A GIFT OF COMPASSION...
By Julie Halverson
Our son, Adam, was preparing for his senior year in high school. He earned a starting position on the basketball team after working extremely hard all summer with 6am weight-lifting sessions and open gyms. Adam injured his shoulder in a preseason game and his basketball season never started. The team went on to win the State Championship in March of 2000. It would have been any athlete's dream to play and be a part of the season this team had. One of his trainers gave Adam these bible verses for encouragement after he was injured: 'Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.' James 1: 2-4 Adam had surgery in January 2000. When the doctor came to talk to me, he told me Adam had a very large tear in his shoulder muscle and he was done for the season. The look on my face told the doctor I had hoped he could play. He gave me some parental advice; and then some spiritual advice I was NOT expecting. He talked about perseverance, endurance and opportunities...quoting the SAME 3 verses from the Bible that Adam's trainer had given him 2 months before! These verses continued to nag at me daily, but I didn't know why. One month later, my father died. I had had so many difficult situations occur and these verses from James really made sense. After doing some soul searching, I decided I would take a mission trip with our church to Honduras in June 2000. My oldest son, Nic would go with me.
All mission trips have been to Escuela El Sembrador in Central Honduras, 3½ hours from the capital city of Tegucigalpa. The English translation of Escuela El Sembrador is "School of the Sower". It is a farm school for underprivileged boys, started in the 1950's by Donald Hawk. Their objectives are to educate underprivileged boys, teach them a trade and lead them to Christianity through their program. Boys go to classes during morning hours and work 3-4 hrs in the afternoon. They learn to carve, weld, farm, cook, work with metal, and construct wood doors, cabinets, tables, rocking chairs and frames. They attend church in the chapel on school grounds Wed. evenings and Sun. mornings. Rules and discipline issues are strictly enforced. If they can't follow the guidelines, boys are asked to leave the school. Most boys want to stay to be educated and are respectful of those in charge. Many come from extreme poverty, crowded conditions, and dysfunctional environments. If they don't finish primary school by age 14, they are kicked out of the public system. This happens quite often as many are poor and need to work to help put food on the table. I knew of Pablo who had to ride his bike 6 miles to town to sell tortillas and corn….at age 8! He couldn't attend school because he was working every day to bring home money for food. He was a prime candidate for El Sembrador, but possibly not until he was 13 or 14.
Since I had never been to a third world country before, I loved all the new sights and situations I had the opportunity to experience. I have helped build a hog barn, designed sidewalks, mixed and poured cement, milked a cow, driven a front loader, watched slaughter day of cows and pigs, painted, cooked and done laundry in an old ringer machine! I was amazed to see a family of four riding on "one" bicycle or that some children didn't wear clothes or shoes. I saw men urinating on the side of the road. Armed guards with machine guns stood outside bank entrances and at the airport. Public restrooms didn't have toilet paper. To prevent crime in Tegucigalpa, walls had jagged pieces of glass or nails cemented on the top. The water in the capital city was not safe to drink. People in the streets came to your car window selling anything from bananas to leather belts while you waited for a light to change. Women balanced laundry or parcels on their heads as they walked. Children played very close to the roads in which we were driving 50 M.P.H. Cows and horses stopped traffic while they crossed the road. Most homes did not have running water or electricity. Many times a small adobe home had 8-10 people living in it. I was in village homes where 3 adults slept in one bed.
On my second trip, June of 2001, I met a student named Wilson. I was surprised that he remembered me from the summer before. In fact, he was excited to show me that he had saved a basketball picture card of Adam in his Bible for a year! He had a gentle shyness about him that made me curious. Where did he come from? Did his mother miss him? What kind of a past had he had? On this trip I learned about scholarship opportunities and I knew that I wanted to sponsor Wilson. During 2001 thru 2006, I wrote and received letters from Wilson. I took things like soccer and basketball shoes, jeans, sox, t-shirts and shorts. Originally I sent a $30 a month to World Gospel Mission for his room and board. During high school years, the fee was $90 a month due to the program he was in. He appreciated being sponsored and I was happy to be able to do this.
