Before leaving the United States in early April, someone told me that I would see God in the people of Honduras.
By the end of the trip, I understood what those words meant.
On the night before our mission team traveled back home, we attended a church service in the Quimistan Valley. When we entered the tiny building, it was packed with people standing and singing along to contemporary Christian music. A few young ladies in long skirts and modest white blouses were dancing with tambourines in the front of the church. Ceiling and floor fans hummed, offering some relief to churchgoers as it was still in the high 80s that evening.
The whole service, which lasted about two hours, was in Spanish and though I didn't fully comprehend the message the minister was trying to convey, it didn't take away from the experience. At the end of the sermon, the minister asked the congregation to circle around our team, put out their hands and pray for us to have a safe trip home.
I struggle to find the words to describe how powerful that moment was. Tears began dripping down my face because I felt overwhelmed – what I believe I experienced was pure, unfiltered love from a group of people who most knew little to nothing about us but they meant every word of their prayer.
That was nearly the end of a life-altering trip that was rich with many experiences just as touching as the one at the church.
I traveled to this Central American country through the Honduras Agape Foundation with a group from St. John's United Methodist Church and it was a profoundly inspiring week for all of us.
Late last year, the Foundation offered me the opportunity to travel to Honduras. I had written several stories about its work in the Quimistan Valley and I now had a chance to experience it firsthand. My immediate response was, “yes, yes, yes!”
Now, admittedly, during the time leading up to the trip, I rattled my own nerves by doing a lot of research and reading about violence, crime and corruption ripping through Honduras on a daily basis.
Despite the scary headlines, never did I feel like I was in danger. If you ever go on a trip with the Foundation, take comfort in the fact that you are going to be with an experienced group of people from both home and Honduras.
We stayed in a very nice missionary compound – the only thing lacking was air conditioning and it was the beginning of summer in Honduras. We all adjusted to not having that accommodation, grateful for cold showers, floor fans, three hearty meals a day and a bed to crash into each night. Plus, once you start going into these small villages and see how little many of these people have, complaining about missing the luxury of an AC unit feels pretty foolish.
We spent our time in several small villages assisting with some construction at both private and public educational institutions as well as conducted a vacation bible school. We delivered bags of school supplies put together by students at Aiken Elementary to some children in another small town where a swing set was also installed. We served a meal in a small neighborhood where a Foundation member once witnessed the children digging through the dump with the hopes of finding something edible or to sell so they could scrounge up a little bit of money for food.
Every little thing we did was followed by signs of appreciation from those who were impacted by our actions. In the small mountain village of Texoxingales (or Teo,) several chickens and vegetables were prepared for us on one of our construction days. Each of us got an abundance of hugs from the children in each village we visited. Words of gratitude were constantly shared with us.
The children of Honduras are bright-eyed and always smiling – it doesn't take much to make their day. If you hand one of these children a tennis ball, it's like you've given them the equivalent of some hot item toy – they get giddy and they're not hesitant to share the fuzzy, bright yellow sphere with others.
One moment I particularly enjoyed was when I was showing some of the children how to take a photograph. I switched on the viewfinder screen and let them maneuver the camera that I tightly secured in my hands by its sides until they found the image that they wanted to capture.
They'd then hit the shutter button and were beyond thrilled to have the ability to freeze a moment in time. They took some pretty good photos, too.
Now, I don't know a lot of Spanish which at times made communication a bit difficult but we did have two wonderful translators – Daniel Reyes (who has a dominating and contagious smile) and Stanley Rodriguez Gutierrez (who is also a talented musician.) They were tireless messengers for the team and those living in the villages we visited.
Anyway, we spent some time at an indoor soccer field one evening in downtown Quimistan. I ended up playing ping-pong with a woman whose name I believe was Juanita and we both expressed a mutual, genuine interest in getting to know each other better despite the language barrier between us.
Daniel was enjoying a game of soccer and knowing that being a translator has to be an exhausting task, I wasn't going to bother him so I grabbed a cheat sheet of phrases that I kept in my camera bag.
Once we got through all of those, we spent the rest of the time appearing as if we were playing a game charades but we managed to learn a lot about each other.
The week went by fast. As we said our final good byes at the airport, I was stricken with deep sadness because I was and am still uncertain of when I'll get to go back. I really connected with both the team and those I met in Honduras. More than a week later, I still miss the people of the Quimistan Valley as much as I did when we first departed for home.
In Honduras, I believe that I did see God – through the hard work of my team members and through the eyes of those who live there.
I want to thank the Foundation for offering me this opportunity. You truly do give people the tools to fish – a hand up to help themselves improve the quality of their own lives.
I want to think my team leader, Michael Norton, for his guidance as well as the rest of the group for making me feel like a part of their family.
I also appreciate the work of Maynor Castillo who works for the Foundation from Honduras. It's obvious that he loves his country and is doing what he can to make a positive impact in his community.
To Martha and Gary Thomsen and their hardworking staff, thank you for giving us such a comfortable place to stay.
And, with no apprehension, I can say that one day, I'll be back.
PHOTO GALLERY: Honduras — A look through a reporter's eyes
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON Team member Rosalind Crenshaw assists some children at a small village school in the Quimistan Valley with some arts and crafts.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON A child in the Tejera neighborhood clutches a tennis ball that was given to him by one of the team members.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON Children enjoy a hearty meal at a feeding in Tejeras.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON A child from Tejaras watches some of the other kids play after a feeding in his neighborhood.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON Team member Abby Ray works with some of the children at a small village school in the Quimistan Valley.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON Children hold up their bags of school supplies from Aiken Elementary.×
Reporter Amy Banton and Sara from Texoxingales. Sara, like all of the children in that village, has a lot of spirt and is definitely a future leader.×
STAFF PHOTO BY AMY BANTON An Agape Promises student holds up a Lempira (Honduran money) that has the layout of the Mayan Ruins depicted on the back.×