For nearly 20 years, area residents have supported children in one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest countries.
The Honduras Promise Children program has changed somewhat, but community support continues to help it thrive.
Formed by Bemus Point's St. Timothy Lutheran Church in 1993, the program began as a partnership with Gerizim Church in Tegucigalpa.
Lisa Best gives a speech to Honduran families in October as her fellow mission team members look on. Best said she thanked the families for sharing their children and their lives with the mission team. The Honduras Promise Children program, formed by Bemus Point’s St. Timothy Lutheran Church in 1993, offers sponsorships for 37 children and their families. At least once per year, local residents travel to Honduras for a one-week mission trip. In addition to Best, the team included Sarah Goebel, Laurie and Jordan Goold, and Dr. Wolf and Dale Ann Krahn, R.N.
Sonnie Samuelson, church member, had sponsored a girl through another ministry. Samuelson decided to meet the girl and traveled to Latin America.
"She met the man who was in charge of the program that we took on," said Gale Svenson-Campbell, of Honduras Promise Children. "That was a boys' orphanage. She came back (to St. Timothy Lutheran) and got sponsors for all of the boys who were in that orphanage."
The program provided monthly support to 24 boys in La Villa de San Francisco, Honduras. As the children grew up, some went on to college.
"In the meantime, we were trying to figure out what we could do out in the little village that we became enamored with," Svenson-Campbell said. "The pastor of this church said, 'Why don't you take on some of the poorest children in the village who live at their homes but need so much. So, that's what we did. We started by sponsoring 25 children. We just started expanding."
A CHANGING PROGRAM
Honduras Promise Children now offers sponsorships for 37 children and their families. Individuals or groups sponsor the children, and each child needs two $25-a-month sponsors.
Currently, the program needs a few more donors.
"We raise money, and then we have the sponsors, so we send quite a bit down there every year," Svenson-Campbell said. "We have a staff that puts on a weekly program for the children. The kids have food, do crafts, games, activities and tutoring. But the mothers would be waiting there, so we started doing things with them, too. We talk to them about making a living or teaching them a skill. Every little thing that you do spreads out more and more into the community. The women get spiritual lectures and educational information."
The sponsorships also provide the children and their families with a monthly allotment of food.
Through the program, mission teams travel from Western New York to Honduras at least once per year at their own expense. In October, Sarah Goebel, Laurie and Jordan Goold, Lisa Best, and Dr. Wolf and Dale Ann Krahn, R.N. took a one-week trip to the country. The team represented four area churches.
They flew into Tegucigalpa, spending a day there. The team then traveled to La Villa de San Francisco to work with the 37 families.
Over the years, area residents ranging in age from children to retirees have made the trip.
"What we do often depends on who is going - the makeup of the team," Goebel said, noting previous mission teams have taken on construction projects. "This time we were fortunate enough to have Dr. Wolf and Dale Ann Krahn with us, so we were able to do a medical piece to the mission."
The Krahns examined the children. The others organized various activities.
"The kids ask us why we come," Goebel said. "We tell them, 'We come because we love you, we love God and we're trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus.' What I think is really cool is the mothers can't wait to bring us the report cards on the progress of the kids in school. ... Our kids feel so important because these North Americans are there because of them. We try to support the community in general, too. We've gotten a couple of grants; we've given money for supplies to the school. ... It begins to have far-reaching impacts."
After making multiple trips to Honduras, the mission team members' priorities have changed.
"You come back with a different attitude," Mrs. Krahn said. "It's like, 'Should I really spend $30 on an anti-wrinkle cream, or should I donate to the church?' The love you feel for the children is enormous."
"You're standing in the kitchen making coffee, and all of the sudden you're just so grateful that you have fresh, safe running water and an endless supply of it," Best added. "I get only one week of vacation a year, and I spend it (on the mission trip)."
It's not yet clear when the next mission team will visit Honduras. However, all of those who went on the trip in October plan to return.
"Just going once (isn't enough)," Dr. Krahn said. "It doesn't mean anything unless you follow through."
Those interested in becoming a sponsor or going on a trip can contact Goebel at 450-2986.
A typical trip costs about $1,200 per person.
"Anyone who has ever thought they might want to go on a short mission trip - this is a great opportunity to give it a try," Goebel said. "It's relatively safe. It's a well-established mission trip. It's fun. It's work, and you're exhausted. But, it's an incredible feeling. It's a wonderful week."
One of the Honduras Promise Children program's former missionaries, Katie Castro, now works full time in Tegucigalpa with her husband, Javier.
They run La Raza Ministries, a program for teenagers who are lost, abandoned, abused or frightened.
"Katie was one of the girls who went with us years ago, when she was 14 or 15," Svenson-Campbell said. "She just fell totally in love with it and decided to go into international work."
An upcoming fundraiser will benefit La Raza Ministries. Area residents can order plates featuring two dozen assorted homemade cookies for $10. All proceeds will benefit the program.
To obtain an order form, contact Goebel at 450-2986 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Orders will be available for pickup at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Saturday, Dec. 22.