Sunday, April 24, 2016 at 12:01 a.m.
Does everything happen for a purpose? Or is God able to give us a purpose in spite of the mess we get ourselves into?
These are questions I pondered in 2011 when the Peace Corps sent my daughter’s best friend, Ruth Bennett, to Catacamus, Honduras. Several months after her arrival, escalating violence caused the Peace Corps to transfer Ruth to La Florida, in Opatoro, Honduras — a town so small few of you will find it on a map.
Ruth found such purpose in the small-town goodness of La Florida, that she extolled its virtues to Sara, saying it had “chispa.” Pronounced cheez-pah, the word is Spanish for “spark” Ruth was using it to describe a town that had the tenacity and drive to want to improve itself.
Sara was so inspired by Ruth’s descriptive zeal that she flew to Honduras to see for herself. However, within days of her Christmas arrival, another Peace Corps worker was shot in a random bus robbery outside of San Pedro Sula. As a result, the Peace Corps ordered 158 volunteers to evacuate Honduras.
Both Ruth and Sara took an immediate flight home, feeling they’d lost their purpose. However, I was secretly relieved. They’d dodged a bullet and come home without a scratch.
But maybe not so much. Sara was working through her own lost purpose. Her four-year marriage was failing. She felt like she needed a break. So the following summer, she returned to La Florida volunteering as a teacher in the rural, one-room school.
As Sara’s dad, I feared for her safety, but I was more concerned with the personal despair that weighed her down and threatened to rob her of purpose.
In the weeks that passed, something happened in Sara’s heart. God gave her a taste for helping people. She went with a thirst to make their lives better, even if it meant placing herself in jeopardy in a place abandoned by the Peace Corps.
Sara spent the summer teaching and raising money to buy children’s books, a rare item in the Honduran economy. She also organized efforts to build school classrooms, bathrooms and hand-washing stations for students.
Coinciding with her efforts, Sara’s church, Highlands Church of Denver, reviewed places where they might send their humanitarian dollars. Sara suggested, or her pastor might even say, “badgered” them to consider La Florida, Honduras.
The good news came just as the bad news threatened to eclipse it. The church said yes to Honduras even as Sara’s marriage crumbled.
Just when it seemed Sara had lost her purpose, she found the spark to start a nonprofit organization called Chispa Project inspired by her friend’s passionate description of La Florida. The project solicits book donations, inspires teacher development and sponsors international volunteer projects to Honduras.
On the project website, www.Chispaproject.org, Sara says the project gives direct ownership of the books to local schools and then trains the teachers and the PTA (padres de familia) to jointly manage the books. So far, donations have allowed her to send over 7,000 books to more than 40 different schools.
So what do you think? Was God able to help her find purpose in her mess?
I think Sara put it best when she told me, “When we turn our ‘mess’ over to God, he makes the most of our mess.”
This week, Sara returns to Honduras after several fundraisers in her home state of Colorado. As I put her on the plane, a Laurel and Hardy paraphrase comes to mind: “Well, this is another fine mess God’s gotten you into.”
— Write Norris at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.