Since I had worked building a hog barn, I wanted to see a pig delivery but it didn't happen on this trip. Instead a missionary asked me to watch him artificially inseminate a cow! Now this was something to see, very educational, but honestly quite gross! I was always ready to see or learn something new, so I never passed up the chance to observe.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think saying good-bye to Wilson would be so hard. After developing a friendship with him, it was this trip that the difficulty of saying good-bye began. When I left in June 2002, I didn't know if I would see him again. He was graduating in Nov. from 8th grade and hadn't decided yet to come back for the high school program even though I had offered to continue his sponsorship.
I went for Wilson's 8th grade graduation! (My first trip alone!) Little did I know this trip in Nov 2002 would be the trip that would change the direction of my life. I spent a week in Honduras, which meant I could attend the students' testimonies and the special banquet held prior to the graduation ceremony. Wilson would have someone there for him before his mother arrived. I met his mother, who thanked me with tears in her eyes, for helping her son. His family was terribly poor and his home had burned to the ground twice. His mother did laundry for others to support her family. I was told his stepfather had sexually molested his sisters and held a gun to Wilson's head, forcing him to watch. He was only 12 or 13 when this happened. His step-father was killed in 1998. Hearing this about a boy I had grown so fond of absolutely broke my heart. My dream was for Wilson to meet my husband who would be a wonderful father figure. I imagined them playing basketball together!
It was also on this trip that I finally saw a pig deliver her piglets. I was picked up at the kitchen and taken to the hog barn on a 4 wheeler where I had a ringside seat on an upside down pail. As we approached the barn a worker gave me the "thumbs up" sign. The word must have been out that I was the North American woman who wanted to see a pig having babies!
On my flight home from Tegucigalpa I met a missionary and his wife at the ticket counter as I was checking in. We sat next to each other on the flight to Houston and had a great time talking about his work, his family, learning Spanish, my involvement with Wilson and El Sembrador. He had a connecting flight to Mexico and didn't have much time to get through customs.
I never saw him again. After returning home, I learned Paul had suffered a heart attack in the Houston Airport shortly after leaving me. I received an email from the farm school, requesting prayer for him. No one knew I had met him. After calling Honduras, I was told he was on a respirator and his prognosis was not good. He died 2 days later at the age of 50. So many things ran through my head…I remembered seeing him kiss his wife good-bye at the gate, and now it had been their "final" good-bye. I was the last person to talk to him so what kind of sympathy could I offer his wife? Was it a coincidence that I sat next to him or did God choose ME for a special reason? I never thought of it in this way until a close friend suggested it.
I was extremely drained emotionally and physically. I had said good-bye to Wilson whose eyes told me he was equally as sad, and now this man on the plane dies. I realized how easy it was to take a relationship for granted and vowed to change that. I wrote Paul's wife a long letter of everything we talked about. I wanted her to know how Paul spent his last hours on earth; that he talked so lovingly about her and their children. I also sent her a Prayer Box bracelet that included a special prayer I wrote for her. I will never forget the date of his death. It will be 9 years on Nov. 14.
My 5th trip was in July of 2003. I drove to Columbus, Ohio to meet up with a church work team from Harlem Road Methodist Church. A group of 20 people of all ages, teenagers to 50 yr-olds, quickly became my friends. I wanted to see Wilson and this was a way to tag along with a team so I didn't have to travel alone. It was one of my favorite trips, with many new experiences. It was also the trip that had the scariest experience of ALL my trips…an aborted take off from Miami. Pilots said a light indicated an open door somewhere so they decided last minute NOT to take off. The sound of squealing brakes and skidding tires was deafening. After missing our connection in Chicago, we arrived home a day late, but safely. After 7 years, I still hear from one of the gals on the work team.
