Making a Difference in Tegucigalpa

One of the unexpected joys of visiting Honduras over the last eight years has been establishing friendships, not only with Hondurans but also with missionaries from the U.S. who serve there. One of these friends is a south Louisiana lady, Laurie Matherne.

My wife Becky discovered Laurie’s blog about living in Honduras a couple of years ago. I started reading and became a fan of her writing immediately. Laurie’s dry humor and keen wit are always entertaining, and her stories and observations about life and work in Honduras are a must read for anyone thinking of visiting or relocating to Honduras. We were able to meet her briefly on a visit last May, and have since communicated through our blogs and Facebook.

Last week, Laurie was kind enough to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel. Later that day we were able to tag along with her in one of her many ministries in one poor neighborhood area up the mountain from Tegucigalpa.

We took Laurie’s Toyota pickup (affectionately named “Pepe Burro”) up a mountain road to a little neighborhood called Nueva Espania (New Spain). Laurie explained that the neighborhood became established after Hurricane Mitch. Spain promised some financial support, hence the name. The support apparently never arrived, but the name stuck. It had the hard-scrabble look of many of the poorer barrios in Honduras–rough dirt roads, small cement block houses, skinny dogs wandering trash-littered streets. There were lots of barefoot kids in cast-off clothing from the States. You can’t travel very far here without seeing “Florida Gators” or “Roll Tide” on a t-shirt.

Laurie works with two separate ministries that share a walled compound: “His Eyes” which operates a medical clinic, and El Cuerpo de Cristo, a local church. On this day, as she does three times each week, Laurie worked with a local woman in a “feeding program” associated with the clinic. This takes place in an old block building, sparsely supplied by North American standards, with only a few tables and chairs and some storage cabinets. The kitchen consisted of a sink and a newly acquired electric oven/stove, of which Laurie is especially proud. Through support from her church and donors in the states, 100 to 150 children get a glass of milk and a bowl of a rice dish three times a week. On this day, the dish was arroz con leche (rice with milk), which is a little like our rice pudding without the sugar. About a hundred children were present, with probably 30 who appeared to be three to five years old. The kids are remarkably well-mannered and polite; each says “thank you” as they receive their meal. Quite a contrast to the parent/child interaction that can be witnessed in the line of almost any fast-food restaurant in the U.S.

Part of Laurie’s mission is to make sure that these kids get something nutritious to eat, even if it is only three times a week. She believes this is one way to help people out of poverty: teach them to properly care for themselves. She targets the women and children because they are the most vulnerable to the effects of real poverty–a poverty where malnutrition is almost a given and starvation is not unheard of. This is simple evangelism in which few words are needed. The love of Christ is demonstrated in a basic, tangible way for all to see and experience.

I want to write more about Laurie’s work in my next post. In the meantime, why not visit her blog ? Be sure to click on “Ministry Information” sidebar to see what else she’s been up to.

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A Taxi Ride in Honduras

We left Tegucigalpa Monday morning en route to an orphanage we support in central Honduras. My wife made arrangements for us to travel by taxi instead of the public bus. This is not as expensive as you might imagine for a seventy-mile drive, and it is certainly a safer option than a bus for two gringos with limited Spanish language skills. We have made this same trip many times over the last few years and have a specific taxi company we use. We always request the same driver. Due to the current political situation, I will refer to him as “Bill”.

Bill is a pleasure to travel with. He is always pleasant, funny, and even acts as a kind of tour guide instead of rushing to the next fare. Want a photo of something? Bill pulls over and parks–sometimes even directing the best camera angle for the shot. He will detour off the direct route to show you a historic monument, a lovely view, an old church, or even a nice public park. He is proud of his country and eager to share it with foreigners. I believe national pride is the reason why he takes so much time to show us new things each time we ride with him.

