It is easy to complain about one's job. "The pay sucks." "I don't feel appreciated." "The hours are too long." "We need a union!" are all common complaints. And I've been more than guilty of making many of these same statements throughout my career. However, occasionally, it is healthy to reflect on the positive aspects of one's place of employment. I am blessed to have a job. I'm also blessed to work for an organization that has afforded me some awesome experiences. This month, I had yet another awesome opportunity. I spend 10 days with 21 students, 5 medical professionals, and a good friend/colleague in La Paz, Honduras.
This was only my second trip to Honduras. Although, the school at which I work sends a team every summer. The purpose of the trip is to share the love of Christ through medical services. Each Spring our school has an annual medical drive where we collect several thousand bottles of vitamins, cough medicine, eye drops, allergy medicines, and various other essential items. We also raise money to purchase large amounts of antibiotics and receive generous donations of hundreds of toothbrushes, toothpastes, and reading glasses. All of these items are packed into luggage and taken with our team to Honduras.
Upon arrival in the capital, Tegucigalpa, we boarded a bus and headed to the city of La Paz, in the district of La Paz. Once there we unloaded at our very comfortable and spacious mission house/compound. In my opinion, everyone, at some point in their life, should spend ten days living with 27 other people in one house. Especially when 21 of those people are teenagers (18 of which were girls), there is no A/C, limited water for showers, and a strict no flushing policy for toilet paper! But there's good food and quality coffee, so it's actually quite nice. One of the cool things we do in Honduras is confiscate our students cell phones. Surprisingly, the kids don't complain. Free of the distraction of social media for 10 days, students spend their time playing games, singing songs, journaling, and making new friends. You know, the kind of things kids like to do when not staring at a screen. Most would be surprised at how little the students actually miss their phones throughout the 10 days. Many remark that they appreciated the chance to unplug.
On Monday, we began our 5 days of clinics. In total we visited 4 different towns. A local church had distributed tickets to the clinic a few weeks in advance of our arrival allowing for roughly 250 patients to be seen each day. Students, with help from local bilingual students, recorded patient symptoms, measured blood pressure, and took temperatures. Then patients would visit one of four doctors. Students sat with the doctors, took notes, occasionally helped with medical procedures, and received a hands on learning experience. If necessary, patients would go to the dentist who spent a lot of time pulling troublesome teeth. At this station, students would assist by holding flashlights and occasionally help with the extraction. Patients then headed to the pharmacy, which is where I spend all of my time. In the pharmacy we did our best to fulfill the doctors' requests. I mixed dozens of bottles of antibiotics and counted dozens of bags of pills. Students worked filling orders, dividing cough syrup, grabbing pre-counted bags of Tylenol, Advil, and vitamins, and making sure children took their worm medicine. After pharmacy, patients went to the foot washing station where students cleaned their feet before praying with them. It is a rather heartwarming site to see admittedly privileged American students, humble themselves and willingly wash the feet of people they've never met. Many of our kids already have, or are quickly developing, the kind of servant's heart that will make a positive impact in their communities for years to come. Finally, patients were all then given toothbrushes and toothpaste and sent on their way.
All in all, roughly 1000 men, women, and children received much needed medical attention. It isn't that medicines and doctors don't exist in Honduras, it is simply that your average person can not afford these basic services. Most all medical procedures require cash payment in advance before any work can be completed. This includes surgery. Many Hondurans don't receive much needed surgery because they can't afford the cost, which includes renting the necessary surgical equipment. For many, the visit with our doctors is the only opportunity they have all year to receive help. The Hondurans will wait for hours in heat waiting to be seen without so much as a complaint. I don't remember the last time I went to a doctor and didn't find myself getting aggravated because it took so long. An emphasis on time is a very American quality.
The doctors that take the trip are amazing. All of them are taking time off of work, sacrificing personal time, money, and comfort to meet the needs of others, share their gifts, and impact students. We are very blessed to able to work with such wonderful people.
Medical care occupied the majority of our time, but it certainly wasn't the only thing we did in La Paz. The first Saturday in Honduras, we helped the church host a party for local children. Our students did a great job of playing games with kids and allowing them to have a great time. The next weekend we visited a local orphanage where our students served a meal to roughly 20 kids before spending a few hours having fun. Early one morning we went to one of the poorest areas of town where we, along with the local church, delivered meals to those in need. Walking through a village consisting of homes built out of tarps, cinder blocks, and sheet metal, helps one to be thankful for the blessing in his own life. Of course, we attended church. Like most things in Honduras, church takes as much time as is needed. They are not bound by the clock. Sunday services start at 4:00 PM and last roughly 3 hours. How many times have I become annoyed because the pastor spoke a little too long and I didn't beat the lunch crowd? The services are long, but they are so filled with so much energy and worship that it is easy to forget the heat and enjoy the moment. Four of our students were able to share their stories with the congregation. They did a wonderful job.
Finally, I have to take a moment to thank my wife, Erin. I'm a high school history teacher, yet I probably spend more time away from home than most teachers. By comparison to those whose career has them on the road each week it may not seem like much, but I spend about a month traveling for work each year. Between an annual senior trip to California, mission trips to Poland and Honduras, and other responsibilities, my job gives me the chance to do some really cool stuff. However, none of this would be possible without the support of my wife. Erin willingly encourages me to travel and takes on full responsibility around the house in my absence. With a 2 year old in the picture, this is not an easy task. I'm very blessed to have such a wonderful partner who gives me the support I need to experience wonderful things like my recent trip to Honduras.
Upon reflection, I am very happy that I went to Honduras this summer. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the trip. We're in the middle of selling our house. I feel guilty leaving my wife with our son. Its hot. I had lots of reasons to stay home. However, as is always the case, I received far more from the trip than I could ever hope to contribute. It is true that Christians take mission trips to serve others, however in truth mission trips allow us to grow in our own faith in ways that aren't always possible at home. Our kids did an amazing job and I'm so proud of them. Those who complain about the selfishness of the younger generation don't know the amazing kids I work with on a daily basis. It was an honor to serve with such fine people and I look forward to going back.
Derek Trent Ashcraft
A place to discuss, among other things, politics, culture, food, faith, and nonsense.