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Faith, Hope, and Joy -- A lesson from Honduras
Hurricane Mitch which hit Honduras late in 1998, left over 12,000 dead and
over 600,000, 10% of the population, homeless.
Almost immediately Episcopal Relief and Development was there, first with
an on-site visit and emergency funds. It had direct responsibility for
twelve huge temporary shelters built for the homeless.
More significantly, ERD committed itself to be there for the long term,
not just to relieve, but to develop -- a shift also reflected in the
name change of the organization itself, from the "Presiding Bishop's Fund
for World Relief" to "Episcopal Relief & Development."
Fast Forward to the Present
On September 7-9 I joined a group of several who went to Honduras to see
this thing which had come to pass -- the completion of 135 housing units
(with more to come) with 800 residents, plus a school, a community center,
and now a huge and beautiful Church of Faith and Joy. The work has been
done by the priests and foremen hired by the Diocese with the assistance
of volunteers. The ERD team on the ground has been and continues to be
At the dedication, among the visitors from the US were not only
representatives of those who had contributed generously to the fund, but
also representatives of the 1,500 volunteers who had come to build the
site. About 10 of the groups have come more than once (and an average
group size was about 12).
On the front wall outside the church there are 203 plaques. 102 of them
name dioceses who given houses, and who also gave to the general Hurricane
Relief. 101 plaques name churches or individuals who donated the entire
price of a house. Several of these churches and diocese donated more than
one. About 193 houses have been sponsored. Each unit cost $3,100 to build
(more or less).
Faith, Hope, and Joy is a project that has been done exceptionally well,
and it is a tribute to the fine leadership at ERD and of the fine
leadership in the Diocese of Honduras. Sandra Swan, Director of ERD, has
a well deserved reputation for hard-nose, no-nonsense accountability: if
a project is to be done by ERD, she assures that it will be done right,
with no waste, with top quality and value for the dollars invested. Each
house at Faith, Hope and Joy is attractive; each has electricity and
running water. There is a clinic......
I asked a group of residents who were taking us around, "Could you compare
life before the hurricane and life now?" There was a long pause.
Obviously the question evoked many painful memories. Many lost large
portions of their family. All had been uprooted from where they used to
work as farmers....
With quiet assurance, the leader replied, "It is better now. We are
safer. We do not live among the snakes. We have access to medicine and
to a school."
Many bishops envy the rallying skills of Leo Frade, Bishop of Honduras at
the time Mitch hit. Bishop Frade was recently translated as the new
Bishop of Southeast Florida. "What an operator!" several others have said
to me, marveling at Bishop's Frade's ability to touch not only the heart
strings, but the purse strings of people round the world. Let us also
praise Diane Frade, his spouse, who was a member of Executive Council when
Hurricane Mitch hit. Again and again last week she would call me over to
yet another group and introduce me: "Louie, these are my children."
Their eyes said that even when she did not.
Leo Frade's successor, Father Lloyd Allen, who will be consecrated on this
Thursday, is no slouch either. His sermon at the Eucharist dedicating the
service was one of the finest sermons I have ever heard, and I am blessed
to hear some of the finest preachers in our church. The bishop elect has
the ability to quiet (well almost quiet) hundreds of children and to speak
a vital message that is accessible and engaging for the marginally
literate and theologians alike, preaching alternately in Spanish and in
English, never missing a passionate beat. Bishops should begin to queue
right now to invite him as a speaker for your diocesan convention unless
you want to wait for years.
"Have you met Abagail yet?"
"Have you met Abagail yet?" almost anyone connected with ERD or with
Faith, Hope and Joy will ask you excitedly. "Who is Abagail?" I asked
when I first heard of her at an ERD Steering Committee meeting to which I
was invited last January. "Just you wait," my questioner replied.
Abagail has been the major ERD presence in the field in Honduras. Phoebe
Griswold, spouse of our Presiding Bishop, met Abagail at a luncheon in New
York City in one of those holy accidents by which the Spirit insists on
blessing us all, if we will but pay attention. Phoebe and Abagail just
"happened" to sit next to each other. Abagail told Phoebe about her work
on Wall Street and about her commitment to social justice.
"What kind of job would you like if you could have any job that you
wanted?" Abagail described her dream job in detail. Phoebe called Sandra
Swan and asked her to give Abagail an interview.
"Am I going to be asked to give jobs to all Phoebe's contacts?" Sandra
nervously asked Ann Vest, on the ERD Board.
"I don't think so," Ann said, "but please do this interview for her."
Abagail is special, a divine mixture of superior talent; great skills in
Spanish and English; remarkable efficiency even in negotiation
bureaucracies Honduran, American, and Episcopal; immediate rapport with
rich and poor alike; and a clear sense of what it means to serve Jesus.
Abagail balances her work in the field with her work in NYC, where she is
integral to the planning as well as the execution of ERD's strategies.
Abagail is one of three daughters of Episcopal priest Peter Nelson, who
has spent most of his ministry in health organizations. Her sisters are
also involved in justice and social service ventures.
I was impressed when I first heard Abagail's report to the Steering
Committee last January. I was even more impressed last week when I
observed the obvious affection for her from the 1,000+ persons gathered
for the dedication of Faith, Hope and Joy. Oh that we could clone her!
