Monday marked one month. A month of being home, feeling surrounded by people who know me best while, somehow, feeling so out of place. Feeling conflicted when I see the prices on things I used to have no problem buying. Feeling weird.
My time in Honduras ended abruptly, or so it felt. In my head, I would have had a week to say goodbye and tie up loose ends. But in reality, I spent every hour of that last week doing something important that needed to be done, up until the 15 minutes before Nacho and Ernesto dropped me at the airport. You know we went to look at a potential leather source and purchase supplies for the vocational school. I wanted to leave things there in the best condition possible. So we pulled late nights and I cried a lot with every goodbye, but I didn’t really give myself a chance to process it, all that I had seen and experienced.
These are three moments I cherish and am most proud of in my four months abroad:
Leading a seminar with our women’s sewing school on freedom in the presence of The Lord. Being in their church building, which doubles as a school in the day time, brings tears to my eyes each time. The sweet couple Pastor Josept and Nohemi mentor and guide our 25 girls in the vocational sewing program. All summer, we led tours up the mountains on an extremely rocky road (ask my dad) to share this place and its people with the North Americans visiting Honduras on their service/mission trips. One afternoon, Pastor Josept was very vulnerable. He spoke about the spiritual warfare he and his family were feeling as a result of this program. See, they are empowering young girls to think differently, to value themselves and the skills they have, to trust Christ with their lives and dream beyond their circumstance. And this is shaking up the cultural norms in the area. Up in the mountains, there is not much access to education, to opportunity, to knowledge that there is more beyond the mountains. There is a lot of oppression for women, a lot of physical and verbal abuse, and no real way to stop it when there is no education to these young girls that sexual abuse shouldn’t be something they experience. And these girls are standing up and speaking out, and it doesn’t always sit well with the men in the communities, who have threatened our Pastor and leader, our revolutionary. He asked for prayer, physical and mental protection from the enemy, who cannot keep him and his family from The Kingdom, but can try to stop as many girls as possible from being released from oppression. This day still sticks with me.
Two months later, the couple approached me and asked me to speak to their girls. They said I was a representation of a strong-willed, God-fearing woman, someone they need to hear speak so that they can see the potential they have. I was honored, and scared, and I prayed a lot as I prepared something to do and share with them. Then one Thursday, when my parents and sister came to visit, we drove up to La Bojita to lead a seminar focusing on 2 Corinthians 3:17 – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” When we know the Lord, we experience freedom. Freedom from oppressors, freedom from fear, freedom to dream and be the most we can. We talked about our oppressors and read scripture over them to release that fear. Then we dreamt about our lives, who we each could become with the freedom to dream. We cut out magazine images and created mood boards to represent our dreams, and by the end of it, many tears were shed. As a girl who was only ever encouraged to dream, supported in my dreams, provided every tool to reach my dream, it breaks my heart to know these faces of girls who are just like me, filled with potential and desire, but have never received the nourishment to flourish. Its why this program is so important, it is changing that for these girls.
Holding my own in Spanish business meetings. This happened a couple of times and I am pretty proud of myself for the language confidence improvement as I grew in my ability to speak, explain myself and defend my ideas. In very official settings, I represented Mission Lazarus as an employee, although foreign, communicating effectively and completing tasks. That was something I had only ever dreamed of! When I was unpacking after returning back to Nashville from my trip, I found old goal setting board I made during my collegiate career. In the professional column as a five-year goal, I dreamt to have an internship abroad for 2-6 months in a Spanish only environment. I did it, and I survived. I held my own in meetings where my work was under scrutiny, and I defended the work’s legitimacy. Just because you are young does not mean you aren’t able, as 1 Timothy 4:12 teaches us, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” You can do more than they say you can, and you don’t have to prove it; you just need to know your worth comes from Christ and not from words that are said in support or in slander.
Spending Fridays teaching English. I’ve always liked kids, but this summer, I felt like these kids became my own, a part of my family. I didn’t anticipate teaching English classes before coming, but when I arrived, there was a need and I wanted to be useful. In the mornings, it was the oldest girls, ages 17-22. They were in the grade equivalent of high school and needed grammar help and homework help. In the afternoon, it was the middle school aged students, and we learned vocabulary and played games. It was sometimes overwhelming; I would start to explain verb conjugations, only to learn that they didn’t understand what a verb is or does in a sentence. I would finally see breakthroughs in the students as they understood a grammar rule, only to be asked a question and realize that this word I an exception to the rule, and so is this one and that one. English is hard. But I loved to see them learn. To be asked for homework help in the middle of the week showed me their interest in learning! To host extra lessons Sunday before church helped me develop deeper relationships with them as individuals outside of group classes settings. And on my last day in town, they shared gifts and letter and SO MUCH FOOD with me. My shirt was drenched with their tears as we hugged, and their hairs were wet from mine. I wake up sometimes and my heart hurts because I can’t see them today, and I don’t know how else to explain it but that they are a part of my heart now and it aches when we are apart.
I flew home on September the 10th, and have spent more money in the past month than I have in the four months I was gone. I’m keenly aware of things like this now. Unfortunately, a virus got the best of me the first week back, but eventually I began my job. I am happily full-time for Mission Lazarus as the Social Enterprise Manager, where I can sell the products made by our vocational program artisans and share their stories. I have a unique advantage, knowing these boys like goofy brothers (I actually had a dream they went wedding dress shopping with me!). I miss being with them, encouraging them, watching them turn a pile of materials into a piece of art. But here, I can do more for them. I can bring their craftsmanship to a market who will pay a fair price to them, who can financially support our ministry and the change we are after, the change in the hearts of those living in Honduras and Haiti, a change for Christ. It’s a joy to get to be a part of that day to day. It isn’t easy living in this weird world of contrast, where things look more black and white than before, but it’s a daily walk, step by step.