Esto Y Lo Otro: Post #2 From Honduras

We have experienced so very much in such a short period of time. It would be impossible to capture it all. So I won’t even try. But, I will write you a few tidbits, just to let you know how, and what, we have been doing.

I believe I mentioned before that we were expecting to begin building bunk beds (say that 5 times fast) on Monday. We did not. The lumber was not ready. So that project did not begin until yesterday; and even still, it won’t be kicking into high-gear until sometime today. This delay has given us time to visit the homes and neighborhoods of Choluteca where the beds we eventually will make are to go. Homes, for instance, with two twin mattresses on the floor and a single hammock over them for a family of seven.

Today, in addition to constructing beds, we will be heading out into the neighborhoods in order to share the gospel of God and invite people to church this Saturday, even though we gringos will no longer be in country. We will do this in teams, probably of 3 or 4. Our trip coordinator, Ryan, informed us of all this last night; Ryan made clear that those who don’t want to share the gospel, for whatever reason, will not have to and he asked each of us to please let him know how we felt about doing this kind of evangelizing so that those less comfortable could be put on a team with someone more comfortable. Shortly after, when I asked Alicia and Erica how they felt about this, Alicia said, “I am excited to be a part of a group that does this, however, I definitely don’t want to be the person speaking. Maybe by the end of the day. Evangelism just isn’t something we have done much of in our church.” She might as well have been speaking of any Presbyterian church in the U.S., not just Heritage. But maybe this is part of the reason why God has us here – here where we serve a Great Commission church with brothers and sisters in Christ (I speak specifically of the other missionaries here with us) who, for the most part, come from faith backgrounds which today are much more comfortable evangelizing; maybe part of the reason we are here is to be stretched and grown in our proclamation of the gospel to and for all humankind. I myself told Ryan I wanted the opportunity to share the gospel; I also asked him not to put anyone from Heritage in my group. I figure it is far more likely for someone (Alicia, Erica, Vern, Michele, Eleke) to step out and share the gospel if their pastor is not standing right next to them

Yesterday morning, Michele and Alicia went with others to the grocery store to purchase food and hygiene products, which they then assembled into care packages, I guess you would say, which today or tomorrow will be taken into the community and shared with the poor. To make this happen each member of the mission team, including your Honduras 6, chipped in between 5 and 20 dollars. Even still, the grocery team were $200 over budget at the register. People began pulling things from their inventory which would have to be put back on the shelves. But then Michele said, “I got it,” and produced $200 from her purse. When Alicia finished telling me this, Michele rather passionately made the point to me that were it not for her church family she would not have done this because she would not have been able to. But because our church sent us all here at no cost to us, she had $200 to offer. So in a way, according to Michele, it wasn’t her $200 she donated; it was yours. If that’s the case, I’d say “money well spent, Heritage.”

As I write this to you I am watching the sun come over some mountains and listening to what seems to be a great army of roosters cheering it forth. As one who has actually won an award for his theatrical portrayal of a rooster, I must say, their voices are quite impressive.

Last night the church rented a local soccer field – which was really a small stadium – and had the missionaries come and play. Eleke played quite well, of course, however, his sister stole the show. Both with her HILARIOUS and LOVABLE goaltending and her GOAL! Turns out, like her brother, Erica’s skills lie in SCORING goals, not stopping them. Really, Erica, only has one flaw as a goalie. She is slightly afraid of the ball. But she wanted to play goalie, so there she was… screaming in high-pitched bursts anytime the ball came her way or went by. I’d swear, a few times the ball avoided the goal simply because Erica had terrified it. Later in the night, she went in at forward. The ball was sent down to her team’s offensive end and she ran to receive it. So too did the opposing team’s goalie, our friend, Oscar. Erica stepped in front of Oscar, fielded the ball, and then kicked it in a high arc directly over both her and Oscar’s heads. GOAAAAAAAAAAL!!!! The crowd went nuts. Some more than others (i.e. me, Vern and Alicia).

