It has been said that Honduras is the ugliest, beautiful country in Central America with all its gang activity, drug addictions and extreme poverty.
A mission team from Killarney, MB that travelled to Honduras earlier this month has returned with a greater compassion and understanding of the plight of those living in that third world country.
The majority of the 10 person team hailed from the Killarney Calvary Baptist Church, this being their first time to travel to Honduras with a ministry and humanitarian outreach.
Just over one year ago Canadian east coast missionaries, Pastor Gordon and Anna MacKenzie, shared with their support church in Killarney their mission outreach in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This ignited interest among many in the congregation and soon a 10-person team was formed, fund-raising events were planned, and funds were raised to help their brothers and sisters in Honduras.
The Mackenzies work under the umbrella of Manos Extendidas (“Extended Hands” in Spanish), a mission that is led by Pastor Alvin and Nelly Anderson. Pastor Alvin grew up in North Carolina, the son of a tobacco farmer, and has dedicated his life to missions in Latin America. His wife, Nelly, is born and raised in Nicaragua and together they lead teams in street ministry, prison ministry, child sponsorship, a feeding program and most recently the building of a Transition Home.
The Transition Home is what caught the attention of the Killarney team, and two days were spent working up in a remote rural area of Honduras, over two hours’ drive up and around the Honduran mountains to reach the location. The main building structure is already constructed with cement blocks and the final touches of paint, window bars, doors and windows are yet to be added to the three bedrooms (six beds) home which includes kitchen and dining areas.
This home is deemed to be a new beginning for teenage boys who have dedicated their lives to the Lord while still incarcerated in prison. Having completed their sentence, they now need a safe place to live. At the Transition Home they will be taught trades skills (such as carpentry and welding), mentored in their faith walk through daily Bible Study and kept away from the drugs, alcohol and gang-related activity that they were entrenched in prior to their conviction.
Killarney team leader, Ken Buhler, says the Transition Home gives hope to these young men who don’t have many options. “Once they get out of prison, they have no place to go. If they go back home to their communities, they’re going to end up either dead or caught up in the gang life once again and then back to prison. The Transition home is to teach them a trade and give them a hope for the future, to get them back into society.”
Gang life is rampant in Honduras, and affects every level of daily life. The team saw security guards, armed with automatic weapons, at most every restaurant, grocery and business parking lot to keep citizens safe. It is unlawful for two males to ride on a motorcycle as it had been a favorite method to shoot and kill in the middle of traffic at any time of day.
A question can be asked, ‘What about girls? Can they too be as armed and dangerous as their male counterparts?’
The answer is yes, and the team met many teenage girls at the girls’ prison, which housed 13-18 year olds who were there for extortion, drugs and murder. The entire team was surprised to see the majority of these teenagers happy, singing, dressed nicely and thrilled to have Canadians spend time with them playing games and talking with them through translators. One would never believe these beautiful young ladies could be affiliated with gangs, or be professional assassins at 17 years old.
“A lot of these girls are in prison because they are often forced to be part of the gangs,” says Buhler, “but yet they have committed a crime and now they are serving their time in prison.”
The team agreed that it was like spending time with a girls youth group, if you didn’t know any better. The unnerving fact is that just up the hill from the main courtyard is a gang house which looks down on the prison grounds, and occupants can see all who lives at the girls’ prison, and all who visit. Amazingly enough, the gangs appreciate the church and the mission outreach to those hurting and hungry on the streets, and typically leave missionaries alone.
Sadly, once out of prison many girls to back to their street life, only to return to homelessness, violence and drug use. One such girl is Angie. Angie had spent time in the girl’s prison and befriended Anna MacKenzie. During one evening where the Killarney team helped to serve soup to many of the homeless in the downtown slums of Tegucigalpa, Anna heard her name being called. It was Angie, who was holding on to her coke bottle filled with two inches of rubber glue at the bottom. Glue is the cheapest form of drugs in this poverty-stricken country, and many are lost to the brain-damaging addiction.Transition Home
Angie was led back to her corner of the curb, and fed her soup by a team member as she was unable to hold her spoon. She was half-starved and too high to know it. Anna worried that her young friend wouldn’t last till Christmas, living on the streets like this with no hope and numbing her hunger pain, and hopelessness, with glue.
