If you open your heart to the hungry, and provide abundantly for those who are afflicted, your light will shine in the darkness, and your gloom will be like the noon. – Isaiah 58:10 (CEB)
Even though this is a faith-based study trip, we won’t actually go to church to worship while we travel. With our whirlwind schedule, is hard to remember what country we are in and what day it is. We usually load the bus at 8:00 am and don’t finish with dinner until 7:00 pm (if we everything ran to schedule, which it often has not).
Therefore, it is easy to forget that yesterday was Ash Wednesday and the first day of Lent.
I’ve said before that Ash Wednesday is my favorite worship service. I believe we don’t contemplate our mortality enough. The combination of our mortality and the sign of ashes coupled with celebrated the Lord’s Supper, proclaim our mortality and Christ’s eternity — even if we don’t sing the alleluia of our immortality in Christ until Easter.
We have rarely eaten a meal out in a restaurant. Host churches and organizations have provided many of our lunches and dinners. But last night, we were scheduled to go out for dinner in Tegucigalpa. The restaurant, El Patio, was a loud place with over-the-top Honduran decoration. It was actually something I would expect to see in the U.S. (we so easily and incorrectly appropriate other cultures).
There was not one but two mariachi bands (I’m not sure if that’s what they are called in Honduras). Our dinner was an appetizer of chips, beans, and cheese and huge platter of meat with tortillas. Someone commented that it felt more like Mardi Gras than Ash Wednesday.
As the huge plate of meat was being delivered to our table, I tried to move the beans and cheese containers out of the way. These were large clay goblet-type holders, about 8 inches tall, that were hot holding clay bowls of the food. Even though I moved it ever so carefully, I knocked over the beans.
We discovered why the beans remained hot. Inside the clay goblet were hot embers. These, of course, spilled all over the table. I carefully picked up the big pieces with a napkin and put them back in the goblet; however, the table still had small pieces and dust on it. As I tried to push this into the pile, I remembered that it was Ash Wednesday. I asked my table mates if they would like ashes. I then went around to our group offering ashes. From dust we have come and to dust we shall return.
We have been contemplating mortality throughout our Central American journey. Every day, we hear the statistics of those that are murdered or disappeared. We hear of violence and extortion and poverty so extreme that there is barely hope of being able to feed your children.
In the U.S., most of us don’t contemplate our mortality every day. For those that qualify, there is a public safety net plus many organizations that will at least provide food and clothing. Death isn’t something to be contemplated but something to deny and avoid.
These last two weeks, I have been meeting people who contemplate their mortality every day, whose only hope is the Easter alleluia because they have little hope of life in this world.
Yesterday I heard the story of husband who left his family behind after their coffee crops failed for several years, only planning to stay in the U.S. for a few years to save some money and then return home. He suffered greatly on the trip seeing so much evil and death. His wife suffered as she waited for news losing 40 of her 130 pounds in the three months he was away. She and her children also suffered from depression and the children’s grades began to fail.
He was lucky because his uncle in Mexico had been his “coyote.” But left him along the way when he was detained and needed to pay $250 to get out of a bodega. There are many places along the way that offer to provide shelter and food but then don’t allow you to leave until you pay a high fee.
Desperate people are easy to extort.
If you can’t pay, you will be kidnapped and ransomed. A missionary sent him the money, and he travelled until he was three days from the border. He didn’t have the money to hire someone to get across the border. Remaining in Mexico at the border for months for a chance at asylum wasn’t viable. He returned to Honduras.
He has since had some help from fellow congregation members — who are as poor as him — to try and pay back some of his crop debt so that he can plant again. He is able to sell his beans for just over $1 per pound, netting about $.90 after taxes and other fees. He barely covers the costs of the crop at this amount. He counts himself lucky because he has a family, home, and small little farm; lucky to be alive at all after his trip on the migrant route. He has little hope of improving his economic situation.
I also heard the story of Presbyterian pastor who does not get paid by his congregation because they are so poor. Sometimes they give him some beans and rice. He does not own the home he, his wife, and two children live in. He admits he could have tried harder to get work when he was young, but at 50 you cannot be employed in Honduras.
He raises chickens to try and support himself. He makes $40 for 100 chickens. It takes 45 days to raise them to be sold. He has gone into debt to provide for his family. He decided his only option was to migrate, again only for six months or so to make enough money to pay off his debts. The day before he planned to leave, someone was able to provide some funds to reduce harassment from the lenders. He has received some help since but still remains in debt. His family has been threatened. He passionately asked our group to find a way to sponsor him on a work visa so he could just work for six months.
Despite their hopeless situation, they cling to God understanding God’s constant presence and care for them. The wife said to us, “God is good. God’s mercy is great. God has been with us.” Their names are Eser, Noblia, and Enrique if you would like to pray for them by name.
As we move into Lent, giving up coffee, chocolate, wine, or social media, let us remember those who have nothing to give up because they already have so little. As we wash the ashes off our foreheads, let us remember those for whom ash is a way of life. And let us not just remember, but to actively work to bring them the alleluia not only on Easter but in the daily circumstances of life.God is good. God’s mercy is great. God has been with us. #pcusapeacemaking #Honduras #hope Click To Tweet