Steve Poulson link letter no.5 September 2018

Dear friends,

It’s been a tumultuous few months in Honduras. From the aftermath of the presidential elections of last year and living for a time under martial law to the more recent transport strikes, it’s been a challenging environment and one that I’ve learnt to not just survive in but thrive. According to government figures, things are getting better with the murder rate down 30 per cent to just 14 per day. The dubious title of “the murder capital of the world” is now with El Salvador, but we’re not far behind and life is still full of tension and unknowns.

I’ve grown used to continually checking my rear-view mirror for cars or motorbikes following and always staying in gear while at traffic lights. I no longer really notice the three security guards outside banks with shotguns and take it for granted that you get searched whenever entering one. I know the procedure of what to do when passing through police and military check points.

A road block during anti-government protests. From rigged elections to raising petrol prices, people were not happy.

While not being complacent about this part of the culture, I have accepted it and am able to concentrate on what I am really here to do. Last August, after driving to a town an hour outside of the capital called Talanga, through police check points and winding roads with overloaded lorries and hardly-maintained cars, I end up having a cup of aromatic Honduran coffee with a friend of mine Lorena. Talanga is a bit like a wild-west town, with dusty roads, wall-to-wall sun, cowboys herding cattle and most living hand-to-mouth.

Lorena told me about an eight-year-old boy who lives in her neighbourhood. Everyone knew him as “Maldad” which translated means “Evil”; even the local police only knew him by this name. As we reflected on this, we couldn’t help but feel despair for this poor boy.

What chance does he have being known as this? How does he see himself if that’s what everyone calls him?

We felt led to do more than just pray. Although it did start in prayer, we knew that we needed to gather around a few friends and begin the mentoring programme that we had seen in Guatemala. It’s designed specifically for children who live in high-risk situations and uses the latest research in trauma and brain development to help equip mentors to support their mentees. If only we could get just five of us together, we would see transformation in those children’s lives! So, we set about finding those friends and during the process were invited to present the programme to one of the local churches.

From there we then kept being approached by pastors who wanted to know about this mentoring programme that everyone was talking about. We ended up presenting in eight different churches in Talanga and several more that were further afield, as well as training at least 50 individuals in how to be a mentor. What we were most amazed by was how God had simply opened doors and placed us with the right people at the right time. Of course, we worked very hard at getting all of this done but we didn’t force anything. God was leading the way.

To fast forward several months, we have been able to establish seven developing mentoring centres with another being established this month. We have 18 mentors paired with a mentee each and by the end of this year we will have 36. We’ve grown to the point where I can no longer carry out all the responsibilities with everything else I have to do, so we have just contracted a full-time coordinator for the project.

Some of our mentors: these work in Talanga but we have other mentors based in six other locations around Honduras.

It’s a really exciting time where we are forming a board of trustees and really setting out the long-term vision for the project. But of course, I mustn’t get lost in telling you about the admin as it’s really about the people.

The boy that I mentor, Cristofer, who I mentioned in my previous link letter, was not registered at birth. He legally doesn’t exist and therefore has no access to healthcare or education. We are in the process of getting his papers and should have them any day now. We made a deal with his school that by the end of the year we would have him registered and are nearly there! We also took him to a dentist and had his teeth checked out. He needed one tooth taking out and needs to go back for five fillings. It’s been a challenge getting him to brush his teeth, but I realise that’s not a Honduras-specific struggle!

What has been amazing to see over the past few months that I’ve been mentoring him is not actually his average exam results of 99 per cent or knowing that he’s no longer got worms living inside of him (that was an interesting few days), but seeing him grow in confidence and really come out of his shell. Previously he had not acknowledged anyone and would be terrified to talk to new people, whereas now (albeit with some caution still) he will greet the visitors that I bring along with me, have conversations with them and ask if they want to go and play PlayStation in the local arcade.

Cristofer’s latest test results. He’s doing rather well!

He’s grown up neglected and abused, not only abandoned but actively rejected by his mother and has a father who sadly doesn’t have the capacity to be a dad. He’s grown up feeling unloved and alone. So, along with the others in the project and town where he lives, we’ve been able to show him that he is special, that he does have a future, that he is loved. Anti-parasite medicine is pretty strong stuff, but knowing you’re loved will transform your life.

Transformed lives are what we are working to see with this new mentoring programme, which we have called “Proyecto Alas” or “Project Wings”. All but two of our mentors are Honduran and it seems to be a great way to engage those who are willing to serve, but don’t quite know how to. It can be very difficult to know where to step in such a dark and shadowy place, so this well-lit path for mentoring has empowered local Christians to take some steps outside their church doors.

In my last link letter, I wrote about the murder of Leon. In that high-risk area, there have been several more deaths, mostly of young people between the ages of 16 and 30. I particularly remember going to the funeral of one, Bairon, murdered at the age of 18. It’s customary to have an open casket here and it was the second funeral I’d been to that week. The first was for a lady who had died at the age of 90 and so although you get a bit spooked about seeing a body you can kind of process it. However, seeing Bairon’s body (who had been brutally beaten to death) was not so easy. I had eaten dinner with him only a week or so before.

Murder seems to be an awkward theme to base a link letter on I suppose, but I chose it to demonstrate that amongst all the deaths, we are also seeing new life. Please don’t ignore the bad stuff that I write about, but do focus more on the good. The victory has already been won and we simply need to learn to walk in that truth. Through not just this mentoring programme but in all the other projects where I work, we see light, we see change and we see new life and opportunities. Maybe the theme of this link letter isn’t murder after all, but new life.

One last thing before I sign off. I would like to thank God for the life of Rev Paul Boughton, who went to be with the Lord earlier this year.

He was the vicar of The Benefice of Goring and Streatley, who are partnered with me. They remain in my prayers during this difficult time of continued transition. I know that Paul’s energy for mission, both in doing it himself and supporting others in it, will echo into eternity.

With love

Steve

 

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