We prepared for months, gathering as a class to learn about the
people and land of Central America. We prepared history lessons
for one another, studied geography and explored the practices of
Roman Catholicism. We tackled the complexities of global capitalism
and scrutinized U.S. foreign policy in Central America. We read
firsthand accounts about the trials of land acquisition, the benefits
of organic farming and the horrors of human rights abuses.We were
well educated and well sensitizedcommitted to making change
and eager to work.
We were well prepared. Well prepared to spend a week in El Limón,
Honduras, during Spring Break. Well prepared to dig trenches for
water pipes, mix mud for an adobe house, learn to make tortillas
from ground corn and explain the dosage for parasite and pain medication.
What is the connection between discussing the impact of U.S. businesses
on Central America and spending a week mixing mud? Thirteen students
from the Candler School of Theology, including me, discovered an
essential connection between the two, a connection that goes to
the heart of what it means to build up the kingdom of God.
The 13 of us, along with two doctors, a pharmacist and two former
employees of Christian Commission for Development, spent 10 days
of March in Honduras sponsored by the Heifer Project International.
We were hosted by the village of El Limón, a community of
241 people in the region of Santa Barbara.
Because of the medical personnel on our team and donations from
U.S. drug companies, we were able to offer a temporary medical clinic
for the people of El Limón and the surrounding villages.
The doctors spent the week examining close to 600 adults and children,
dispensing medication for afflictions ranging from parasites and
scabies to headaches and athletes foot. Some villagers needed
little more than a supply of vitamins to help counteract the limited
nutrition available to them. But other health problems reached far
beyond the scope of care our team could offer. Such cases crystallized
for us the need in rural areas for long-term health care solutions.
The medical clinic also highlighted the extra demands placed on
poor women. Women who visited the clinic invariably had multiple
children in tow and looked years older and wearier than their ages.
A majority of our class was female, and we all felt the sharp contrast
between our lives as graduate students and the lives of these Honduran
women who worked the longest and the hardest to feed and care for
the large number of children their bodies bore.
Contrasts in material wealth between our lives and the lives of
those in El Limón were also apparent. They benefited from
none of the government-sponsored infrastructure we take for granted:
no electricity, no phones, no sewers. Only a dirt road less than
10 years old connected El Limón to the political life of
However, we found that while the families of El Limón lacked
material resources, they did not lack in organization. In the late
1980s a group of men from the village squatted on nearby land unused
by its owner. Land reform legislation had declared that unused land
could be taken over by rural families (campesinos) so that they
might feed themselves. Hondurans have suffered because almost all
farmable land is owned by a handful of rich families, the national
government or U.S. banana companies. Though the leaders of the campesino
organization endured harassment and multiple imprisonments, they
prevailed and gained fields on which to plant corn, beans and rice
for the entire village.
After the success of the land project, the campesinos in El Limón
turned their efforts toward a cattle project. The Heifer Project
International loaned them cattle, and as the herd has produced offspring,
the farmers are paying back Heifer with calves that can be loaned
to other communities. The cattle have provided meat, milk and cheese
to the community, as well as a future source of income so the campesino
organization can continue to improve village life.
The campesino organization also made possible other projects we
took part in, preparing to lay water pipes to new homes and constructing
an adobe house in the cattle field so the herd can be guarded from
Telling others about our trip to El Limón, one of the first
questions is always, What did you do? For me, the answer
is an important commentary on the purpose and fruit of such a mission
trip: I helped build an adobe housemeaning I spent a few days
working in the sun with bricks the men had spent weeks making before
we arrived. We added our labor to the project, and the foundation
and three layers of bricks were placed by the end of the week, leaving
a three-foot-high structure that needs much more work to become
We were welcomed into the middle of this house-building project
just like we were welcomed into the middle of the villages
lifeinto the middle of their story. We left nothing finished
for them; we solved no problems. Instead we offered ourselves to
learn from and work with them. We saw the benefits of community
organization and received hospitality from this generous village.
We were all searching, I think, for solidarity. It is what all
of our reading and learning had made me desire. In the middle of
all the intricacies of the global economy and U.S. military policy,
I went to Honduras praying to find something beyond what classroom
discussion and analysis could provide. To be sure, the complexities
of the world did not dissolve in the faces and lives of those in
El Limón; if anything, my questions grew, and my unease with
the world was made greater.
But alongside such unease came connections with real and wonderful
people, the building of relationships and the creation of mutual
concern. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.
It starts out as the smallest of all seeds but in time it grows
into a bush so large that all can find their home inside (Mark 4:30-32).
I pray and seek to work for the coming of such a kingdom. I know
the people of El Limón are praying and working for it as
well. It is the knowledge that we are working together that will
sustain my hope even as I see poverty, hunger, torture and greed.
I pray that such a feeling of solidarity might bolster the hope
of those in El Limón, as well. And I pray for you, too, that
we all might become educated enough to mix mud and dig trenches,
for such is the work of the kingdom.