One of the wonderful things about college is spring break. Another wonderful thing is the expectation that students will typically take this opportunity to go somewhere other than home. Spring “break” has become anything but that, whether it be traveling to a different part of the country, or even traveling outside of it.
Organizations have picked up on this, allowing many options to spend your week and a half road tripping to a destination, where you are met with an amazing experience and stories to show for it.
My experience was no different. And at the same time it was completely different.
I’m highly involved in The Rock Campus Church, which is a campus ministry here in Columbia, Missouri. The Rock has always been vocal with their spring break trips. There are promotion videos and meetings. Then there is the most powerful weapon: people.
I had heard countless stories about Choluteca, Honduras; stories of victory and stories of defeat. Over time, I saw hundreds of photos of Honduran children that had contagious smiles. I saw those same smiles reflected on the faces of my close friends when they spent an entire summer there. All of it compelled me.
I had responded to this desire last year for spring break, but had backed out due to intimidation of raising the money for it. This year the desire arose again, and this time, I didn’t shut it out.
Let me start by saying this: I am beyond grateful I felt a push to go on this trip. I am also so thankful the Lord provided me with people in my life that supported me so that I could go. The only regret I have is that I didn’t go last year.
I’m still processing the trip in its entirety. I journaled intensively every day, but I haven’t put the trip together as a whole, until now.
Rereading my journal and recalling what made up those 10 days, it is easiest to explain my experience in themes that presented themselves during our trip.
I will admit, my first two days in Honduras I wasn’t convinced that I would grow any sort of attachment to it. I loved everyone I had met, but I also thought I would be ready to return when it came time. I was wrong. Day three changed things. On day three, we were working on construction, demolishing walls and clearing things out of the building. My job was to pick up tiles, most of them broken, and relocate them with the wonderful invention that is the wheelbarrow. It was me and another girl, Sarah, on the team working on this task, when a boy named José Antonio joined us to help. José Antonio is a 15-year-old boy that doesn’t speak English.
We had been moving the tiles for a while when we picked one up and two mice came running out from underneath. You can imagine the panic that followed (I found out later that Sarah’s biggest fear is rodents). After the heartbeats returned to a normal pace, we continued working. I was worried because we were coming in close contact with rodent poop and didn’t want to touch anymore than I probably already had, so I grabbed my gloves. I searched for another pair for José Antonio, but there weren’t any extra. I took one of my gloves off, gave it to him and demonstrated via hand motions to only pick up the tiles with the one covered hand. I think for a few minutes I convinced him, and myself, that the tons of bugs and poop we were coming in contact with didn’t bother me. Okay honestly, I was really grossed out. No matter how hard I was trying to tough it out, José Antonio picked up on it. Then, without any hesitation, he took off the one glove and held it out to me. I shook my head no and he brought it closer to me. I took the glove and he immediately went back to work with his bare hands. I just stood there and watched for a minute. As strange as it sounds, that is when I knew I didn’t want to leave those people or that place.
Later on, the team had a debriefing time. I shared my realization and one of the members asked if something had happened for me to feel that way. I was embarrassed to say it was over a glove, so I played it off and said there wasn’t anything specific. This same team member went on the explain that she found out José Antonio’s father passed away in January, he was living in an abusive household and on top of all of that, he has epilepsy. I started to cry. I told my team the truth and that hearing that destroyed me. On one hand, I felt I could relate to this boy losing a father. And on the complete other end, I couldn’t imagine what it was like to lose a father, come home to abusive household and live with an illness yourself. 15 years old.
José Antonio held a special place in my heart all week, and he still does. I will never forget his selfless act of enduring an unpleasant situation to take away some of my fear.
I went there thinking I would love them so well, but was met with the greatest love I have ever felt.
It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, where you’ve come from or what you’re going to do. Those kids will love you. It is a genuine love; capable of making you want to be as pure as they make you feel. They will greet you as if you are the most special person, except somehow they make everyone feel that way. It is not just the first time, but every time. That is how I want to love: boldly. I want to return the love that was shown to me there and shower it onto the people that surround me every day, people I will only meet once and even people that will do evil against me. I went there thinking I would love them so well, but was met with the greatest love I have ever felt.
I said, “I think Americans really take affection for granted.” Her response: “I think we’re starved of it.”
I never thought of myself as a person that adored physical touch, until I was given it with every interaction. Hugs, kisses on the cheek and holding hands. My favorite thing was that age didn’t matter. Think of how many times parents here try to show their growing kids affection and they reject it or are embarrassed. If I wasn’t given one first, I hugged Bryan, a 13-year-old boy every time I saw him. Bryan hugs were some of my favorite hugs. He has the sweetest soul. I was talking to my friend Katie about the difference in affection there and here and I said, “I think Americans really take affection for granted.” Her response: “I think we’re starved of it.”
My best buddy was a boy named Jeyson. I met him on our first full day there and I immediately had a connection with him that lasted the rest of the trip. I adore Jeyson. He captured my heart. Like any little kid does, Jeyson got really jealous when I paid special attention to another boy his age. So much so, that he walked away from me and wouldn’t talk to me. I actually got really upset about it (I’m not saying I cried, but I’m also not saying I didn’t cry). It was a 45-minute process of me trying to follow Jeyson around, telling him I was sorry, I cared about him and trying to get him to forgive me. I had one of the translators, Emily, get close enough to him to tell him I would be leaving the next day, so he could spend his last day with me playing or being angry. It took some time and patience, but Jeyson forgave me and came and gave me the biggest hug. I know this sounds like a dramatic story, but you have to understand some of them have already seen betrayal and have been deprived of attention, even at the age of 6 years old. I believe Jeyson choosing to forgive me wasn’t an easy thing for him to do, but he made the decision to. We were best pals again, don’t worry.
It was hard not to look at some people’s circumstances there and feel sorry for them. But then you see people living in houses made of cardboard and trash bags, smiling, loving each other and loving you, and you start to realize that maybe we’re the poor ones. In one of our last debriefing times we talked about this. Someone explained something very powerful. Americans (us living in the states, that is) disguise our brokenness with “stuff”: money, success and power.
I fell in love with the country of Honduras.
We are not a country that is more fixed than any other country, especially Honduras, but we have this common misconception that we are. We live in a place that is selfish, spoiled, unforgiving, hateful and broken because of it all. We too, are a country that desperately needs to hear the greatest love story there is, and we have more distractors than most places around the world.
How’s that for first world problems?