After my first semester in college, I was given the opportunity to travel to Honduras by a local church organization. The purpose of our trip was missions through labor, helping to build a church. We were to travel to the coastal town of Trujillo, Honduras, where we were to join one of the residing missionaries and accompany him to one of the many villages scattered across the area.
Our trek began in February of that year, following what could have been taken as a bad omen. A freakish ice storm had just ransacked our southern community, leaving in its wake many homes with no heat or power. However, we all left, begrudgingly as it was, for what most felt was a higher purpose. We were greeted after a twenty-hour van ride by yet another setback; our flight was delayed four hours. During this time, I began to notice a middle-aged woman, circulating through our group and a few others, handing out miniature flags. She approached me with one and being patriotic, I took it. Attached to the flag was a note stating she was a deaf mute and her means of supporting her family was selling these miniature flags for a dollar. I watched in amazement as this lady continued to circulate throughout the whole concourse, approaching each and every departing or incoming passenger passing through. I estimated she handed out two thousand flags in this short amount of time with about a fifty percent success rate. Not bad, one thousand dollars for four hours work.
Our first stop was in Belize City, Belize where we were told, to our disappointment, no one would be able to leave the plane as it was only a refueling stop. However on our approach, we soon realized that the warning was not necessary. The runway was lined with artillery and anti-aircraft weapons all facing TOWARD the arriving flights. Needless to say, no one made an effort to disobey the previous warning.
Our next stop, the tiny island of Roatan, a popular diving location just off the coast of Honduras. I say tiny because the island is so small and mountainous we had to circle inside a valley to make our approach. The tight turns inside the valley became even more unnerving once you were low enough to see the wreckage of several aircrafts littered along the mountainsides, positioned too high for feasible recovery.
After a brief stopover in Tegucigalpa, the country’s capital, we finally arrived at Trujillo, where a local emissary of the missionary met us. Following yet another short but much bumpier van ride, we arrived at our final destination, a small village alongside the banks of the Bonito River or Rio Bonito. Numerous curious onlookers heralded our arrival as the members of our group stretched and shook off the effects of the arduous trip.
The worksite, which consisted of a simple block building, a large canvas tent, which was to serve as our home for the next two weeks as well as a revival host site, several fifty-five gallon drums, a curious looking enclosure with a orange ten gallon Gott cooler above it, an outhouse, a half bag cement mixer, and numerous other tools. There was running water, but only during one hour a day, thus the need for the drums, water storage. We kept the hose running into the tanks for as long as the water was flowing. The enclosure with the Gott cooler turned out to be our shower, supplied by rainwater and dispensed through the small spout near the bottom, an adventure in itself. It wasn’t so bad though. By the time we got around to taking showers, the relentless sun had pleasantly tempered the water. The villagers, who would haul water by the bucket from local wells, met the rest of our water needs. The simple block building was, much to my surprise, the church. The walls were completed, as well as the roof, but there was no floor. That would be our job. We were split into two crews. One crew was to complete the floor, while the other began building pews. The youngest and probably the fittest, I was recruited to work the floor crew as the cement truck driver, a wheelbarrow just large enough to hold the contents of the half bag cement mixer. We mixed and poured that entire church floor a wheelbarrow load at the time, mostly guided by my hands.
The days were hot and the labor long but the night brought welcomed relief and distraction. Even though most of us spoke very little Spanish, our interaction with the villagers was very rewarding. I can recall one night, as I lay in my cot after a particular hard day, amidst the commotion of a revival I couldn’t understand, a small girl began to play peep-eye with me at the foot of my cot. One of my companions thought she was cute and decided to take a picture of her. He timed it so, as she popped up at the end of the bed the camera flashed. The little girl, frightened by the flash, ran screaming to her parents. My companion quickly hid the camera from view, leaving everyone to wonder what I had done to frighten the girl so. Yet another night, on a walk around the village, three youthful looking soldiers accosted me. The boys were eighteen, sixteen, and fifteen, respectively, yet were carrying weapons of great destructiveness. After a brief explanation of who I was and my intentions in my broken Spanish, the conversation turned considerably lighter .One of the boys even allowed me to fire his weapon, a M-16, into a nearby tree. The older of the trio had what looked like blue medals on his chest, which I mistakenly took for signs of rank or valor. Upon further inspection, I found them to be Chiquita® banana stickers from a local plantation.
In the course of one’s life, there are many experiences, some pleasant, some not so pleasant, but adventurous nonetheless. The key to life’s experience is to take something away from them, be it a funny anecdote or a lesson learned. Too many times, life’s gifts are overlooked or taken for granted and it is only after reflection we truly understand their purpose, making our lives a little more bearable.