Solar Energy at the Finca: My Dream

Hello, dear friends! It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here. All is well. Our family has slowly but surely been adjusting to life back in the United States, and we are coming to terms with the fact that our (physical) mission in Honduras is over. Eric has initiated the ELCA Call Process to find an open church that feels right for us, and we are enjoying quality time with family in the meantime.

Still, I remain deeply committed to the mission of the Farm of the Child. Since returning to the States, I have continued to work on the Finca project that became my “baby” in Honduras, and now I am thrilled to invite you all to share in it: We are trying to install Solar Energy at the Finca!

Within weeks of our arrival, Eric and I recognized both a need and an opportunity for alternative energy at the Finca. I devoted a great deal of my time in Honduras to trying to make this dream a reality, and it finally feels like it is within reach. After months of research, grant-writing, and conversations among Honduran and U.S.-based stakeholders, we are ready to begin fundraising for this project!

Solar Panels on Roof

Rooftop solar panels, similar to those we hope to install

The Need

As an institution, the Finca’s largest single line-item monthly expense is the power bill. All facets of the mission require electricity: indoor and outdoor lights for safety around the residential homes, overhead lights and computers at school, medical equipment and fans in the health clinic, etc. Due to soaring energy prices, the cost of electricity has become unsustainably-burdensome to the Finca, and – in a country rife with corruption – the Honduran government is failing to protect its citizens from excessive costs.

Additionally, despite the high cost of power in Honduras, it is extremely unreliable. Several times a week, the power grid supplying the Finca with energy shuts down. These scheduled and unscheduled outages last anywhere from minutes to entire days. Unsurprisingly, losing power on such a regular basis creates frustration, inefficiencies, and physical risks for those living at the Finca.

Having access to consistent, inexpensive, clean energy would truly be a game-changer. With the money saved on electricity, the Finca could better support current programs and expand its services to meet new needs.

The Project

We plan to install an 11 kilowatt Hybrid (Grid-Tie and Battery) Solar Energy package at the Finca del Niño. According to an energy-consumption audit, this solar energy system will be sufficient to cover slightly more than 100% of the Finca’s current consumption.

Why this system?

Currently, the Honduran government pays for energy, so tying our system to the grid will reduce our energy bill to zero. However, we recognize that the government’s willingness to pay for the energy our system produces could change in the future; additionally, an exclusively grid-tie system would not provide power during frequent nighttime outages. Thus, the hybrid system! This system will utilize grid power when it is available (without incurring costs), while the battery reserve allows the Finca to operate entirely off the grid whenever needed.

If our energy needs increase in the future, this hybrid system can be supplemented by additional solar panels without having to replace any existing components. Our hope and expectation is that this hybrid system will supply the Finca with reliable energy for decades to come.

Cost

The total projected cost of this project is $41,581. This cost includes all system parts (manufactured in Europe and the U.S.), installation labor, shipping to Trujillo, and renovation of two building roofs (upon which the solar panels will be installed).

We were thrilled to learn last month that the Finca has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters for this project. Additionally, we have received pledges totaling $8,500 from private donors. This leaves us with about $18,000 to fundraise for the project.

The Ask

Our goal is to raise the full cost of the solar energy system by mid-October and to have it up and running by next summer. Once it is functional, this system will save the Finca more than $10,000 per year on energy costs, paying for itself in four years. Needless to say, we are eager to get started!

Farm of the Child is a registered 501(c)3, so donations are 100% tax-deductible. Additionally, if you work for a company with a Corporate Matching Gift Program, you can double your donation for free. Another option is to donate from your IRA’s Required Minimum Distributions. I’m happy to help anyone through the process of donating, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Honduras has been in the news a lot lately. If you’ve been looking for a way to make life more live-able for Central Americans, then please consider donating to this project… you will be supporting vulnerable children, clean energy, and new mission opportunities!

Thank you for your generosity, and God bless!

Click here to donate to the Finca Solar Energy Project

Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about Dengue Fever

Greetings from Nevada, where our family is freezing! After so many months sweating in tropical heat, weather in the 40’s and 50’s feels downright frigid. But we are glad to be at my mom’s house while we re-group and figure out our next steps. I, personally, am feeling better each day about our new reality (hot showers are helping), though I’m still sad about our mission coming to an early conclusion.

I realized from a few comments I received regarding my last blog post that I ought to clarify just why, exactly, we felt the need to leave Honduras early. It was not because Adelina was too sick to stay. She had relatively mild symptoms of both Typhoid and Dengue, and –had they been more severe—I honestly would have trusted the Honduran doctors to treat her more than I would doctors here in the States (Honduran doctors, after all, see these illnesses all the time). By the time Adelina received her Dengue diagnosis, she was already passing through the critical phase of the illness without complications.

The reason a Dengue Fever diagnosis was a “line in the sand” for Eric and me was because of the danger of Adelina getting Dengue a second time. A second Dengue infection carries a significantly higher risk of developing into Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever, a potentially fatal complication of the disease (more below).

Mosquito

Dengue is a mosquito-borne illness

I’ve done a lot of research about Dengue in the last week (researching is one of the ways I cope with stress), and I thought you all might be interested in some of the things I’ve learned about Dengue Fever.

