I’m a Coward… Now what?

Mekel Harris, Ph.D., Author

 

So it’s been an interesting week thus far.  I’m on the heels of a recent trip to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where I served children and families in need alongside others from my church, as part of a group missions trip.

Since returning to the United States, several people have asked, “Was the experience fun?,” and my response has been an unenthusiastic, “No, not really.”

Don’t get me wrong!

Of course, I enjoyed some fun moments, interacting with beautiful kindergartners and sixth grade students at a community outreach program.

Here’s one photo that captures the joy I experienced with “my little ones” on one of our last days in Honduras …

Mekel1

There I am, smack dab in the middle of 14 joy-filled Honduran babies who will forever be etched in my spirit.  And believe me … we celebrated many fun moments, playing Telephone, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Jesus Jenga throughout the week!

Yet, “fun” doesn’t fully capture my sentiment about the trip at all.  Four days later, I am still wrestling to offer a thoughtful and accurate description of my time in Tegucigalpa.

Yesterday, a friend called me brave for making the trek to Honduras.  “Brave?” I thought.  For what?

When I asked my friend to clarify his use of the term, he deferred to the courage involved in traveling outside of one’s comfort zone.  In particular, he described the bravery needed to offer support to others in a third-world country.

Honestly, his response baffled me to some degree.  On the one hand, I know that it takes  cojones (“balls,” for you non-Spanish-speaking folks) to enter a foreign land and attempt to integrate within a short period of time.  At the same time, I wouldn’t describe service to those we perceive as less fortunate than ourselves as brave, regardless of the setting.

I would describe it as necessary.  A fulfillment of God’s command.  Christ-like.

To frame deference to others as “brave” cheapens our charge to embody God’s great commission.  And frankly, it makes our submission about us, thereby minimizing the beauty of it all.

Here’s what comes to my mind when I think of bravery …

Mekel2Mekel3

Both of these are photos that I captured at a municipal dump site in Tegucigalpa.  Our missions team traveled there to serve food and water, as well as share the gospel, with hungry souls.  Not only is it a dumping ground for trash, but it is also a place of residence for over 1,000 Hondurans.  Amidst the garbage, foul stench in the air, looming and determined flies, and swarming vultures, people call this home.

“Brave” is waking up each day to boldly confront the reality of your poverty.

“Brave” is gazing into your children’s eyes, knowing that what you have to offer is utterly insufficient to meet their needs.

“Brave” is making outward eye contact with a well-meaning servant when you are riddled with inner shame.

“Brave” is reaching out to offer food given to you to those who served you in the first place.

Oh, I encountered bravery in Honduras, indeed!  I encountered it, however, in places that I would not have anticipated.

I certainly didn’t experience it when I looked in the mirror each morning and night!

There, much to my surprise at first, I came face-to-face with the fact that I’m a coward.

  • cow·ard (noun): a person who lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.

A common thread I discovered among the people in Tegucigalpa was endurance in the face of challenging circumstances.

I realized that what I’ve considered stamina in the face of stressful life situations pales in comparison to what those who reside in the municipal dump face on a daily basis.  I realized that the beautiful kindergarten faces I peered into, while honest, do not convey the full story of the children’s lives.  I realized that bravery in life resides not in the doing, but in the enduring.

Traveling to Honduras helped me not only identify my cowardly ways, but also ask God the question: “Now, what?”

I see that it’s not enough to simply travel to another country and serve, as well intentioned as it may be.  The real work begins after you return home and are forced to confront yourself in the mirror.

Will you do and endure those things that are unpleasant?  Will you acknowledge your cowardice in the short-term, yet make bravery your goal for the long haul?

My short answers:  yes and yes.

I have no idea how I will materialize doing and enduring now that I am back in the United States.  Each day since returning home, I have prayed that the Lord will illuminate my next steps and make clear my charge to fulfill His great commission.

So, I leave you with more questions than answers this time, my friend.  I pray that you, too, ask and respond to the hard questions, as well as wait patiently for the Father’s reply.

Do.  Endure.  Submit.  Be brave.

Loving Others

Destiny1

“Some call it mission work. It can also be called loving others.” -Destiny Holmes

 

The Mission

Mission. A Latin word that means “to send.” But, little did I know that the Lord was sending me to a place to which my heart would soon long to return. Each one of my team members prepared for a week of serving & sharing the gospel. While we may have thought we were being sent to the impoverished and in need, spiritually they are rich. Without hesitation, they will serve you, even if it’s the last bit of rice. This uncovers the true Gospel. Not only were our distractions and the pressures of American life left behind us, but this left us open and vulnerable to the crazy love of God.

God’s Children

Matthew 28:19

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

Destiny2

Here, Jesus tells us to gather others amongst Him & build His nation. On this trip, I not only saw Jesus through the children, but His love for them flowed through their words. “What makes you happy?” The responses of what Jesus had done and given to these, who knew nothing but the name, would blow a stranger’s mind. Because, despite what darkness was presented to them in life, they knew of a light beyond the shadows of doubt. Interacting with these kids would make you want to know him more.

