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Monday, August 15, 2011

Honduras on my Mind

By: Randy Umberger, Senior Pastor, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church, Apex, North Carolina

Right now, I am writing this about 37,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, as we make our way back home from a week in Honduras. I have a lot of mixed feelings about our time there. So much has changed since we left back in 2008. We went down to celebrate the dedication of a new meeting place for a precious group of believers at Rebano de Jesus. We have been working with and helping these brothers and sisters for five years now. It was a joy filled celebration that we were able to participate in.

I can remember when they were meeting in a very poverty stricken area, in a tin shed with about sixty members of their body. I fondly remember teaching under that tin roof and sweating like a pig when the heat and odor were nearly unbearable. That was five years ago. Now, they have built with their own hands and literally by the provision of God, a simple facility that will seat between 800 and 1000 people! The cost to date has been about $186,000.00 and they have raised every bit of it without borrowing one dime! And to get the full miracle of this, you have to understand that they have done this in a country that has experienced some of the most severe economic problems on the planet in the last three years, as well as the fact that most of them do not make more than about $3000.00 to $4000.00 a year income! They have truly seen the hand and provision of God through the whole process.

At the celebration service (which lasted nearly three hours), they had over 600 in attendance! They did not have enough chairs so many were standing outside the building listening. I had the honor of bringing the main message, and it was humbling to see how this wonderful group has grown, not through swapping members with other churches, but by winning souls to Christ. They see their building not as a “church”, but as a means to keep them out of the elements when they gather corporately each Sunday. Their main avenue of outreach and growth is through their home fellowships that meet all over the city. That is where they train leaders and really share life together. They don’t meet for just a Bible study, but to BE the Body of Christ to each other. Pastor Giobani does not, and has never taken a “salary”. He makes his living as a tailor. He does not want the temptation of being “corrupted” by money. He has seen many of his fellow shepherds fall into that trap. The fellowship is not built around him or his preaching but many share and teach and carry out their function in the Body.

So, our hearts were richly blessed being able to be a part of this wonderful time in the life of that fellowship, but we were also saddened by how we found Honduras. Since the political shakeup several years ago, their economy has been in shambles. Unemployment is off the charts, and the recovery many had hoped for has not yet come. Tourism is WAY down, and due to the lack of legitimate means to make money, many have turned to criminal means to do so. Gangs (especially M13 and M18), have grown and become highly organized like never before. They have basically taken over many of the areas in most of the major cities. They demand a “tax” from local vendors and small busnisses that is to be paid weekly. You pay, or you die. No questions asked.

They are even going to some churches demanding this tax. In order to get into the gang, you have to kill somebody. If you want to climb the ladder within the gangs, you have to keep killing. The more people you kill, the higher you go. Friends of ours are having to pay this tax and they do so out of fear for their own lives and the lives of their families.

The streets are no longer safe to walk down in many areas, even during the day. We were told that the route Denise and I used to take every day to the coffee shop, is not safe. They told us that we would never make it there now...safely. People are robbed and shot every day, just for a cell phone or even a pair of shoes.

Of course the drug trade is rampant and growing. The areas where we used to work in the jungle have become main routes for drug trafficking and also sex trafficking. Little children are being taken out of many of these villages and sold into sexual slavery. Parents place their children in the hands of someone who promises them that they will give their kids a better life, and even pay them (the parents), to do so. So, with simple trust, the send their kids away, with good intentions, not knowing the hell that awaits them.

Tragically, the police do not do much at all about the gangs or the drugs. Many of them have been paid off by gang leaders and drug kingpins to look the other way, and they do. The government seems oblivious to the needs of the poor who are the main ones suffering the brunt of all of this. Corruption is everywhere from the highest levels on down.

Places that used to be full of tourists and people milling about were empty. We saw very few “gringos” on this trip, even on the planes going and coming. So, to say our hearts are heavy about this is a real understatement. Yet, we know that the Kingdom continues to flourish and grow even in the midst of great hardship and suffering. Rebano de Jesus is evidence of that. God is in control and He continues to build His temple of living stones. The light does shine brightest in the darkest places.

What we have seen in Honduras is small to what I believe is coming to our own country. When (not if), the economy in our land goes into crash mode, we will see the same sort of criminal and evil activity multiplied. The difference is that folks in Honduras know what hard living is all about. They have experienced this much of their lives. We here in the U.S. have no real idea. The reaction to economic upheaval here will be exponentially worse.

No matter what, Jesus is Lord. Love God and love each other. In the end, that’s what really matters!

Pray for Honduras.

By grace alone,