again during my recent mission trip in Honduras.
When I first had the desire to go on a mission trip this summer I thought about serving somewhere relatively close. After all we have people in dire need of help all around us. Mother Teresa once said “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty.” Yet I felt a tug that beckoned me “How far will you go?” When my plans to travel halfway around the world to India and Africa fell through, my next choice was two thousand miles away in the little country of Honduras.
Most of the mission trips I have gone on in the past have placed an emphasis on building, renovating, or tearing down physical structures. This is the ideal kind of work for the average American because you are able to measure your results. The “success” of those kinds of missions is usually measured by how many wheelchair ramps you can make, how much of a house you can build, or how many walls you can paint. We were prepared for a different kind of mission for Honduras; one that would challenge, humble, and inspire us.
Our team from the organization FOCUS ended up teaming up with a few other groups from across the US. As we flew in to Honduras I was immediately stunned by all of the lush green mountains in the distance; a striking contrast to the boring flat-ness of my hometown. After a two hour car ride we found ourselves at the complex for the Missioners of Christ; a prayerful community for young adults who desire to fulfill Christ’s command to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Over the next few days the team there prepared us for the heart of our mission which would consist of splitting up into groups and heading out into villages in the mountains of Honduras. On Sunday my group of four young-adult Missioners of Christ (one of which was from Honduras) and another young-adult who came with our FOCUS group traveled an hour by car to our village.
When we first headed into the village I was pretty nervous. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to have meaningful conversations with the villagers because I didn’t know any Spanish. I was nervous that I wouldn’t like the food they would give us and/or I would get sick from it. The question “How far will you go?” resurfaced and I knew I had to press on. We entered the village and walked into a small church the villagers were gathered in. Because the village was so far from populous cities a priest could only come once or twice a year to provide the sacraments, including the Eucharist. So every week the community gathers to reflect on Scripture and pray together in a Liturgy of the Word service led by a lay person referred to as a delegate.
Our group entered the church and got a first glance at the culture we were entering into. As the delegate in the front of the church was preaching on the Gospel reading for the day, a dog walked in and rested at the front and center of the church. The band was loudly tuning their instruments with no courtesy (from our standards) for the man who was speaking. Mothers were breastfeeding their children and fathers were waiting outside or near the exit of the church. A little boy zipped off his sweatshirt, tiptoed up to the dog, and snapped his sweatshirt on the dog’s nose. The dog jumped up and ran out of the church and all the children ran out and chased it. It was certainly much different from the kind of church setting I was used to!
In the evening we had dinner in the church. A few villagers brought us some of their food and we laid it all out on one of the benches. We attached a flashlight to the ceiling of the church and ate around the bench as the villagers watched us from a distance. Afterwards the guys headed out to a house about a half mile away where we would spend the night throughout the week. I’d say the size of the entire house was about the size of an average American’s master bedroom (not including a master bathroom or closet space). We had a couple mattresses to sleep on, an outhouse in the backyard, and a well to do our laundry by hand and take cold showers by the bucket. By that village’s standards it was a pretty nice little set-up. As an added bonus, in the morning we had a beautiful view of the rising sun shining on the mountains.
For the next four days we had pretty much the same schedule. In the morning we would eat breakfast, go on house visits until lunch, then have a short break before programs for kids, young adults, and adults. We would finish off the night with dinner then head to bed to re-energize ourselves for another packed day. The only day that was different was Tuesday where a priest was able to come to the village and hear confessions, anoint those who were sick, and celebrate Mass with the community.
The first day of house visits was an incredible experience. We went out in pairs, accompanied by a local who could help us navigate through the village. We walked up and down steep hills as far as a half hour away from the church and visited four homes the whole morning. The first house we visited was probably the most impoverished out of all of the houses I visited that week. Their house was probably the size of a small dorm room at a college. The floors were all dirt and there were bugs crawling around what little food they had. There was a mother making tortillas when we walked in and her little daughter, covered in dirt and who knows what, sat on a table next to her. At every house visit we would open with a prayer, make some small talk, read them the Gospel reading of the day, and see where the conversation led after that. I usually couldn’t contribute to the conversations so I would just sit back and pray for the families while my partner spoke with them.
One lady we spoke to had injured her ankle and was pretty far along in her pregnancy. She had a little girl with her and they lived at the top of a hill at the farthest house we visited (about a half hour’s walk from the church for a healthy person). This mother and her daughter still managed to make it to the church most of the days for the programs and on Tuesday for Adoration and Mass. It truly spoke to the hunger these people had for God and what lengths they were willing to go to be spiritually fed. “How far will you go?”
That first evening we had the children’s program, the young adult’s program, and the adult program. I was able to give my testimony to the adults of how God has worked in my life and gotten me to the point where I am today. There was quite a good turnout for all three programs and there seemed to be some pretty good feedback from the villagers afterwards. The next morning we visited five homes and let them know that a priest would be coming that day to bring them the sacraments. That evening I was able to provide the adults with a brief reflection on the Eucharist and the importance of going to confession beforehand. At one point I told them “You have prepared the inside of this church so beautifully for this momentous occasion of Jesus, truly present, coming to us in the Eucharist. Shouldn’t we also prepare and clean our souls to encounter Christ in the Eucharist by going to the sacrament of confession?”
The evening was beautiful as many people experienced Eucharistic Adoration and the sacraments for the first time (or the first time in years). They showed great reverence to the Blessed Sacrament and the children eagerly followed along during the Mass. It was a packed house and joy was clearly in the air. Afterwards we had dinner and reflected on the graces and the struggles of the day as a group. Fr. Jose Maria was the inspirational Franciscan priest who had been going from village to village that week surviving on four hours of sleep each night. He had been attacked by bed bugs one night and usually had a splitting headache every night. (“How far will you go?”) He had spent the whole day serving others, but he still radiated a deep sense of joy and peace. At one point he left our dinner table and prayed Night Prayer by flashlight with a crowd of children who were waiting around after Mass. Father’s memorable witness was a great inspiration to us and the sacraments he was able to provide us with gave us the strength to continue.
