When a local church took a mission trip to Central America May 29 through June 5, there was a mix of experience and expectations. There was experience on the behalf of those who had been before and expectations on the part of those who went for the first time.
A dentist, a power company employee, a retired woman and a funeral home owner all experienced different things. The one consistent hallmark of the experience was God working in their lives and the lives of the people they helped, they said.
The group of 14 from the McDuffie County area went to the village of Las Trojas in Honduras, nearly 1,500 miles from their homes in Thomson. Team members included Marjorie Barnett, James Bloodworth (Bon Air), Charles Groover, Billy Hadden, Britt Hammond, Carroll Hughes, Parker Land, Susan Land, Jerry McClung (Cordele), Michael McGahee, Julia Palmer (Washington), Robert Petrie, Mary Sudlow and Foster Wylie.
At night, they stayed in dormitories at Rancho el Paraiso, a ranch, that helped both villagers in the area and the visiting teams that helped the villagers. In the mornings they traveled nearly an hour and a half to the village of Las Trojas and 600 people who were glad to see them each day. Nearly half that journey was in an army vehicle over dusty, bumpy dirt roads. They were there to share manpower and the word of Christ through example and teaching.
Honduras, the second largest country in Central America, is about the size of Tennessee with a population of nearly 6.9 million.
During their trip, the group finished 19 concrete floors, cemented in 5 latrines, left material to vent 32 chimneys, saw 300 people in the medical clinic, 115 people through the eye clinic and 170 people at a dentist station. A veterinarian that traveled with the team also treated animals at the village.
This week, The McDuffie Mirror tells the story of Mr. Land and Ms. Sudlow. Next week, we feature Dr. Hughes and Mr. Wylie.
Parker Land -- the leader
Mr. Land is a distribution engineer for Georgia Power. He was the co-coordinator of the trip, his third, and worked on the construction crew. He said all he did was take the reigns.
"Tommy Phelps, who has co-coordinated several trips, made most of the arrangements. He picked up from last summer when that trip ended to when this trip began. He handed me a notebook with instructions, and I went from there. I was a leader in title only. I went to Honduras to work."
Mr. Land said the mission effort was coordinated through Honduras Outreach, a non-denominational, Christian organization dedicated to building life-changing relationships between the people of Honduras and caring Americans. Each member was responsible for paying $1,250.
"The trip cost, of course, paid for expenses," he said. "But the thought was also that of self-sacrifice, in both the cost of going and the work involved."
Mr. Land was quick to point out some preconceived notions about the trip were dashed upon arrival at the village.
"Our thinking was we would go to Honduras to help them," he said. "When we got there and saw their spirit, we wound up seeing they mostly needed the material. We basically supplemented them with manpower instead of instruction. They knew how to do; they just needed the things to do it with."
Mr. Land -- whose wife, Dr. Susan Land, was on the mission's medical team -- said the construction team was spread out in different work groups.
"We weren't together," he said, "so that gave us something to discuss at night in devotional times. We really enjoyed the different experiences. We looked back at the day and shared what we learned from the villagers and what they learned from us."
Mr. Land said the weather generally cooperated. While it was hot Monday, the rest of the trip wasn't excruciating heat-wise.
"It rained a little on us, but not enough to stop the work," he said, adding the church group took in plenty of water to keep hydrated.
"We'd stop and drink water during break, and the villagers working with us wouldn't drink at all. It seemed they were used to it, but we had to have the water."
When it came to meals, Mr. Land said he sometimes felt pangs of guilt when it came to food. Most of the villagers ate meagerly.
"I was in one of their homes and saw that all the family of 12 had to eat was some broth and tortillas. I was eating beans, rice and meat, while they ate a lot less. It was a funny feeling," he said.
When asked why he went, the answer was quick.
"You learn there are things that are more important than what occurs in your own little world," he said. "There are no TVs, no cell phones or pagers or computers. You can focus on God and His work for a whole week. When you return, you feel guilty walking into your house with all the comforts when you've spent a week helping people who basically have nothing."
However, having nothing showed Mr. Land one of the most important things he learned.
