And, We’re Off...
The past 10 days or so have been very exciting, hectic, happy, sad, and life-changing ones. Over the next few days, I will draw from my journal notes to share my times with you. Starting at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 27th when we got up to get ready to leave from our home for Chesapeake Church to meet up with the 2015 Honduras Family Team to head to Reagan Airport via a vanpool driven by Chesapeake volunteers to be on our way to El Ayudante, Comayagua, Lo de Reina, Honduras where God has called many regular people before us to do many extraordinary things, through their obedience to Him, to make big things happen over the course of their one week’s stay!
The El Ayudante Story
The story of El Ayudante is a testimony of how God prospers through simple acts of obedience by everyday people to bring hope and life changes to tens of thousands of people. El Ayudante was founded and developed by generous donations of time and resources from many people when one man, Mel Cox, decided to follow the Lord’s guidance. Cox saw the need and felt the call to do something in Honduras and in 1998, two years after he first visited a youth camp there, founded El Ayudante (“the helper”), in the United States.
In 2004, Mel and a board of directors focused their efforts in the Comayagua valley, in hopes of starting a medical clinic that would serve the mountain communities of Comayagua. They found land in Lo De Reina that they bought simply by paying landowners’ back taxes. When Mel and his team got there, the landowners asked, “where have you been all this time?”
A representative from the twelve local families witnessed the signing of the deed under a tree just outside of what is now the back porch of the mission house. And, Saul Martinez (the community elected ‘mayor’ of this area) placed a slab of concrete rock there as a testimony for future ministries of El Ayudante. That concrete slab is said to represent a story like that of Joshua crossing the Jordan river and having the twelve tribes of Israel build an altar of rocks as a covenant (Joshua Chapters 3-4).
Throughout the following 11 years many dedicated people have helped with El Ayudante ‘s mission. With the help of Mark Harwell, the foundation was laid for the mission house. Mark Renfroe and the first mission team helped construct many of the first buildings within the campus. Louis Carrion and John Mattica were very instrumental in the beginning years as well. First United Methodist Church of Vero Beach Florida took the clinic plans and ran with them. Tristan and Beth Mohagen caught the vision in 2008; and in 2013, Chesapeake Church in Huntingtown, MD, sent Mark and Tracy Howard to Honduras with their three young sons as Chesapeake’s on site Ministry Pastor and Ministry Leader at El Ayudante.
Continuing our Journey to El Ayudante
We arrived at Reagan about 5:30 a.m. and departed on time for Miami, FL–the second leg of our trip. Following a 1-½ hour layover in Miami, we next departed aboard a Boeing 319 plane that would take us into San Pedro Sula Airport in Central America. Probably only a few of us knew that according to the Violence Observatory at the National Autonomous University of Honduras (NAUH), the City of San Pedro Sula has a murder rate of 173 per 100,000 residents, reportedly the highest in the world outside any war zone–this is also the city that produces New Balance T-shirts and Fruit of the Loom boxer shorts for markets abroad. Just for comparison sake, last year Honduras (primarily due to homocides in San Pedro Sula), had a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with 56 in Venezuela, 4.78 in the US and 1.2 in the UK. But we knew we were on a mission from God!
After a lengthy time clearing immigration and customs,we loaded 29 bags of luggage atop a bus filled with 23 passengers, one driver, and Tristen Mohagen, the director of El Ayudante. This final leg of our trip would prove to be 4 hours long and quite an adventure. We felt as though we were part of an Amazing Race TV episode. Honduran drivers are crazy, the numbers and kinds of vehicles jockeying for position among the very narrow lanes and steep and curvy hills within the mountains was like one long game of chicken. There were buses, 18-wheelers with bald tires, barely driveable hoopties, tuk taxis (the 3-wheeled mini cars), motor scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles with multiple people and packages aboard.
Throughout the day in and out of airports we had 2 cups of coffee and one-half of an Ice Box Brand ham and cheese sandwich–the wheat bread was dry and the sandwich meats and cheeses bland–all for the price of $25! We made a couple of pit stops during our 4-hour bus ride to El Ayudante.
We stopped at a local fruit stand and sampled fresh coconuts, pineapples, guavas and bananas–tropical fruit is the one thing in abundance in Honduras. These snacks barely held us over until we arrived just before 7 p.m. at the El Ayudante Campus that is nestled in a valley below the mountains that surrounded it.
After a quick dinner of tacos, refried beans, pico de gallo and more fresh fruit and watermelon juice, it was time for an ice breaker game hosted by our translator and El Ayudante leader, Jonathan Carlos Zelaya–a thirty-something lively and fun-loving young man. The Honduran Family Team was divided into two for the purposes of the Honduran Trivia game. Jonathan asked us questions about Honduras and we raced the front of the room to answer the question–the fastest person from among the two teams would don a very colorful and tall crêpe papered hat. Then they would dance a few steps before being allowed to answer. The team with the most correct answers out of a possible 10 was declared the winning team and only one person from the team would be awarded a coveted candy bar. My husband, Bob, was on the winning team, but the score keeping was debatable as was the winner within the winning team (between Bob and another father named, David Thomas–the two quickly became fast friends). David told us yesterday (July 4th) that he never got his candy bar!
Before retiring to our bunk beds in separate male and female dorms, we needed to collect our linens and make up our beds. Although we had electricity, the mission house was not air-conditioned, and we used a few small standing fans to move around the hot and humid air. While we were fortunate to have indoor plumbing and water (unlike the locals), there were some house rules on uses of water, showers, toilets, and washing of dishes–all intended to protect our health and conserve the limited water supplies of Honduras and the El Ayudante campus.
Of note, too, Honduras time is two hours earlier than in the states, so our day ended with bed at 10:30 U.S. daylight savings time–to make day one a very long 20 hours!