What’s the difference between being a missionary and being a volunteer? Personally, I thought it was the same thing, until about three weeks into being here. On dictionary.com a volunteer is described as “a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service of undertaking.” After reading that, I thought to myself; yeah, that sounds just like a missionary! Then I decided to look up the definition for a missionary, which said “a person sent by a church into an area to carry on evangelism or other activities, as educational or hospital work.” Personally, I feel like I can add a lot more to that definition, but that’s beside the point; reading those two definitions and comparing them made me realize something really important, am I a volunteer or a missionary?
This comes off as a random topic, but it’s not. The thing is that here in Honduras, we are all referred to as volunteers, and that’s how we describe ourselves. My issue isn’t that I’m being called a volunteer, but it’s with my character. Am I just taking time out of my life to spend some time with a bunch of kids, just because I think it’s a good thing to do? Or am I here because I want to spend time with these kids so that they can experience a Christ-like love that they aren’t getting from their biological parents? Which type of character am I showing to these kids, someone who genuinely cares for them and wants the best for them, or just doing the job till the time is up?
Thinking about this takes me back to the school year when our school chaplain, Pastor Sam, spoke to us about knowing our “why.” I remember him telling us that during the moments when we want to give up and head back home, we should reflect on what our “why” is because that is what will keep us motivated to keep going. I feel like knowing my “why” goes hand-in-hand with what I title myself. If I decided to go to Honduras to show kids God and His everlasting love, than isn’t that the same as being a missionary?
Sometimes these kids can drive me up the wall, but at the end of the day I always love being around each one of them.
It’s getting closer to two months of me being here, and it’s been a series of surprising changes! At first, we had a set schedule for each day of the week. My schedule consisted of waking up to at 5:30 am to bathing two to five year-olds, to taking care of them till after lunch, and then spending a few hours in the afternoon helping some kids with their homework. It was a decent routine that I liked, but at the same time it didn’t feel like I was doing much of mission work. Then God decided to challenge that opinion of mine by throwing a huge curveball of change.
Within around the third week of me being here, our supervisor received some news about her family, which led her to immediately leave for Spain. It was the biggest shock that came from out of blue! Soon after her departure, we were told that she would be returning around four weeks later; however, about a week later we were told not to even expect her coming back anytime soon. This completely changed our jobs from having a regular routine of being on the clock at certain points of the day, to always being on the clock.
First and foremost, I should give some background information on our supervisor Txus. She has been working here at the Hogar for roughly 12 years. “Working” doesn’t even describe what she was doing here; she was practically the mother to each child that’s been living here. She woke up and slept with these kids just outside here room. She practically never left except for some vacations, just to visit family; besides that this was her home. Her absence meant that chaos was about to break out! That was one of my biggest fears, trying to figure out how 50-something girls were going to listen to 7 American volunteers? The experience went from helping this lady out, to us being in charge.
Throughout this time of her being gone, it’s been a frightening experience, but at the same time interesting since I’ve seen a bit of God’s sense of humor. I say this because after speaking to the head of this Hogar, I learned that God really does have a crazy plan for everything, even when we don’t understand what it is. For example, coming here we started off with 7 volunteers, which is much more than what they are used to having; now, as the summer vacation is about to start and some of the volunteers will be leaving, we were getting worried as to how everything was going to work out with only four us being around till May. Then God decided to let us know that He’s got in under control by sending two new girls who will be working here for that same length of time. It was an unexpected surprise and blessing. Things have really shifted from me freaking out about how we were going to deal with the 24/7 work schedule, and the lack of help, to finally realizing that God’s got it under control. Now I’m wondering, what other interesting surprises does God have in store for us and this Hogar?
It’s officially been over a month since I’ve been here, which sort-of surprises me because it feels like I haven’t been here for that long. It’s been pretty tiring to wake up every day at 5:30 and get 9 kids bathed and dressed for breakfast, and then continue the day by taking care of them. I love these kids, but working with them sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out! Thankfully when the Sabbath comes we get our break to relax a bit and sometimes even to go on our own adventures. One particular adventure that I’ve had while being here is getting the opportunity to go to the caves. Previous to going I had never gone caving, so getting this opportunity to go was pretty exciting, especially since we were going in the rain. It started with walking in three-inch deep mud mixed with cow manure, and running through a jungle, then cross a few fast moving streams which led to the most difficult hiking trail that I had ever experienced. This trail involved us having to go up a mountain using both our hands and feet to get up there. I kept slipping and falling that I seriously believed I would never make it up there. If it wasn’t for the help of the two high school students that we took along with us, I would have never made it up there on my own. By the time we reached the cave, it was much later and I was completely covered in mud and scratches from the several thorns that I fell into.
