Why I Keep Doing This
My wife, Leslie, and I have served the poor in Honduras every year since 2000. I made Imago Dei aware of the need 10-11 years ago, and teams have been serving in the same settlement outside La Esperanza every year since. We have built around 12 houses and have made lasting relationships with many who live in this barrio.
Here’s why I—we—keep doing this.
** Physically, I can still handle the labor. I turn 70 in a few months; there will come a time when due to health issues or aging that I won’t be able to. Until then...I refuse to play shuffleboard.
** The investment is priceless. One week of my/our time, money and labor, and we construct a house from start to finish. One week invested produces an outcome that will last a family for generations.
** In what I’m about to say, I am in no way suggesting that we citizens of the U.S. do not have legitimate needs. I believe the Church should focus more on meeting fundamental survival needs, e.g. shelter and food. Those we serve in Honduras literally live on the dirt in deplorable shacks. No plumbing. Stench and filth. Hardly a chance to break out of the poverty. That’s where I want to serve. Many years ago, I came across this quote by C.T. Studd, a British missionary from the late 1800s: “Some wish to live within the sound of church or chapel bell: I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.” THAT inspires me.
** Serving there every year serves to keep my heart tender. The tremendous needs, the resilient spirit of the poor, their simple trust in Jesus, the deep friendships and the beautiful children all serve to jackhammer my hardened heart.
** By consistently returning year after year, it provides assurance to our brothers and sisters there that the U.S. church stands in solidarity with them and has not forgotten them. A single trip there by an Imago team would not have accomplished that; I believe it is our long-haul commitment that gives them that kind of assurance.
** “Prayers and thoughts” don’t cut it. It is in our DOING something that alleviates their suffering, and it’s how they experience God’s love for them. Our teams are still compelled to incarnate God’s love via our actions.
** The future of the children. There are very rare exceptions, but I feel it is safe to say that if a child does not obtain an education, it is nearly hopeless that they will one day break out of the cycle of poverty that oppresses their families. When the parents have no prior schooling themselves and know only basic manual labor, they have no discretionary income; it all goes to meeting essential survival needs. There’s no “financial planning” because there is no money left over which can be saved or designated toward their children’s education. We get to know these children and their families, and through a scholarship program that the mission (Mercy International) offers, people can sponsor a child in obtaining at least a high school education. It costs $500 a year to do so. A number of us at Imago sponsor some of these children. To see a kid who dropped out of school at 12 years old then be able to return to school because someone chose to sponsor him is an honor and a privilege. Their trajectory has now been turned from a downward spiral to one of new hope and dreams about their future.
** I hadn’t thought of this until just now. Going there year after year as a team of Christ followers makes a statement. It rejects a current disdain for and loathing of people who live in “sh*thole” countries. There are no sh*thole countries; there is sh*thole prejudice. I hope that our presence there and our returning every year serve as a sign that we, the church, do not hold the perspective of “us vs. them,” but instead that we are for them—a sign that we are with them. I hope our presence there makes a statement that we love them as our brothers and sisters, not as our “project.” I hope that we continue to mirror, granted imperfectly, Christ’s love for them as they bear the image of God so beautifully and humbly.
Steve Harris is a retired therapist, having served the area for many years. He loves scavenging around resale shops, and though someone very close to him regards him as a hoarder, he likes to think of himself as “an avid collector.” He is known to post an occasional pun. He loves his four adult children and eight grandchildren. He loves being part of the Breakfast Club, helping every week to serve breakfast to all who need a meal and a safe, caring place to do so. He can’t sing or play an instrument, but he loves music, as it sometimes soothes and other times animates his soul. He is a man of many contradictions and inconsistencies; he is a man who, after decades, still wrestles with depression and anxiety, impatience, anger, a tendency to be judgmental—while simultaneously clinging to the hope that day by day he will more closely be changed into the likeness of Christ. He is a husband who is beyond grateful for his wife, Leslie, who for 43 years now has continued to deeply love him, because of and in spite of. I’m so glad we are doing this journey together.