Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Nothing Impossible

Yesterday I visited Holy Trinity Episcopal School in La Ceiba, Honduras, where I was greeted warmly by the Rev. Nely Varela Zuniga, who is director of the school and of the adjoining church, and the school's co-director, Ms. Veronica Flowers.
For the next hour or so, I toured the classrooms, which are arranged in three levels around a central coutyard, introducing myself and engaging them in a little bilingual conversation.  The classrooms were less than completely full.  La Ceiba has been hit particularly hard by Honduras' recent woes, due to the near-collapse of the tourism industry, and ongoing withdrawal of operations by the Standard Fruit Company (Dole), historically the dominant player in the local economy, from the country.  The result: many of Holy Trinity's anticipated students  have yet to matriculate, because their parents have not yet been able to scrape up the tuition.
Nevertheless, I met many bright children and friendly teachers who welcomed into their classes.
Rev. Zuniga told me that the school retains its reputation for academic excellence, and I could see for myself what she described as its advantage in the use of computers and realated technology, but she also described the challenge the school faces in a crowded and competitive field of bilingual schools in the area.
Because of its location near the heart of town, Holy Spirit cannot easily expand its facility.  Land is cheaper on the outskirts, and another large school recently abandoned its downtown location to construct a new physical plant, complete with olympic swimming pool and soccer field, outside of La Ceiba.  The church, which was built to replace the large wooden building, one of the first Episcopal churches in the country which was demolished over forty years ago to permit construction of the school, is likewise too small to accommodate the whole student body, and so when the entire schhol gathers for special religious celebrations, they must improvise an altar in the school auditorium.

After touring the church and school we visited a low-cost medical and dental clinic that the Episcopal Church has operated for many years at the entrance to the poor neighborhoods that lie at the base of the mountains that rise out of the littoral.  The duty doctor was absent that day, but nurse Wendy, who has also begun studies on the weekends at the seminary in San Pedro, was there.  The building was of a good size, but was poorly-maintained and badly-equipped and -supplied.  Rev. Nely explained to me a little about the up-and-down history of the
project: how it was established by a doctor and nurse who were missionaries from the United States, and who kept it funded and supplied for a number of years from their own network of donors.  The project's fortunes declined when the missionaries left, only to rise again to a new height around 2008 or 2009, when the government of Honduras partnered with the church to create a model health center, complete with psychologists and social workers.  After the coup-d'etat of 2009, the new government did not wish to continue the partnership unless the church would give it title to the property.  The church refused, and the government withdrew its personnel and resources.

 It just so happened that our arrival coincided with the visit of a former physician of the clinic.  This man has spent the last number of years rebuilding a defunct meat-packing plant in La Ceiba into a thriving business.  But throughout this time he has not forgotten about his dream of providing medical care to the poor.  He has purchased all the equipment needed to create a a modern surgical theater and he was at the clinic that morning to meet with a contractor to see what would be required to renovate to remodel and renovate the building.  I have met people like this everywhere I have gone on this journey with the Episcopal Church in Honduras: people who retain, in spite of the seemingly endless catalogue of unmet human needs around them, a lively desire to address those needs.  In spite of all the obstacles and difficulties they face, they see the possibilities just as clearly; they remain firm in the conviction that God has called them to be of service to others, and that if they continue striving to be faithful to that call, nothing will be impossible.

1 comment:

  1. Hola, Daniel. Thought I'd check in and see what you're up to in Honduras. Your narrative and photos remind me of my experiences in both Panama and Thailand. In both countries I worked at struggling schools such as the one you describe and saw those ubiquitous squat concrete houses of the aspiring poor, often abandoned. You'll have many stories to share with us at St. John's, I have no doubt. May you be safe during your sojourn, physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, but not too safe. I'll think of your host family when I receive my next Social Security deposit, recalling the uncomfortable truth that as a member of the bourgeoisie, I am eating from the bowl of the poor.


About Me

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Petaluma, California, United States
I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, and have been (among other things) an organic farmer and gardener, and a Zen monk. I have a lifelong interest in social and spiritual renewal on the basis of contemplative discipline, creative nonviolence, and ecological practice. In recent years my work has focused intensely on the responsibility of pastoral ministry in the humanistic, evangelical, and catholic branch of Christianity known as Anglicanism. I'm married with a daughter, and have three brothers and two parents.