My 6th trip to Honduras was June 2004. I went alone and stayed at the home of a missionary couple. It would be a week of vacation for the students. Wilson came to Tegucigalpa to meet my plane which he had never done before. My luggage didn't arrive until day #4. For the first time ever, I had put a few things in my carry-on. After classes, Wilson's daily job was to make 16 loaves of bread for the boys' dinner meal. On my last day, I was able to help him make bread. The dough for 16 loaves was the size of a beach ball. Kneading it was difficult. I looked like Lucy on "I Love Lucy"….I had flour everywhere!! I had several pieces of clothing made by a 26 yr old seamstress. Material for 10 pieces cost $80.00. Labor to sew them was $60.00. The seamstress wanted a new set of pots and pans; in exchange for labor, I bought her a new set at Wal-Mart and took them with me! They don't have patterns like we do here, you just tell her what you want, draw a picture, she measures every inch of you, and makes the garment. All 10 pieces were finished in 6 days!! This was a priceless experience….! Another night Wilson and I sat up until the wee hours talking about his terrible stepfather. He started telling me everything (in Spanish) and ended up in tears. In my limited Spanish, I tried to explain to him how he needed to make positive things happen in his life…that it was up to him to use opportunities God was giving him to make a better life for himself. And I reminded him that the only reason I was in Honduras this time was to see HIM. No work team, just me. When I told him this, he began to cry again. It was a time of closeness I will remember forever. Another day we went visiting in the villages and I witnessed extreme poverty like I've never seen before. At this point, I still only had the clothes on my back…no luggage. What a lesson I learned about getting by with less. The day I was leaving Wilson came to the house at 6:30 am to say good bye before classes began. I left a large piece of my heart in Honduras on this trip due to the time we spent together and the things he shared with me.
My 7th trip was June 2005 and was very much like the summer trip before. I traveled alone again and stay the Travis and Lori Hawk. We talked a lot about me coming back in November for Wilson's graduation, bringing my family with me.
My 8th trip was Nov 2005! It would be my last one. Wilson graduated from high school which is a big deal in this 3rd world country. As a special gift, Wilson finally got to meet my husband, Rich, who traveled to Honduras for his FIRST international trip. Without knowing any Spanish but Buenos Dias, he entertained the boys with many humorous moments, like purposely mispronouncing a Spanish word! Our son, Nic, went with us. I have dreamed about Rich and Wilson meeting for 4 years and couldn't believe it was happening. I know Wilson was very excited that Rich came. They spent a lot of time together. My favorite picture of them together is Rich teaching Wilson how to tie a necktie. This was a father/son type photo which remains my favorite out of 100's. Rich and I signed his diploma because we were his 'padrinos', which means sponsors. Wilson was 27 this past December and has matured into a very handsome, confident young man.
A Honduran man who asked me to pray for him to be able to quit drinking; a teenage girl had tears in her eyes as she said good-bye to me; a little girl wanted to hold my hand and sit on my lap, giving a little boy one piece of gum made him so happy, an emotional time when a village church sang "good-bye" to our work team. These types of things happened to me often and there is no way to describe how touched I was. Most Hondurans have so few material possessions but have much in spiritual wealth and inner peace. They are happy and hard working people. Mission work has made me more sensitive, compassionate and emotional as I remember the many experiences I had.
In closing...while in Honduras one summer I realized something after 3½years. The doctor's name who did our son's surgery in 2000 was Frank Wilson! It was 1½ years later that another "Wilson" would have significance in my life. 'Wilson' isn't a common Honduran name. Sometimes we miss opportunities if we don't step outside the box. I stepped out of my comfort zone to take that 1st trip in 2000. I wanted to turn difficult times into opportunities. Dr. Wilson took time to share these verses of scripture with me. After 19 years of running a private day care out of my home, I retired 6 years ago. It was emotional for me but I knew it was time; my passion was this business. I have met many special women and heard some amazing stories of how others have been touched by the prayers and jewelry. Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, her daughters, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann all have one of my bracelets. It has been exciting to see my bracelet on Palin's wrist in various pictures!
Today Wilson is working in a dairy and living in San Pedro Sula, on the northern coast of Honduras. He has a 2 yr old son and lives with the mother of his son. He writes to me via email occasionally. My days of financial support are over. I don't know what the future holds for us, but the wonderful memories in Honduras will be cherished forever. I have lengthy journals and scads of photo albums to always remind me!
The prayer box bracelets were inspired by the missionary's death. I try to use some vintage beads in every bracelet as I love to go antiquing. But what IS unique is the story that inspired me to make them. I love the concept and all the occasions that make giving this bracelet just the perfect gift. I have written over 50 different prayers that you can choose to be included with your bracelet. It is such an uplifting gift for someone facing difficult times, divorce or illness; for a joyous occasion such as birth, marriage, adoption or retirement, or for that special person, a mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, friend or teacher. Many give this bracelet to someone who has lost a loved one. The presence of prayer means so much during a difficult time.
Since designing the bracelets I have expanded to include many other beaded gift items, everything from beaded wine stoppers to salad servers to beaded lamps.