From July 23-29, several of our members went on a mission trip to Honduras to host Vacation Bible School at the Limon Church of Christ and also assist that congregation in other ways. Tony Crockett shares his memories of this life-changing trip.
Tony with one of the Alejandra's in Limon.
Mission Lazarus Trip – Jayacayan, Honduras 7/2011
Friday July 22
I just got home from work. I remember feeling very excited. It was my first real trip outside the U.S. I’ve been to Canada. No passport needed there, so where’s the excitement in that? I spent the evening packing different zip lock bags with bug repellant and snacks. I packed my bag and then try to go to sleep. My mind wouldn’t have anything to do with it; way too much to think about. I think I nodded off at midnight.
Saturday July 23
Wow! So, 2:30 a.m. really does come early! I prayed that God would keep us safe and it was off to meet everyone at the Holly Hill church building. We got to the building, piled into Robert Roach’s van and headed to Bluegrass Airport. We waited for what seemed like a day; it was maybe close to two hours. I remember thinking, “Man! I am old!” (compared to everyone else).
We got on the plane and it was a swing and a miss. My wife, Beth, and I were not sitting next to each other. Our first flight together and I’m staring at the back of her head. I thought this is a small price to pay for what we were about to experience. In the past I have honestly been uneasy about flying. I’ve gotten better over the years. In my late 20s, flying was like having a near-death experience. I now know that I have to let go of not being in control, sit back enjoy the view and let God fly the plane, so to speak.
With that mind set, I was for once excited about the flight and was at peace. I also remember taking off down the runway and absolutely loving the speed involved. The windows had water streaking passed them and I thought about how Thomas Merton called them “tears of joy” when he flew to the Far East.
We landed in Houston and it was nearly a perfect flight. I think we had a half hour layover. It seemed like two minutes. Boarding the plane was very exhilarating! Finally, after 40 years of not going anywhere of true significance, this was it! When I got off the plane I would be in a different world. Even on this flight I was at peace. Even after watching the YouTube videos of the planes flying into Tegucigalpa. I mean, it’s only the second most dangerous airport in the world to fly in to. What could go wrong, right? The approach was anticlimactic to say the least. Yes, there was a decent turn inside the valley that aligned the plane with the runway. It really didn’t feel like as advertised on YouTube. Although there was some turbulence about 200 feet off the ground that added to the drama.
Looking out of the window as we taxied down the runway, I was thinking, “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto”. The view was one of mountains with topography unlike anything I had ever seen before. Very green and grassy, with trees and shacks peppered throughout. Old rusted planes and buildings with corrugated metal roofs dotted the side of the runway and looked like if you sneezed in their direction they would collapse. We got off the plane; how can this be? It’s maybe all of 80 degrees and not nearly as humid as home. My first thought of Honduran weather was, “I like it!” We got inside the aeroporte, made it through customs and got our bags. We rendezvoused with Meredith. She is the Director of Health Services for Mission Lazarus. I thought how different the view was looking out the front of the airport and seeing a quagmire of electrical lines attached to one single pole. It looked like it had been bound and taken hostage. This pole was responsible for the electrical needs of a Church’s Chicken, Burger King and a Chinese resteraunte, from what I could derive. Judging by the lines running to it; it must have powered half of Tegucigalpa. Wild stuff, you just wouldn’t see in the States.
We ate lunch at where else but a McDonald’s in the airport. It was fun trying to tell the gentleman taking our order what we wanted. He spoke some broken English, so it wasn’t as difficult as you would think. After lunch, David Rogers announced that we were not taking a bus to Mission Lazarus as previously planned. Rather we are taking three different small white trucks. Beth, Becky Stratton and I rode with Meredith. This was good as Meredith was our unofficial tour guide for the journey. The ride was absolutely awesome! It was so interesting to see a different country’s landscape. You couldn’t go a mile without seeing these little convenient type stores in the front of peoples “houses.” Coke or Pepsi will paint their logo on the front of the house for free, if they would exclusively sell their products. So you would see both logos plastered on houses EVERYWHERE!
There were houses built not five feet off the Pan-American Highway. They seemed so close that you could almost reach out and touch them. The remainder of the ride consisted of lots of twist and turns through the Sierra Madre Mountains.
At last, after three hours of driving we see the Mission Lazarus sign. The ride up to the Posada was one to remember. It was about a mile and a half up a mountainous gravel road with plenty of personality; lots of potholes and small ditches within the road. I think the pothole should be the official symbol of Honduras. That aside, I must admit I liked the ride. I can’t say the same for Beth, Becky and Angela Best. From the next day on, we would all share a truck. It was hard for them because they didn’t know when the big bumps were coming. I quickly learned to forewarn them by saying “bump!”
