On March 11th our team of 10 (including baby Luna) arrived in Honduras around noontime. We loaded up the two trucks and then drove an hour and 15 minute towards the El Arca property where we would be lodged. One of the many benefits of traveling with youth is their attitude towards flexibility. This was the first time a mission team has ever stayed overnight at El Arca. This trip was of particular significance for me as it was my wife, Brigid, and daughter Luna's first trip to Honduras. I was a little concerned with how people would react to having a baby next to them on the flight but baby Luna was awesome! It helped that she has her mom's looks and her abuelo's (grandpa) smile.
Once we arrived at EL Arca and settled in we had lunch. Let me tell you, the food was spectacularly delicious! The BEST I ever had on any mission trip either hosting or as a guest. I had made plans with one of my best childhood friends to stop by with his family to meet my family. We left Rhode Island at 3AM and with daylight savings time change we were so out of it. I was trying to stay awake before my friends came over but I had to take a Honduran siesta to recharge. Five minutes into my 85 degree, lovely weather nap, I heard my dad calling me and telling me my friends were at the EL Arca gate. We spent some time together and it was wonderful to see them meet my family. Not soon after, it was time to get ready to go to church and worship. Worship? Noooo! I was still super exhausted, to say the least, and on top of that, I had the privilege of preaching. Exhausted, tired, drained, sleep deprived you name it I had it. I had no idea how my sermon would go as I had never been this tired before a message in my life. I prayed and left it in God's hands. That evening the team and I left to the city of Danli where we would be worshipping. We had a wonderful time singing praises and listening to special music and prayer. Jonathan shared his testimony in Spanish about being thankful. I preached in Spanish; the title of my sermon was, "When everything goes wrong" based on Acts chapter 28. After the 2 hour church service we headed home and I slept like a baby.
On Monday, March 12th we started our first day of work at the school site. The goal for the week was to prepare the area where the multi-sport court would be filled and leveled before pouring the concrete. The team was well rested and ready to go. We helped stomp the first 8 truck loads of filler soil. Additionally, we mixed cement and poured it into the base blocks of the retainer wall of what would be the basketball court. At some point, we were trying to water the soil and needed longer hoses. After two longer hoses were purchased we connected them and immediately noticed issues with water leaks. I thought to myself how easy it is to take things as small as hoses for granted. The hoses were brand new but of poor quality. I kept thinking how back here in the States we could have had 4 or 5 choices of hoses compared to maybe 2 low quality from the hardware store in Honduras. After trying to stop the leaks we continued watering. Eventually, we hired a water truck to help out with the water and got the job done.
In the middle of the day, Judy Margetts and I drove to the supermarket to get food for the team. On our way back to the school we stopped at a red light. A kid started cleaning the window of our truck. With the air conditioning on and the tinted windows up he could not see us but we could see him diligently working to clean the already clean windows on my dad’s truck. I opened the window and he said to me “Deme un Lempira porfa” which translates to “Please give me one Lempira.” I asked him how old he was and he said 13. I asked him why he wasn’t in school and he said my parents pulled me out. I understood that his family was so poor that they could not afford to send him to school. To help out his family he is out on the streets cleaning car windows at red lights. I pulled out some money, way more than the”Lempira” (which is equivalent to almost 5 U.S. cents) he asked me for, I told him”God bless you” and we drove away when the light turned green. The rest of the day we played soccer and volleyball with the school children. When the time came to get ready to go back to El Arca my dad received a call from his wife, Sonia. My dad looked at me and said there is a fire approaching our property go back with the team and see how you can help. I was thinking "OK, this is different." I got the guys on the team and we headed the 30 minute drive to El Arca. We arrived at El Arca to see the left back part of the property on fire right before the mission’s property line. The team immediately sprung into action to help. Some were bringing buckets of water, some neighbors came over and helped as well. The El Arca’s groundskeeper came over with a backpack sprayer filled with water. He started containing the fire line at the top of one of the hills in El Arca. Three of our youth, Jonathan, Quintin and Brennan, had a plan they had learned while at camp in Rhode Island. The wild fire kept closing in on the property and they decided to put the skills they have learned at camp to work. They used a pickax and shovels to delineate that property line from the brush. This would help contain the fire and help preserve the pine trees. Their quick action and experience were put well into use by the training they had received as scouts and working at a camp in Rhode Island.
On March 13th, Brigid took time to teach EL Arca cooks how to make scrambled eggs. It's not that they didn't know how to make them but she taught them how to make American scrambled eggs per my dad's request. After another delicious breakfast we left for the school. The team worked diligently filling in the retainer wall with cement. In between breaks more soccer was played with the students and some of the construction workers. Later in the afternoon, after we had worked and had lunch, Brigid and I took the team on a hike. For years I had been wanting to go to "the cross" in Danli. The "cross" is the highest viewpoint in the city of Danli. The hike to the top of the cross was steep and the trail was made with stone. It took us about 15 minutes to get to the top. As we were heading up one of the neighbors said to me "I give you guys credit going up at this time of the day". It was in the middle of the day and about 86F dry heat. The teens were up in front and I was the last one to arrive at the top. Let me tell you every effort to make it to the top was well worth the spectacular view of the city. The hike to the cross in Danli, check!
