By Norris Burkes.
After an exhausting week working with Chispa Project, my wife Becky and I leave the Honduran mainland for a family getaway on the Honduran island of Utila.
We board a twin-engine turboprop that takes us over the three Honduran Bay Islands, Utila, Guanaja and Roatan. The waters are a world-renown scuba-diving site off the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world.
Our plane touches down on a landing strip that crosses the island. We load into a tuk tuk, a motorcycle-powered rickshaw, and drive through the tourist side of Utila where I’m quickly entranced by the stunningly blue shoreline. Ten minutes later, we unload into an air-conditioned condo.
On the second day, I meet our neighbor, Ken Nelson, a missionary with Legacy Mission International. Ken offers me a golf-cart tour into a barrio called Camponado. In literal minutes, we move from stunning beauty to staggering poverty. I’ve not seen a landscape like this since my National Guard deployment into the muddy wards of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
That’s a fitting comparison since the Honduran government relocated mainlanders into this barrio in 1998 after Hurricane Mitch. The horrific flooding killed 11,000 people.
Being “relocated” out of Central America to an island might seem like paradise, but it’s not a rescue. English-speaking islanders see the transplants as intruders and prejudice runs as deep as this barrio mud.
Ken and I dismount below sea level and walk a wooden pathway anchored into buried rock and wood debris. The deeper we go into the barrio, the more unstable the planks become.
“Watch your step,” Ken said, “We don’t want to have to pull you out of that mud.”
It feels like the trek could quickly become the proverbial long walk off a short pier.
At the end of the footpath, Ken introduces me to an 11-year-old girl named Jocelyn sitting on a wooden porch alongside her grandmother. Spina bifida has Jocelyn confined to a wheelchair that has kept her homebound for the past six years.
We join them on the porch where Ken speaks to them in Spanish, and I can only nod for the next 15 minutes. Ken points to jewelry that Jocelyn makes. Before we say our goodbyes, I buy a plastic bead bracelet for a dollar.
As we return to our cart, Ken says he wants to hire locals to construct a pathway through the mud so Jocelyn can integrate into her community, but first he must raise $10,000.
“That’s a lot of money to help one kid,” I say. “Aren’t there bigger community needs?”
“Good question, but I think she’s worth it.”
I offer a neutral nod.
“Keep in mind the greater good that will bring churches together. That will be a powerful message to this neglected community, one that I hope will spur churches to love on these people.”
We return to our cart and Ken points to a group of men. “Many of the men live the leisurely island life, but they need to focus on pulling their community together. I think this project can help them catch a bigger vision.”
As Spock of “Star Trek” so famously posed, “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Like Captain Kirk, I’m not sure that’s always right.
The next day, I sit in a beachside cafe eating pork sliders and sipping a Coke. Becky tries to sleep in a hammock rocked by an offshore breeze, but the noisy grackles forbid it. I feel like we are cast in a Corona beer commercial.
It has me asking myself, “How did I get so lucky? How was I awarded working legs and medical care to keep them walking?”
There is no rhyme or reason for the privileges we are born into. So, while living on this side of heaven, the only thing we know for sure is that we have power to decide what we are going to do about poverty.
James, the brother of Jesus, asked his readers in James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”
Next week, I bring eight of my readers to Honduras where we will address “the needs of the many” by installing a library in an underfunded school with the Chispa Project.
Will such a project change things? Time will tell, but it will most assuredly change us.
Contact Norris Burkes at [email protected] or 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643, Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715.