The Church in Honduras and other ECUSA Projects There
We visitors divided into three groups for a tour of various other projects
all day on Saturday, before the Sunday dedication of the Faith, Hope, and
Joy project. My group visited a site built by the Diocese of Washington,
DC and another built by South American Missionary Society (SAMS). Both
were impressive. Like the ERD project, both had brought many volunteers
from North America to help build the projects. The SAMS group has 60
houses at the same site, for about 300 people. In the project at Suyapa
they have provided housing for over 500 (bigger families). The Puerto
Cortes housing site which was built by the Diocese of Washington, DC has
about 700 people.
(ASIDE: what a delight to see conservatives like the folks in SAMS and
liberals like the folks in the Diocese of Washington joined together in
going to the uttermost parts of the earth united in bringing news
genuinely good. If God can get a word in edgewise, surely it will be to
encourage us to move beyond our present unhappy divisions into precisely
this way of bringing God's realm here on earth, as surely it is in heaven.
God is daily listening to the prayers of conservatives like Thomas
Pritchard, director of SAMS, and liberals like me. What fun to be with
him in San Pedro Sula. It's time we gave the world a chance to see us in
common mission to the world's needs, not at each other's theological
throats. I have much respect for SAMS faithfulness in mission, and I
rejoice that we liberals are increasingly likely to found at these same
At all three sites, I saw people still poor but now in greater control of
their lives. At one point, I stood alone for a long while, as others in
my group negotiated a hill too steep for me. All the persons around me
seemed comfortable with my being there. Several children came over to try
to teach me some Spanish. Most continued their play. They had none of
the hard looks of poverty that I have seen in Mozambique and in parts of
China and of East Orange where I live. Their faces were full and they
were at peace with one another.
Later I asked the males who were giving us the tour, "Who owns these
houses?" They laughed awkwardly. "We Honduran men are very macho," they
said through Abagail, their interpreter. "Normally men own any property in
a family in Honduras, but we are not always responsible. When the deeds
are turned over to us, they will be given to the women. That will protect
the children and the whole family," they explained.
I was impressed by the several clergy whom I met. Most visible was Father
Leonel Blanco-Monterroso, the priest assigned to run the Faith, Hope and
Joy site. He was well organized and overflowing with enthusiasm.
Another priest who spent all of Saturday with us was The Rev. Antonio
Carcel-Martinez, an ex-Roman and a Jesuit whom Bishop Frade received as an
Anglican received in 1995. Father Carcel is brilliant and an experienced
priest. He was particularly proud of a new church that he had started soon
after he became an Anglican, opposite an 18th-century Spanish castle and
fortress. The tops of two smaller towers on the church match the shape of
some of the turrets on the castle, now a museum, that memorializes Spanish
survival over the attacks of many British pirates.
I was also blessed to have The Rev. Hector O. Madrid with my tour group
all day on Saturday. He is a colleague in the House of Deputies and an
Lay leadership was obviously strong in the Faith, Hope and Joy project,
including the wardens at the parish, the administrative assistants Mayra
de Arguelles and Yesenia Majia, and Eleana Mayorquin, a volunteer
coordinator. Mayra serves with me on The Standing Commission on Anglican
and International Peace with Justice Concerns.
Long-term Volunteers from the USA were impressive, including the young
Volunteer Coordinators Kathryn Webb and William Tylander; both of them
appeared to be indefatigable. Will is taking a year off in the middle of
his education at Trinity College in San Antonio. Kathryn, Will, and all
the others who have worked on the project will be changed forever in how
they see the world and themselves in it. The Service Corps created at
GC2000 is ready to place others into this type of experience. For
information, contact the Episcopal Church Center 1800-334-7626.
The Episcopal Church of Honduras has over 25,000 baptized members and is
considered one of the most rapidly growing churches in the country. It is
known for its commitment to work with the poor, abandoned boys and girls,
and comesinos (peasant farmers). The Church works with women, providing
legal aid to those who suffer from domestic abuse.
The Church presently has 67 established congregations and over 16 missions
in about half the states of Honduras. The church has six bilingual
schools K-12. It has three technical schools. There are six clinics and
over 25 medical missions travel from the U.S. and Canada to complement the
Next in Central America
ERD has already begun to launch a similar development in El Salvador, and
Abagail is spending much of her time there. For for $3,500, you or your
parish can build a house there.
At one of the ECUSA housing sites in Honduras, I asked, "How many of the
residents here were Anglicans before the hurricane?" "Zero," the host
priest told us.
"How many of the residents are Anglicans now?" I asked. "All of them."
That's likely nearly 2,500 new Episcopalians in the three projects which I
The Episcopal Church has not given in order to build the size of our
church. We have given because there is a need. We have given out of the
joy of our hearts and out of gratitude for the abundance with which we
have been blessed. It is God's money, ours only in trust.
Nor have we alone been the givers. Hondurans have abundantly blessed us
by their spiritual generosity and by their faithful resilience, gifts
which we ourselves so sorely need in this time of our own national crisis.
On Wednesday, Abagail remarked to me that she and I were among the last
ever to see the World Trade Center sparking in starlight when we landed at
the Newark airport last Tuesday at about 1 a.m. May others be able to
experience Jesus in us and we have so vividly experience Jesus in the
Hondurans. "For as often as you do it unto the least of these my sisters
and brothers, you have done it unto me."
For more information about on-going projects, bookmark ERD's website at
There is much information there now about ERD's response to the September
11th disaster in the United States. Give generously or your money, yes,
but also of yourself.