Last night we (the Heritage 6) gathered with a few others and studied Acts 16:16-34. Paul and Silas are in jail singing hymns and praying to God. The earth shakes, their chains bust apart, and the door of their cell explode open. Yet Paul and Silas remain right where they are. What kind of person remains a captive when offered freedom? One who is already free. One who knows and believes the gospel.

Finally, one last thing before I go and start my day.

The church invited us to sit in on their small group meetings. We, of course, accepted. The groups consist of and are led by young people. They gather, sing some songs, play a game or two, and then study the Bible. The group I was with studied Romans 12. Towards the end of our time together, a young man, Edgar, who is 18 and one Pastor Giovanni’s sons, said this:

Love is easy if you practice it.

Wow, I thought, I need to write that down.

Now I have.

Keep praying for us and we will do likewise.

Much love en Cristo from Honduras,

Victor

p.s. Eleke now insists on being called ‘El Jefe Guapo’, the Handsome Boss. When I asked him who he was the boss of, he said, quite simply, “everyone.”

Ti me rindo, and other things from Choluteca, Honduras

The Honduras 6 are now the Chicago, or, Illinois, 6, which is a good thing because it means we are in Honduras. What distinguishes us now is where we are from, not where we are going!

We arrived around noon local time on Saturday. The airport is surrounded by mountains and the runway is a short one. This made for an interesting landing, for sure. Apparently a pilot must go through special training before an airline, such as United, will allow them to land a plane in Tegucigalpa. Fortunately for us, our captain seemed to have had this training. Or, he just got lucky.

From Tegucigalpa we made a 3 hour trek through the mountains to the more coastal town of Choluteca, our final destination. We were driven by a man named Mario, who told us he was introduced to Jesus and the gospel of God and became a Christian only a few weeks ago. Mario’s new Bible sat right next to him in the van, where seat space was precious, almost as though t he Word of God had the seat of honor.

The ride to Choluteca was not fun, but it was good. Eleke slept almost the entire way. Just as he did through both of our flights. However, in the van he did much of his sleeping on Vern’s shoulder. Time in-transit gave us an opportunity to get to know the other missionaries in our team. From Columbus, Ohio, there is Grant, Carlo, Justin, and Nick. They come from a church about our size but much younger – it is maybe 10 years old. Justin is the volunteer youth pastor. Carlo is the volunteer children’s minister. Grant and Nick are soon to be high school seniors, so in-between Erica and Eleke. From Loveland, Colorado, we have Preston and JC, a young married couple. Then Lois, also from Colorado, Chris from Springfield, Sara from Grand Rapids, Sylvester from Connecticut, and Rhonda from Atlanta.

Last night we gathered together as a group and reflected on our first full day; we marveled at how quickly God could, and had, made a group of people (us), who 36 hours prior were largely strangers, into a tight group. “I feel like I’ve know you people my entire life,” Chris shared.

Iglesia de Gran Commision (“Grand Commission Church” or “Church of the Grand Commission”, referring to Matthew 28:18-20, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”) is the church in Choluteca who we are here serving and serving alongside, and who are so graciously serving as our hosts this week.

If you need to reach us by mail, you can write to us at, “Iglesia de Gran Commision, 2 Blocks West of the Pizza Hut, Choluteca, Choluteca, Honduras.” Not joking. That is the church’s actual address.

The Grand Commission Church has a mission house a few minutes from the church (and the Pizza Hut, I guess). This mission house is where we will be staying while we are here. It is incredibly nice. Nicer than I would have ever imagined.

Worship in Honduras is Saturday night. Sunday is observed as Sabbath. Having been in Choluteca less than two hours, and having had only 3 minutes in the hotel rooms where we would sleep Saturday night (last night was our first night here at the mission house), we rushed off to the church’s 6:30pm worship service.

