• 68°

Happy holidays from Honduras

Christmas is different in Honduras.

Traditional images of snowy woods and gray skies, mittens and roaring fires, stacks of gifts, are misplaced. Honduras is a land of coastal mountains, azure waters, clouds drifting slow and ghostly through the treetops of rain forests, white beaches and poverty. It’s a place of wonder, and need, and it’s where Jennifer Calhoun and her family choose to spend the holidays, away from comfort and plenty, among the poor, doing the Lord’s work.

“Our purpose is to bring people to Jesus Christ, and we do this by sharing God’s love in practical ways — we coordinate with local missionaries and local community leaders to give relief to families in need.”

Calhoun’s seven-member mission team — herself, Mike Alex and Lisa Calhoun; Matthew Hilton; Amy Waldon; and Hayden Waldon — arrived to work in the area around La Ceiba, on the country’s northern Caribbean coast, on Dec. 17 and will stay through Christmas, departing back to Brookhaven Dec. 26.

They paid their own way, about $1,500 each, to bring bags of food, clothing, shoes, hygiene products, child supplies, a few toys and a lot of prayer to the needy families there along the coastal plane and into the green mountains beyond.

“We direct our efforts in areas which do not normally get help, or get very little help due to their remote location or the perception they are in dangerous areas,” Calhoun said. “And when I say remote, I’m talking about areas where the road is often impassable except by 4x4s, motorcycles, horses or on foot. It’s not uncommon for us to drive five or 10 miles to a remote mountain location and walk in the last two miles or more.”

When they arrive at a village, the bring bags of food, clothing and Christmas shoeboxes for the children containing hygiene items, school supplies, candy and a few small toys. They meet and pray for the sick. This year, they took enough supplies to hand out to around 1,000 children.

There’s no easy way for Calhoun to explain the process that happens before her eyes.

“Imagine a family struggling to survive — imagine a little girl in that family. She is a sweet child with the clothes on her back and not much else,” she said. “She rarely gets anything that is hers, as she has several brothers and sisters. She does not have her own toys or many clothes, and no shoes worth wearing. Then one day, just before Christmas, a group of missionaries from the U.S. comes to her village. They give her a box — her very own box. She does not have to share it with her brothers and sisters. She is so happy she has a box, and she must hug those strange people who gave it to her.

“Then, she realizes there is something in that box. A shirt, underwear, socks, a few small toys, flip-flops and a doll. Imagine that precious girl with a look of joy that is indescribable. In that one moment, for that very short time, she can be a little girl. She can forget her family’s struggles, and she knows someone loves her.

“Later, she finds out those people gave her mom a bag of food for Christmas. She can enjoy being a child and, at least for Christmas, she is not hungry. There is not a more powerful way to tell her she is loved. There is not a more powerful way to tell her whole family they are loved by Jesus Christ, and there is hope in him. And this is told to them without saying a word.”

Calhoun’s Honduras trip started in 2006, in Brookhaven. Back then, she started a mission of feeding people on Thanksgiving Day. A few years later, the family began making annual mission trips to Costa Rica in July, where they would go door-to-door to pass out bags of food and pray for families. After the Calhouns had gone, the Costa Rica mission served Christmas Day meals, just like in Brookhaven. Her daughter asked if they could make the trip on Christmas instead of July, and in 2011, they went on their first Christmas mission trip.

In 2013, the mission in Costa Rica stopped the Christmas event, and the Calhouns began their annual holiday journey to Honduras.

Throughout the year, Calhoun collects the small toys and supplies that will be distributed for Christmas. She hits up the sales and dollar stores — Dollar General donated shoes for this year’s trip — and ships the supplies to Honduras in early November, along with shoeboxes for the children put together with help from First United Methodist Church of Brookhaven, Victory Baptist Church in Lincoln County and Trinity United Church in McComb. Cash for the mission is raised through two Sunday lunches at FUMC each year and proceeds from the Ole Brook Rodeo.

The food bags contain three pounds of beans, three pounds of rice, two pounds of corn meal, one pound of flour and a half-pound of shortening, sugar, salt and powdered milk. This year, the mission will hand out 600 food bags.

It may be the most some Hondurans get all year.

“The people of Honduras are loving, welcoming and appreciative of anything and everything that is offered to them,” Calhoun said. “They do not get any financial support from the government. Hondurans have the same wants and desires as we do in the state. But there is a lot of poverty in Honduras. Many people do without the essentials and struggle to survive.”

Calhoun said there are a few ways people can support her mission team. First, they need prayer. Secondly, any group — civic club, non-profit, church or business — can help collect and assemble shoeboxes for the children, or donate shoebox or food items.

She also encouraged people to pray for Honduras, find a mission to support and go on a mission trip themselves.

“Everyone on the team believes they have been blessed by God and we want to share those blessings, not only at home in the U.S., but also in the foreign mission field,” Calhoun said. “We all love children and want to help people in need. So, this mission is particularly rewarding to us. You can’t go wrong feeding hungry kids and giving them Christmas presents when they would otherwise do without. On a spiritual level, it’s where God has given us the ability to help.”