This time he arrived to pick us up thirty minutes early (not typical Honduran behavior). He asked me if it would be ok if we picked up his wife for the ride out to the orphanage. After assurances that it was a fine idea, we went to pick up his wife in an area of Tegucigalpa we had not previously seen. Bill detoured through the narrow streets, carefully noting points of potential interest, including the entrance road to the blockaded Brazilian embassy where former president Zelaya is taking refuge. We stopped on a nearby corner and picked up Bill’s lovely wife, who he calls “Baby”. He grinned and explained in his best English: “We married ten years—no babies. So this is my baby.”

Bill and Baby took us to a quaint little public park called “the park of the lions” for some photos and then we headed out of Tegucigalpa. Bill and Baby both speak a little English and we speak a little Spanish, so the conversation was slow but effective. Baby was cautious at first, but when she determined that we loved Honduras she began to speak her mind in a quiet, determined way.

Baby is a public school teacher. She is not working at present because of the political turmoil. The children have had almost no classroom time this year, especially since July, and now school has been canceled for the remainder of the year. The authorities have decided that all students will be promoted to the next grade anyway. It is obvious from her troubled expressions that Baby is upset for the children who are missing critical opportunities to learn. Learning time that probably cannot be replaced.

We ask Baby who she supported (the Honduran teacher’s union is reportedly pro-Zelaya). She told us that the union is divided. She crossed picket lines and continued to teach when her union went out on strike; at one point soldiers had to protect her and the others who crossed the line, as well as the children who wanted to continue learning. She spoke quietly but with conviction. She admitted her personal life has been affected by the troubles as well. It is difficult to do little things when tensions flare up and civil liberties are curtailed (curfews). Simple things normally taken for granted, like buying groceries and shopping become challenging. She is weary and ready for things to settle down and life to return to normal.

Bill and Baby were both curious about what is being reported in the U.S. They wanted to know what people in the States are thinking about Honduras. (How do you tell someone with so much national pride that the average American couldn’t locate Honduras on a world map?). They are baffled by the U.S. political response thus far. They are emphatic that that 70-80% of the country continues to support the current government and the removal of Zelaya. Both see Venezuela’s Chavez as the real cause of the current political problems. They do not want a dictatorship in Honduras.

They are emphatic that the violence which has occurred has been more isolated than what international news organizations have reported or implied. Baby was adamant that only four people had actually been killed in the so-called riots (holding up four fingers to add emphasis to her point). At one point Bill becomes particularly animated as he gestures to the peaceful countryside: “Where is the violence? Do you see violence?” Both worry that the people from the U.S. will continue to stay away. They have noticed that even the church groups from the States are no longer coming.

Time seemed to pass too quickly on this occasion and we arrived at the orphanage sooner than I would have liked. Hugs, goodbyes, and hopes for God’s blessings were were exchanged all around. In the weeks ahead as I search for the latest news from Honduras, I will be reminded of a proud taxi driver and his school teacher wife. It’s funny how the politics of a little obscure country can become very personal when names and faces are attached.

Politics and People in Honduras

Nobody on the road
nobody on the beach
I feel it in the air
the summer’s out of reach.” (Don Henley, “Boys of Summer”)

I am in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a couple of days. You have probably noticed I don’t write much about politics; not because I’m afraid of people disagreeing with me, but because I just don’t like politics. My general view is that the Far Left think they are smarter than everyone else, and the Far Right think they are better than everyone else, and everyone in the middle could care less until it starts to affect their pocketbook. But I do want to take a moment to give you my impressions of the situation here in Honduras.

There has been much written about how Honduras got to this point. You can read about that from articles and blogs from people much more knowledgeable than I. I am commenting on what I see here and now.

There is a conspicuous absence of North Americans here. There were about 28 people on my flight here, and about half of those were illegals being deported. On my past visits there has always been a plane full of church teams coming for short-term trips, as well as the typical tourists. Same situation at the airport on arrival: very few travelers–almost no gringos.

I am staying at a very nice hotel, the Humuya Inn. It is owned by a North American who has invested a considerable amount of money to offer an affordable, safe place to stay. It is virtually empty. Has been for weeks now. The owner lays off workers and tries to hang on.

