Honduras trip exceeds expectations, is eye-opener for team members

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Honduras trip exceeds expectations, is eye-opener for team members

Nov. 16, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
tparham@flumc.org    Orlando {0576}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

Jim Cosper, a team member from John Wesley United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, is surrounded by children and youth from the Quisgualagua mission. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, Photo #06-467.
LAKELAND — A recent journey from the Florida Conference to Danlí, Honduras, was more than a mission trip. It was an opportunity to show and experience love in a whole new way.

The 10-person team, representing churches from Tallahassee to Pembroke Pines, worked Sept. 4-12 with a tri-fold purpose. The group participated in a United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) project, coordinated a Celebrate Jesus Mission week and intentionally focused on discovering the type of transformation that can take place when a group of people are immersed in a different culture and how that experience can transform their home churches.

The Rev. Doralbis Hidalgo and her husband, David Sardiñas, missionaries from the Cuba Conference of The Methodist Church and supported by the denomination’s General Board of Global Ministries, served as hosts to the team. Both are supported by churches in the Florida Conference.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, director of the Florida Conference’s Global Missions and Justice Ministries office and co-leader of the team, said the trip was a success because it had been immersed in prayer from the beginning and all of the goals the team had set were met beyond expectation.

“It was successful because the direction of the mission was of God and led by the Holy Spirit,” he said. “There was careful preparation from the time it was proposed 10 months ago.”

That preparation included meeting in August to review the purposes of the trip and spiritual and physical preparation necessary for its success, Rankin said. He said the host church, Danlí Central United Methodist, did its part by making plans for the team to work at the year-old mission in Quisgualagua, nine miles outside Danlí in Eastern Honduras, near the Nicaraguan border.

“The Quisgualagua mission, where the team helped construct a pavilion and conduct a Celebrate Jesus Mission, prayed for a year preparing to host the team and lead them in the ministry that was to be done during the nine days we were there,” Rankin said. “God had command of these marvelous people and resources to prepare the team and place them in an ideal situation where the mission would be a success.”

Each morning team members worked on the UMVIM project. They spent their afternoons going door-to-door with church members visiting 60 homes as part of the Celebrate Jesus Mission.

Kathy Furlong, executive director of Celebrate Jesus, said the trip exceeded her expectations. It was her first international mission experience.

“It was wonderful, just fabulous,” she said. “The combination of construction and evangelistic outreach was the best. A number of people came to faith in Jesus Christ. I would say it was a successful trip.”

It was that one-on-one experience visiting and working with residents that left a lasting impression on Rankin.

“I was pleasantly surprised at the high receptivity of the people of Quisgualagua as teams visited their homes and porches,” he said. “All homes opened their doors … for meaningful visits, leading to prayer. Signs and wonders were evident as a result of those prayers, as God moved among the people in miraculous ways. Watchers on the streets soon joined into the construction when invited.”

Furlong said language wasn’t a barrier because God’s love transcended culture and race.

“The Holy Spirit was definitely there,” she said. “God was in the middle of everything we did.”

The Rev. Samual Gonzalez (left), pastor of Nueva Vida (New Life) United Methodist Hispanic Mission in Pembroke Pines, leads a young adult to Christ at the closing rally at the Quisgualagua mission. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin, Photo #06-468.

Icel Rodriguez, assistant director of the conference’s Global Missions and Justice Ministries office and co-leader of the team, agreed with Furlong. She said the grace of the Lord could be felt throughout the trip, especially during the worship service at the end of the week.

“The presence of the Spirit transforming people’s lives during the evangelistic service was a powerful manifestation of the Lord, new to some of the team,” she said. “It is not like we see these things back in our churches all the time.”

Rankin came away from the trip with more than gratitude for being allowed to participate. He says he came away with knowledge.

“I learned much from the children of Quisgualagua, as they offered their innocent and powerful faith and love in Christ at the closing preaching at the end of the week rally,” he said. “They responded to Rev. Gonzalez as if Christ was indeed present blessing them, and in fact Christ was among the children. Their prayers were so mature and profound beyond their years.”

Furlong said the hospitality of the people is something that will always stay with her. Even though they didn’t have much, they freely and openly shared with team members during home visits. “It was very humbling to me,” Furlong said of the experience.

Rodriguez said just hearing the residents express their belief and joy in Christ was an experience in and of itself for team members.

“By experiencing the testimony of Christian joy and spiritual fulfillment of the locals, who are not rich in possessions but rich in spirituality, some of our team members started evaluating their own lives in relationship to the material possessions and the complacency of the world,” she said.

Each day team members had the opportunity to reflect on their individual experiences. Rankin said spiritual growth and transformation often naturally occur on mission trips, but team members also experience cultural differences they may not understand, such as being approached by a child begging for money, witnessing the impoverished conditions in which local people live or spiritual differences, such as new forms of worship and “a total dependence on God” frequently seen in other countries.

“Team members will explore how they are affected by those kinds of encounters and can use what they experienced to make their churches healthier,” he said. “It not unusual for people to go back home and become more aware of things they never noticed before their trip, like the number of homeless people in their community, or begin ministries they would not have previously considered starting.”

Rankin says that change in worldview has “everything to do with transforming congregations.” He said an added goal of the trip was for team members to take what they learned in Honduras and apply it in their congregations and spiritual lives.

“It is hoped that each team member returned with a new set of eyes so that they may see in new ways in the midst of their familiar situations a new vision for transformation, a new faith and power that they experienced in Honduras,” he said.

Rodriguez said she’s not sure how team members have been changed by the trip, but she is hopeful transformation will come.

“I cannot speak for the rest on how the experience will transform their churches now that they are back,” she said. “As for me, I am completely persuaded that being in mission is a wonderful venue for local church transformation.

“In my view, giving yourself in service to others and placing yourself in a ‘use me, Lord’ mode is the perfect formula for personal transformation, which is the start point for a church transformation.”

Rankin said he’s optimistic the conference will be able to participate in similar missions in other areas around the globe, considering The United Methodist Church has a presence and is ministering in more than 75 countries.

“Through training and preparation, team leaders can be made ready to lead more teams,” he said. “UMVIM in Florida provides excellent training for team leaders who can take the initiative to raise more teams that can go to most parts of the world in the name of Christ.”

Rodriguez said adding an evangelistic component is a strong element that should not be overlooked on future mission trips.

“It makes the mission trip more complete,” she said. “It makes it more complete to be involved in the life and the mission of a church. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.”


This article relates to Missions.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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