A Letter from Dori Hjalmarson, serving in Honduras
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I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because THE LORD your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9, Common English Bible
This verse was read before I knelt and prayed before the Presbyterian congregations of Honduras, their pastors’ hands laid on me, and I was installed as the mission co-worker assigned to work with them for the next four-year term.
The commandment to be “brave and strong,” to not be afraid, was particularly meaningful to me because I arrived in Honduras immediately after a time of political turmoil and violence. At the time of my installation, I had spent the past month heeding my Honduran colleagues’ advice on where to go and not go, whether to drive alone, whether to visit strange neighborhoods for the first time. I had chosen a rental home and a car with safety and security as my primary goals. I had watched news of political protesters killed by military forces, police officers killed by gang members, bus drivers extorted for “taxes” to thugs, a corporate executive arrested for masterminding the assassination of an environmental activist. There is plenty to fear in Honduras.
I am used to being independent and bold — as a journalist and as a chaplain, I went into places where others feared to tread. I am not used to heeding the fears and worries of others: I travel alone, I live alone, I have driven cross-country alone, I have accompanied the dying alone in their hospital rooms.
“Be brave and strong.” “Don’t be terrified.” I mulled over those words as I knelt on Pastor Edin Samayoa’s sweater — he had taken it off and put it on the floor to cushion my knees. Pastor Edin pastors a church in a neighborhood where I am not allowed to go alone, or at night, and where newcomers have to announce their presence, roll down the car windows, and get permission from gang members to enter.
Your God goes with you wherever you go. Those words were made flesh to me as I was helped to my feet, and dozens of people, everyone in the congregation, came forward to embrace me and hug me tight, and whisper in my ear their blessings and prayers. “I’m with you, you’re not alone.” “I pray God’s blessing on you.” “You are already a blessing to us, and we are so happy you’re here.” “Whatever you need, we will be there for you.” “We love you.” I felt their hands on my shoulders, their lips on my cheek, their tears of joy and welcome on my shoulder.
They are with me, and I am with them, and God is among us, wherever we are. In my short time in Honduras, I have seen the flowering of new projects and ideas, sparks of the Holy Spirit’s movement — among lay pastors studying to improve their care of their congregations, among women working to take over and renovate a spiritual retreat center for the benefit of all 26 Presbyterian churches here. I am learning also to reach out towards the warm spirit of caring that has been offered to me here. Nothing I do here will be alone. The Holy Spirit will be with me, embodied in the care and concern of hundreds of church members, the hospitality of strangers who have become family. I am learning to leave “alone” behind.
Thank you for your continued support, care and prayers. I welcome letters and emails, and visits if you are making your way to Honduras soon. I have already heard from so many of you, and your letters and prayers encourage me, and remind me that I am not alone. Thank you.
Please consider accompanying me financially. Your gifts enable me to continue working with the congregations of Honduras and strengthen our churches’ partnerships. Your financial gifts enable me to continue developing relationships within the Presbyterian church of Honduras, strengthening the global body of Christ. Your support helps me accompany the teachers and students of a new pastoral education program, to walk with the women’s council of the church as they develop a new retreat and conference center, to continue deepening the relationships with our partners in Honduras.
New relationships, new life at retreat center
This year the tapestry of partnerships between U.S. and Honduran Presbyterians became more intricate. The women’s ministry of the Honduran Presbyterian Church received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Presbyterian Women organization — about two-thirds of what is needed to purchase and refurbish a retreat center called Villa Gracia. The center will become a place where all 26 congregations in Honduras may gather for spiritual formation, conferences, camps and education. In two months, the women’s ministry has hosted a day-long retreat titled “The Power of the Wise Woman,” a three-day pastoral education encounter, a lunch-time presentation of scholarships to 95 youth, and a church plenary meeting. The chair of the women’s committee, Selenia Ordóñez, says that the job was so big, she worried it couldn’t be done. “I was stressed out and anxious,” she said, as the women cleaned and repaired rooms, sewed bedclothes and curtains, and planned menus. “But after a successful first event, I started to think it might be possible.” The women say that they trust in God’s help that they will make Villa Gracia into a life-giving and sustainable retreat and conference center.
More help is needed. The Honduras Mission Network of the (PC)USA is making efforts to raise the remaining $70,000. As I write this, about one-third of the needed funds have been raised. For more about the Presbyterian Women grant, go to https://www.presbyterianwomen.org/what_we_do/support-mission/birthday-offering/
If you would like to help the Honduras Mission Network, contact Rev. David Gill, firstname.lastname@example.org, 501-416-8946.
See more on the development of the retreat center, called Villa Gracia, or Village of Grace, at http://villagracia.org/
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