The Disease

Dengue Fever is an illness endemic to many tropical countries, especially in Latin America and Asia. It is a virus, transmitted via mosquito bite. Symptoms typically appear 4-7 days after a bite from a mosquito that has previously bitten someone infected with the disease. A Dengue virus infection involves three phases: febrile, critical, and recovery.

During the febrile phase, temperatures spike and head/joint aches are common. Dengue has been nicknamed “breakbone fever,” which gives you a good idea of how painful it can be; in Adelina’s case, fortunately, her discomfort wasn’t extreme. Additionally, Adelina did not develop the Dengue rash that occurs in 50-80% of infections. Toward the end of the febrile period, it is common to see a sharp drop in blood platelets; before more specific diagnostic testing was available, platelet counts were the primary way of diagnosing Dengue fever.

After the febrile period, Dengue progresses into the critical phase. This is the most dangerous time for an infected person. In the 3-4 days after fever subsides, there is a risk that the disease will progress into Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever (DHF). DHF is a potentially fatal complication involving internal bleeding (usually in the gastrointestinal track), bleeding under the skin, and excessive vomiting. Patients can develop a specific form of shock, called Dengue Shock Syndrome. DHF is considered a life-threatening condition, and it is especially dangerous in children.

Most people with Dengue, including Adelina, do not develop Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. They progress right through the critical phase without complications and enter into the recovery phase. During recovery, platelet counts normalize and other symptoms improve. It is typical for people with Dengue to experience fatigue for several weeks after infection; we have definitely seen this in Adelina.

Heightened risk of second infection

We ended our mission at the Finca early due to the heightened risk of a second Dengue infection for Adelina. There are four strands of Dengue fever, any of which can –but usually don’t—progress to Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.

Once infected with a strand, people are typically immune to that specific strand for the rest of their lives. However, if they are infected with any of the other three strands, the body’s immune response is confused and they have a much higher risk of developing Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever than they did with the first infection. The body’s immune system recognizes the Dengue, but for some reason the antibodies it produces actually bind to and spread the virus, rather than attacking it. An article I read compared it to a Trojan Horse effect: the antibodies actually help the virus enter the body’s cells, so a person is much more susceptible to a critical infection. One study put the risk of developing DHF in a secondary infection as eight times greater than in a primary infection.

That’s why we left Honduras. We just couldn’t take the risk of Adelina getting infected again and developing Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever.

Dengue Vaccine

A few years ago, a Dengue vaccine was developed and rolled out in a few countries in Latin America and Asia. However, researchers found that vaccinating children who had never previously had Dengue made them more susceptible to developing DHF. Basically, the vaccine was acting like a primary infection and increasing the risk of DHF in a “secondary” infection.

The good news is, if somebody has already had a Dengue infection, the vaccine does appear to work to immunize against the other three strands. In other words, since Adelina has already had Dengue once, we can get her the Dengue vaccination and she should be protected from the other three strands . . . and that elevated risk of DHF.

For me, this is a great relief, as it means Adelina won’t be restricted from traveling to Dengue-endemic regions for the rest of her life. Currently, the Dengue vaccination is only available for people ages 9-45 who have had a confirmed Dengue infection, so we will have to wait four years before we can get the Dengue vaccination for Adelina. All things considered, this just isn’t so bad.

vaccine

When she’s 9, Adelina can get the Dengue vaccination

If you, like me, enjoy reading medical articles, you can check out the ones that I’ve posted below, which are among those I’ve read in the last week. Also, just FYI, please stay tuned to this blog: I do plan to finish out my ABC’s of Life on the Finca blog posts. Although we have left Honduras, the Finca mission is still very much alive in my heart!

Links to articles about Dengue and DHF:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221151713.htm

https://www.statnews.com/2017/11/02/dengue-second-infection/

https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/host-response-to-the-dengue-virus-22402106

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5282509/

https://www.who.int/immunization/policy/position_papers/dengue/en/

https://www.statnews.com/2019/05/01/fda-dengue-vaccine-restrictions/

Dengue.

Oh, my friends. It has been a rough couple of weeks.

Right around the time that my last blog was posting, our sweet Adelina came down with a fever. After six days of spiking temperatures, she was diagnosed with Typhoid Fever. We spent Mother’s Day traveling 7 hours roundtrip to a hospital in La Ceiba, where Adelina received IV antibiotics and was discharged to the care of our wonderful Finca nurses.

When Addy’s fever didn’t subside as expected, she received further testing… and was diagnosed with acute Dengue Fever, in addition to the Typhoid. The two diseases are completely unrelated (Typhoid is food/water-borne, Dengue is mosquito-borne). It was just plain rotten luck that Adelina got them both at the same time. Thanks be to God, she has now been fever-free for three days, and she is returning to her spunky, sassy self.

But we are coming home.

Fever smiles

I took this picture when Adelina was at the height of both Typhoid and Dengue (though we didn’t know it at the time). Still our smiley girl, despite crazy tropical illnesses.

 

Kiara or Adelina contracting Dengue has always been a “line in the sand,” health-wise, for our family’s mission. Before leaving the U.S., I had read enough articles about the risks of a secondary Dengue infection (like this one and this one and this one) that I knew a primary Dengue infection would send us packing.

