Neighborhood Builder, By Rex and Brenda Bost
BEING BORN IN AMERICA HAS NEVER MEANT AS MUCH TO US AS IT DOES NOW.
The things and opportunities that we take for granted took on a whole new meaning after we returned from a mission trip in Copan, Honduras. As part of a volunteer group originating from Hephzibah Baptist Church in Wendell, we were able to go and give back a portion of the blessings we have experienced in our own lives. The trip is arranged through the North Carolina Mission Board, the local officials in Copan, and the local missionaries there. The mission at hand was to build a school for a Chorti Indian tribe in the beautiful mountains of Copan. While the lay of the land is among the most beautiful in the world, all of the water in Honduras is polluted. This was going to be the first school building for the Chorti from San Isidro Village. They had been meeting for school only for a short while in a little dirt floor Catholic Church. With very little opportunity available, illiteracy is the norm, and everyone in school is presently in first grade, which includes ages 5 to 13.
After 13, most children drop out of school to work and help their families. On any given day, some children must walk for miles into town to sell the wood they can carry on their backs for money instead of going to school.
To offer an incentive to go to school, the government of Copan now has a program of one meal a day if they attend school, so many children go in order to eat the only meal they will get. (While Rex has participated in several mission trips in the past in Honduras, this was Brenda’s first. And while every mission has been one of great need and compassion, these people were the poorest of the poor.)
The Chorti are direct descendents of the Mayan civilization that live in the Western part of Honduras, eastern part of Guatemala and into El Salvador. There are 42 villages located in the mountains of western Honduras around the city of Copan Ruinas. They are small villages ranging in population from 200 to 1500, with the average size being about 500 to 750. Very few of them have electricity or water, or health care; there is no secondary education in any village, no public transportation, and no form of communication other than a possible portable radio.
Unfortunately, because of the illiteracy of these people, they have lost the valuable land rights they had when the Mayans thrived as a civilization between 200 AD and 800 AD. The descendants usually don’t own the land they live on, and therefore must depend on working for other landowners. When the growing season is finished, as it is now, the people go hungry.
The key to helping them survive is education. We quickly learned the wise saying “give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime” was true. It breaks your heart, because you just want to give them the things they need, but without the education to follow simple directions on a medicine bottle, you realize you can’t just give them things. “With the local government finally donating a small hillside to the San Isidro Village, we were able to build them a school on their land. With the promise of actually seeing us there working for them, it has encouraged them to start the process of relocating their families.
While the men were busy working on the school building, the women volunteers were working with the women and children in the village. Each day we would load up in the 4-wheel drive truck or the van, and travel about a half an hour up the mountain. Our mission was to introduce God’s love to them, not only by our presence, but also by telling them stories from the Bible. It was an awesome experience to be with them everyday in such an intimate way. We usually had around 30 children to work with in the morning. We told them a Bible story first, and taught them this song in Spanish. “Yo Tengo Un Amigo Que Me Ama” – I have a friend that loves me. They loved the song, and would really sing out by the end of the week. After our Bible stories, we used the opportunity to teach dental health. From the generous donations of local dentists, we had carried about 200 toothbrushes up with us. These kids had never owned a toothbrush before! We taught them the importance of brushing, and then the day came when we all went outside for the grand finale of actually brushing. We poured a little baking soda and salt in their hands and watched them as they dipped their brushes in. We were not able to give them the toothpaste we had brought for fear the children would eat it. They also could not afford to buy it so we taught them to use baking soda. It was a big hit. The teacher of the school is keeping their toothbrushes in school, and they get to brush everyday, and get a sticker! Hopefully this will enable them to develop a habit of brushing.
In the afternoon, the ladies of the village came. We usually had around 12 the week we were there, but reports back from Honduras now say the number has grown to 22! They told us that they appreciated us coming and teaching them because nobody had done that before, and there was a lot they didn’t know. Some of the ladies would walk over the mountains for half an hour to over an hour to get to the small church where we were meeting. It was amazing. We taught them Bible truths first, and dental hygiene second. Most of them had either rotting teeth or no teeth, and it really was interesting to see them wanting to learn how to take care of their mouths.
Coming home was a very humbling experience. It is very hard to leave when you feel you just got started, but reality set in and we had to return. The actual mission would last for 3 weeks total, and as we were returning to the states, our oldest son, Wells, was arriving to follow in dad’s footsteps. I can’t think of any greater gift in the world than the opportunity to help someone less fortunate, and then to watch your children do the same thing. God has been good to us, and we are glad we could do a small part to say thank you.