Our friend Laurie who is a missionary here was kind enough to drive us around yesterday. We went to two very beautiful towns just outside of Tegu: Santa Lucia and Valle de Angeles. I had been to Valley of Angels before. Although there are some very fine artists and craftsmen there, my overall impression on the previous visit was that it is a “tourist trap” (kind of like the “Gatlinburg” of Honduras, on a smaller scale). There was almost no one there. I saw two other gringos. No one in the shops or on the streets except locals, and not many of them.

We stopped in one shop owned by a friend of Laurie. This lady is Honduran but has also lived in the States. She was gloomy. Her mood is understandable–no tourists equals no customers equals no dollars. As the political impasse drags on, the economic crisis here continues to deepen. We throw that phrase around a lot in the States: “the economy.” Let me translate it for you: “people”. People suffer. Especially in a poor country like Honduras, where currency is as scarce as a hen’s teeth even in the so-called good times.

There is an election in November that could return the country to some sort of normalcy. The so-called “coup” and the ousted president could become a moot point. The problem is that the international community (especially the U.S.) has so far threatened not to recognize the legitimacy of whoever becomes the democratically elected president. If this occurs, the crisis will likely deepen. Civil war is a possibility, as desperately poor families may have to choose between starving or becoming hired-gun soldiers. There are rumors that guns and money are already flowing into the country from the south.

I have a book at home written for people who are considering relocating to Honduras. One of the author’s main contentions for moving here was that Honduras is so beautiful yet so poor and backward that no other country would ever bother to invade. Therefore you would always at least be safe from war. I’m not sure I agree with that any more. Honduras seems to be a pawn in an international chess match. Venezuela, Cuba, and the U.S. (among others) are moving the pieces. I am afraid the game is about to get out of hand for this poor little country.

Killer Bees

We’ve had great weather the last couple of days here in central Alabama. Sunny and cool, low forties at sunrise topping out about the mid-sixties. Good weather to be outside.

I’ve been cruising timber both days. Foresters cruise lots of timber. It’s a fundamental part of the job. I’ve always thought the terminology was a little misleading though. “Cruising” kind of sounds like I’m riding around in a candy apple red ’59 Thunderbird with a cute girl with a pony tail, listening to the Beach Boys, on our way to the Dairy Queen for burgers, fries and a shake. No such luck. “Cruising” is forester lingo for appraising trees and timber. It involves walking back and forth across a property, stopping at defined intervals to measure all trees in a designated area. It allows the forester to estimate the value of the timber by systematically measuring a sample (or subset) of trees, rather than measuring every tree on the property. It is a great job if you like quiet and don’t mind being alone. Not so great if you have a short attention span or are easily bored by repetition. I enjoy it when the weather’s cool and the woods are pretty. I hate it when it’s hot (above 80 degrees) and the woods are brushy.

One benefit of the quiet is that it allows my mind to wander. Among the things I wondered today was “whatever happened to the killer bees?”

Back in the late 1970’s and early ’80’s, there was a lot of media coverage about africanized bees that were supposed to be gradually migrating from South America to the southern U.S. These “killer bees” were considered to be very dangerous because they built massive hives and were much more aggressive than our honey bees, often attacking in large swarms that could actually kill animals and humans. The media hype was extensive–the predictions drastic and horrifying. The killer bees would change outdoor life in the South as we knew it. It was only a matter of time.

There were even a few bad B-movies that depicted this plague of winged invaders (kind of like we are seeing with climate change today). My personal favorite showed all the horrors of the infestation of Houston. Chaos in the streets. People trapped in their homes and cars or stung to death. The city was finally saved, however, when the bees were lured into the Astrodome, where a quick-thinking hero turned on the air conditioner and froze the entire swarm.

The original cast of Saturday Night Live also picked up on the hype. One of my favorite skits of all time was John Belushi and the gang, dressed up in ridiculous bee costumes. The recurring skit always involved the over-sized bees breaking into homes and businesses, with the terrified occupants crying “who ARE you?” The camera would zoom in on Belushi, who answered in a Mexican bandito accent: “We are the keeler beees.”

