Ten years ago, before I worked as a priest at Christ Church, I came to Honduras to attend a Spanish-language immersion program offered at Our Little Roses Home for Girls in San Pedro Sula. That summer I had the delight of meeting those who were on the annual Christ Church OLR mission trip. This summer, I have journeyed here with Christ Church’s 26th mission trip as their priest and chaplain. It is incredible to return to this land of extremes: extreme poverty, extreme friendliness, extreme heat, extreme rainstorms, extreme natural beauty, and trash everywhere you look. The moment you arrive at the airport and see the many Christian mission groups in their matching t-shirts lined up in the customs line, you know you’re in for an adventure. It is impossible not to eavesdrop on their excited conversation. One woman said the goal of her group was to save more than 800 souls while they were here. The goal of our group is to seek and serve Christ in all people, most especially in the girls at Our Little Roses, and to have some fun.

Our first day in Honduras was our team building day. We began by walking through the Garifuna village of Miami, a small village of thatched houses on a spit of land between the ocean and a lagoon. The Garifuna are descendants of enslaved Africans who jumped off slave ships in the Carribean two hundred years ago. Risking drowning rather than slavery, they washed up on the shores of Honduras to construct a new life in what looks like paradise to us.

2016-olr-trip-beachside-eucharist.jpgAfter a bracing forty-five minute boat ride, we arrived on the peninsula of Punta Sal, a stunningly beautiful national park of beach and jungle looking something like the setting for the movie “Castaway.” While we waited for two women in a shack to prepare our lunch of fried whole fish, we stood with our feet in the sand, under the shade of palm trees, looking out at translucent aquamarine water, and shared our Sunday Eucharist. There was no table available so one of our youth, Paige St. John, served as our “altar,” holding the chalice and the paten for me – bright, blue plastic dishes borrowed from our breakfast at the hotel. I wore the purple Honduran stole purchased ten years ago in anticipation of becoming a priest.  We heard scripture readings about other meals prepared by women: Sarah preparing a feast for Abraham and his three heavenly visitors, and Martha slaving away by herself in the kitchen for a meal with Jesus, Mary, and Lazarus. I asked our participants to think about what God was doing with the women in these stories. They were invited to share with the group an image or phrase that these Holy words brought to mind, especially in the context of coming to work at OLR:  “shaping whole women,” “friendship,” “building strength,” and “changing expectations” were just a few of them. We prayed for Christ Church and all of its transitions and then we passed the bread and wine made holy to one another around the circle. Afterwards we ate and swam, hung in hammocks, and listened to the waves crashing on the beach.

On the way back to San Pedro Sula we stopped for a visit to the compound called Students Helping Honduras in the ironically named El Progreso, one of Honduras’ most poor and dangerous cities. Started by the indefatigable Shin Fujiyama, the compound now boasts a home for girls and boys, a bi-lingual school for both the home and the local community, a volunteer hostel – fifty college students had just arrived to volunteer for a month - a library and homework center, and employment for many in the local community. Shin first came to Honduras on a mission trip to OLR during college and was inspired to make a difference in the lives of children here. He worked closely with the community so they would take ownership and pride in the endeavor. Like OLR, he is working from the model that children need “cradle to college” support. Both SHH and OLR are developing transitional housing so that kids coming out of high school can learn how to successfully navigate varying degrees of independence as they integrate back into the real world. As he gave us a tour of the facilities, the gardens, the basketball court that had watermelons growing in the middle of it, and his new lodgings- a tree house built around a mango tree - Shin shared some of the realities that he deals with every day. He had to move out of the town of El Progreso because it was not safe for him to stay there. One of their newest high school boys came to them because his parents were assassinated for their work as environmental activists. Honduras has one of the highest rates of homicide in the world. We left the inspiring Shin, surrounded by children smiling and waving, as our bus pulled out of the gate, heavily secured by armed guards.

The next day our week with the girls began. I brought with me some cards that our Vacation Bible School children in Alexandria had made for the girls at OLR. It turns out that they had to be carefully read and we chose not to give some of them out. Several of them held well-intentioned, but misinformed messages, like: “I hope you get adopted soon,” or “We hope you find a new family and home.” Even though Christ Church has been coming to OLR for over 25 years, the misconception still exists that these girls are orphans waiting to be adopted. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. While some are indeed without parents, many come from families who abused them or could not properly care for them. Once they arrive at OLR, they have found their new family that consists of many older sisters and tias or aunties – adult caregivers who live with them in the home - as well as their teachers. This home is filled with love and life. It is true that most have been rescued from abject poverty – one young spitfire who is now four and runs the older girls around was apparently handed out the window of a car at 6 weeks old. Many of the girls have developmental and physical challenges because of their beginnings, but this is one of the happiest homes I have ever experienced. There is music and dancing and constant laughter. Together this week, we will have made paper dolls and batiked napkins, held an Olympics-style field day, taken them on a retreat to the country, out for pizza, to the movies and the beach. Together, we will have gone on a hike, painted an incredible mural of Honduran nature scenes, and attended mass led by Father Gustavo, their wonderful Episcopal priest. 2016-olr-trip-mural.jpg

Here’s another misconception: that we as missioners grace the girls with our love. Instead they draw love out of us. It is impossible to resist them. They throw their arms around you and pull you into their family. The little ones snuggle and hang on you. They all enjoy teasing you. They want to practice their English (which is often great) and have you practice your Spanish (in my case, not so great). They will make you laugh, they will break your heart, and you will want to come back for more.