If I had a dollar for every time I get asked, “So how did you get started with Honduras?”, I think I could fund my life here forever. It’s a common question. I can’t blame people for wondering what type of nonsense led up to me moving 2000 miles away from Valentino’s pizza and Target.
It’s fun that every time I’m asked that question, I inevitably get to brag a little bit about my home church: Southwood (hence Madera del Sur, my response when people ask what Southwood is in Spanish). Southwood is a big lutheran church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Technically, I didn’t grow up in Southwood. My parents belong to a different church and I went through baptism, confirmation, the whole 9 yards at their church. However, I think in a lot of ways I did most of my “growing up” at Southwood. At the ripe age of 12, my parents somehow said yes to allowing me to go on a week-long trip to LaCeibita, the beautiful community with whom Southwood has fostered a “sister church” relationship over the last 11 years. I played soccer with many kids, some of whom were my age, was overwhelmed by a culture so completely different than my own, became a vegetarian, and wrote in my journal about just how scary it was to sleep with a gecko above my bed. Seriously, I still have said journal.
When I was 16 and could drive, I would typically head over to Southwood on Sunday mornings. I loved visiting all the people I’d come to know on what became annual trips to Honduras over the church’s infamous (in my mind) donut holes. It was a place I felt so deeply connected to, though I was just a teenager, and I don’t think I really knew why.
Flash forward 8 years, I’ve figured out why. The heart of Southwood so accurately reflects the value that I strive to hold nearest to my heart. Service. It’s a church that strives to follow the example that Jesus gave. Jesus lived a life of humility. He hung around the people that no one else wanted to be around. He washed feet. He carried burdens of others when they just couldn’t bare. A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon that was essentially based around this statement, which is now written on the wall in my shower.
“The purpose of your life does not have to do with you.”
I could probably write a whole blog just about that statement and the way it has had my brain moving and grooving the last few weeks. The most important part, though, is that the heart of what we have the opportunity to do in our lives is based on the service we can give to others. The gifts we are capable of giving, whether it be in the form of time, goods, skills, or knowledge.
Take all of that heart and match it with the single most important things that a big missions church could represent: sustainability and dignity.
It’s easy for churches in these kind of partnerships to simply see a need and meet it. Oh, you need a school bus to get the kids to go to high school? Let’s buy a big yellow one. Your home is falling apart? Let us gift you a new one. It’s done in developing nations all over the world by groups that often unknowingly have a touch of “white savior complex.” It comes from wanting to be a fixer. Seeing a problem and wanting to solve it. There is no malice involved, but ya know what else isn’t involved? Sustainability and dignity.
Southwood missions thrives on those two things. If it isn’t sustainable, it won’t work. If we are coming in and taking over instead of meeting others where they are, there is no dignity. I’ve seen it first hand, both in Tanzania and in Honduras. At the end of the day, our relationships with these churches is all about that-relationships. The love and service to one another runs deep. It is below surface level. It’s investment in the name of love, the name of Jesus. I just can’t think of many things I am prouder to be a part of.
Thankfully, Southwood looked at me last year and decided I had a really good potential to be sustainable. They’ve invested in me in so many ways throughout this first year in Honduras, and I couldn’t feel more humbled to be backed by a congregation that I love so strongly. In the three weeks I’ve spent with the teams, I’ve been blown away by their understanding and desire to serve well. Blown away by their deep love and passion to know the people. And personally, I’ve been blown away by the way they have loved and supported me. It isn’t something they had to do, yet it is something that has made all the difference.