Honestly, though, I am reeling. While life in Honduras does involve a greater level of general risk than life in the U.S., up until this recent outbreak, Dengue was not a major one. There are literally no missionaries in recent history who have gotten Dengue; it simply hasn’t been an issue at the Finca. And contracting both Typhoid and Dengue at the same time… well, that’s just unprecedented.

Eric and I have always said that the health and wellbeing of our kids had to be our number one priority throughout this mission. As the Finca’s founder, Zulena Pescatore, put it during our retreat, “Family is our ‘first church.’” Eric and I thoroughly discussed the need to prioritize Kiara’s and Adelina’s wellbeing over our call to mission (should it come to that), and –as I said—we had even talked about this specific contingency before departing the U.S. So, in one sense, the decision to end our mission early and come home is an easy one. But, in every other sense, it is incredibly difficult.

Friends, I am so very heartbroken.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it feels like someone has died. Our mission at the Finca, which we had dreamed of and discerned long before it began, and which has brought us such deep joy and so many incredible memories, is like a beloved friend… And I am not ready to say goodbye. Every time I remember another event that I will be missing (the arrival of summer missionaries, Honduran Independence Day, one of my favorite Finca kids’ graduation), I experience another wave of grief. I’m pretty sure I have cried more in the last two days than in all of my previous time at the Finca.

Pero, ánimo. (But, take heart.) Even in these moments of sadness, anxiety, and uncertainty, we have experienced moments of profound peace. Last night, as we said our evening prayers together, Adelina (seemingly out of nowhere) piped up, “Guys, I think God is just calling us to come back home.”

And this morning’s Gospel reading begins, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’”

That is, of course, what being a missionary is all about: believing in The One who called us to the Finca in the first place… and recognizing that He is also The One who, ultimately, calls the shots.

At the moment, I don’t like the shots that have been called. But I do believe in The One who calls them. And so I am typing this blog post in a fancy, air-conditioned hotel room down the street from the best hospital in La Ceiba. Adelina (who, just for fun, has also developed bronchitis, almost certainly due to her weakened immune system) is cuddling with her sister in the bed next to me. Earlier today, one of the best pediatricians in the city cleared her for travel back to the States, pending the results of a parasite-screening. Our suitcases, hurriedly packed amid tearful goodbyes yesterday, are stacked in the corner.

Dengue Test

Adelina’s positive Dengue test. “It’s amazing how much one mosquito can change your life!” quipped one of the Franciscan sisters at the Finca.

We are hoping to travel to my mom’s house in the next few days. Our primary concern is getting Adelina back to full health. (A couple of hours ago, I had to plead with her to stop jumping on the bed naked, so I think we’re well on our way.) After that…. well, this is an excellent opportunity for us to take Jesus at His word and not let our hearts be troubled.

Today’s Gospel continues:

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Amen, we do believe.

The ABC’s of Life on the Finca: E-G

Hello again, friends! My apologies for the delay in publishing this next section of my Finca ABC’s. I planned to write and post this blog last week; unfortunately, I spent most of last week in bed with what turned out to be a severe, systemic infection. Our Finca clinic doctor said he had rarely seen bacterial counts as high as mine in his career, so today I am thanking God for doctors, for laboratory workers (especially those, like mine, who are able to do their job without the aid of a computer), and for strong antibiotics. Sadly, my illness encompassed my 34th birthday, so I’ve now spent both Christmas and my birthday at the Finca sick in bed. Whomp whomp.

This illness really shook me up, not just because I was so sick (fever approaching 104 and almost-unbearable head/joint aches), but because my symptoms caused me to fear I had contracted Dengue fever. Dengue is a nasty, mosquito-borne tropical illness with a certain peculiarity: it is almost always worse – and indeed can be fatal – the second time around (miserable as it is the first). There is currently a terrible Dengue outbreak here in northern Honduras, and the Finca hasn’t escaped: one of our Honduran employees recently came down with it and was out of work for nearly two weeks.

Before Eric and I left for Central America, we discussed circumstances which would prompt us to leave the Finca. One of them was if either Kiara or Adelina contracted Dengue, due to the risks –especially for children—of a poor outcome upon contracting the illness a second time. We simply aren’t willing to risk that second time. So, here’s my prayer request to everyone out there: Please join us in prayer that nobody else at the Finca comes down with Dengue, and that this outbreak is contained and those affected by it healed quickly! Thank you.

ANYWAY. Continuing along with Letters E-G…

E is for Escuela

Escuela means school, and it’s a huge part of our lives here. Each morning, the girls get dressed in their uniforms (the same uniforms that children across all of Honduras and, in fact, most of Central America wear). At 6:55am, Eric or I walk with the girls across the Finca to school. Eric teaches from 7:15-10:30am at the colegio (middle school). The girls attend school for two-thirds of the day, from 7:15-11:15am. As they’re leaving with Eric, I’m usually arriving to teach my Computación class.

Honduran uniform

Adelina and Kiara in their Honduran school uniforms

I have generally been very impressed by the school here at the Finca. “Our” Finca kids comprise less than a quarter of the student population; most of the students at our school walk here from neighboring communities every day. The director/principal has been part of the school for 20 years; as a matter of fact, she used to live in the same house we live in, back when Finca teachers all lived on-site. The school conforms to Honduran national curriculum standards, which are surprisingly thorough. In a parent survey last November, our students’ families expressed extreme gratitude for the education their children are receiving.

