“¿Cuándo van a volver ustedes?”
“When are you coming back?”
This is the question that my wife and I were peppered with each time we said goodbye after our second visit to Tegucigalpa. Not “can you send me this,” or “next time bring that.” When are you coming back?
There is nothing particularly special about us. We aren’t wealthy. We don’t have any children for the sister and brother we sponsor to connect with. We lack special talents, or entertaining skills, or exciting stories. We couldn’t share any great stories anyway, because we don’t even speak Spanish all that well. But we care, and we listen, and that matters. It matters because the people that POI touches are the people that the rest of the world, even Honduras, would rather forget.
Like in our home in the U.S., Hondurans have a narrative that places blame at the feet of the poor for where they are in society. If they wanted to get out of high-crime, high-poverty neighborhoods, they would work harder, they would live “cleaner” lives, they would save up their money, and they would move away. The hindrance that prevents many from a relationship with Christ is not a determination to hang onto a pet sin, or nagging guilt that they can’t let go of; it’s an inability to believe that God could accept them when the people around them, even many believers, can’t. Poverty here is rarely seen as part of a sovereign plan of a loving God, or even as an unfortunate consequence of poor decisions, but is instead a sign of judgment. When outsiders look at the poor, they typically don’t see people, but problems, with problems.
“God, I thank you that I am not like other people — robbers, evildoers, adulterers — or even like this tax collector.” – Luke 18:11
But they are people, and we are them. We are orphans, adopted into the care of a loving Father, and we are impoverished beyond measure without his grace. And when we come with that understanding, with that perspective, and we can look His children and their children in the eye and not see the poverty, but instead see them as someone who is like them, as a brother or sister, it changes everything.
Before Jesus famously fed the 5000, the Bible says that he “saw them” and “had compassion on them” (Matthew 14; Mark 6). The disciples saw a problem that they wanted sent away, but Jesus saw them. He didn’t just see their need: He saw them. In my experience one of the things about POI that is truly different from other similar programs, besides their focus on indigenous employment, their holistic approach to children, and the fact that donations don’t pay for overhead, is that the program is structured so that you can see the people whose lives you are affecting. You can go, and you can see them. If you can’t go, you can share life in other ways like exchanging letters, pictures, and care packages. When we enter people’s homes to deliver mattresses, build pilas, or deliver tubs of love, we almost always see a letter or picture posted on the wall from the children’s padriños. Kids with sponsors ask us about them when we visit: if we know them, how they are doing, when they are coming. Despite the fact that the unsponsored kids benefit from the same resources as the sponsored kids in the program, and being sponsored doesn’t really change the status of the kids at all, they desperately want and appreciate their padriños. Sponsorship tells them that someone outside their sphere cares, and it tells them that they matter.
A portion of Scripture that repeatedly re-entered my mind during our week in Tegucigalpa was in Luke 7, where Jesus asks the people who came to John the Baptist what they came out to see. Eventually I understood that He was asking me what I came to Tegucigalpa to see. You can come be a voyeur and enjoy looking at poverty and dysfunction, like disaster tourists following the latest hurricane or earthquake. Or, you can come to see brothers and sisters, extended family in Christ. In doing so, you will change your lives and theirs, and you may also see something else.
You may see God.
Chris King is a recent graduate of the University of Memphis with his masters in Sociology. He first traveled to Tegucigalpa with POI in the summer of 2014 alongside the Fellowship Memphis team. In June he returned with his wife Amber Rose to serve alongside the ministry and spend time with their two sponsor children.