Pure joy on their faces, love flowing out of them, with arms wide open the children showered you and made every encounter feel as though it was once in a lifetime. In that moment, POI had felt like home. I had found heaven on earth & there was absolutely no turning back.

I would be belittling the seriousness of my trip if I were to say that it had been easy. There are stories behind each and every child. There is hurt, fear, and shame there and it shows in their actions. Learning how to care for them in those situations has strengthened me and prepared me for what I hope to be a lifetime of teaching. When a child is incapable of being still and is acting out, placing them into your lap with your arms wrapped around them is like an antidote. It seems simple, but the care you place onto them brings assurance that they are loved and protected. You can feel their heart rate slow down as you hold them. Seeing this need is truly amazing and eye opening.

 

The Dump

Natalie Standiford states, “Even if you know what’s coming, you’re never prepared for how it feels.”

Destiny3

Well Ms. Standiford, you have never been more on point. Physically I was prepared but when it was time to open the car door and live in the moment, I was unresponsive. My heart was stripped, my eyes were hoping they were being deceived, and I had no posture for the situation. There was no pretending that what was before me didn’t rush through my body. In that compact time I felt I had experienced every emotion. Hurt because I couldn’t do much to help. Sadness because kids were present. Loneliness because I didn’t know how to explain these feelings. Fear because I wasn’t sure of what tomorrow brought. Anger because I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell God that I was upset with him. Shame because I was getting back in the car and heading back to my needs and wants. Guilt because my facial expressions showed these emotions. Yet under this all I was also glad for the chance we did have to feed them and share the Gospel.

 

Taking The Tubs Home

1 Timothy 4:13

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

You know, there are some things in this world that you cannot truly understand until you have visibly seen them. One of these was seeing the locals’ living conditions. Yet, this verse brought ease as we delivered buckets of basic necessities to them because it tells of what we are to do as Christians. We must wait and ensure that others may come to know him, even when it is challenging, because it gives us assurance that greater is coming. This part of my story I deeply cherish. It is difficult to fully express what I felt there.

 

The People

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.

Destiny4

A week with the trip team and the POI staff turns into a lifetime together.  On the last day together, tears flooded the room as we felt each other’s absences approaching. One of our team members said, “It is not that we have to go. It is that tomorrow we cannot help.” And here it punched me as the room grew quieter and tears came stronger. She was right! We were all choked up because we saw the need. We saw the difference we were making. We saw how it changed the kids. We saw how it changed the community. We saw how it brought hope. Most importantly, we saw that it made us grow closer as Christians who were going through life together.

This trip would not have been complete if it wasn’t for the people. I heard that the best things in life are not things at all but the people who make you feel loved and cared for. I now have a family in Tegucigalpa, Honduras and they are my best things in life.

 

Dania’s Story

Dania Castro is a vibrant and playful girl from our POI center in Villa Nueva.  Dania is in the 4th grade and has attended POI since 1st grade.  She lives with her mother, Maria Teresa, and is the fifth of six siblings. Her mom is a single mother and lives with a very limited budget.  Maria usually washes neighbors clothing or cleans or their homes to earn a very little income.

Dania1

At a first glance you would never guess Dania suffers from the terrible diseases Vasculitis and Osteomyelitis. Vasculitis is a term for a group of rare diseases that cause inflammation in the blood  vessels. There are many types of Vasculitis and they all vary in symptoms, severity, and duration. Most types of vasculitis are rare and the causes are generally unknown.

Osteomyelitis is an infection in a bone. Infections reach the bone by traveling through the bloodstream or spreading from nearby tissue. Infections can also begin in the bone itself if an injury causes prolonged exposure germs to the bone. In children, osteomyelitis most commonly effects the long bones of the legs and upper arms.

Dania  was  diagnosed  with  vasculitis  when  she  was  1  year  old.  Throughout her  short  9 years  she  has  gone  through  several  surgeries  which resulted in the amputation of her  fingers and  toes. Every  school  year  she  is in need of  special  shoes because  her  feet  are  wider  than  usual.  Her shoes need to be comfortable so that they do not hurt her feet. Her POI sponsors, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hudnall, have been so gracious by providing her with these specialized shoes.  Sadly, the disease has taken  a  toll  on  her  health. After being hospitalized for 15 days, her left leg was amputated above the knee.

When our POI team visited Dania we were gladly surprised.  Although the pain was visible, she was very energetic! The doctor even mentioned that she had been telling jokes and sharing her excitement to go back to school.  Doctors  say  they  are amazed  at  her  fast  recovery and  her  correct  mental  health.  She was released from hospital care last Wednesday and is enjoying being home. As of now, she needs a wheelchair, but eventually will need a prosthetic leg.  She will also continue treatment for both diseases and physical therapy. All these treatments are expensive.

We ask for your prayers upon her and her family. May she keep her vivacious spirit and may  all the  complications and changes that  will follow this procedure  shape  her into a girl  of  faith  and  not  turn  her  away  from  God.  At the  moment,  we  have  provided  her family with a Tube of Love (TOL)  and we have started looking for the right wheelchair for Dania!

 

“I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.”

Matthew 25:36