We got to the top of the mountain and there sat a rustic but very nice office/merchandise store with a front porch that spanned the entire length of the building. First impressions were good. We parked the trucks and walked past the office onto the campus. I honestly could not believe how beautiful it was. Brick lined pathways, very nice tropical landscaping and a huge outdoor building. This building had a wall of windows on the windward side, open air on the other side to take in the view of the valley below and a big fireplace at the opposite end. This was the Posada (lodge) although we called the entire campus the Posada. It was the social and dining hub for all the missionaries and staff. It was a really cool place to hang out because it was nestled on the edge of the mountain. The view there was very impressive.
The cabins we stayed in were similar or better than most camping cabins I have experienced. They were rustic with terra cotta floors, five bunk beds and the bathroom with running hot water and a flushing toilet – better than expected. It had a red metal roof that was absolutely awesome when it rained.
We got settled and met back at the Posada in anticipation of our first meal (dinner). While waiting, a Mission Lazarus staffer told us about a view point above the camp. A bunch of us went up a semi-steep trail for about 300 yards to the top. It was one of the most impressive views I’ve ever seen; more on this later. We came back down and had dinner. This is camp food? Hardly! It was great! Dinner consisted of wood smoked grill chicken, rice, twice baked potatoes and freshly made tortillas. I couldn’t believe how good it was. At this point, I took all my preconceived notions of the mission trip and threw them out the window. We’re off to a really good start!
Sunday, July 24
Sunday morning was our first trip to the church in Limon for worship. The people of Limon were very curious as we drove through their village. They all just stopped and stared at us as we drove by. Not in a negative way, more the way a kid looks at a plane in the air for the first time. The church was lavender and trimmed in purple with double doors and louvered windows on the east and west sides. The floor had Terrazzo tiles, everyone sat in metal folding chairs. The main entrance was on the south with nice landscaping. We got out of our trucks and Beth and I found our seats. A little girl that I would later find out was one of two adorable girls named Alejandra had set two chairs down from me. I got up to talked to Derrick Taylor and when I returned to my seat I noticed she had placed herself in the chair next to mine. This melted my heart and she was dubbed my favorite for the remainder of our trip.
Their service was awesome! It was full of real passion for the Lord and genuine interest in each other. This makes sense because their lives are very simple and they are focused on faith and love. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying, but I didn’t need to. They were fantastic!
After service we headed to the Pacific Ocean for lunch. It was about an hour drive from Limon. Yet another great drive. We went through little villages, a shrimp farm, and sugar cane fields. We got to the restaurant and the view was extraordinary! The restaurant was built right on the shore of the Pacific Ocean. You could see El Salvador to the North and Nicaragua to the South. The food was great: fried fish, shrimp and plantains. We cruised back to the Posada. David wanted us to make crafts for the kids to use as examples during VBS. Checked that off the list, hung out and waited for dinner. We ate and later on called it a day.
Tuesday and Wednesday, July 26-27
I didn’t want to be in the way of six other men getting ready in the morning. So I made it a point to get up at 5:30 (7:30 EST, which was perfect!) and get out of the cabin before anyone else got up. I would fill my water bottle up with Café San Lazaro (their fresh ground coffee grown on the ranch) and then walked the 300 yards up to the previously mentioned trail to the top of one of the best views I have ever and will probably ever see. Words cannot do it justice. This view was an evident gift from God. Imagine sweeping views for 360 degrees of nothing but green mountains and fog rolling in over the tops with the sun’s rays streaking through. There was even a place to sit where a piece of limestone protruded up from the floor of the mountain top. It was perfect for sitting with my coffee and taking in the view. The temperature was even perfect as well. It was I’m guessing around 72 degrees with a nice breeze. I find myself recalling being up there almost on a daily basis.
I would stay up there for about a half hour and then come down around 7:00. We would eat a great breakfast consisting of either eggs, hash browns, bacon and tortillas or bacon and something that required syrup. We would eat and then take-off for Limon.
The village of Limon consists of people that had their original homes wiped off the face of the planet when Hurricane Mitch stalled off the coast of Honduras on October 26, 1998. It didn’t move inland until October 29th. The rain was unprecedented even by Central American standards. Mitch had sustained winds of 180 mph and left 5,273 dead, 11,085 missing and 427, 138 in shelters throughout Honduras. At the time, they were living on or near the Choluteca River, hence the relocation to the newly constructedvillage of Limon.
The Honduran government donated the land and I believe I was told other relief organizations built a majority of the homes in Limon. Most of them were concrete block 30 feet x 20 feet and concrete floors with many of them having corrugated metal roofs (some terra cotta as well) . They were spaced about 10 feet apart and there had to be what seemed like 300 of them. Some structures were not as well built as the brick ones. I recall one that was built out of two inch diameter sticks, about eight feet tall forced into the ground. They were spaced about four inches apart. Similar in size to the brick ones BUT this house was wrapped in black plastic sheathing. Essentially these poor people were living in a plastic oven thirteen degrees north of the Equator.
