As our bus clanked up an old dirt road through the mountains of Honduras, Steve and I had no idea what to expect. We were crowded so tightly into this big yellow school bus (Many of the public buses in Honduras are old school buses from the States.) that we could scarcely shift our feet. Nonetheless, we were anxious to arrive at our destination, which was a ranch in a small village called Junquillo. This ranch was owned by an American friend of Steve’s who was actually back in the States. We were to be greeted by his ranch manager Juan Lili. When we got off the bus, we were met by an eager gentleman in a baseball cap–it was Juan. Throughout the week, we would be our guide, confidently strutting around in similar attire with a handgun in his jeans and a slingshot in his pocket. As Juan brought us through the gate, we were further greeted by six guard dogs, a yard full of chickens, and some pigs. I anxiously passed through this entourage and we arrived at the primary living quarters of the ranch, a small concrete house. This would be our new home for the next few days; our nights were to be filled with squealing, barking, and clucking. It wasn’t exactly the Ponderosa, but it was all we needed.
Over the next few days our goal was to investigate the needs of the community in hopes of finding future projects for mission teams. As it turned out there was no lack of needs. Initially, Juan discussed some community projects. The people of Junquillo and the nearby community of Ocotal are very religious, but there are not adequate meeting places for churches. One local evangelical church does not even have pews, and a whole side of the building consists of nothing but a blue tarp. The efforts to construct a new building have not been able to reach beyond a pile of stones. There is also a need for a kindergarten. The education of the children is very important to the community, but thus far they have not even been able to start this project. The resources for these projects simply are not available.
The gravest concern for the people of Junquillo is personal poverty–food and water are their top concerns. In Ocotal, they lack an adequate water supply. There is drinking water, but because there is no water system people are forced to walk a long way to draw water. Further, they are faced with the reality that the cost of living often exceeds their income. The average person will only make 100 lempira a day, which to put in perspective converts to approximately $5.25 in the US. It takes an entire day’s wages for a Honduran family to purchase 5 lbs. of beans. With these wages, it is a real struggle for the people of Junquillo to keep themselves fed. When you barely have enough money to buy food, you will be hard-pressed to find money for other important needs such as clothing or housing–forget about trying to save for the future. In Junquillo, there is little room for any ambition that extends beyond your next meal.
I compare this to my life in the States and I cannot help but be thankful. There are so many opportunities here. Not only do I have a job that provides ample financial stability, but I have the luxury of choosing between multiple career opportunities. In the US, we often take these privileges for granted. I have the ability to shape my future because I know that I will be rewarded for hard work. In Junquillo, a hard day’s work may not be enough.
As the days progressed, we found that everyone was both friendly and hospitable. Juan and his wife faithfully provided meals and plenty of coffee for us. The food was delicious, and they gave us generous portions. They told us that gringos (as white people are called) were always welcome in Junquillo. Because I don’t speak Spanish, there was a limit to how well I could get to know the Lili’s, but nonetheless I was treated as an honored guest.
The climax of our stay was a community meeting with representatives from Junquillo and Ocotal. A group of community members gathered into a concrete building that serves as a community center. Steve and I grabbed a couple of nearby chairs, which turned out to be children’s size and opened the floor for anyone to ask questions and make requests. We found that the construction of local churches and a kindergarten were very important to people; however, the clear consensus was that the most urgent needs were running water and food. One lady summed it up, by posing the question, “What good is a church if we’re starving to death, and we can’t walk there!” We were then informed that there are actually homeless families living out in the woods. Obviously, all of the projects are important, but we want to be sensitive to the immediate need to improve quality of life.
As we said our goodbyes and headed out to catch the bus from Junquillo, I was utterly convinced that we need to do what we can to help revitalize the community. The people are honest, hard-working folks, but they’ve been weighed down by poor economic conditions and low wages. They need a boost. It is my hope that we can provide the resources to make a new water system a reality. Further, we want to think of creative ways to help the food situation. Perhaps, as we accomplish these goals, the community will be energized so that we can partner with them with renewed strength. Most of all, I hope that through this process God’s love will be evident in our interaction and that he will work in people’s hearts and lives.
- Josh Gray
There are many short term mission trips with Experience Mission (www.experiencemission.org ) Go to our website and select from one of our Honduras mission trips for this upcoming year.