By the time we returned to El Arca we were all hungry for dinner. Brigid then asked El Arca cooks to teach her how to make tortillas. The cooks felt good teaching her and it was a reciprocal experience since she had just taught them earlier in the morning. Brigid's first tortilla came out with holes and was half burnt. She kept working on her craft and as I walked out they said to me "she learns fast." That night after we had rested, and by that I mean taken wonderful afternoon naps, we headed back to Danli for church service. This time I preached both in Spanish and English. The title of my message was, “When everything goes wrong, but you’re still faithful.” This was part two of my first message on Sunday.
On March 14th, Brigid taught 4 english classes at the Newman School. She was excited to share her gifts with the children of Honduras. She worked with children in Kindergarten to 6th grade. At one point I walked around to see how she was doing and the kids were loving her instruction. I could see games, and songs and exciting techniques being used to teach English to the students. On this day we continued compacting and finished filling in the soil. We watered it down and left it ready for the next day.
In the afternoon we headed to the Los Robles Church. Los Robles is a very poor community located within a 10 minutes drive from the school. When we arrived, the church was open and about 8 children where sitting inside. Soon after Pastor Catalino arrived and after a short greeting we went inside. He told us that the children would be arriving shortly. I know this meant in Honduran time. We started to unpack the food and donations we were to give out later. A woman from the community, whom I recognized approached me and said, "You are pastor Hector's son right?" I responded, "Yes, I am". She said oh because I told Pastor Catalino that you were his son and he was surprised. She didn't know that this was the first time I had met Pastor Catalino. A few minutes later the pastor's wife arrived and minutes later we had around 55 children who had come out to the church. An 8 year old from Los Robles Church started by praying a wonderfully simple prayer. They sang a couple of songs and then I came up to give a quick greeting. Soon after, I introduced Jonathan DiLuglio who then led the children in a couple of activities. After those fun craft activities were completed, we fed the children peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, distributed toys, hats and dresses. The children were so happy and thankful. We left with smiles on our faces knowing that we had just made someone's day.
That night we found out that we still needed more funds to complete the project. The contractors had estimated that we would need about 8 truck loads of filler soil. When that was not enough it went to 16 truck loads. We ended up using about 40 truck loads!!! Our team met and Jonathan DiLuglio encouraged us to finish what we started. The next morning the team contributed a total of $2050! What a team! We came together and raised the rest of the funds to finish the school's multi-sport court. Praise the Lord!
March 15th was our final work day. There was a lot of stomping and leveling the truck loads of filler soil. The team also had a special day with the Newman School students. They sang songs and made crafts with the school children. Judy Margetts, our scholarship director, talked, visited and took pictures with many of our sponsored children. I was busy with Jonathan working on the sports court dimensions and measurements. We even traveled to a nearby Christian school to gather and research more information.
On the last day, many stated that they wanted to return and felt sad saying “adios” to the students, especially after the school children were heard saying we will see you mañana.
On March 16th, the team enjoyed the sights and flavors of Honduras traveling to a picturesque little town town an hour and 10 minutes from Danli. Then at night on our last team debrief we had a special meeting. We talked about what the trip had meant to each of us and shared our feelings about the experience. At the end of the meeting I held a gold pin ceremony. This year's recipient was Gary Ellinger from Massachusetts. The Mission Honduras gold pin is awarded to short-term volunteers who have been on 5 or more mission trips with us. Gary worked really hard and we enjoyed having him on our youth mission team. This was Gary Ellinger's 12th mission trip. He is 77 years young. Judy Margetts, a past recipient of the Mission Honduras gold pin, was also presented with a special edition Mission Honduras writing pen for her service and 17th mission trip to Honduras. This fall she will be joining our medical mission to Honduras which will be her 18th trip. Additionally, this was Jonathan DiLuglio's 8th mission trip and first as a team leader. Jonathan, has been serving with Mission Honduras since 2012 and has been part of the board since 2017 as Youth Coordinator. This was my first time traveling and working with Jonathan on a mission trip. He did a fabulous job leading us and we worked well together. We are so blessed to have him on the Mission Honduras team.
The youth mission team consisted of students from the University of Rhode Island, the Community College of Rhode Island, and the University of New Hampshire. Their majors include computer science, comedy writing, applied mathematics, doctorate in pharmacy and international relations. We are so thankful that these young students decided to take time from their spring break to come to Honduras and serve!