Sipping the remainder of my bubbly ginger ale while packed like a sardine on an airplane, I gazed out the window, noticing that the landing strip produced the only visible lights amidst the darkness. A far cry from the Christmas-like lights surrounding O’Hare airport, my first impression of San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was that of an empty field. Gathering my maximum capacity carry-on luggage, I along with the missions team I was with, journeyed into the unknown (or at least into a tunnel leading to the unfamiliar airport). Not much time passed before I noticed directional signs cluttered with language I could not comprehend and unclean restrooms. While I felt satisfied with my thrifty purchase of a twenty-fluid-ounce bottle of Dasani water for only one dollar, I was yet to be sold on the idea of spending ten days in this foreign land—where toilets did not flush down toilet paper, water refused to heat, and roosters annoyingly crowed before morning. However, my limited expectations set the stage for some major growth in my life because the humble country of Honduras humbled me.
After a two hour bus ride composed of winding roads and steep mountains (and after consuming lots of Dramamine), we arrived at the missionary base in Siguatepeque. I slowly drifted to sleep that first night, unsure of where I even was. Awakened by the smell of fresh eggs cooking and the incomparable aroma of home-grown Honduran coffee, I journeyed out of my half of the bunk bed and eagerly lifted the window curtain to see what morning had to bring. My eyes observed about a dozen clucking hens with their chicks, brick makers preparing bricks by their kiln, a tawny horse attempting to escape its rope, and the bluest skies and greenest mountains ever imagined. Palm trees waved, and the sun beamed. I began to feel at peace. Interrupting my reverie, I heard the call for breakfast and carefully tiptoed down the uneven stairs.
After enjoying the fresh cuisine prepared by Brenda, the industrious Honduran cook, the team set off on the first day of a steady week of work. We helped the missionaries by constructing a foundation for an addition to the building, and with the assistance of translators, prepared for Vacation Bible School. I helped make colorful balloon animals in the shapes of fish and swords; I also enjoyed preparing the daily Bible verse for the kids, and the chance to practice my broken Spanish.
The first day of the VBS, I became fascinated by the Honduran children’s eagerness with simply tossing a rubber ball back and forth for twenty minutes or more. No Internet. No cell phones. No distractions. I witnessed joy on the bright faces of these children—particularly a seven-year-old girl in a blue dress who giggled when I held up the bubble wand for her to blow. Giggles spanned the language barrier. Joy knew no division.
The week continued with a visit to the garbage dump. Even now, the thought of traveling to that wasteland brings back the stench of the eyeless rotting horse covered with buzzing flies and the piles of trash amidst the black and white vultures which circled the area. I took in the sight of people with expressionless faces who pitched tents in the middle of the mess and called the place “home.” For courtesy purposes our team was forewarned to under no condition cover our noses; nearly an impossible task, I could only stomach breathing through my teeth.
My heart broke as our team prayed with the residents in soiled clothes who made no effort to swat away the multitudes of flies that landed on their bodies. Standing in the midst of this environment made me intensely question myself why any situation has ever made me believe I was “down in the dumps” because I was literally standing in the garbage where people had absolutely nothing. I pictured the nights I had slept in my warm bed at home with multiple blankets and pillows; some nights I even used sweet aromatherapy to lull me to sleep. Disgusted with my former lack of thankfulness, I uttered a short prayer that I would discontinue taking my provisions for granted. What incredible gratitude I felt in that moment.
Our last full day in the country was comprised of a tour inside a ten-story-high waterfall. I expected the tour to be set on a bridge or even have steps and a handicapped ramp. I was severely mistaken. As soon as we left the treehouse-like establishment and took our first steps atop the five-story cliffs, I knew I was about to tread unfamiliar territory. Sooner than I expected, our firm steps turned into a lack of stable traction as we became submerged chest-deep within a cranny beside the deafening cascades. The nearer we got to the falls, the more I could not see or even breathe because of the overwhelming mist inhibiting my sense of direction. I could only see the color white and merely hear white noise.
At one critical point, I was crossing a ravine where no rocks separated me from falling down the rocky waterfall. Only the Spanish-speaking voice of the guide (which failed to reassure me) and the hands of those team members I stood behind and in front of kept me from riding with the current to my doom. I clutched each person’s hand harder than a child clasps his mother when getting an immunization. I wanted to immediately get off the “ride” which cost five hundred lempira (about twenty-five dollars), but nobody could hear me because of the water’s roar. In that moment of uncertainty, I trusted the person in front of me would lead me through to safety; with everything I hoped my hands would not slip as I reached for the next rock.
With a final push of adrenaline, I stumbled onto a rock which led to a small passage behind the waterfall. Gluing my fingernails into the mossy wall, I could not enjoy the “grandeur” of standing inside the waterfall; I could only worry about having to travel back the way we came. Surely enough, with a raised pulse, I tripped along back to safety into the treehouse. I was thankful when one of my friends reminded me to stop and look back at the waterfall we had just been a part of. Even though my nerves were still raw and my hands were shaking, I turned back and audibly sighed in astonishment; not only had we survived, but I had learned a lesson about trust. No reenactment could ever teach me that lesson as that waterfall did in Honduras.
The trip ended with immense fulfillment with what new experiences had taken place. As we flew back to O’Hare airport with the twinkling lights greeting me home, I smiled knowing I had come back a person touched by children’s smiles, grateful for my provisions, and challenged by having to trust others when I could not rely on myself. While in my airplane seat before landing, I resolved to not allow my old, unappreciative self creep back. I determined in my heart to carry on the lessons I had learned on the trip to my present life in America—to savor simplicity and take delight in everyday blessings. Honduras has truly changed my perspective, and I am so thankful.