"It's not about anything but being joyful in the state God puts you in," said Mr. Land. "It's all about enjoying what God gives and enjoying his blessing wherever they are and whenever they come. The people of that village are content. They are not worried they don't have shoes to wear or the latest Nintendo game. You give those kids a soccer ball and it is like giving them a million dollars."
Mr. Land said hygiene packs were given to school kids along with coloring books and crayons.
"You should have seen them. They colored the covers off those books. It was truly incredible to see people get so much from something so small," he said.
While working on pouring the floor for the kindergarten, Mr. Land said he noticed a pillar that would hold a plaque in front of the school.
"They had a plaque there which Honduras Outreach Inc. apparently coordinated. We didn't know about it until the ceremony before we left. They unveiled the plaque that mentioned First Baptist Church of Thomson as having a part in the effort there. They sang songs and several people spoke of their appreciation for our visit," he said, adding there were plenty of tears and hugs.
While glad to be home Mr. Land said there is unfinished business in the village of Las Trojas.
"I want to go back. Next time, we have ideas of building a playground for the children. That's the goal and I want to be a part of that," he said.
Mary Sudlow - a return visit
Mrs. Sudlow is a former schoolteacher and volunteers at the McDuffie Regional Medical Center. On this, her third trip to Honduras, she was a part of the medical team. Although she has no medical experience, Dr. Bob Hughes took care to see she was prepared.
Mrs. Sudlow said the trip allowed her to speak Spanish, a language she learned while living in Mexico.
"Since I have been here, I have had a wish to use it more. So when the talk turns to missions to Honduras, I get anxious. It gives me a chance to share what I know and serve God at the same time," she said.
Her involvement on this trip gave her a chance to look deep into the eyes of the Honduran people.
"I checked eyes, and I am sure no optometrist," she said with still a tinge of disbelief that she actually had such a part in helping the villagers.
"Dr. Bob Hughes had some unused glasses that were brought in, and it occurred to him that maybe we could use them for the Hondurans. He spoke to Dr. Carroll Hughes who suggested me because I can speak the language," she said.
She doubted if she was fit to carry out something involving people's sight, but after prodding, decided to give it a try.
"It kind of scared me. I didn't know anything about checking eyes," Mrs. Sudlow said.
"Dr. Bob Hughes taught me to give a 'tumble E chart' exam, and to be honest it really wasn't complicated. Dr. Hughes read the prescriptions of the glasses and coded them according to strength before we left. When I got to the village, I had 160 pairs of glasses.
"During the checks, I found 90 people who needed the glasses. Some could see fine, but those who needed them got them," she said.
Mrs. Sudlow said there was a high demand for reading glasses, but not for reading.
"These people don't have newspapers or magazines and some can't read. When they came to me, they would say they were having trouble seeing when they sewed. They also mention splinters were hard to remove and other close-in tasks being difficult.
It became tough, because the want for reading glasses was intense, but we took care of them," she said, adding the contingency took Bibles for the people.
Mrs. Sudlow's voice soared when she talked about the exhilaration of watching the eyes of the people dance when she sought to help improve their sight.
"With some," she said, "I would go through several pairs of glasses. And then, I would slip on a pair and that big smile would light up their face and it made my soul so full of thankfulness for the place God allowed me to be to help someone else."
But in the next breath she said occasionally, the task was daunting.
"Sometimes it would seem impossible," she said. "I couldn't find a pair of glasses to help someone. It was then I would pause and say a silent prayer: 'OK Lord- You sent me here to do this- now help me find this person's a pair of glasses.' And in the next pair or two, it always happened. He always provided a pair for the person I wondered if I would ever be able to help. I saw Him work in us in so many ways on this trip."
While the eyeglass work was great, Mrs. Sudlow also said sharing was great.
"I had some pictures I had taken on our last visit and had double copies and I didn't want to throw them away, so I took them with me and passed them out to the people. They loved them and were so happy when I gave them out. I saw God work in so many ways on the trip, but mostly in us learning what God really wants us to do and that is to help others.