The journey continued with going into the cave. The interesting thing was there were nine of us who had gone, but we only had three tiny flashlights. It was difficult to see anything, but I still had the chance to see the cool rocks and shapes of the cave. I thought it was so awesome, until bats started popping up. One bat I can do, a couple even isn’t a problem, but over a hundred is another story. The further in we went the more bats there were, and the more bat poop we were walking in. At one point the rocks caved in to a small whole that require us to crawl through with water and bat pooped all mixed up together. It was the grossest thing I had ever done! We finally reached a point that had so many bites flying around that it made the cave feel like it had A/C. By that time I was freaking out and so ready to get out. I never knew I had a fear of bats until I went into that cave. Although the experience was gross and frightening I still had a lot of fun, especially coming down the mountain. It was one big slide! I was going so fast that I eventually ran into a bush full of thorns, but I didn’t care because that was the coolest thing! The next fun part was cleaning ourselves off in the freezing cold stream. By the end of that day I felt like I had accomplished something; and what I mean by that getting up was extremely difficult. There were plenty of times when I wanted to give up and just let everyone else go on without me, but I still kept going. Even within the cave, I wanted to stop moving the moment bats were flying past my head, but I still kept going. It’s like this mission trip, there are times where I’m going to want to give up and turn back, but I just have to hold on and keep going.
One of the harder things for me to, since I’ve been here, is figuring out how to comfort a child after there parent comes to visit. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t. It’s happened about two times since I’ve been here, and after each time the parents leave there’s always a child crying, and probably secretly wishing that their parent would take them along with them back home. The first time I experienced this was when a set of parents came for a group of siblings. I though this was great, until I noticed that the parents brought along their youngest daughter„ which they’ve kept. It was clear that one sibling was trying to get the parents attention off of the younger sister and more on himself, while another sibling clung to her father till the last second of his visit, and the eldest simply enjoyed the short moment she had with her family. Watching the whole thing had me a bit emotional, mostly because I knew that the majority of the children that lived at the Hogar aren’t orphans, but rather living there because their parents couldn’t afford to take care of them, or simply didn’t want them. I didn’t fully realize the seriousness of their lives until these parents came by to visit. It was the reality of their lives, and how sad each one of their stories are. The longer I’m here, the more I find out about each person’s past; such as how practically every child at the Hogar has a sibling living there with them, and some of those sets have more siblings at their home. If I was in their position I would probably think that my parents didn’t love me because they kept my siblings, but not me. How do you comfort someone whose gone through that? Also, how do you comfort someone who once saw their parent commit suicide, or someone who pretty much lived on the street and probably ate trash, or someone who was malnourished to a large extreme? When I stop to think about where each one of these kids came from, it begins to break my heart. Right now, all I can think to do is pray to God to help me figure out the answer on how to keep not only my spirits up, but also those of the kids.
Before coming out here, I won’t deny that I was a bit nervous about coming to Honduras. With the latest news labeling the country as one the more dangerous places to visit, and also reading articles about the city I would be flying into (San Pedro Sula) being categorized as “murder capital of the world,” it makes me start to think about whether this decision was a good one. However, I’m glad that I didn’t fall into the doubts that were filling my head, because by actually coming down here I see a different picture of Honduras. Coming into the country, it did look a little intimidating, especially after seeing so many armed guards patrolling the airport; but when you get past that you start to see more of the culture and the people who are just victims to a horrible situation. Flying into Honduras all you see is green everywhere! There are so many plants, grasslands, and mountains it makes the country look beautiful! Then coming to the Hogar, I saw even more amazing images, which were the children who live here. Undoubtedly, it’s sad seeing the Hogar, which has holes in several areas of the wall, not enough supplies necessary for everyone; such as fans to cool down the horrendous humid weather, and there are several children here who are siblings that were dropped off due to their families not having enough money to support them. As well, the majority of these kids came not only with their sad story, but also physical problems; as some came malnourished, having rotten teeth, a high amount of lice, etc. Even though, what brings a smile to my face is seeing the little children run around the building screaming their heads off as they play around with each other, kicking a soccer ball, chasing after one of the dogs, or just running to someone that they want to hug. There are kids and teenagers all over the place, which makes the atmosphere feel less like a depressing orphanage, and more like a home. I’ve been here for less than a week, and the work is tiring, but I honestly I love being here, and I love being with these kids.
If someone told me five years ago, at the beginning of my freshman year, that I would one day go on a year long mission trip I never would have believed them. Now, in just less than one week I will be on a plane heading towards San Pedro Sula, Honduras to begin my journey as a student missionary, working at an orphanage for the next 10 months. As it’s getting closer and closer to that Thursday, there are so many emotions running through my body; joy, anxiety, fear, excitement, hope, etc. It seems too unrealistic to believe that I am actually doing this! I’m going to be a student missionary for year, away from my family, friends, and the environment that I am used to. I’m excited to go, to experience a new culture, help little children feel loved, and maybe even learn something new about myself; but at the same time, I’m also worried that I’m not prepared enough. Honestly, how can you really prepare yourself for something like this? Even with the past four months being dedicated to getting ready for this experience, I still feel like I’m not prepared. I guess this is that moment when I need to stop worrying about everything and just have faith that God is right there taking those big steps with me. He has a plan for me and for this year, and I just have to trust in it, even if I have no clue what it is.