Morning Assembly

Morning assembly at the school

Of course, this being Honduras, the challenges of operating a school in a developing country are real and pervasive. Many of our students’ parents have limited education/literacy, so our kids can’t get help with their homework. When it rains, the children who walk several miles to the school are delayed or prevented from coming altogether. Even the parents’ enthusiasm for the school can be somewhat heartbreaking: “I can’t imagine a better school than this one. There are classrooms and desks, and the teachers all show up! It’s a great education.”

Nonetheless, I can say with confidence that our students have the opportunity to receive a good education here, which is not the case with most rural schools in Honduras. I am proud to be contributing, even in a small way, to these kids’ learning.

Students running for school

Neighborhood students running into the Finca at the start of a school day

F is for Fogón / Facebook

Fogón – A fogón is an outdoor wood-burning stove, and it’s an essential part of life on the Finca. All the houses on the Finca have traditional indoor stoves; however, our chimbo (propane) is rationed due to its high cost, so things that take a long time to cook (like beans or a frozen whole chicken) are always cooked on the fogón. When we first arrived, starting the fire for the fogón was a frustrating and time-consuming venture, especially when it had recently rained and our wood was damp. Now, though, we’ve gone through the process enough times and learned enough tricks of the trade that it’s no longer the intimidating struggle it once was. FYI: Egg cartons burn better than cereal boxes, and cotton – like, say, an item of clothing that no longer fits because it’s too stretched-out from hand-washing – is good to hold onto for a rainy day (literally).

Fogón

Cooking beans on the fogón

Facebook – If you haven’t already “liked” the Farm of the Child Facebook page, you should do so now! As part of my Donor/Benefactor communication responsibilities, I take photos here “on the ground” and caption them for our Facebook page. My goal (which, I must admit, I rarely reach) is to have 5 photos per week to share with the Facebook world. I take the photos, caption them, and send them off to our U.S.-based Program Administrator for posting.

One added challenge to photographing the Finca is that we cannot show any of our kids’ faces. Our children are vulnerable; they come from traumatic and sometimes violent backgrounds, so protecting their privacy is imperative. You may have noticed that I never post pictures of our smiling Finca kids (though I have many) on this blog; our privacy policy is the reason. Although it can be difficult to get the right shot (“No, don’t look at the camera!”), it is also especially rewarding when everything comes together to “tell the story” without showing any faces.

Facebook screenshot

Screenshot of our page; you should “like” it to receive our updates!

G is for Garifuna

The Finca is nestled among several Garifuna communities in Honduras, which is such a great blessing. The Garifuna people are a fascinating and inspirational part of Honduran/Caribbean culture. Their story truly gives truth to the term “history is better than fiction.”

Día de Garifuna

School poster honoring the Day of the Garifuna

Around 1675, a ship carrying enslaved people from what is now Nigeria shipwrecked in the Caribbean. The survivors made their way to the island of St. Vincent, where they intermarried with the Carib people and then successfully revolted against French attempts to force them into slavery on the sugar and cocoa plantations. When Great Britain took control of St. Vincent in the early 1800s and attempted to colonize them, the Garifuna proved to be so nettlesome to British plans that they were exiled to the island of Roatán (anti-colonialism for the win… sort of). From there, they dispersed to the mainland of Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.

The Garifuna have their own language (a mix of Carib, French, English, and Spanish), food (lots of cassava and seafood – we watched a group of Garifuna fishermen catch a barracuda off our shore), music (lots of drums and shakers), and general lifestyle/culture. Early in our time at the Finca, we attended a Garifuna Mass at the Cathedral, and the vibrancy of the clothes, music, and dancing reminded me of my beloved Uganda. What a treat!

Barracuda

A Garifuna fisherman showing off the Barracuda he caught off the shoreline of the Finca

One particularly inspiring thing about living in a Garifuna-populated area is witnessing a sort of alternative history to the crushing legacy of slavery we know in the U.S. The Garifuna people are not an oppressed minority burdened with centuries of subjugation and institutionalized sin. Racism does, of course, exist here. But the upper-echelons of society are filled with Garifuna; they are the lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. of the region. If anything, the Garifuna seem to have more, not fewer, opportunities than the average Honduran citizen. Nationally, the country of Honduras honors Garifuna culture with the Day of the Garifuna, in which the Garifuna people are celebrated, and anyone of Garifuna heritage has a government holiday.

It’s enough to make one sigh wistfully and think, “What if…”

Classroom (1)

Kiara’s Math/Science teacher, Profe Martín, is Garifuna

Okay, folks, I’m going to cut it off there, as this blog post is already longer than I intended. To be continued soon!

The ABC’s of Life on the Finca: A-D

Hello friends! I am writing this blog fresh off a long-anticipated (and much-needed!) vacation with Eric’s parents and brother on the Bay Island of Roatán. For four days, we gratefully soaked up hot showers, air-conditioning, and a washing machine, while thanking our Life on the Finca for reminding us to be grateful for all of those things.

