My Bundle

This picture actually taken by one of the kids of Cebu, Honduras

Honduras. Six days. Where do I begin?

A mission trip is such a deep, intimate, life-changing, overwhelming, uplifting, holy, draining, beautiful, amazing experience.  Every day is an overwhelming onslaught of deeply sensuous encounters. These smells, tastes, sounds, sights, emotions, tactile sensations are sometimes collected as individual fragments, and some combine into a larger piece. I feel as if I have a bundle of these memories and moments collected from Honduras. The bundle is not necessarily a burden. But each piece must be removed and inspected before it can be found a more permanent place in my heart and mind.

I process things best externally. That is… Some people must turn things around and around in their own minds to process it. For me to be able to put something – a memory, an experience, a decision – to rest, I need to share it. Oftentimes it is torture to me if I do not have someone I trust close by with whom I can hash out this thing. To verbally and thoughtfully toss it back and forth, until I begin to understand and come to peace with all its facets, or enough of its facets. But sometimes… sometimes I cannot begin this metaphorical game of toss because I do not yet have the means within me to communicate it. So it marinates, mostly unconsciously, for a while. I often repeat one small phrase over and over in my mind. And then, in a rush, I can paint the picture for someone else. And then I can begin to grasp it. At the very least, I can move forward.

Tonight is one of those times. I have held onto the top item from my bundle for four weeks now. It has always been just beneath the surface of my thoughts, always ready for me to stare at it when there is a break in my thinking. It is 12:30. I have a funeral to go to in the morning. But as I was taking out my contacts, the words came rushing in. I could not let it go so I have turned my computer back on.

I have seen poverty before. Deep, desperate poverty. Hopelessness. Need so intense it seems wrong to be described with the same word I use when I say I need groceries or I need an oil change. I have wept and my heart has been broken. This was my eighth mission trip. But each new expression of that gut-wrenching, breath-stealing poverty is something you can never be prepared for. No matter how many ways you have seen it. My heart was sucker-punched one more time Saturday afternoon, our last day in the village.

Every day, our three small groups broke to gather together for lunch. Because of sanitation concerns, we could not eat food cooked in the village; we had it catered in from a trusted source. Each mid-day we would group chairs in a circle in one of the schoolrooms, holding our styrofoam containers of lunch on our knees, sharing that morning’s happenings and hoping to find some respite from the heat in the limp breeze of two weak fans. We ate just as a team both as a chance to regroup our emotions and strength, and also I think from the guilt of eating a comparative feast in front of the kids. Not that it mattered; we always had an audience at the window and open door (the school is open with just metal grating at the windows and doors).

That day, I saw it right as I stepped through the schoolroom door. The large, blue, metal trashcan piled high with our discarded styrofoam lunch boxes. The flies crowding around, finally able to settle on the food which we kept waving them away from during the meal.

The children grouped around the trashcan, opening our boxes and eating our leftovers. Hungrily feasting on our trash.

“One man’s trash, another man’s treasure,” suddenly seems an ugly, crass adage when you have seen it in its literal, harsh, naked truth. I felt sick. It is just not part of my world nor yours; it is a foreign experience, impossible to ever wholly understand from our culture of privilege. For us, at its best, garbage is food for the dogs. In fact, just the day before – animal lovers that most of us are – we had collected some of our leftover lunch to spread out for the skeletal, mangy dogs which roam the village. It never even glimmered as a thought in our minds that what we consider food fit for dogs would be a picnic for the children we were growing to love so dearly.

I knew to stand and watch those children eat my garbage would finish me for the day. I’d like to say I swooped in, gathered the leftovers into a miraculous meal a lá Stone Soup and cooked up dinner to feed the entire village. But I didn’t. I turned away. And I am not ashamed. No one can save an entire village, or even one child, from hunger in the work of one short-term mission trip. No… my work was to be present to these children, to give all my energy to loving them with the love of Christ. I knew in a split second that if I was to respond to God’s call for this trip, I had to step away or I would be too sapped grieving for these children who do not know enough to grieve for themselves the indignity of hunting through garbage for lunch.

And yet… this first piece from my bundle. What do I do with it? I firmly believe that every person, every experience, every encounter in life doesn’t just happen to us, but is entrusted to us. We aren’t sent these things to hone our character or teach us a lesson about ourselves, although often they do. But we are stewards of these experiences and the question for each is, “how now shall I live?” How does this impact and change me, yes, for myself, but far more so for the world? What would God have me do with this? How do I take this… this part of the bundle and use it for the Kingdom?

