Here is a recap of my recent trip to Honduras with my wife Brittany.
We left on March 14 and returned on March 22. Flew into San Pedro Sula and took a bus to Copan. We went to the surrounding villages near Copan Ruins. We worked with Brittany’s grandpa, Ron White (Papa), and his missionary friend of over 20 years, John Taylor. John lives in Honduras and is one who gave Ron the idea to do eyeglass mission trips two decades ago.
Ron and John have done countless eyeglass missions together, as well as cofounding Ron John Surf Shops. They also created Papa Johns. (I have like 30 of these but I’ll stop here.) We had a great time hanging out with them every day and listening to all of their stories and shenanigans.
We spent five days going to villages and distributed over 1,200 pairs of glasses. One day Brittany and I rode in the back of a truck for two hours there and back on what apparently were “roads” but you could have fooled me. We nearly were driven off a cliff multiple times while winding around the mountains, and I have to say that I have never been closer to Jesus. And I mean that as – I had never been closer to meeting him face to face.
This was the first time Brittany had been on a mission trip, and she had an amazing experience and did so well. This was the first medical mission trip I’d been on. On my previous mission trips, we’d basically just show up at a school and act out a couple of Carman songs, play with the kids and then leave. This time, I was interacting in a way that was totally out of my comfort zone.
Brittany had taken some Spanish in high school and college and was studying up again prior to the trip. She really impressed all of us with how well she could speak Spanish and communicate with the people who came for glasses. She seriously did a phenomenal job and was so sweet and kind to all of the people and the children. She, Ron and John were even interviewed by a local news station! She dove right into a different culture, and I was reminded once again how easy it is to fall in love with her.
My high school Spanish didn’t stick with me as well, and I honestly had a hard time with the language barrier. The only thing I remembered from Spanish class was how to ask where I could buy some pork rinds.
We discovered that both Brittany and I have strengths in different areas. Brittany was amazing at speaking with the people, helping them find the right glasses, and you know… doing what we went there to actually do. While I, on the other hand, was mainly good at handing out candy to the kids, and of course making sure everyone had enough pork rinds.
Honestly, I struggled on this trip. It was hard work. It was mentally exhausting mostly. I had a headache most days because I was struggling so much with communication.
I was told a few phrases to use in helping people find glasses:
“Es mejor o peor?” – Is this better or worse? (We were moving them through a line of prescription glasses that increased and decreased.)
“Es claro?” – Is it clear?
“Sabre leer?” – Can you read?
Again, Brittany nailed it all. For some reason, I had so many people who just wouldn’t answer me. I told Brittany and she thought I was lying, then she watched me and then said, “Wow, you are right. They don’t answer you.”
Here’s a little example of a standard convo I had:
Person sits down. I hold up glasses testers to their eyes and place a newspaper in front of them.
Me: “Es mejor o peor?”
Me: “Es mejor o peor?”
Them: Silence as they continue randomly looking through all the glasses with no system whatsoever.
Me: “Es claro?”
Them: Various Spanish words.
Me: “No hablo Espanol.”
Them: Even more Spanish words and finger pointing.
Me: “Brittany, what’s Spanish for, ‘Why don’t you understand that I don’t understand what you’re saying?’”
Like I said, I had a hard time, but I did the best I could. I tried to stay focused on knowing why we were there, because I knew we were helping people.
I had this one moment where I looked at the many in need who came to receive glasses. Then, I looked at my beautiful wife right next to me answering the call of God, and I thought to myself, “Wow… I am really not enjoying this.”
Probably the highlight of the trip for me was right after that moment, though. I went over to the eye chart where Ron and John were working with some of the students from a school and testing which kids were having trouble with distance vision. They would have them read letters off of a chart and assess them based on how well they did and then fit them for the right glasses. I thought, “Hey, I can point at letters,” so I jumped in and harnessed my Vanna White skills.
A lot of the kids were nervous so I was able to joke around with them and (hopefully) take the pressure off. Then, this one girl, probably about 9 or 10 years old, got up and couldn’t make out the letters from far back so we had her take a few steps closer to the board. Again, she couldn’t make out what they were, so we had her get directly up to the board. She still couldn’t tell me what the letters were, and we realized that she couldn’t really read.
We didn’t know what to do because if she couldn’t tell us the names of letters, we couldn’t really assess what she was seeing or not. We were about to send her on out when I had an idea I believe was from the Holy Spirit. “What if she just mirrors the number of fingers I’m holding up from a distance?” We gave it a shot.
I took a few steps back and help up five fingers. She held up four. I held up two fingers, she held up one. She was always off by one. Ron thought for a moment and grabbed a pair of glasses and put them on her.
I held up five fingers. She held up five. I held up three; she held up three. She could see clearly! It was amazing. We realized that maybe the reason she didn’t know the alphabet was because she could never see it in class.
We were able to give hundreds of people the opportunity to see and to experience love that doesn’t ask for anything in return. Love that didn’t even say, “Hey let me tell you about Jesus before I help you out.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ approach to people written about in the Gospels. A lot of people will just start preaching or giving unsolicited sermons to people who don’t really want to hear them. But when Jesus encountered someone, he would first have compassion, he would listen, he would heal them, and then after all of that he would say something like, “Go and sin no more.”
I think we get his methods mixed up. We preach before we have compassion. Unsolicited advice is annoying, but unsolicited condemnation can be disastrous. The method of Jesus is to have compassion, give help, and then give instruction. It’s something I’ve really been thinking a lot about.
Maybe sometimes people don’t need to hear a Bible verse. Maybe sometimes they just need a new pair of glasses and a smile.