Anyway, inspired by my dear friend Anna’s blog post from Guatemala, I’ve created an ABC’s list of Life on the Finca. Since, per usual, it’s taking me a lot longer to write this post than I anticipated (as a matter of fact, it’s now been three weeks since we were on vacation), I’ll be splitting this blog up into several different segments. Here goes:

A is for Ants / Alegría

Ants – Of all the bugs at the Finca (including tarantulas, millipedes, and –of course—mosquitoes), nothing causes me more mental distress than the tiny black biting ants that are ubiquitous in this part of Honduras. Unlike most biting insects, they do not let go with a swipe or a swat; they stick to your skin and bite as hard as they can, causing a painful and itchy swelling that lasts for days. (My friend and fellow missionary/Domer Ally wrote a great blog post about ants, which I strongly encourage you to read.) To avoid these vicious bites, both Eric and I wear shoes and socks most days. Although we look a bit odd alongside our flip-flop or sport-sandaled friends, at least our toes no longer look like plump sausages!

Black Ants

These little guys: my toes’ worst enemy!

Alegría – Alegría is the Spanish word for joy, and we experience so much of it here at the Finca! Whether we are being enveloped in a tight hug by one of these sweet Finca kids or laughing until our sides hurt as we share funny moments with our missionary community or simply observing the spectacular gift of God’s creation in this beautiful place, we are filled with alegría on a daily basis here at the Finca.

Alegría on the beach

Alegría on the beach with a short-term mission group

B is for Baleada

A baleada is the most typical Honduran food. It is a tortilla de harina (flour tortilla), filled with refried beans, hard salty cheese, and anything else you’d like to throw in. Whenever we happen to be in Trujillo during a mealtime, we make a point to stop and get baleadas. At just 12 lempiras each (about 60 cents), they are a delicious deal! And Adelina, our notoriously picky eater, loves them… while on vacation, she even ordered a baleada instead of American food!

Baleada

Traditional Honduran baleada

C is for Community / Computación

Community – By far, my favorite part about our life on the Finca is our missionary community. Living in an intentional community has brought all of us abundant joy and inspiration. Although our family of four resides in our own casa, we are next-door to the main missionary house and feel like our fellow missionaries are our sisters. Each one of them brings something distinct and wonderful to our community, and Eric and I often remark that we really hit the jackpot with our missionary class.

There’s Emily, whose knowledge of both the Finca culture and Spanish language make her a constant source of wisdom for us all; Anna, whose passion for teaching and serving children is matched only by her dedication to growing closer to Christ; Ruthie, who floats through life with an open mind and a fiercely-committed spirit (whether she is working at the clinic or baking bread in our outdoor coal-oven); Ally, our resident artist, whose serene spirit has infused our community and her kindergarten class with so much peace; Olivia, who (as our only Kiwi missionary) brings a charismatic joy and listening ear to every conversation; and Dayelle, whose quiet strength, fantastic nursing skills, and hilarious dance moves have made the Finca a far better place. Together, we have shared joys and hardships, jokes and tears, faith and frustration. I know our love and friendship will endure long after we return to our respective homes. Emily, Anna, Ruthie, Ally, Olivia, and Dayelle, we love you so much!

Missionary Community

Standing, from left: Emily, Anna, Ruthie, Ally, Olivia, Dayelle

Computación – One of my duties at the Finca is to teach Computer Class to the primary school students. Since I only have each class for 45 minutes once a week (and I always teach during the last two periods, which frequently get canceled due to other school events), I am struggling to make strides in reaching my educational goals for the classes. Nonetheless, it is a joy and a privilege to teach computers. The kids here get so excited for Computación! Most of my students’ only access to computers is during my class, so I try to focus on hands-on computer operations rather than on any sort of theory. It is extremely gratifying to see my first-graders successfully double-clicking with the mouse or my sixth-graders learning how to type. Also, the computer lab is the only room on the Finca with air-conditioning (to keep the computers from overheating), so in these 95-degree, 70% humidity days, that’s a pretty big benefit of the job!

Computer class

Clase de Computación

D is for Doña Olimpia

I’m pretty sure our family wouldn’t have survived this long in Honduras if it weren’t for Doña Olimpia. She is our local clothes-washer and grandma extraordinaire. Eric and I, having both previously lived in places where we had to hand-wash clothes, knew before arriving at the Finca that we were going to need help with our family’s laundry load. After just a few days in Honduras, though, we realized just how dire our laundry situation truly was: with two dirt-diving daughters and two very sweaty grown-ups, we produce a hamper’s worth of filthy laundry every day. Although I spend about 2 hours per week washing clothes (just to keep up with essential items, like school uniforms or underwear), it doesn’t come close to finishing the task.

Doña Olimpia to the rescue! She does the vast majority of our family’s laundry, scrubbing each item of clothing until it looks and smells brand new. Every Tuesday, Doña Olimpia arrives at our house early in the morning and immediately sets to work: tidying our laundry pila, separating our whites to soak in Clorox, and scrubbing our clothing until the many stains and smells come out. She is truly a laundry wizard!

As much as I love and appreciate Doña Olimpia’s role in our lives here at the Finca, I really wish she didn’t have to continue working so hard at her age. Though I don’t know exactly how old she is, the term “Doña” is reserved for older matriarchs of a community. In the United States, Doña Olimpia would be well into her retirement; sadly, that’s just not an option for most people in rural Honduras. Doña Olimpia has been doing laundry at the Finca for years, making the daily journey down the mountain from a village a few miles away. She knows that she will not be able to make the difficult walk down the mountain forever, so she is saving money for her own “retirement” plan: a freezer from which she can sell cold goods in her remote village. Needless to say, Eric and I don’t regret a single lempira we spend on Doña Olimpia’s laundry services.

