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Honduras Happenings

Hello dear readers and welcome back to your favorite sporadic blog on the World Wide Web. I have been quite the little adventurer since last we chatted so let’s dispense with the pleasantries and just get down to business shall we?
So it occurred to me that many of you out there are not fully aware of the work that I’m doing here…or at least what I am supposed to be doing, I’ve explained it so many times to so many people that I assumed that anyone at all connected with me knew exactly what was going on here in Paradise. That there is what you call self-centeredness. Anyway, I thought I should do the Christian thing and enlighten y’all. I work as a missionary for Eastern Mennonite Missions and I came to La Ceiba, Honduras with the desire to reach out to youth that are trapped in a gang-lifestyle and who want to leave but don’t know how. That my dear friends is not the whole story however; my church back in the Philadelphia-area, Frazer Mennonite, began a partnership with Iglesia Menonita Central in La Ceiba almost 2 years ago and so my coming here has served a double purpose. I work with the Peace & Justice Project of the Honduran Mennonite Church helping them in their ‘Gang Restoration Program’ and at the same time I work with the congregation of ‘Central’ serving as a “human link” in the partnership and assisting them in any capacity that they desire. While that sounds all nice and well, the past month & ½ haven’t panned out exactly as such – it’s been slow going…very slow going. I have yet to start really working with gangs for 2 reasons, the first is that Program begins each June and ends each May; I arrived at the beginning of May and so the Directors decided to hold off on my initiation into the program until the ‘new year’ commenced. Thus, I should have started in June but the Dutch (the real Dutch not the Pennsylvania knock-offs) threw a wrench into all of our plans. A Holland-based donor called ICCO essentially funds the entire Gang Program and for some reason has yet to deposit the necessary funds for beginning this year’s program...apparently once the Dutch get their act together and send the dough we’ll be able to start working. That’s all to say that since May 5th I’ve spent the majority of my weekdays in the Peace & Justice Project’s (PPJ) offices designing brochures, doing translation and transcribing documents into the computers. It’s been a real hoot…a lesson in patience. On the church side of the equation I’ll begin teaching bi-weekly English classes this coming Saturday, by all accounts I’m expected to have a full house; this should be interesting…but exciting.
That’s certainly not to say that I’ve passed all my days in a stuffy office…they let me out now and then to socialize with the common-folk; I’m paraded about as the token Gringo twice a week and then whisked back upstairs and chained to a desk. Seriously though, I’ve had a quite a few little adventures since my arrival…just today I got hauled off to court. My friend and co-worker Felix and I sat in court proceedings today to watch the sentencing of 22 prison guards involved in a prison massacre back in 2003. I’ll post a Reuters link to accompany this but to briefly explain; in 2003 a few incarcerated gang members began attacking inmates that had been placed in charge of the prison’s day-to-day functions. Guards intervened and locked the 20 ‘gangster-inmates’ in a cell and lit fire to it, the fire spread to other cells as did the gunfire from the guards. In the end 64 inmates, 2 visitors and a baby were killed. The sentencing was supposed to have happened today but for whatever reason was postponed until mid-July. Each defendant is expected to receive about 30 years in prison (the maximum sentence allowed in Hondie). PPJ has been working with the victims’ families for the past 5 years, offering counseling, prayer and lobbying the government for prison reform…that’s why we showed up at the sentencing today.
So I haven’t been entirely honest, I have had one gang-related experience during my stay here. Two weeks ago Elba and Felix, the directors of the Gang Program invited me along on a 2 day retreat in the mountains with about 60 ‘reformed gangsters’ to celebrate the end on the year for the program year 2007-2008. I was a whirl of emotions, I was excited to finally be able to get to know the people that I had come to work with but at the same time I felt queasy; I’m always a little shy and stand-offish when I’m put into a new situation and meeting new people…it takes me a while to warm up and become my outspoken, brazen self. It went well though, the retreat consisted of three different groups of “jovenes” one each from La Ceiba, Tocoa and San Pedro Sula and culminated in a round-robin futbol tournament…I was not asked to play and to be honest I didn’t really want for my first experience with the gangsters to be one of embarrassing myself on the futbol field. All in all it was a pretty heady time – in the evenings we had “camp meetings” where former gangsters got up front to give their testimonies, rap/reggaeton about their love for Christ, perform in dramas and read poetry