Day 3 – 8/20/08

I keep a Microsoft Word document called “today” that I write my blog in each day when I am on these trips. As I begin writing for a new day, yesterday’s words (which have already been uploaded) are all highlighted and deleted. Each day’s blog starts with this incredible white space. It is a dramatic (to me) reminder that each day the slate is wiped clean and we are faced with a bare script upon which to write. Oh Lord I wish that today’s experiences could live on. I wish that I could hold on to the gratefulness that comes as a byproduct of today’s experiences – but I know it will fade. Today, dad and I saw the real face of poverty here in Honduras, and it is nothing short of tragic. Howard, our friend, brother, and guide looked at me when I asked him my question. I think he was trying to tell if I really meant what I was asking. I reminded him that yesterday he said that the center of all of the problems here are drugs. Today I was asking him to show it to me. Show me the place where they go to get drugs (it is less than six blocks from where I sit right now) and to show me the reality of the drugs here in La Ceiba. I know that I have so much yet to learn about this place, but the education started today. Howard drove us north on San Isidro towards the beach. Within a few blocks, he would begin to point out “there on the right.” “Here, on the left.” Young and old, male and female – there was every age and both genders ready to sell you drugs. They take your money (one-hundred Lempiras, about five dollars) and then disappear for twenty minutes. When they come back, they will give you a tiny bag of cocaine. “Drugs don’t cost so much here as they do in Estados Unidos.” Howard explained. We came to the beach, among a small village of shacks. “Everyone who lives here is on drugs.” Eyes started to appear in every window. Our presence here blasted at this little community like a loudspeaker – everyone came out to see what we were up to. Finally one man with no shirt on and arms held open wide in the universal symbol for “what do you want” yelling loudly began to walk towards the truck. Howard explained that he was simply trying to make a sale. He went on to say that we were in no danger, they just wanted to sell us drugs.

I began to see that Howard was doing much more than answer my request to show me the areas that were most affected by drugs. I began to see his deep, deep heart for these people. These were his people in his town. I asked him if we would be in danger if we started witnessing to the drug dealers. No, he said – they love to have people comes witness to them. What if we actually found one person who recognized the depth of the problem that they were in? Would there be any place to take them where they could dry up, clean out, and get some help. And that is when I saw it. “No”, he said “there is no where”. “This is my dream,” he said. “To build a place for them to go to so they can get help”. Wow, I had stumbled upon Howard’s dream. His heart is so big that he wants to serve the most unlovable, most un-servable, most hopeless of his Honduran brothers – those that are hopelessly lost on drugs. As if to make his point, he then diverted course to take us to see Delores. Delores is the mother of StevenOrtega. StevenOrtega was once the young man that I was asking about. He saw the saw the situation that he was in, he saw how desperate it was and he wanted out. Howard’s church worked with him. Howard poured his life into him. Took him in and spent hours each day with him. Howard tried every way possible to pull him out of the abyss and he couldn’t. StevenOrtega disappeared. We went to see Delores to hear from her about her son. We walked into the small old house, faded pictures on the wall, a fan in the corner, and a black and white television with a Spanish soap opera on in the tiny living room. Her daughter and two of her daughter’s friends were there to watch television with her. She began to speak about her son: “He was such a good boy.” “Always, he went to church.” “And then he fell in with the wrong crowd.” “Now I cannot sleep at night” (she shows us the sleeping pills that she got somewhere). “Every time I hear the shots at night I just know that they keel my StevenOrtega.”

She said “I have spent the last 16 years worrying to death about that boy, I think that I need to give up.” “You can’t give up,” I told her. We came here all the way from Colorado to tell you not to give up. As long as StevenOrtega has a breath in his body, Jesus can save him. We prayed that Jesus would spare his life. We prayed that Jesus would save him. And then I got this crazy idea – I started to pray that Jesus would appear to him in dreams and would speak to SteveOrtega in such a real way that he would know that the Lord God Almighty has called him out of darkness and that God would make him a powerful voice for the gospel. I could see him preaching in Howard’s shelter. I could see him proclaiming the truth that there is freedom only in Jesus. Will you join me in that prayer for StevenOrtega? God, please save StevenOrtega and please God, make him an instrument of your will. Make him a beautiful instrument of your saving grace. May he know the song: “I once was lost but now am saved, was blind, but now I see.” And God, please give his mother Delores faith that you can do this, hope that you will do this, and peace that you are in control.

I wish that I could tell you that the day was over, but it wasn’t. In reality the most profound, the most stark images of the day were still yet to come. On our way out of the neighborhood, Howard stopped at the hospital to check on a patient that he knew there. Now, I realize that to most people reading this, stopping at the hospital doesn’t sound like such a big deal. Right now, throw away everything that you think of when I say hospital and replace it with what you think of when I say “medieval dungeon” and you’ll begin to get a sense of what it is like to visitn the hospital here in La Ceiba. Just for clarity – this is not the hospital that I came down here to serve at. That hospital is an hour and a half away and it is truly a reflection of God’s light and God’s hope. This hospital is a reflection of the pit of despair. We went to see an aids patient. I have never seen any place so hopeless and so full of despair. This very old hospital is overflowing into the halls and into every corner. The local government is building a new hospital, but with the pace of construction down here – it will be a very long time before it is up and running. In the mean time, patients lay on cots in the hall and moan with pain. If they are luck, a wife or a lived one sits next to them with a small hand towel and constantly waves it at the flies to keep them off, or out of the wounds. Upstairs in the women’s surgia (ward) there are six women in the size of one of our private hospital rooms in the states. Our lady lies in one of the six beds. There are no sheets, only a small towel to cover over her impossible thin night gown. Howard spoke with her for a moment and then went off to check with the doctor. I spoke what little Spanish I could with her and just let her rattle off minutes worth of Spanish back to me. Although I couldn’t understand what she was telling me, I listened intently. Her husband contracted AIDS from sleeping around and then infected her. He also raped her daughter (his step-daughter). He has been sentenced to sixty years in prison (I can’t even imagine what prison must look like if this is what the hospital looks like). “It would normally take around 10 years to bribe his way out of a 60 year sentence.” Howard explained. “But with AIDS, they won’t want to let him out, and he will die before they let him out.” Tragedy upon tragedy. This, my friends, is the enemy’s ultimate goal for each of us. The next time you think that drugs or illicit sex is “fun” or “doesn’t hurt anything” you remember this image of this woman dying of AIDS in this hospital and this man dying of AIDS in jail and the poor eight year old girl whose life has been ripped in two. Sin is hideous.

I prayed for her that God would heal her. That His Holy Spirit would course through her blood and cleanse her of all of her sickness and that (like Steven Ortega) she would serve as a beacon of HIS enormous light. Her name is Alba Luz please keep her in your prayers also. Each night, we should thank God that we don’t have to be in a place like that hospital and we should pray for each and every soul that is in a place like that.

Tomorrow, we go back to the more mundane tasks that we came here for: opening up a bank account and putting a deposit down on an apartment to rent. I hope that I am changed forever by what I saw today, but down deep I know that experiences never change people forever – rather that God changes people forever. I hope He used today to do a forever work in me. May it be so Lord, Amen!