Doña Olimpia

Our dear Doña Olimpia

That’s all for now… To be continued soon (I hope)!

And Rain Falls Angry on the Tin Roof…

(Admit it, fellow 90’s kids, you’re totally singing “I’ll Be” right now, aren’t you?)

For the past few months, the Honduran rainy season has been here in all its wet glory. As I type this post, our corrugated tin roof is echoing with the steady drum of tropical rain. I’m feeling quite pleased with myself for having moved all of our laundry over to the covered lines this afternoon, despite the blazing sun. I still haven’t gotten a good feel for when the dark clouds on the horizon indicate a major rainstorm or just a temporary cloud cover, but I’ve learned to err on the side of caution. We jokingly refer to it as the “second rinse cycle” when our clothes on the line end up getting doused in a rainstorm; although it’s frustrating, it’s probably the only time our hand-washed clothes end up fully rinsed of soap.

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A couple of Finca kids sharing their umbrella with Kiara

Rainy season is a bit of a mixed bag: while it provides some relief from the sweltering heat, it also provides more mold and mosquitoes, as well as more power outages and -ironically- water shortages (more below). Although most rainy season days include some hard rain and drizzling with occasional sun breaks, we’ve had two major weather systems come through with intense, constant rain that lasts for days.  After the first major storm in November, Eric and I both purchased some hardy rain boots to navigate the Finca when it’s inundated; they have already proven to be well-worth the 220 Lempira ($10) investment!

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My beloved rain boots!

When the heavy downpours relent into a haphazard drizzle, our roof has the odd effect of sounding like a muffled conversation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten up in the middle of the night to see who is talking outside our house, only to realize it’s the sound of random raindrops falling on different materials on the roof. So strange!

By necessity, we’ve gotten into the habit of putting our large, multipurpose buckets outside to collect rainwater during a storm. There are various theories as to why the water goes out when it’s raining hard: debris from the rivers in the mountains (where our water comes from) have clogged the pipe, someone “in charge up there” has decided to close the pipe lest it burst from the water volume, etc. Regardless the reason, we frequently find that we have no water during storms. Even after the water is turned back on, there is usually a 24-hour period during which it is unusable due to the rivers’ churning: I’m sure you can imagine how disconcerting it is to see brown water, speckled with bugs, leaves, and twigs, pouring out of the water faucet! All of this is to say that we are highly-motivated to collect as much clean rainwater as we can while we have the opportunity!

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Collecting rain water and posing for the Finca’s “Preach the Kingdom” campaign

Because our lives here are so closely connected to weather patterns, “talking about the weather” is a far less banal exercise in Honduras than it is in the U.S. We observe the beach to see which direction the waves are crashing in from (if they’re coming in from the East, all is well; from the West, a storm is brewing); we look out on the horizon to check if el mar está enojado (the sea is angry); we keep our ears attuned to the trees in the distance, which –if you’re paying attention—can announce a sudden downpour with enough time to run to shelter. A river crosses our road at three different spots in the 7 km between the Finca and Trujillo. When it has been raining hard, we have to send someone out in a Land Cruiser to scout the road conditions before making a trip into town. It’s always a judgment call: one time, we made it into to Trujillo for Sunday Mass, only to spend several hours stuck between two river crossings on the way home.

According to the Hondurans, rainy season should be over by the end of this month. Already, we’ve gotten a few 2-3 day stretches without precipitation, which, since it’s still “winter,” make for some pleasantly cool days (low 80’s). We know that we are just weeks away from the arrival of un sol bien fuerte (a very strong sun), so we are trying to enjoy the tiempo fresco (cool weather) while it lasts.

…Which is basically our approach to everything about our life here in Honduras: We want to enjoy it while it lasts. Although the struggles and discomforts of life in a developing country are impossible to ignore, so are the unique joys and experiences of our life on the Finca. As always, we are deeply grateful to everyone who helped to make this mission possible for us. We love you and we miss you!

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The girls telling ghost stories under their mosquito net during a storm’s power outage

Holiday Season at the Finca

Merry Christmas, everyone! (I won’t say “belated Christmas,” because we are still in the Liturgical Season of Christmas, and the Finca is nothing if not liturgically accurate.) I hope you are all experiencing the light, joy, and hope of this season!

I apologize for the long interval between blog posts. Our days in Honduras are hectic and full, making it hard to carve out time to write. I am typing this particular post on a Friday afternoon. Eric, who was recently certified to drive on behalf of the Finca, has gone with one of the Franciscan sisters to pick up a large donation of bananas. [Post note: the “donation” ended up being a huge cargo load of Dole bananas bound for the U.S. which were rejected at the port down the road. Eric had a blast driving the Finca’s Land Cruiser through jungle roads to deliver crates of bananas to villages up in the mountains around us. According to him, it was like driving in a live-action 90’s video game. I, for one, am glad I wasn’t there, as the regular roads in Honduras stress me out enough!]

