Tela-Made Reflections, Part 2
Someone once asked Sir Edmund Hillary why he climbed Mt Everest. His reply echoes across the 70 years since that era-changing feat. “Because it’s there.”
Hillary’s answer says all you need to know about the nature of human beings. We’re born curious. We’re programmed to explore. Sometimes that gets us into trouble. (Robert Oppenheimer was not the first nor the last human to contemplate his creation and, filled
with horror, ask, ‘What have I done?’) On the other hand, sometimes our curiosity genuinely makes the world a better place. (Give it up for the wonderful Olmec people who invented chocolate.)
I’m writing this article in the departure lounge of San Pedro Sula airport. The medical mission team is going home. Lives have been saved, sustained, and enriched; and I don’t mean just the patients who visited our clinics for treatment and education. I mean us – the team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and unskilled laborers like me. We’ve had our lives transformed also. More on that over the next few weeks of The Eagle (beginning August 15th.)
So, why did these highly trained professionals give up a week of their precious annual leave, buy their own airfare, and choose to live and work for seven days in relatively humble conditions with our partner parish, Espiritu Santo, Tela? Well, as Hillary famously said, because they – the sick, the at-risk, the malnourished, the poverty-stricken, the under-served – were there.
My, how they were there. The team saw over 900 patients and filled over 3,000 prescriptions. They ventured into remote villages and isolated communities. They made home visits to dwellings that US cities would condemn as uninhabitable. And they did it because that is where the people were. It’s also where God was, and where He always will be – on the margins with the humble.
But the motive for mission is more than mere curiosity. It’s love, and there was a ton of it. Love goes where the need is. The team’s heart was the same one that beat within St Paul: “For Christ’s love compels us… We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors… God reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:14-20).
- The average life expectancy in Honduras is 72, which is the 110th highest in the world. (In the US life expectancy is 79: 47th in the world.)
- Only 9% of GDP in Honduras is spent on health care. (In the US it is 18%.)
- Just 4% of the Honduran population is covered by private health insurance.
- In 2013, Honduras had just 0.3 physicians per 1,000 head of population. (In the European Union there are 3.7 physicians per 1,000 people.)
- In Tela, two free, state-run clinics were recently closed due to government cuts. The nearest public healthcare facility, for a town of 70,000, is now a 2-hour bus ride away. Many people can’t afford the bus fare.
- There is a private hospital in Tela, but it is totally inaccessible to all but the wealthiest of residents. A straightforward, non-surgical, outpatient procedure costs 19,000 lempira ($771 US). The minimum wage in Honduras is 5,800 lempira per month ($235 US).
Most of these statistics are lopsided because they include all residents of Honduras, including the materially comfortable and the residents of cities who enjoy better public services. The mission team served in remote villages where there are few, if any, public services and high levels of unemployment (i.e. no minimum wage for many people.)
As a UK national, I have learned to apologize! My people presided over the largest empire in world history, and there are very few crime scenes around the globe where British fingerprints cannot be found, including Central America. Belize (formerly British Honduras) and a host of Caribbean islands were vital to Britain’s economic growth in the 18th and 19th centuries. We are all tragically familiar with the Devil’s Triangle that took human cargo from Africa to the British Caribbean and the 13 colonies (in what is now the US) and took sugar and rum to London. So, when I visit a developing nation, I feel a pang of shame. I felt it in Honduras. Sure, Spanish fingerprints are more obvious at that crime scene, but being there was still a sobering reminder of my own people’s complicity in the sin of global inequality.
In my next article I’ll reflect on the age-old question surrounding missions – do they actually do any good or are we just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic? But for now, focus on this: Guilt is terrible motive for doing mission. Let’s stick to love!