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Mission trip shows us poverty might separate our lifestyles but not our hearts

June 17, 2011

I was recently in a parade of sorts. I sat on the back of a vehicle waving to children and their parents. A few of the children ran along smiling and giggling all the way. It was pretty much like any other parade, except for a few differences. It wasn’t through a small town main street; it was in the remote mountains of Pena Blanca, Honduras.
The children didn’t have cotton candy or other treats. Most were blessed if they had rice and beans that day. Confetti didn’t fill the air, but beautiful tropical flowers lined the road side. It wasn’t a smooth ride in a vintage convertible. It was an extremely bumpy trek in an old red Toyota pickup truck that may or may not make it all the way to its destination. It wasn’t a parade of celebration, but the daily parade of trucks carrying a mission team to the mountain villages of Honduras. However, the smiles were bright and the excitement was genuine and through this “parade” we were reminded each morning why we were there.
As they heard the sound of trucks approaching, the children and often adults would come outside and wave to the Americans heading their way. Our 28-member team served many areas including medical missions, a sewing ministry, vacation Bible school, evangelism, women’s and men’s Bible studies and more. Six churches in the Starkville and Philadelphia areas were represented in this particular mission.
The medical team was almost overwhelmed with needs. The Honduran people, like everyone else, face a multitude of medical issues but have limited and sometimes no means of treatment. Accidents may come from a machete blade, asthma from an indoor wood stove or major problems from issues left untreated and many are desperate to receive care for their loved ones. With our team, the diagnosis is often made through a translator, the medicine is dispensed from suitcases and the line of waiting patients wraps around a tattered old building. But the team did what they could, with great care and compassion, with the resources they had.
The sewing team helps the women learn to sew clothes for their family, furnishings for their homes or purses and other items for sale. Sewing machines have been purchased through donations from individuals and churches. The ladies can use them for these and other classes. Our team helps to train local women so that they can teach others in their village throughout the year using donated fabric and materials.
If you have ever been to this area or seen the pictures, your heart can quickly be swept away by the children, oh, the beautiful children. Some have smiling eyes. Others show the heaviness of their struggles on their faces. You can also easily spot those who are malnourished from protruding bellies and dull skin and hair. And though we come to bless them, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we are the ones who shed tears as we drive away. The hugs and the laughter are contagious and the spirit behind those beautiful brown eyes stays with you forever. A mutual affection grows from the time spent in Bible school, making crafts or just playing soccer. Like our children, they value the time and attention above all.
Though we meet the physical needs by these and other ways like setting up food accounts and providing clothes and furnishings, we were there also to change their lives spiritually. Some of the team preached and taught, others shared one-on-one about Christ, while others simply demonstrated the gospel by being there and giving their time. The team attended a baptism of 17 people in a mountain river. We crossed over a stream and walked up and around a few hills to get to the spot “where the water is born”. The preacher spoke in a loud firm voice preaching of the power of the Spirit and the value of baptism by water. He then led them down the river bank and immersed them in the waters of renewal. Standing in a circle, holding hands, the pastors and the newly baptized saints prayed together with family and friends looking on.
Another important aspect of the mission is what has been called the jelly houses. Connie Walters, of the Sandtown community near Philadelphia, makes and sells enough jelly every year to pay for a house for a family or sometimes two. The local pastor helps select the family based on need and other criteria. Most of the time, the family lives in a home constructed of sticks and a few pieces of tin. To have a cinder block house with beds instead of mats on a dirt floor is an amazing answer to prayer for them. It is powerful to see how the faithfulness of a woman making jelly can transform lives.
It’s often hot and muggy like a Mississippi August, dirty and sometimes even dangerous, but it’s a great experience to realize that poverty may separate our lifestyles but not our hearts. The body of Christ is not divided by socioeconomic status, location or education level. It is united by the common thread of love. Whether it’s in a foreign country or here in our own hometown, the opportunities for service are immense. In the words of an old military officer, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

Susan Seal is director of outreach and external affairs at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Contact her at seal@cvm.msstate.edu.

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