“We loaded up a truck with five five-gallon pails of soup,” explains Buhler, “and went out to the streets and fed people. To give you an idea of the situation, a young 27 year old man showed us his kitchen down one back alley. His kitchen was two pots and he was so proud of these two pots. He had been living on the streets since he was seven years old and now he is 27. Twenty years, that was his life…. just existing.” For a shelter, this man used old boards pulled together in a heap on the opposite side of the street.
One young girl dressed herself as a boy to avoid male attention, with baseball cap, a loose sports shirt and pants. She walked like a boy and tried to talk like a boy, however, this won’t last for long as she is pregnant and starting to show. She posed for a picture holding her two most prized possessions; one of the many mongrel dogs wandering the streets, and her bottle of glue. The team asked how the addiction to glue affected the unborn child, and were explained that as the glue doesn’t enter the bloodstream the baby is unharmed. However, the damage to this young mom’s brain is irreversible, and thus the cycle continues.
Buhler says the entire experience was an eye-opener to the hopeless future of these people. “You can only imagine what it’s like until you get down there and see the poverty. The poverty is just all around. It’s hard to explain it. But the big eye-opener was seeing the girl’s prison and feeding the people on the streets, and seeing how the people just have no hope. There are families there with young kids, their parents have lived on the street all their life, and now the kids are doing the same thing.”
Bringing hope to the people that they met was one of the main things they hoped to accomplish. Joining together with Anna Mackenzie at the feeding stations was a highlight for the group. Three of the Killarney couples were able to meet the children that they sponsor, and their families. Child sponsorship allows for the funding of education, school uniforms and supplies, and a noon-time meal every school day. Helping to ensure these children attend school is key to giving them a hope and a future, and assist in their development; physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
The team travelled to Honduras with suitcases and hockey bags filled with humanitarian items such as medical supplies, school supplies, extra clothing, and tools for the building project. The mission team was overwhelmed with the incredible support from the community of Killarney and surrounding area, both monetarily and with items to bring.
The Killarney ladies were able to visit the poorest hospital in Tegucigalpa where over 70 babies are born every day to those who have nothing. Close to 80 blankets and hundreds of sleepers and newborn clothes were given to the new moms. Hugs and prayers were shared and language differences were not an issue.
Pastor Alvin shared that those living in desperate situations recognized that for North Americans to take time away from their families, their jobs and their lives, and spend money to come and see them and help them meant they were actually worth something, and they had value.
“We are bringing the message of God’s salvation,” says Buhler, “that was certainly one of the main things we brought to the people. But we also brought the message of hope in Christ to them. We each shared our testimonies at 3 different churches. But it’s interesting that the people of Honduras think that those of us in North America have God’s ear because we are so wealthy compared to them and He has blessed us so much with all that we have. And we are wealthy compared to them”.
“But sharing our testimonies, and our trials and tribulations,” Buhler continued, “and we kind of showed them that we aren’t that far different from what they are, and basically gave them hope and showed our love towards them, and showed them that there are people who care about them.”
Ken Buhler shared the thoughts of the Killarney team members when describing the heart of Manos Extendidas and the love and care through founders, Pastor Alvin and Nelly Anderson. “The thing that impressed me the most was seeing how Alvin and Nelly led and lived their lives. They oversee 3 different churches and their passions are with their outreach and programs. Nelly leads the girls’ prison ministry and Pastor Alvin is more involved in the street mission.”
“We witnessed first-hand the love that these two people have for the Honduran people. They’ve been doing this for 20 years. On the street the guys would come out and hug Alvin because he is always there and he’s not judgemental and not criticizing. He touches their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs and they know that at any given time, they can go to Alvin and Nelly and they will help them as much as they can.”