As I write, Kiara and Adelina are reading together on our “couch” (handmade wooden bench with a couple of pillows on top), and I am hoping they can keep one another occupied for at least half an hour. Outside, I hear the sound of waves crashing on the shore while a few Finca kids splash in the water; our backyard Caribbean beach still amazes me. Later today, we missionaries will gather together to cook as a community, as is our Friday afternoon tradition. While cooking is not something that generally brings me joy, I look forward to community cooking every week; it is such a beautiful time to share friendship, laughter, and purpose.

Speaking of our community, we have just gone through several weeks of special holiday events and celebrations, which I’d love to share with you all!

Las Posadas

Here at the Finca, we celebrated the season of Advent through Las Posadas, a beautiful Latin American tradition recounting Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging just before Jesus’s birth. Although I’d heard of Posadas (it is celebrated in many Catholic churches around the U.S.), I’d never participated. My loss!

During the Posadas processions, two children dressed –adorably—as Mary and Joseph lead the Finca community to three houses, seeking posada (an inn/shelter). Through a call-and-response song, they, along with the rest of us peregrinos (pilgrims), are sent away from two houses and finally welcomed into the third. Inside, we read the daily Gospel, have a prayer reflection and/or activity, sing a few Advent hymns, and finally share some food. Both Kiara and Adelina had the opportunity to represent Mary for an evening of Posadas, which was so special!

The Posadas occur every evening for nine evenings leading up to Christmas Eve. Our family led and hosted the 8th Posada at our house. The prospect of hosting the entire Finca community (about 50 people) was somewhat daunting, but it was so worthwhile. We baked six loaves of bread, rearranged our main room to provide space for everybody, and prepared an activity to demonstrate how we can help reflect Jesus’ light in the world. It was an exhausting but beautiful night. I will carry the Posadas memories with me forever… not least because I think the pilgrims’ call-and-response song will be stuck in my head forever. Ha!

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Our home’s Posadas activity

Christmas

Noche Buena, or Christmas Eve, is the focal point of the Christmas holiday at the Finca. The children here woke up on Christmas Eve to a new outfit under their Christmas tree (which we missionary “elves” distributed at midnight, after putting together a large gift bag for each child). Most of Christmas Eve was spent in preparation for the evening festivities – cooking endless food (including chickens that we helped to catch, kill, and pluck the weekend before) and decorating the middle school classrooms which double as our party hall.

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Missionary elves preparing Christmas gifts for the Finca kids

The Noche Buena celebration began with a Vigil Mass and then a long, long party (we’re talking seven hours). There was a huge feast, Santa arrived to distribute the gift bags we had assembled, and the kids danced the night away.

Sadly, I am relaying all of these party details second-hand, as I woke up on Christmas Eve to some very…. dramatic gastrointestinal symptoms. Thankfully, the Finca health clinic happened to be open that morning and our doctor quickly diagnosed me with dysentery. (Yes, dysentery, of eternal Oregon Trail fame!) By the time the worst of the illness hit me that night, I was grateful to know I was already being treated; nonetheless, I will always consider this Noche Buena to be more of a Noche Mala for me!

On a lighter note, we did a Secret Santa exchange within our missionary community, giving our person something that smells good, something that tastes good, and something homemade. Due to the dysentery, I was unable to participate, but I assured my Secret Santa recipient that her gifts would get to her eventually – and perhaps make Christmas last a little longer. This quickly turned into a recurring missionary joke: Dysentery: The gift that keeps on giving!

New Year’s Eve

Fresh on the heels of our seven-hour Noche Buena party, it was time to celebrate New Year’s Eve with… another seven-hour party! (You see why it’s hard to find time to blog, right?) In addition to ringing in 2019, this party served as a despedida (goodbye) for four missionaries who have completed their service at the Finca and for our five oldest girls, who just graduated from high school. It was an especially jubilant goodbye for the five high school graduates, as all of them earned a full-ride scholarship to attend university in the capital of Honduras. We are so proud of them and excited for their future!

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Kiara and Adelina performing “Sisters, Sisters” at the New Year’s Eve Party

After much feasting, dancing, reminiscing, and laughing, we welcomed the New Year with a midnight candlelit service in the church. With our candles ablaze and our focus on one another, we didn’t even notice that the power had gone out (again) in the middle of the service, and as I walked home from the church, I felt a combination of exhaustion, gratitude, and hope….

Which pretty much sums up how Eric and I have been feeling since arriving at the Finca. We are exhausted by the erratic schedule and workload here; we are grateful for all that this beautiful place has already given us and for the support of all of you who helped make our family’s mission a reality; and we are hopeful… that we will continue to be changed and formed by our experience here, that we will be able to have a positive impact on this community, and that each and every one of these fabulous Finca kids has a bright and fulfilling future ahead.

Sending you love and hugs from Honduras!

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Our backyard!

Drinking It All In

My mom and her siblings love to tell an amusing story about my grandpa: When he was a young father in the early 1950’s, he moved his growing family to a new home in a developing neighborhood. The home was at the very end of the street, which meant it was also at the very end of the water pipeline. The water pressure in the house was so pathetic that my exasperated grandpa finally took matters into his own hands: he hacked the water source and built his own pipeline directly to his home.

Grandpa, I get it.