The next morning we made six house visits and had another successful set of programs in the evening. At this point most of the team was getting pretty drained. Playing with the kids would cheer us up and sharing stories with each other around the dinner table was entertaining, but it was getting harder and harder every day to keep going. The next day I was really tired and was starting to get discouraged. I wasn’t feeling well and I was afraid I wouldn’t make any meaningful contributions throughout the day. I wanted some food other than beans, rice, tortillas, and chicken and I wanted a warm shower. The question “How far will you go” resounded within me and I forced myself to get up and face another day. As soon as we walked out of our house a lady was waiting for us with some coffee and cookies. The generosity of the villagers who gave from their poverty (as well as the caffeine from the coffee!) kept us going throughout the week.
Unfortunately for us (fortunately for the local farmers) it rained that morning. I put on a trash-bag-poncho and headed out for our last set of house visits for the week. Imagine walking up and down the steps of the Empire State Building after a mudslide with no guardrails to hold onto and sprinklers going off above you. This is a slight exaggeration of what it was like trying to trek through the mountains that day. My socks were soaked and my shoes were caked with mud that didn’t come off for days.
At one point during this trek through the muddy hills I spent time to really ponder on the question “How far will you go”. Yes I had traveled two thousand miles to get to this place in order to bring the joy of the Gospel to others, but God had been pushing me to go even further. He challenged my physical, emotional, and spiritual limits I had placed on myself and whispered “Further” when I thought I’d given it my all. He asked “How far will you go” and I always managed to find the strength to keep going. I realized that with God as my strength and with Christ at the heart of the work I was doing I could always keep going. I knew that if I was just someone trying to do nice things for people without Christ at the center of my actions, I probably would have given up long ago. If I wasn’t so convicted by the Gospel message I was trying to share with these people, namely that God loves us and that Christ’s death and resurrection has given us all hope for healing and meaning in life, I wouldn’t have had the desire to keep going. But because I had that conviction and Christ was at the center of what I was doing, I could trek on through the steep mountains of mud, take cold showers, risk getting sick or harmed in the highly impoverished and (statistically speaking) dangerous country. I could give up a mirror for a week and a phone for two. I could do work that I would never see the results of and be unable to communicate to individuals through my words. And I could do all of this without receiving a dime, and by instead paying money along with the money I was able to fund-raise. “How far will you go?” I realized I could go as far as God would give me the strength to go.
At the end of the last evening in our village we were all still pretty worn out and were not thrilled for the upcoming four hours of sleep. Yet the next morning families woke up extra early to say goodbye to us and give us a last offering of coffee, bread, and fruit as a token of their gratitude for our hard work. We were all appreciative of this last act of selflessness on the part of the villagers and were amazed as we recounted all that they had sacrificed for us that week. We made it back to the Missioners of Christ complex and reunited with all of the other groups. This gave us the chance to swap stories and compare/contrast the conditions we faced. Everyone else seemed to have their share of struggles, but everyone was also very inspired by the various encounters they’d had. It was clear that there was a lot of brokenness in the lives of many of the people in all of the villages. We were able to hear of several instances where the healing we attempted to bring had already begun to make an impact in the lives of certain individuals.
The next few days spent in Honduras included a few different outreach visits. First we visited the Missionaries of Charity (the order started by Mother Teresa) where we got to care for elderly men. These men had been dropped off there for the rest of their life because they could not (or would not) be cared for by their family. Another day we went to a local boys orphanage and spent the day playing soccer and just hanging out with the boys (many of which had mental disabilities).
When it came time to fly back to the United States I was wishing I could spend more time back at the village. Yet God was calling me to harness that missionary-drive and save it for all those I would encounter when I got home. It didn’t take long for God to invite me to have such an encounter. Once again I was asked “How far will you go”, but this time all I was asked to do was make small talk with the man sitting next to me on the plane back home. For an outgoing introvert like myself, this seemed like a more difficult task than going all the way down to Honduras to a remote little village to share the joy of the Gospel. This time the question “How far will you go” beckoned me to cross that long bridge within me between the cliffs of comfort and holy-boldness. This distance seemed much further than the two thousand miles it took to travel to a Central American country. With my heart racing I turned to the young man next to me and asked “So is Atlanta your final stop?” This opened up the gates for an incredible hour long conversation with a complete stranger. We ended up talking about his life growing up in Israel, his Jewish faith and its customs, similarities between Israeli and American cultures, my trip to Honduras, the core beliefs of Christianity, and the nature of the priesthood. It was one of the best conversations I’ve ever had with a stranger and I don’t think I would have had the courage to initiate it before the mission trip. Had I not gone to Honduras I probably wouldn’t have understand the real meaning of my duty as a full-time Christian to bring the love and joy of the faith to all peoples at all times. I didn’t start out the conversation with “So, have you met Jesus?” I met him where he was at and tried to give him a taste of the joy and the peace I find in my faith in an effort to at least plant some seeds in his heart.
I may never see those seeds bear fruit in him, just like I may never see the fruit of the seeds I attempted to plant in Honduras. But I will not let that slow me down on my journey. My American mentality expects me to measure my success by tangible results, but I have to acknowledge that that’s not how it works in the kingdom of God. I will love others, one person at a time, and attempt to share with them the joy of the Gospel through my words and the way I live my life. God will continue to push me out of my comfort zone, beckoning me “How far will you go?” By His grace I will continue to go as far as He desires, even the long and treacherous journey within me from comfort to holy-boldness.
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)