My Medical Trip to Honduras
by Stephen David Watson
Under the aegis of CWE, a group of 21 folks from a wide variety of backgrounds, professions, churches and locations in the United States gathered in the Miami, Florida airport on July 29, 2017. This group of people was all volunteers for a medical mission trip to the far western Honduras region. Our trip was to take some eight days and held the promise of new experiences for all of us. Everyone in our group was well aware of the fact that we were not making this trip as a pseudo-vacation. Each of us knew that this was a working trip primarily to share the Gospel in addition to the medical care that we would give. We also knew that we would have many opportunities to show our concern and compassion for the Honduran people.
It was a time-consuming endeavor to get our group of Americans through customs at the airport. The Honduran customs folks make their best effort to move everyone along. Every passenger was required to go into an enclosed area, find their belongings and then match the suitcases with the luggage ticket that they were given by American Airlines. It took our group probably 20 minutes to complete this task because we had somewhere around 35 suitcases and large coolers or packers. After gathering our luggage and equipment, we stopped at “chez Burger King” and then headed off from Tegucigalpa for points west. Our trip involved several hours of driving on paved roads and then the last several hours were heading up the mountains into western and far western Honduras. The entire trip was scheduled to take us about eight hours. Six hours into our drive and in the early evening, our bus broke down in the town of Esperanza. It was raining and, by this time, most everyone was just feeling a little bit miserable and tired. We were all able to get out of the bus and slogged inside a small store next to the road that probably did not measure more than 20’ x 20’. We had no idea when we would be able to leave. There was a bathroom in the back but no sink, no chairs and basically the situation looked fairly bleak.
There were three employees in that store. While we were there, everyone just tried to put their mind on idle, hoping and praying for a replacement bus to come for us so we could continue on with our journey. Paul Puleo took the initiative and proceeded to present the Gospel to those three employees. Each one of them prayed to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior! Three hours later, a bus pulled up in front of the store and we were able to get on our way. It was a difficult evening so far but we had to have a sense of gratitude for the fact that there were three more lives that were now headed for Heaven!
I suspect God had his reason for this side trip to the store.
We arrived at our local domicile, the Cocepradil Hotel, in Candelaria, the Lempira district of Honduras at 1:30 in the morning local time. The trip had taken us literally 12 hours! We were exhausted! The men were divided up into two fairly large dorm rooms while the ladies had their smaller accommodations to enjoy. Everyone was tired enough that it was marvelous just to be able to close your eyes and sleep.
Because of our extremely late arrival, our Sunday morning passed without the opportunity to make it to a church service. We had lunch and then began the process of preparing the medications and other medical supplies for our clinics to be held Monday through Thursday. There were four medical teams of two people and we spent several hours getting everything set up for the week. At the same time, the four evangelists’ teams prepared to be able to present the Gospel to the multitudes of people we would see. After dinner Sunday evening, we had our scheduled devotions and then some discussion about the week to follow.
Monday morning, we traveled to the small town of San Lorenzo where CWE construction teams had just, that previous Thursday, dedicated a brand-new building for Bible training. To go from a dirt hillside to a finished concrete slab floor, concrete block walls, metal ceiling joists and a metal roof with metal windows and doors in three weeks is incredible! Those people trusted CWE to do what had not been able to be accomplished in the past. They were not disappointed! The building is the fifth of its size and structure that CWE has built in Honduras for Bible study and ministry training over the years. At the dedication service, there were 300 people present, rejoicing and praising God for this beautiful facility for their pastors to come to for further training and learning. These buildings serve not only as a wonderful facility for teaching, but they also let the local people know that that there are Americans that care about them. Our God is not God of just the Americans. He is the God of those beautiful Honduran people as well!
