This year the tapestry of partnerships between U.S. and Honduran Presbyterians became more intricate. The women’s ministry of the Honduran Presbyterian Church received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Presbyterian Women organization — about two-thirds of what is needed to purchase and refurbish a retreat center called Villa Gracia. The center will become a place where all 26 congregations in Honduras may gather for spiritual formation, conferences, camps and education. In two months, the women’s ministry has hosted a day-long retreat titled “The Power of the Wise Woman,” a three-day pastoral education encounter, a lunch-time presentation of scholarships to 95 youth, and a church plenary meeting. The chair of the women’s committee, Selenia Ordóñez, says that the job was so big, she worried it couldn’t be done. “I was stressed out and anxious,” she said, as the women cleaned and repaired rooms, sewed bedclothes and curtains, and planned menus. “But after a successful first event, I started to think it might be possible.” The women say that they trust in God’s help that they will make Villa Gracia into a life-giving and sustainable retreat and conference center.
I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because THE LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9, Common English Bible
This verse was read before I knelt and prayed before the Presbyterian congregations of Honduras, their pastors’ hands laid on me, and I was installed as the mission co-worker assigned to work with them for the next four-year term.
The commandment to be “brave and strong,” to not be afraid, was particularly meaningful to me because I arrived in Honduras immediately after a time of political turmoil and violence. At the time of my installation, I had spent the previous month heeding my Honduran colleagues’ advice on where to go and not go, whether to drive alone, whether to visit strange neighborhoods for the first time. I had chosen a rental home and a car with safety and security as my primary goals. I had watched news of political protesters killed by military forces, police officers killed by gang members, bus drivers extorted for “taxes” to thugs, a corporate executive arrested for masterminding the assassination of an environmental activist. There is plenty to fear in Honduras.
I am used to being independent and bold — as a journalist and as a chaplain, I went into places where others feared to tread. I am not used to heeding the fears and worries of others: I travel alone, I live alone, I have driven cross-country alone, I have accompanied the dying alone in their hospital rooms.
“Be brave and strong.” “Don’t be terrified.” I mulled over those words as I knelt on Pastor Edin Samayoa’s sweater — he had taken it off and put it on the floor to cushion my knees. Pastor Edin leads a church in a neighborhood where I am not allowed to go alone, or at night, and where newcomers have to announce their presence, roll down the car windows, and get permission from gang members to enter.
Your God goes with you wherever you go. Those words were made flesh to me as I was helped to my feet, and dozens of people, everyone in the congregation, came forward to embrace me and hug me tight, and whisper in my ear their blessings and prayers. “I’m with you, you’re not alone.” “I pray God’s blessing on you.” “You are already a blessing to us, and we are so happy you’re here.” “Whatever you need, we will be there for you.” “We love you.” I felt their hands on my shoulders, their lips on my cheek, their tears of joy and welcome on my shoulder.
They are with me, and I am with them, and God is among us, wherever we are. In my short time in Honduras, I have seen the flowering of new projects and ideas, sparks of the Holy Spirit’s movement — among lay pastors studying to improve their care of their congregations, among women working to take over and renovate a spiritual retreat center for the benefit of all 26 Presbyterian churches here. I am learning also to reach out towards the warm spirit of caring that has been offered to me here. Nothing I do here will be alone. The Holy Spirit will be with me, embodied in the care and concern of hundreds of church members, the hospitality of strangers who have become family. I am learning to leave “alone” behind.
“El Horno, Comayagua, Honduras. A small community of indigenous Lenca descendants. Located in the mountains in the area of Comayagua. A place that is difficult to get to, so no church was willing to go there. A pastor said one day ‘I have come to the end of the earth.'”
My hooves slipped on the palms and mantles that lined the streets. I did my best not to stumble, to bear up under the unfamiliar weight. He clutched my mane, digging in his fingers, and gripped my sides with his heels.
A reflection on Mark 11:1-11, on Palm Sunday, for San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Lenten devotionals series. Leerlo en español después de la pausa..
I don’t know what Hosanna means. They said it was a blessing, as I was chosen from obscurity. I don’t know what blessing means. Hosanna, we are saved! The crowd shouted, waved, clamored. I couldn’t see him, of course, really just his hem and feet if I looked back. I curled my long ears back, straining to hear, to know something of this burden I bore. He didn’t say anything then, or if he did, I couldn’t hear for the Hosanna. I heard he had said, come, follow me. I heard he said, blessed are the poor, the obscure, the persecuted. I don’t know what persecuted means.
His followers, the ones to whom I owe this great supposed honor, told me then that I would be returned. That all would be returned. That the kingdom would return. I don’t know what kingdom means. I know that my hooves slipped on the palms and mantles that lined the streets. I did my best not to stumble, to bear up under the unfamiliar weight. He clutched my mane, digging in his fingers, and gripped my sides with his heels. That helped.
After the parade, I was indeed returned. Instead of a man, the next day, I carried firewood, and the day after, a hundred flat loaves of bread. I know what burden means, now. I heard later that the man said, “Remember me.” I was returned to normal, but not normal, and I don’t know how to remember. The tether chafes, now that I know the feeling of his heels, his hands. Which is the blessing? I smelled the iron, the blood, the smoke – heard the clamor and crowds, farther away. Whenever I hear the rustle of a palm, now, I also strain for his voice. Though I never actually heard it, I listen, through the clamor, trying to remember.
In 2016, remittances sent to Latin America and the Caribbean were in excess of 70 billion dollars. The highest figure ever recorded.
The case of Honduras is an example of how important this flow of money is. In 2016, remittances amounted to more than $3.9 billion dollars. It was the primary source of income in the country, ahead of exporting coffee and manufacturing. More than 80% of that income is sent from the US, where more than a million documented and undocumented Hondurans live.