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The Kingdom of God Has Come Near

A Letter from Dori Hjalmarson, serving in Honduras

Winter 2021

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Dear friends,

Just before we entered Lent, the Lectionary Gospel reading was Mark 1:14-20 where, after his baptism, Jesus calls the first four disciples by the Sea of Galilee. Verses 14 and 15 have grabbed my attention for the past month.

“After John was arrested, Jesus proclaimed…the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near…”

What complexity is contained in one sentence! The kingdom of God has come near, the great hope of all living under the oppression of an empire. Yet, in the same breath, John is arrested as an insurrectionist. The kingdom of God has come near, yet not all is just and righteous. The kingdom of God has come near, and there is work to be done.

We don’t really know what Peter, Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee were thinking when Jesus approached them, but I cannot imagine that John the Baptist’s recent arrest wouldn’t have crossed their minds. The guy that just baptized this Nazarene has been hauled up for insurrection, and now he’s calling us to act?

Throughout the past year of pandemic lockdown, natural disasters, and political division, and alleged corruption, I have been thinking of this call, this arrival of the kingdom of God amidst oppression and empire. I have been thinking of the bravery of those disciples to follow, knowing what they knew about the possible consequences of defying the empire. I have been thinking of the conviction to act, despite possible advice to keep their heads down and not take the risk.

In November, seven months into total economic shutdown here in Honduras, Central America was slammed by two record-breaking hurricanes in one week. Vulnerable neighborhoods were underwater for days, and layers of mud deposits still remain in some places. On the northern coast of Honduras, some urban neighborhoods have been turned into tent cities as recovery and cleanup efforts focused on installations such as the San Pedro Sula airport. Most people who remember 1998 compare this week of storms to the decades-long effects of that year’s Hurricane Mitch. Because of those hurricanes, on top of the pandemic economy, the United Nations World Food Programme estimates that hunger in the region increased by fourfold. Some estimate a third of the population of Honduras will experience severe hunger in the next year.

All of this can feel quite paralyzing. In November, I really started to feel the accumulated effects of the low-grade trauma, isolation, and hopelessness. As I watched in horror as families were rescued in rowboats from the roofs of their houses, I thanked God that none of my Honduran Presbyterian Church communities were severely affected. Then one Honduran friend and colleague, Alex Rodas, called me. “I want to do something. I have to do something,” he said.

“Brother, I don’t know what we can do. We’re a church; we’re not a relief organization. We have to believe that our prayers are good enough,” I replied. That wasn’t good enough for Alex. The Honduran Presbyterian Church has decades-long relationships with U.S. groups and presbyteries that visit annually for work trips and medical clinics. Many young people Alex’s age have been educated as doctors, nurses, and pharmacists with funds donated to the church’s scholarship program. They have participated as volunteers, translators, and helpers in numerous short-term mission trips initiated by U.S. partners. We may not have financial resources, but we have people, Alex said. We have skills. And most importantly, we have love and desire to help.

Alex and other leaders began planning after the first hurricane without having any idea whether we would be able to afford to donate even one bag of food or one dose of medicine. Convinced of Alex and the church’s divine calling, I started to help support by seeking funding sources. Church leaders reached out to their contacts to find communities that might have been affected by the storms and might need the kind of help we could offer.

The project was not all smooth sailing. Although our Presbyterian communities were not severely affected by the hurricanes, some leaders questioned the idea of reaching out to non-church areas because we know that Presbyterian communities also experience hunger, food insecurity, economic shutdown, political corruption, and lack of access to resources. I think other presbytery leaders and I might have felt a little like the first disciples called along the lakeshore. How can we reach out to other communities when our own people are suffering? Will there be enough aid to go around? Won’t we be at risk of coronavirus infection if we participate in this?

Those would be legitimate questions if we were answering God’s call from a place of fear and if we only saw the scarcity of resources and future disaster. Thanks to Alex, I came around to the point of view that we, like the first disciples, are called to overcome fear, to recognize our existing gifts, to seek partnership and collaboration, and recognize that we find the reign of God at work in the world in the midst of suffering and oppression. However, by participating in God’s work, we can find God’s abundance by reaching out our hand to our neighbor.

After the hurricanes, the Presbyterian Church of Honduras expected to serve one community with maybe 100 food bags and a medical clinic. Instead, thanks to the collaboration and commitment of more than 50 volunteers and several U.S. donors, including the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance agency, the church has distributed more than 1,500 bags of food, held two clinics, and is planning on holding two more clinics in the coming two months. It is the first time that an all-Honduran Presbyterian volunteer team has mounted an effort like this. The effort is transforming the church’s idea of what mission is. It can seem that because we have needs and scarce economic resources, that we have nothing to give anyone else. But the truth is, we create abundance by bravely participating in God’s work and saying “yes” to the call.

On behalf of the Presbyterian Church of Honduras, I want to thank all of you who participate in God’s work in Honduras by praying for us, donating time and money, and by building relationships and partnerships with the church here. Thank you for sending me to accompany the Honduras church, and thank you for believing in them.

Dori


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