We set up our medical stations, reading glasses station and the four evangelists’ stations. At about the usual 9 a.m. start time, we began seeing patients. It was a busy day with 252 patients being seen or cared for over the course of the day. We saw 182 patients among the medical teams, 43 people for reading glasses and 27 people treated by our two dentists. Those dentists were incredible as they worked virtually nonstop through the day. What we in this country have no way of grasping is just how abject poverty affects not only one’s living accommodations, possessions, opportunities and nutrition but also the health of a person’s teeth. We saw babies one to two years old whose teeth were rotted down to the gum line! That is devastating to a person’s health. With the lack of education and poor nutrition as well as eating habits, so many people have few teeth. The teeth that they do have are, in many cases, potentially dangerous to their health. The babies will be given something sweet to suck on at night and, of course, that leads to a rapid destruction of their teeth. Of all the people that we saw that day, 87 folks prayed to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior! There were 91 people who professed to already being saved! Praise the Lord!
After a good meal back at our compound, we had devotions as we always do. The emphasis is always on serving the local people where we find ourselves. In addition, the CWE discussion brings the focus of our minds as team members back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8-10 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, though not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works, so that no man may boast. For we are the handiwork of God, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,”(NIV). We were there that week on a God-ordained mission to show love and compassion and the Gospel to those people.
On Tuesday morning, in a few, short minutes we arrived at the church worksite in the town of Candelaria refreshed and ready to begin the process of setting up before seeing patients. On this day, we saw 216 patients among the various stations. There were 84 people, however, who committed their life to Jesus Christ for the first time! After a long, hot day, feeling tired and hungry, it was a joy to hear about those people whose names were written down in Heaven for the first time!
In conversation with one of the local pastors who was working with us, we found out that the nearest medical facility that has operating rooms and can give advanced levels of medical care is almost 4 hours by vehicle from the town of Candelaria. I can remember seeing an elderly woman who had cataracts in both eyes. The chance of her ever having her vision corrected is extremely small just because of the logistical challenges necessary to get her to that facility. This woman’s family is likely very poor and unlikely to have any motorized vehicle except possibly an old motor scooter. How would a woman in her 70's or 80's make a trip of four hours to get medical care? This does not even consider the effects of other conditions such as vascular disease that result in a heart attack or a stroke. Patients that suffer those issues have very little hope. There just is no medical care available in the outlying areas. There are times when we are perhaps not as grateful as we should be for the wonderful opportunities that we have in this country! God has richly blessed us!
Wednesday morning we were up and traveled to the small town of Mapulaca. We found ourselves with a very tiny church in which to fit our medical teams. Thankfully we also had a small out building that was able to hold the evangelists. Our security team members kept busy all day long shuttling people from the medical, dental and glasses stations over to the evangelists’ stations. Every attempt is made to be sure that each individual seen by one of the team members is led to an evangelist’s station so they can hear the Gospel presented in their own language by one of our American evangelists using an Evangecube and a local translator. The translators for the evangelists are also themselves believers so that they speak from their own experience as they translate for the American evangelist. This is all planned out to the last detail so that we can be efficient but also maximize the opportunity to win souls for Christ. On this day we saw 248 patients and 91 people professed a new-found faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior!
Our final clinic day was on Thursday, August 3. We had before us a 90-minute ride through the mountains to the valley near the western border with El Salvador. We were up well before dawn to get everything loaded on the truck and then to make the journey to the clinic site, followed by 30 to 40 minutes of setup, and finally to be able to start seeing patients by 9 a.m. By Thursday, the adrenaline and the excitement of the week was wearing down as everyone was tired and beginning to think of home. At the same time, it was impossible to see the faces of the little children and not wonder; perhaps these are the faces that Jesus was thinking of when he said, “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 19:14, NKJV). We were tired and looking forward to our return home. In the meantime, however, God gave us the desire and the strength to get pumped up for one last big push on this day to see every person we could see. When we arrived in the small town of Virtud, there were approximately 300 people waiting to see us. On this morning, as we did every clinic morning, we gathered in a circle with all of the team members and the local pastors and their helpers who were accompanying us prior to starting the clinic day. We grasped hands and then prayed. First one person on the team prayed in English and then one of the local pastors prayed in the local language. The local people saw our commitment to God and to them. Prayer is one of the finest activities of our day!