I have no answers for this little vignette I was given. But I know in sharing this, I have taken the first step towards finding out God’s purpose in His gift.

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Te amo!

If Wednesday was Color and yesterday was Faces… Today was Abrazos y Besos (hugs and kisses)!!
The kids have been just drinking us up since the beginning but today was just the explosion of love now that they are truly comfortable with us and we have reinforced our love by returning a second day. The hugged hello, hugged adios, and hugged just to hug. Kisses on the cheek from the bravest and I said “te amo,” as many times as I could. And I got it back too. Little Jennifer Nicole – a six year old charmer – gave me a big hug and I lifted her up and whispered “te amo” in her ear. She squealed back, “I love you also so, so much!” And Karina… One of the young teenage girls. She drew my heart immediately with her sweet beauty and shy, quiet, attentive smile. She’s hung back a bit, but always participating if a bit tentatively. By the end of vbs today she warmed up to ask me to take her photo and told me about her cousin who had come also. Then right as we were leaving for the day, she tapped my shoulder and said, “I love you,” in English as she made a heart sign with her hands over her heart. It chokes me up just to write it.
Unfortunately our plans have changed a little. We were supposed to spend one day at the beach to unwind and process all we have seen and heard. Unfortunately though the whole village it seems like will be gone for most of the day on Sunday. They do have a night church service but it is not safe for us to be at the village after dark. So we are leaving for the beach a day early. I’m sure it will be quite enjoyable but I would so much rather stay in Cebu and I think everyone would agree. I don’t say that with pride to show you what a saint I am. I say it to God’s glory. He has laced my heart irrevocably to the village of Cebu. My mind is just beginning to roll around a vision for the future. Pray for us as we build this long term partnership.
So tomorrow is the last day in Cebu. Pray that our message will be not “adios” but “hasta la vista.”

Abrazos y besos,
Alanna

Dia 1

How in the world to begin? My heart is full and my mind is bursting with experiences and sights I want to share but there is so much I literally cannot think how to start.
Wednesday was a day of colors. I decided on the drive that it is the color pallet which is so familiar. It’s crazy how colors can be so completely different from country to country. God is amazing. He painted Honduras with the same pallet He used with southern Brazil. So many greens… The same bright pigments splashed across the same plastered cinderblock houses. All the colors glow with a golden yellow undertone. Yet… Everything is veiled with a saturation of grey. The dust and the heat are literally a visible coating on everything.
The palm groves. I have never seen anything like them and there is no way a photo or my words could convey what they are truly like. Perfect rows of 50′ trees fall in straight line. Beneath the connected leaves it is dark and still… The rows of trees extending as far as you can see. Stately and beautiful, imposing yet intriguing. One end of Cebu just seems to slowly melt into the groves. Most of the people of Cebu are gleaners of sorts. They comb of the forest for palm nuts left by the plantation workers. This they can sell for an average daily income of $2-3.
Faces – yesterday was faces. The nervous yet excited children waiting for us to arrive. Five minutes later their joyful smiles as they sang for us. Their wide open eyes and eager expressions for each new activity at vacation Bible school. The careful watch of the line of faces at the school window… Parents and older siblings and aunts and uncles. Slowly drinking in our words, as attentive as the children. Curious faces of all the residents watching us everywhere we went… And breaking into broad smiles in response to ours. The slightly overwhelmed face and slow, small smile of Karen the teeny one who grabbed my heart at afternoon vbs.
My heart is so full. It feels at home. Back to my heart’s calling. God is good… All the time. Just as I sang with the brilliantly intelligent and talented dreamer I met and had an impromptu jam session with last night.
So much more. I’ve got to hold it all in my heart til I have time to record it all.
Besos y abrazos,
Alanna

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Me with baby Eileen.

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Singing Padre Abrám… Father Abraham.

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Palm grove.

Bienvenidos!

¡Hola amigos! First post from Honduras. The day started verrrry early; we gathered at the church at 3:30 am. I was SO not awake. It’s crazy to me that even with the early start we are already arrived, lunched, checked in at our hotel, and ready yo head out to the village and it’s not even been 24 hours yet! Every time I’ve been out of the country it’s taken at least a day just to get to the destination.
Anyways, here’s my first view of Honduras (from the plane).

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The terrain is much like I’ve seen in Brazil… But yet it’s still so strikingly different. I’ll try to get some more pictures on my phone this afternoon because it’s just hard to put into words.
All for now… We are ready to head to Cebu! My heart is so excited! Here I am, Lord. I have heard You calling in the night. I will hold Your people in my heart.

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