As the occupants of a house that is literally the last in line for water here at the Finca, we have begun to celebrate simple water pressure victories, like being able to flush the toilet or complete a shower. We have learned the fundamental importance of keeping our pila (concrete water cistern) filled at all times, lest the water pressure go from negligible to non-existent (which it does for several hours each day). We have hauled huge water jugs back and forth from the potable water spicket, and appreciated deep gulps of yellowish chlorine-filtered water in the hot Honduran sun.

After years of telling our kids that water is a precious and finite resource, we are actually (finally) treating it as one. This is just one of the many ways that our missionary life here at the Finca has started to shape us more into the people we want to be – the people we know we were created to be.

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Our home, Hogar San Francisco (aka, “Where Water Pressure Comes to Die”)

We are now one month into our time at the Finca, and we are still only beginning to learn about and adjust to our new lives. We have completed our initial orientation period (though we will continue training with the outgoing missionaries until their departure in early January), and last Saturday we received our official job assignments for the coming year. As expected, much of our time will be spent at the school, which serves not only the children of the Finca but also the surrounding communities. I will be the elementary school computer teacher and special education coordinator. Eric will be the middle school math teacher and 8th grade English teacher. These roles will allow us to serve in needed positions at the school while giving us the flexibility to care for and partially homeschool Kiara and Adelina.

In Honduras, the school year runs from February to early November (mostly due to the impassibility of roads during rainy season), so Eric and I have several months to plan and prepare for our teaching jobs. Thank goodness! Since neither of us is a professionally-trained teacher, we will definitely be leaning on our resource networks here and in the States to help us plan for the year. Meanwhile, Kiara and Adelina are finishing out the last two weeks of school with their respective classes. Based on an assessment of their academic abilities, they are moving forward one year and will be entering into 3rd and 1st grade in February. (This means that Adelina will only be a kindergartner for two weeks! *sob*)

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Second grade classroom at the Finca

Eric’s and my school positions are just a couple of the many different hats we will be wearing as missionaries (the biggest and most time-consuming being, of course, parents). Eric will be able to utilize his pastoral skills as a contributing preacher during weekly Communion services and as a spiritual leader for our missionary community. I will be the primary donor/benefactor liaison here at the Finca, in addition to helping coordinate special events. I am confident that these jobs, along with our many time-consuming household chores (like hand-washing clothes and cooking on an outdoor wood-burning stove), will keep us more than occupied throughout next year!

For now, we are trying to live fully into these present, precious moments.

We fall asleep to the sound of Caribbean waves and wake up to roosters crowing outside our window. We laugh and pray and read together, without ever pausing to check our phones. We celebrate water pressure! And every day, we get to witness the miracle of Living Water in the children of the Finca, whose heartbreaking histories are no match for the love that abides in and overflows from this beautiful place we now call home.

“Whoever welcomes a child such as this, welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me, but Him who sent me.” Mark 9:37 (Official Bible Verse of the Finca del Niño)

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Beautiful painting that our fellow missionary Ally made as a housewarming gift for our home.

In Honduras!

Friends, we are here! We arrived at the Finca last Friday night, equal parts exhausted and excited. Since then, we have been adjusting to our new lives in Honduras – getting our bags unpacked, going through Missionary Orientation, and getting to know the kids and spaces of the Finca. Our hearts are filled with joy and wonder and a touch of apprehension.

I haven’t had time to sit down and write a proper blog post (the small breaks in our 5:45am-8pm Orientation schedule are filled with parenting and life responsibilities). Fortunately, one of my fellow missionaries and now dear friend Anna wrote an amazing post about the Finca’s history and mission, which means I can just link to her post rather than trying to write my own (ha!). I encourage you to read her beautiful words here:

https://belittlelovebig.site123.me/blog/home-at-la-finca

Additionally, I would like to share with you this YouTube video about the Finca. I watched this video repeatedly during our time in Antigua to remind myself of how and why we felt called to make this trip to Central America in the first place. Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVb4lPHYAas&feature=share

Last, but certainly not least, I must say (another) profound thank you to all of you who have been supporting our mission and keeping us in your prayers during this time of transition. We have truly been carried by your love. During our first three months at the Finca, we are limited to two hours of internet on Sundays (if there’s power, which is a big IF), so I will not be able to stay in touch as well as I would like. But know that you are in our hearts and our prayers every day. Thank you; we love you!

A Step Along the Way

In just a few hours, we will depart our cozy Antigua home and catch a 3:00 am bus to Honduras. After six amazing weeks of language school and volunteering in Guatemala, we will make the 2-day journey to our new home at the Finca del Niño. We will leave WiFi, hot showers, and the tourist lifestyle behind. We will finally take the next step — the Big Step — in our camino as a missionary family. We are nervous and excited and so very grateful.

On this eve of our departure, I’d like to share with you a prayer, one which has found me repeatedly, indeed relentlessly, since I first heard it 15 years ago. It is the prayer of Archbishop Oscar Romero, a beloved figure here in Central America and one of my favorite saints. His words always seem to track me down when I need them most – words of invitation from an old friend, reminding me of God’s call to lead a life that is reckless in both audacity and humility.

Romero’s prayer recently found me, again. I needed it, again.

Whether you are reading this prayer for the first time or the four-hundredth time, I pray that it moves you as it has always moved me. And I ask that as you read it, you pray for the Finca del Niño community . . . a community which, much to our delight, now includes our family.

The Romero Prayer

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

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