Long Road to Serve

As I sit down to write memories of this trip, many come to mind. Memories of smiling children, feverish patients, muddy rivers, karaoke over breakfast, and amazing people. For me, service trips are always about honoring the Lord, but also about the excitement of travel and seeing new places that most never get to experience. I love the opportunity to be taken into a local family’s home and learn about different cultures first hand. This was to be my 20 year-old daughter’s first mission trip, and I was excited for her. The night we drove to San Francisco to catch our red eye for Houston where we would rendezvous with the rest of the team, my daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, this is such an answer to prayer. I get to go and devote the next five days purely to serving the Lord.” In that moment, I was humbled by her heart.   I knew that family and friends were praying that the trip would be all about revealing God’s glory through our service, and nothing else. Love that memory!

Travel from Napa to the Patuca River region of Honduras where we would be working in a health clinic proved to be, well, interesting. We flew into Tegucigalpa, which I discovered is one of the most dangerous airports in the world to land in! Our team rode in trucks for nearly six hours … first through crazy Honduran city traffic, then on roads that became increasingly rough, until they were bumpy rut filled dirt pathways. As we traveled, we were able to really appreciate the lush surroundings. I don’t think I had ever seen so many shades of green. I am certain that Crayola doesn’t have all those colors even in the jumbo box! The dusty, red mountain roads were a lovely contrast to the green trees that hugged the road and spilled down the mountainside. The next morning, we drove to the Patuca River, loaded our bags, supplies, and pharmaceuticals onto 35 foot long canoes, and had the incredible experience of a 1 ½ hour ride down river into the jungle, to where we would be setting up the clinic. From the clinic location, we rode over extremely rough roads with deep ruts, parts of the road were washed out, and finally through (yes, through!) a river, until we reached the farm where we would be spending our nights. The only thing more terrifying for me than that road was the thought of that road being slippery and muddy! So grateful for my mom’s prayers that it wouldn’t rain while we were there. That road was not my favorite memory … but it makes a good story! After days of sleeping in tents, surviving the heat and humidity, and sharing the clearing where our tents were pitched with a large pig (whom we nicknamed Bacon), roosters, a cow, and even a spider monkey named Wiley …. and taking “bucket baths” from the pila (a large concrete basin that holds water, which came with its own live-in fish), we learned to appreciate even the most basic of accommodations!

But I digress … the goal was our service at the health clinic providing medical and dental care to impoverished people living in the Patuca River area, the most remote region of Honduras.

The clinic building is situated on a hill overlooking the river. It is a modest cement building, with bare cement floors and open, glassless windows with shutters. A porch lines the front of the building that would act as our triage/intake area that also provided a window where the “pharmacy” would take place.   The large front room had the most lighting and it was decided that the dental clinic would be in there. Three small exam rooms fed off the large room, some of them very dark due to the fact we had no electricity. Simple wood tables and chairs that looked as if they had seen better days were loaned by local farms, put into place, and before long we had a clinic that was ready for patients.

People were in line long before we had finished our set up. This is where the joy happened for me. People who desperately needed dental care waited a little anxiously for their turn with the dentists. Young and old, people were eager for tooth extractions that would put an end to the toothaches. Young mothers came with babies on their hips, some wanting to see the doctor because their child had a rash or an earache, some to joyfully find they were expecting another child. Older adults came for blood pressure medication and antibiotics. It was the smiles that made my heart melt. There was no attitude of entitlement, but rather an attitude of pure gratitude that transcended language barriers.

At TerraMica’s request, the local municipality provided 5 physicians to meet the medical needs of people attending the clinic. I appreciate that TerraMica’s leadership identified the needs in the community and coordinated all possible resources so that the people are now cared for.   As a result of the TerraMica health clinics, there is now one full time nurse in the clinic and doctors who visit on a regular basis.

Our dental team treated each patient with tenderness and dignity. The dental room became almost unbearably hot in the afternoons and the dentists and team members assigned to assist them worked tirelessly with only brief water breaks between patients. Some patients had never been to a dentist, and our three dentists took special care to make sure the first visit was a good experience for them.

I did intake for both the medical and dental teams. Endless vital signs and taking patient’s weights would have become monotonous if it weren’t for the fact that I had so many babies to play with and cuddle when they would let me, which was surprisingly very often. The hours at the clinic flew by for me.

You know that one picture that stays in your memory, that one moment you want to capture and hold on to? For me it was when we had closed up the clinic. The lines had long since disappeared and there were just a few people still lingering nearby. We had lugged all of the equipment back down to the river and we were boarding the boats that would take us back home. A group of about 5 stood together on the riverbank as we pulled off shore, smiling and waving as we pulled out. It spoke of a relationship that didn’t need us to speak the same language, but existed because we came together to help one another. For me that moment said it all. That is the memory I will hold on to.

-- by Lynette Larsen, RN, TerraMica volunteer