Thursday was our final clinic day, I had a young woman that sat down at my table. She was attired in a very nice blouse and skirt and appeared to be healthy and happy. She was carrying a baby boy that seemed to be about 9 months old. He appeared to be clean and well cared-for. I do not remember the young woman’s chief complaint. What struck me, however, was that she was only 14 years old! She was carrying her own baby! What happened to this girl’s childhood? Apparently this is not an unusual phenomena in Honduras and in numerous other societies in developing countries. What chance do little girls have to ever better themselves or their babies? Is it not for this situation that Jesus said in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature,” (NKJV). On this final clinic day, we saw 341 people! Not one person exhibited any frustration or lack of gratitude for anything that we did. We saw even a few men in between all the women and children. We were told that in itself was unusual. One elderly woman was seen that was almost 100 years old. My oldest patient was a dear, sweet lady of 84 years. I had the pleasure of offering her my arm and walking her to the evangelist’s station. What a humbling experience! That lady was one of the folks that accepted Jesus that day as Lord and Savior for the first time! What a joy that was for me!
Thursday evening was our last evening out in the field at the end of our week of work. We had devotions for one more time. The theme of our week during devotions was a "Burning Passion" to share our faith. I can say for myself that prior to reaching the age of 65, I had never presented the Gospel to anyone. That fact had been gnawing at my heart for the last several years. I had taken a class in my church learning to share my faith. I had grown up on the mission field in Africa but had never returned to a foreign mission field until becoming acquainted with CWE three years ago. This trip for me was an opportunity to serve the people of Honduras. It was also an opportunity to reflect on my own life and to assess where I am in my walk with the Lord. I believe that God calls each of us as His followers to not only live for Him but to share His life, death and resurrection with a dying world. CWE is an organization that consistently seeks to fill the needs of people who cannot accomplish the task themselves. CWE brings a medical team on the heels of the construction team to maximize the ministry opportunities. For those who go on construction and medical trips with CWE, the hours are long and the work tiring. The rewards are eternal as we realize we have been in the service of the King! Matthew 25:40 says, “And the King shall answer and say unto them, 'Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'” Praise His Holy Name!
Friday morning we were up by 6 o’clock, had breakfast and prepared for an 8am departure for Tegucigalpa. We were definitely looking forward to going home because we had accomplished what we came to do. At the same time, however, there was a measure of sadness about leaving this place and the people that we had the pleasure of working with during this week. When God puts missions into a person’s heart and mind, he gives not only a desire to be involved in that work but also enjoyment and even gratitude for the opportunity to be involved. The rewards are eternal as we realize we have been in the service of the King! Praise His Holy Name!
Saturday as I sat in the airport in Tegucigalpa, I asked the Lord to give me an opportunity to speak to someone about the Gospel. A gentleman sat down next to me. It turned out that he only spoke Spanish. I could not talk with him but managed to get a Spanish tract into his hands. I noticed that he really read the tract. As we exited the aircraft in Miami, another volunteer worked with me and proceeded to tell this gentleman, in Spanish, about Jesus. The man prayed to accept Jesus as his Savior while streams of other arriving international travelers walked past us! Before he left, he implored us to be sure to have Pastor Rios contact him when he returned from a short visit to family in New Orleans. God clearly answered my prayer, right away and even with someone with whom I could not even speak!
Reflecting back on this trip brings joy and fulfillment to my heart. There was a comradeship and friendship that quickly developed between the team members. There was a sense of mutual support and purpose that is very rewarding. We met some wonderful Honduran translators and pastors. All of us have pleasant memories of our patients. I left Honduras with a sense of fulfillment and God’s call upon my life. 2 Timothy 1:9-10 (NIV) says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” I praise His Name!
Dr. Stephen Watson is an interventional pain management physician. He and his family live in Tampa, Florida. Dr. Watson serves as a CWE Medical Committee member.