Worship was awesome, even as exhausted as we were. The church is not liturgical, per se. So worship consisted of a bunch of ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING music, a few prayers, and a short message from Pastor Giovanni. The abundance of musical giftedness within this congregation is borderline absurd. Honestly. When it was over, we sang for about an hour, probably a little more. All music was in Spanish; the lyrics were projected on the wall behind the worship leaders so all could sing along, including those who don’t speak Spanish. We all sang as best we could and found it was a lot easier than you would think.

I found myself recognizing or identifying the Spanish words for such English words as God, Jesus, heart, King, Lord, sin, salvation, will, perfection, love, life, peace, adore, and maybe a few others. So for example, one lyric was as follows: Amamos todo de ti, Cielo y Tierra te adoran. I think I recognized “todo” as “all” and “adoran” as adore, but certainly nothing else. The lyric translates, “we love everything about you, heaven and earth adore you,” though I of course did not know this at the time.

Then there were also verses in which I knew NONE of the words. The one that comes to mind first is, “Ti me rindo.” It was not until this morning that I learned we were singing, “I surrender.”

The amazing and awesome thing is that regardless of all this – whether I knew one, two or none of the words I was singing – I found myself singing my heart out to God unlike I have in quite some time. I belted out “Ti me rindo” again and again not knowing that AS I SANG THESE WORDS, and indeed BY SINGING THEM, I was in fact doing them… that is, I was surrendering to God.

Yesterday we spent the day seeing the different things the church is doing. We played basketball and volleyball and soccer. We heard from Pastor Giovanni, too. And as he spoke, I heard God saying, “Victor, you need to talk with this man.” Through a translator I asked for and Pastor Giovanni agreed to an interview later this week. I will record it on video; so as long as it actually happens, you will at some point be hearing from Giovanni – somehow, someway – I’m sure.

Today we will be building beds for the church’s orphanage, along with a few other things.

I have to go now but I asked each person from our group to share a message.

“What would you say to the church if they were standing in front of you right now?” was my actual question.

Here is what we all said.

Eleke: I have been surprised how welcoming the people have been to us and to me. I wasn’t expecting it. And the food is good too (said with surprise).
Erica: Hi. It’s my first mission trip and I met the children and it’s so fun. It was really cool seeing the orphanage. Even though they don’t have much, they have painted the inside of their rooms beautiful colors that suggests they have a lot.
Alicia: God is at work.
Michele: Thank you for giving all of us this opportunity.
Vern: God has brought us all together.
Victor: I miss you.

In Christ from Choluteca,

Victor

A Partnership Like No Other

Around 6am this Saturday, Vern, Eleke, Michele, Erica, Alicia and I (the Honduras 6) will board an airplane bound for Honduras.

This Wednesday, after many of us gathered at the church for dinner and prayer, I found myself reflecting on the upcoming trip – how it has come together and how, in many ways, it seems to have brought us all a little (or a lot) closer together.

I began thinking about the apostle Paul. About his epistles. And, in particular, about the personal greetings or remarks often contained therein.

These are passages of Scripture I think we often skim/skip when we read our Bibles. Maybe it’s just me. But, honestly, I don’t think we are all that sure what we are supposed to do with verses that essentially read, “Mark says hi. You know him. He is Barnabas’ cousin” (Col. 4:10), which is exactly the kind of thing Paul writes in the parts of Scripture which I’m talking about.

At the beginning of his letter to the Philippians Paul writes:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.

“Your partnership in the gospel.”

Put another way, your gospel partnership.

Leslie Newbigin, 20th century author and missionary, said something in some lectures he gave on the nature of the church which I absolutely love. He said:

The Church is the pilgrim people of God. It is on the move – hastening to the ends of the earth to beseech all men to be reconciled to God, and hastening to the end of time to meet its Lord who will gather all into one.

(I have a feeling it is not the last time you will hear this from me. I love it too much to only say it once.)

The Church, said Newbigin, is a community in via; that is, it is a community on its way. Both to the ends of the earth and the end of time.

Beautiful. Profound. Relevant. But I digress.