Despite the hype, I’m glad to report I’ve yet to encounter any killer bees. I’m hoping I won’t. I have enough trouble with thorn vines, greenbriars and yellow jackets.

U2 360 Tour

A friend of mine asked that I write a review of the U2 360 Tour concert at the Georgia Dome a couple of weeks ago, so here goes…

Be forewarned I’m hardly an impartial reviewer of anything U2. I’ve been a big fan since the mid-80’s. I vividly remember hearing my first U2 song, “New Year’s Day”, on the car radio and being completely blown away by their unique sound. Since then, I’ve bought and enjoyed almost every song they have ever released. I also own numerous concert DVD’s, as well as several books by and about members of the band. My wife Becky is probably even a bigger fan. She overcame her fear of flying when I bribed her into taking her first plane flight to see U2 in Denver in 2005. So we were obviously excited about the show in Atlanta.

The 360 Tour is a little different than U2 concerts of the past in that they are only appearing in large arenas like football stadiums. The stage is round, covered by a four-legged monstrosity that holds massive multiple speakers, lighting, and a round video screen. This enormous set-up, which has been dubbed “the spaceship” by fans, is designed to provide a more intimate setting in these large venues (for a peek, go to http://www.U2.com). The intent is that every seat in the house has a good view of the band–hence the name “360 Tour.” My only disappointment with the Atlanta show was that the stage was positioned at one end of the arena (instead of in the center), so there was nothing really gained.

The audience was a little more diverse than at previous shows we’ve attended. When a group has played for thirty or so years, I guess they attract a wide following: from young kids (7-8 years old) to senior citizens. The production felt a little more “corporate” than past shows (“Blackberry loves U2”) and a lot less political. I did not notice the customary presence of groups such as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, or even the One Campaign. The concert did however include a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma who is currently imprisoned by a military junta.

The performance was great as always. U2 played twenty-five songs covering the full span of their career. Although a big venue like the Georgia Dome inevitably distorts the sound quality, I’d have to say that I’ve never heard Bono’s voice sound better at a live show. Becky especially enjoyed a remix version of “I Know I’ll Go Crazy” which included a cool video accompaniment. My personal favorite was “Amazing Grace” immediately followed by “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

More Brothers Needed

Some time ago I was channel surfing and landed on one of my regular stops–National Geographic Television. They were running a 2008 documentary called “Outlaw Bikers” about federal agents who infiltrated criminal motorcycle gangs to gather evidence for prosecutions. A segment on the Mongols Motorcycle Club and the A.T.F. agent who successfully infiltrated them was especially fascinating.

Federal law enforcement had tried for years to break up the Mongols, a club based in southern California with a big laundry list of illegal activities: drug dealing, money laundering, gun-running, robbery, extortion, murder, and assault. But the Mongols were careful and smart, so arrests seldom resulted in convictions. In early 1998, Agent William “Billy” Queen agreed to assume a new identity and join the club to gather evidence. This was no easy proposition. Queen left his wife and children behind in Texas and moved to southern California. Due to the Mongols application process (which included background checks and references), Queen had to have a completely new identity fabricated: social security and credit cards, school records, work history, driver’s license, etc. The government constructed his previous life in minute detail. And he, of course, had to remember these details as if he’d actually lived this fictitious existence. Failure–a slip at any time–would almost certainly result in his death.

Queen was eventually accepted and began to ride with the Mongols and gather evidence. He had many close calls due to his limitations as a federal agent (agents cannot commit crimes, only observe), but he was able to convince the gang that he was, in fact, one of them. This charade went on for twenty-eight months. During this time, he had no contact with his wife and children or anyone from his previous life. He was only a few weeks away from gathering enough evidence to complete the assignment when something happened that almost blew his cover–his mom died back on the east coast. Now his fake identity included a mom, but not in that location. So if anyone monitored his travel, he would be discovered as an impostor. He decided to take the chance, and left southern California for three days.