We would drive around Limon dropping off big white bags of dry food and a five pound bag of beans. This is when the severity of their lives became evident. People would cry because they were so happy to receive the food. We live in a country where all you have to do is look in your couch cushions for enough money for a Happy Meal. We truly do not know how good we have it. They were so happy to get the food and we were equally glad to give it to them. It was truly a great spiritual experience! I would always try to find a common denominator within their homes to talk about. I felt it was very important to actually connect with them as opposed to just dropping off the food and giving them a casual “oh yeah, God bless you”. I wanted them to know that we were all children of God, put on this Earth to help each other, not just there to make ourselves feel good about what we were doing. We would sing a song in English and they would reciprocate in Spanish. Sometimes we would sing the same songs in the two languages which was very moving. We would each pray and the translators would assist. You could see the pain or joy in their eyes depending on the person. There was always one common theme, too many kids and not enough money to support them all; often times struck with a terrible illness; truly heartbreaking.
Our translators, Courtney and Mary Leigh, did a fantastic job conveying our thoughts. I know they had to be absolutely mentally worn out at the end of the day. They would translate for us in the morning and marshal an endless barrage of translation questions from us in the afternoon.
1:30 pm was show time for the kids. They were all absolutely adorable! They would walk in a line formation and sit on the church floor. I would look for Alejandra to walk in and she would smile and wave. I would yell, “Hola Alejandra!” As the days went on, I would say hello to a lot more of the kids as I learned their names. Sometimes they would respond with “Hola Toneeeee”. It was cute to hear them say my name with a Spanish accent.
On the second day David asked me to narrate a small portion for one of the skit characters in Spanish. “Yeah, no problem, glad to do it,” I said. Inside I was thinking, this ought to be really interesting and it was. Thankfully Becky and Ariel Lane had better command of the language and were gracious enough to take the bigger roles. They did a great job and I stumbled through it. No one threw anything at me so I guess it was tolerable.
After the plays, it was Craft Time! I think we all got tired of saying, “muy bien, perfecto, excellente and mucho colores” but if that’s all one has in their Spanish bag of compliments; you go with what you know. I honed my skills as the masking tape “tear a piece off guy” to a fine art. The projects for the last two days required it and 80 kids all needed at least one piece. I mention this because there was a great sense of unity during The Great Tape Frenzy. We were really working with the kids and they were extremely excited about making the crafts. Try getting a kid from here that has every electronic gizmo known to Nintendo and Sony that excited about a craft paper project.
The last day of VBS (Wednesday) came to a close. The church had some kind words for us, and us for them. David finished his mural in one of the classrooms and that was that. We all felt like we had done all that we could given the time allotted to brighten their lives and fill some bellies too.
We planned to go to a gospel meeting at the church that evening. This meant that we wouldn’t be able to go back to Mission Lazarus for dinner; so it’s off to Wendy’s in Choluteca. What a trip it was to see the menu board in Spanish. Thankfully, Courtney assisted everyone with ordering. The poor girl waiting on us was busy hammering on a calculator converting all our “gringo dinero” to Limperas. The food tasted similar to a Wendy’s in Frankfort, but not exactly.
We went back to the church for the gospel meeting. While we were waiting, Beth showed some of the kids how to play Angry Birds on her phone. Others were showing them pictures and games on their phones. Their little eyes were lit up with true amazement. The Honduran clock is not powered by American batteries, so to speak. They definitely have a much more relaxed view of time than we do. They began much later than what time we had originally thought. We were told meeting and start times were more of a recommendation than an actual commitment in Honduras. They had a sermon and performed several skits. At the end, they had three baptisms that were great to see.
Thursday, July 28
Thursday morning was a time for us to do whatever we wanted before leaving for Tegucigalpa that afternoon. Some went horseback riding, others went mountain climbing. Others just stayed behind at the Posada.
Later that morning, most of us went on a tour of the Mission Lazarus Plantation and Orphanage. They are really doing some amazing work in the name of the Lord. The houses that the kids stay in are really nice. I’m proud to say that we toured the one that the first Holly Hill mission team went down to help build. The guys did some amazing work! The houses have everything a typical American house would have; amazing considering their geographic location.
After lunch it was time to head north to Tegucigalpa. We followed Cameron, the Mission’s daily operations manager. He had definitely mastered the art of driving like the locals; me, not so much. At any rate, we finally made it into Tegucigalpa. We got there just in time for rush hour. No cup of coffee needed to stay alert during this stint of the journey.
We stayed at a Clarion hotel. I think we were all glad to be back among civilization. We ate at a Chili’s restaurant that night. There was something nice about the familiarity of it all.
Friday, July 29
Friday morning we ate breakfast, and then it was off to the airport. We did some more of what I termed “sport-driving” that wasn’t bad at all. We got on a plane and came home; back in the loving arms of our great nation.
I have to be honest and say that the mission trip is one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life! I would get on a plane any time – day or night and go back in a heartbeat! Todd Best says “it will change you.” He’s right, it will and all for the better. Some things in life cannot be expressed in words, you just have to go; so go!
For more photos of Tony’s Honduras experience, visit his Facebook page.