A cursory review of Paul’s greetings, reports and “personal remarks” within his epistles is enough to make clear that something very real happens as the church goes its way. First, the church is employed. By God. Second, as God employs the church, some pretty serious bonds are formed. Between God and people, as well as people and people. Relationships develop. Partnerships take root. One experiences a deep-seated closeness.

“I pray with joy,” Paul wrote to Philippi, “because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” This is really the crux of what I want to talk about here. Great portions of the New Testament, and perhaps, in particular, Paul’s epistles, bear witness to an ardent partnership between Paul and the various communities to which he wrote.

An ardent partnership; precisely because a gospel partnership. Much, in fact, like the one between Heritage and the Honduras 6.

There are many things that can serve to bind individuals or groups together, but absolutely nothing binds us to God and to one another quite like the gospel. Like hearing it, receiving it and being employed in it’s service. God has been teaching me – indeed, showing me! – this through the present trip to Honduras, and all our preparation for it.

You see, we truly are in this together, as were Paul and the people of Corinth, Philippi, Rome and others. We too are gospel partners. You and I. We and them. Us. Though only six of us will board the plane bound for Tegucigalpa early Saturday morning, the work and particular service to God performed once we get there is something that truly belongs to us all. Again, we have partnership with one another in the gospel.

 

The worshiping communities in such places as Corinth, Philippi and others clearly felt responsibility for Paul. These communities would send people on journeys to visit him, wherever he may be; the people sent to Paul were charged with the responsibility of checking on Paul, both his ministry and well-being. They were to make sure he was okay, help him in anyway possible, and, of course, encourage him. Philippi sent Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). And Corinth sent Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, who, according to Paul, supplied him with what was lacking and refreshed his spirit. (1 Cor. 16:17-18)

The Heritage community has done the same for the Honduras 6. In truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of anything quite like this before. As an entire community we have taken ownership of and responsibility for this trip – all of us, together. And the result is that this trip to Honduras has a different feel to it than any other I’ve ever been a part of. Is it just me?

You have not just supported this endeavor. You have made it your own. And there is a difference. Just as there is a difference between permitting and supporting, there is a difference between supporting and owning.

It is not uncommon for a group like the Honduras 6 to develop a sense of unity or closeness amongst themselves… it is a closeness that only teammates, i.e., partners, can know. What I believe to be far less common is for a community as a whole, both those physically engaged in an endeavor and those not so engaged, to develop this same unity and closeness as a result of a particular purpose or goal. But that is exactly what seems to me has happened, and continues to happen, among us.

Do you sense it? Do you see it? Have you entered into it?

Heritage, not the Honduras 6, have championed this trip. Can the difference that this minor distinction makes be overstated?

The Honduras 6 set a goal of raising something like $4.8k or $4.9k, and then anticipated paying the remaining trip costs ourselves. Through the car wash, independent donations, silent auction, and, of course, many revenue sharing events with local restaurants, total donations now exceed $10.5k; this covers the full cost of the trip for all travellers.

Again, on Tuesday night some 35+ of you hosted the Honduras 6 for dinner and prayer at the church. You gathered around us, laid hands on us, and prayed over us. More than 35 of you! That’s roughly half our Sunday worship attendance.

Something like ten people signed up to be a part of the Honduras prayer team. Each of the Honduras 6 has their own prayer partner, and one or two of us received two. These prayer partners have been praying for the group every day for the last month and will continue to do so over the next week and a half. The prayer team provided each member of the Honduras 6 with one note of encouragement to read each day of the trip; they also provided each of us with a journal and daily devotionals, which were put together specifically for this trip. On Tuesday night, when the Honduras 6 arrived for dinner, we found a table set for us. At each of the six table settings was a Nalgene bottle filled with treats, a yellow bandana, and an assortment of travel goodies (snacks, etc.) based on our own personal favorites. (The Honduras 6 were interviewed ahead of time by the prayer team and asked what is your favorite drink other than water?, what is your favorite sweet snack?, what is your favorite salty snack?. So we literally got our favorite things.)