Upon his return, he was telephoned and instructed to come to the home of one of the gang leaders. Queen figured that he had been tailed and would likely be killed. When he entered, the gang members approached him en mass. And then something strange happened: each man embraced him. Each said something: “I love you brother”; “Sorry about your mom”; “What do you need, man?”; “What can I do for you?”

And it was at this point in the story that something strange happened to me. Tears filled my eyes. Because it hit me that these men who were the worst of the worst–murderers, drug dealers, criminals with little regard for anybody or anything–were acting more like Christ than many of us who call ourselves “Christian.” They were actually living the “brotherly love” that Jesus taught and expects His followers to live every day. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve very seldom seen or been a part of anything like it. I can think of one man who has treated me this way (N.V., you are the “real deal”; love YOU brother). Worse yet, who have I treated this way?

And that is a real crime.

Postscript to "The Girl"

I would like to add a few thoughts on the story of “The Girl.” I’ve had a few readers comment that the story is sad, and I guess that at this point, it is. A few others have indicated that it’s a shame that she made some bad choices after so much had been invested in her future. That’s true as well. But I still think there is hope for her to accomplish great things–to fulfill whatever purpose God has for her young life. And I know from experience that things aren’t always what they seem to us when we’re in the middle of them.

I have certainly been discouraged with the recent developments in the Girl’s story. After all, I have seen evidence of God’s hand on her life. There are just too many coincidences to believe otherwise. I felt that I had an important part in the story. After all, I had personally invested time, money, prayers, and plans in hopes that she could break the cycle of poverty so common in Honduras. So I have to admit that my initial reaction was “Why, God? Why does it have to turn out this way when You’ve so obviously been working in our lives?”

I was reminded this morning when reading some Scripture that negative twists in story lines are hardly unusual in the lives of God’s people. Specifically, I was reading in 2 Kings 3:8-37, the story of the prophet Elisha and an old women. If you are unfamiliar with the story, let me paraphrase it for you.

Elisha was a traveling prophet at a time when few cared to hear anything from God. He was befriended by an old couple in the village of Shunem, who graciously prepared him a place to stay whenever he was in their neighborhood. Wanting to repay their kindness, Elisha asked the women if there was something he could ask God to give her, but she maintained she had everything she needed. Elisha’s servant pointed out that she was old and childless. So Elisha tells the women that when he returned in about a year, she would be holding a new addition to the family.

The woman’s response is priceless. It is, in essence: “Don’t mess with me, man of God. Don’t give me some kind of false hope. I’m too old to deal with that.” But the story goes as we expect when God is involved, and sure enough, the old woman is blessed with a son.

Some time later in the story (I assume a few years went by), the story takes an unexpected turn. The kid dies. Just dies. No explanation.

The grief stricken woman hunts down Elisha, who knows something is wrong when he sees her coming. Her words to Elisha surely stung: “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I tell you not to give me false hope?

There is no recorded response from Elisha (no “Don’t you know that God loves you?”; or “All things work for good to those who love the Lord”; or even, “Smile, God’s in control”). He simply takes action, returning to the woman’s home and to the child’s dead body. After some anxious moments and a lot of prayer, God restores the child’s life. The woman is reunited with her beloved son.

I think I can relate to both the old woman and Elisha. I certainly understand not wanting to have “false hope.” And I believe that Elisha must have wondered “God, what are You doing?”, even though this isn’t stated. He simply kept believing in God’s plan and in His purpose. And he took action accordingly. And to me, that’s the important part–the taking action.

That’s the next chapter in the Girl’s story, too. I’ll look forward to giving you an update some time in the future.

New Home/Old Home, Part 2

The Girl began the next chapter of her story in January, when she and nine other girls from the orphanage moved into the newly established “Transition Home” in Tegucigalpa. I’m sure it was exciting (and a little overwhelming) for both the girls and the young staff couple who were their house parents. So much to learn that we take for granted here in the States: how to get around in a large, confusing city; how to get a job (when you’ve never had one that paid–and in a country where unemployment is sometimes above 40%); how to manage the money you earn (learning to budget when you’ve never had any money to spend). I know I would have been overwhelmed. I’m guessing you would too.