about their struggles…it was an incredible thing to be sitting there witnessing these young men, who only a year or two before had been deeply entrenched in gangs, violence and drugs, now sharing about their transformation and absolute gratefulness to Christ. In that moment and for the first time since my arrival in Honduras I felt perfectly at home and with a purpose…it was very peaceful. For me the biggest thrill of the retreat was being able to reconnect with an ex-gang member that I had met 2 years ago on my last visit to Honduras named Angel. It was in meeting him, listening to his story and seeing the work of PPJ that had moved me to want to return to La Ceiba and work here with EMM – it’s hard to explain the emotions that I felt when I realized that he was still here, still working his way through the PPJ program, good grief – that he was still alive. I had prayed for him nearly every day for 2 years and to see him then felt like the culmination of…something…though I’m not sure exactly what – but something incredible. What’s more he remembered me, he said that he’d never expected me to return but that he’d always hoped I would…he remembered my sister Mallory too; he still wore the bracelet that she’d given him two years prior. He also asked when she was coming back, as I remember he had quite a thing for her. It’s hard to describe how satisfying and incredible it was to see him there, to listen to him give his testimony, to simply sit back and talk with him. All in all, despite my complete lack of futbol talent, the retreat was an awesome time…now if those Dutch would get their act together I could do more of that.
So after frittering away my time in the office and lazing around a retreat center for a few days the Directors of PPJ decided that we needed to take a little vacation to the beach – I offered no word of protest. The office staff takes an annual weekend retreat to Trujillo every June and since I’m officially office staff I got to tag along. I remembered Trujillo from my visit in 2006 but I had kind of forgotten just how beautiful and perfect the town actually is. It sits on a little mountain overlooking the Caribbean, the architecture is Spanish-Colonial and the beaches are pristine (which is a feat for Honduras coastline, La Ceiba’s are filthy) – for me it’s the quintessential Central American village, the kind of place an expatriate-type could lose himself in for a few decades. Despite my love for all things water I actually spent very little time in the sea, instead Felix, Irvin an myself spent time exploring the town, relaxing in hot springs and gawking at the mass of ostentatious Gringas that had descended on the town. Just as an aside, I’m going to say something incredibly ridiculous, I know it’s nonsense and fairly absurd but I can’t help it; anybody that really knows me is aware that by-and-large I am an absurd person. Anyway, what I want to say is that I dislike seeing other Gringos in Honduras – I know they exist, I know that there’s a veritable cornucopia of Gringos living right here in La Ceiba and that nearly all of them have lived here longer than a month & ½ but I can’t help it…nothing gets my gander up more than to see Gringos boppin’ down the street in their shorts, tank-tops and sandals, with their bottles of hand sanitizer and sun block. I’m not sure what it is but I prefer to think that I’m the only Gringo living in Honduras…again, that’s what you call self-centeredness. That irrationality aside, the trip to Trujillo was glorious and despite the Gringos I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Well with all that out of the way I think I’m gonna wrap this little bit of nonsense up now. Hope you all have a glorious week and that your summers are not slipping by too rapidly. Come on back next week and we'll chat about the first week of English Class, the funny accents in Hondie and snipits from my daily routine. Blessings to you this week. Peace!



Mark O'D. said…
Is that picture of you with facial hair real or did you photoshop that in as well? It's a new look for you matt...I've decided it makes you look more hispanic, more Honduran.

-El Nayhog
Anonymous said…
I love reading your blog.. and really do miss seeing you.
Hey Mateo! It sounds like things are finally getting rolling for you! That's awesome! Good to see that you are starting to get into a groove - will pray for those Dutch to get into gear as well and get those funds coming along! We are there in 6 days and will be sure to catch up with you! If nothing more than a big hello. And...if it helps...I couldn't agree with you more about the grinos around. I even get that way in Costa Rica...ah well - as like you - I try as much as I can to blend in - but I'm thinking a 6'1" tall woman in Honduras is going to be pretty difficult to blend in, and my blond haired/blue-eyed girl is going to be just as difficult. See you soon my friend!
Sonia said…
I MISS YOU!!!!!!
La Gringa said…
Heh,heh,heh about the gringos. I know what you mean. Some of them make you embarrassed to be a gringo, that's for sure.

Great blog. I'm enjoying your stories. Good luck on your project.

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