Not every group of six missionaries experience what we have prior to departure!

Truly, you are our gospel partners.

In truth, I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of anything quite like this before. The entire community as one has taken ownership of and responsibility for this trip. Is it just me? This is special.

I think it important to recognize this, celebrate it, and say thank you. So, thank you!

You will note that in the case of Paul and the various Christian communities which were his partners, their partnership was not a one-way street. Paul not only received from, he also gave to, the community. Likewise, the community not only gave to, but also received from, Paul. But what exactly did Paul give and these communities receive? And what might we, the Honduras 6, strive to give you?

When Paul sent a letter to Corinth, Philippi, or others, he often sent them both a message and a messenger, so to speak. For example, at the end of four extant epistles – Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Timothy & Titus – Paul references one particular messenger, Tychicus.

Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you. (Eph. 6:21-22)

Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus. They will tell you everything that is happening here. (Col. 4:7-9)

Paul’s gospel partners – i.e., the gospel communities at Ephesus, Colosse, and no doubt others – received Tychicus in addition to the letter which Tychicus carried. In receiving Tychicus, these communities received one charged by Paul with not only delivering his letter, but also reporting to them “everything that is happening”. With Paul, that its. How he was. Where he was. What he was doing. And all of this in order to, in Paul’s words, encourage them.

I believe it is my responsibility, and the responsibility of the Honduras 6 as a whole, to offer to you the same.

As our gospel partners – those who work with us to fulfill a common calling – I promise that we, the group physically going to Honduras, will report back to you just as Paul did.

In middle school and high school I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip each summer with my church youth group. Like the present trip to Honduras, our trips would typically be international and they would last about a week. I remember that each time I returned home from such a trip my mother was always extremely eager to hear all about it. She wanted to know every little detail. This drove me nuts. And the older I got, the more it bothered me. Looking back, I have no explanation for this. I can’t tell you why it drove me nuts. It just did.

Puberty. That’s really the only explanation I got.

Because she was such a good and neat and loving person, my mom wanted to share in my experiences. Because I was such a hormonal teenager – that is, such a basically good person most of the time, but one also prone to frequent fits of complete idiocy, unbridled self-absorption and quite genuine awfulness – I wanted to keep my experience entirely to myself. So I gave her nothing.

It will not, it must not, be like this between us. I mean, for one, you are not my mom and I have now put puberty behind me. At least I hope I have. But whats more, we are gospel partners. This trip to Honduras, and the work of the gospel which by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we will do there, is ours. How it goes for us and with us 6 who will physically be there is not something we have the right to keep to ourselves. We are partners. This endeavor is ours. All of ours. You not only have a right to know everything, as my mom so desired, you must know everything. And you must let it encourage you. For this is something we must share from start to finish. Each in our own way.

And so, I promise the Honduras 6 will be with you the very thing I was not with my mother. I promise we will share everything with you. After all, it belongs as much to you as it does to us. (At this point, mom, if you are reading this, you should recognize that my not telling you everything was a good thing, and you should be thankful. I think at this point you know this.) Not sharing with you in this way would be the same as keeping that which is yours for ourselves. In no uncertain terms, theft. I promise we will not rob you in this way.

I promise to write to you each day I am gone. I doubt we will have internet in Choluteca. If we do, then at the end of each day, I will post here what I have written. Otherwise, I will post my daily reports and/or messages when we get back. I will also be taking my video camera and I promise upon our return to share the trip with you also in this way.

I do this with great joy, one gospel partner to another.

Now, co-opting the words of Paul to the Philippians already included above, I’d like to simply say:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel with me. Truly, it is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart, and whether I am in Honduras, Illinois, or Antarctica bearing witness to Christ and the love of God revealed in Him, the truth is this: we share in God’s grace together – I with you, and, you with me.

Much love and I’ll see you on the other side. Peace in Him.