But most of the girls did quiet well negotiating these obstacles. We were in contact with the staff couple by email, and we were encouraged to learn that the Girl was able to find a job by February. We soon received our first telephone call from the Girl–she had used some of her wages to buy a prepaid cell phone. She gave us the number and said “Now you call me back, understand?” It seemed that her cell plan didn’t charge for incoming calls–so she had already learning something about budgeting. She was excited about her job, which was selling coffee on the streets. Now I don’t mean she had landed a job at Starbucks. I mean she was a walking coffee pot. She had a big tank of coffee on her back, similar to the herbicide sprayers we use to spray weeds here in the States. She walked the streets of Tegucigalpa nine to ten hours a day like this, selling coffee by the cup. It didn’t sound like a very good job to me. But she was excited to have it. And according to the staff couple, she was very successful at it. Her big smile and her friendliness to strangers made her a natural salesperson. We were excited for her, to say the least.

We called her again in early March. But something had changed again. She was moody–refusing to speak any in English. Pretty much refusing to talk at all. I did not “read” too much into the call–after all, I had seen her act this way before. I assumed she had just had a bad day. Her moods usually passed as quickly as a summer thunderstorm, so I thought I’d just call back in a few days.

I never got to make that call. We received an email from the directors of the orphanage a couple of weeks later. The Girl had been expelled from the transition home. There had been some on-going problems since the beginning–problems in getting along with the other girls, disrespectful behavior toward the staff couple, curfews missed, assignments ignored, etc. She had been given chances to “act right” and follow the rules, but she continued to disobey. And so, just that quickly, it was over.

I was able to contact the Girl’s older brother who was attending college in Costa Rica. He told me the Girl had moved back to her mother’s house in Tegucigalpa. He tried to assure me that she was going to be all right, and that we shouldn’t worry. The Girl still had her job. He promised to keep us informed. He would contact us in May when he returned to Honduras to visit and let us know how to contact the Girl (the cell phone no longer worked). We could do nothing but wait.

We received another email from the Girl’s brother a few weeks later. It was brief. The Girl was doing fine at her mother’s house. She still had the job selling coffee. She now had a boyfriend. And, “Oh, and we think she might be pregnant.” Later, he informed us that the Girl was indeed pregnant, and the father was refusing to take any responsibility. Sadly, she did not wish to speak with us.

And so the cycle was made complete. The Girl with the high hopes and dreams, who had wanted to “fly away”, had landed right back at her starting point.

I know that you, dear reader, were hoping for a happy ending to the story of the Girl. I know I was. There is something in us all that yearns for the line “and they lived happily ever after” in an underdog story such as hers. But sometimes circumstances and choices make that ending less likely. Maybe sometimes where you begin has a lot to do with where you end.

But to me, this is still a story of hope. Because regardless of how it seems at this moment, the Girl’s story has many more chapters yet to be written. And as long as there is hope there will always be a chance of “they lived happily ever after.”

My wife will be traveling to Honduras in a few weeks. She intends to re-establish contact with the Girl. I’m betting this story isn’t over.

New Home/Old Home

The Girl’s last year at the orphanage was filled with ups and downs, highs and lows. As I said, something changed. She was often moody when we visited, and at least once I received an email from the directors asking that I write to encourage her to be more helpful and cooperative. She continued to do well in her last year of school, but otherwise she was obviously ready to leave. The problem was still where to leave.

About midway through the year, we thought a solution had finally presented itself. The directors of the orphanage announced the creation of a “transition home” in Tegucigalpa. The concept was simple: since the older children had such difficulty re-entering society, a small group would live together in a structured setting for a period of about ten months. A staff couple would supervise and guide them in this transition process. They would basically learn some of the skills needed to become independent: finding a job, attending college classes, managing money, etc. It was a fabulous idea, and one that would fill a critical need–not only for the Girl, but for many of the others with the same problem. Each year a new group would have this opportunity. We were excited to learn that the first “class” would begin in January 2009 and would be comprised of nine of the older girls who had completed all their education at the orphanage. We assumed that the Girl would finally get the break she desperately needed.

We visited her again in late November, this time making a special trip to attend her graduation from “junior college.” We arrived with the expectations of a celebration for her accomplishments and a likely “send off” to Tegucigalpa. Instead, we found disappointment. The Girl was accused of some misbehavior of a rather serious nature. She would graduate, but being selected for the transition home was doubtful. I talked with her about the accusations against her, as well as talking with the directors. There was nothing I could do to resolve the situation. After all, I am a parent too, and I know kids make mistakes, serious and otherwise, that require discipline. All I could offer the Girl was to encourage her to be patient–we could find another solution that would allow her to leave–but I knew that she was resolved to leave one way or another. We left with an uneasy feeling that we might not see her again.

In January, we got another surprise. One of the girls originally selected dropped out, and the Girl was picked to take her spot. Once again, we were thrilled that things might really work out for her. I believed she at least had a chance for a better life than the one she had struggled through to this point.

And I was right: she did have a chance. What she did with it was now up to her.

Next post: New Home/Old Home, Part II

Transitions

I believe the story of the Girl somehow turned on a decision and a request.

The decision was that we should bring the Girl to the U.S. to study English. After all, she had the talent, the dreams, the “smarts” necessary to succeed. She just didn’t have anyone to support her in Honduras if she went to college there. Seemed like a pretty simple, straight-forward idea, right?

I should mention that this was no easy decision. We knew it would be challenging for her, as well as difficult and expensive for us. It is not easy for a Honduran to get a student visa to the States (or any visa for that matter). The whole system is designed to be expensive, difficult, and discouraging. And while we do live a few miles from a great university, the English language program for international students is pricey to say the least. Other difficulties are less obvious: she would be unable to drive (we would have to transport her everywhere); she would be unable to work (student visas only allow you to work at the school you are attending); she would struggle with the culture here in the States; and she would still face some of the same difficulties of transition and support when she returned to Honduras. But we were not frightened or discouraged by any of these things, because they can all be overcome. We had seen it happen for another girl from the same orphanage, and she had been (and is) successful in the same process. In fact, she is one of the most inspiring people I have ever met, but that girl will be the subject another time. This story is about the Girl who wanted to “fly away.”

So I made a request. I wrote a letter to the Directors of the orphanage explaining the plan and the reasons behind it. I believed that it would be approved. After all, I had visited many times. They had been in my home here in the States. Quite frankly, they know us, and we know them. I believe there is mutual respect and admiration between us, even though we don’t always agree with each other on every issue. And I believe that they knew that our relationship would continue regardless of their decision–that we would continue to support them whenever and however we could. On each of these points they were correct.

We got an immediate response that the request had been received and would be considered. A couple of months went by with no further response. A second inquiry produced a response letter–not from the Directors, but from a staff member who supervises the older girls. Request denied. The reason: the Girl needed to complete a final year of school available at the orphanage before such a proposal could even be considered. Otherwise it might be viewed by some of the other children as an “unmerited reward.” That point I could understand. The email went on to imply that “we just didn’t understand the culture–that although our intentions were good, we were in effect interfering with the Girl’s progress.” That contention I still struggle with. Because to my knowledge, the Girl never knew any discussions were taking place. It was presumptuous, I know, but we asked for permission to do all this without even asking her if she wanted to do it.

There are turning-points in our lives that we aren’t even aware of at the time. I will always believe that this was one of those times for the Girl. She would spend another year at the orphanage. We would spend another year searching, hoping, praying for some other solution. An unexpected opportunity would come along–but something imperceptible had changed in the Girl’s outlook. Maybe her boredom lead to a loss of hope. I don’t know what happened. I just know something changed.

Next post: New home/Old home