Local group builds home, relationships in Honduras

The team from southeastern Minnesota meets with the mayor of Azacualpa, Honduras, during their trip. In front is Tina Reisner. Behind her, from left, are Patty Goldsmith, Kelli O'Byrne, Jessica Fenske and Mary Reisner. In back are Mike Fenske, the Rev. Tim Ward, the mayor, Dave O'Byrne, Dilia Castro, Mike Peterson and Nella Reisner. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Nine days in Honduras, and so many blessings. 

Blessings are certainly what Dave O’Byrne and fellow members of Fillmore Free Methodist Church brought home from their most recent journey south, a trip taken Jan. 3 to Jan. 11 with plans to make life a little better for a family in need of a safe shelter.  The group traveled to Azacualpa, Honduras, a town of about 10,000 people in western Honduras near the Guatemalan border.

“We were a construction team going to build a house for a needy family.  Our mission was to share God’s love by providing a home for that family,” O’Byrne said.

O’Byrne is well acquainted with boarding a plane bound for Honduras as this was his 19th trip. The others include Kelli O’Byrne, the Rev. Tim Ward, Mike Peterson, Mike Fenske and daughter Jessica, Patty Goldsmith, and Ron and Mary Reisner plus their two daughters, Tina and Nella. Their experience ranges from first year up to 12th year. 

Each person going was required to raise his or her own support.  The group did several fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for construction materials and ministry expenses. 

“Two weeks prior to going, the team does a devotional and journal every day,” O’Byrne said. “This helps to prepare us spiritually and for what to expect while we are there.”     

The local team members stayed at a ministry-based compound they have helped to build up over the past 19 years. The compound, called Ministries of Faith and New Life, now has a private school on the grounds as well as a church. It also provides a daily feeding program for children from the town and has provided homes for orphaned children over the years.

The facility hosts and organizes mission trips for six to eight groups each year, including a medical and dental team.  The Fillmore church members stay in the same place the entire time, and bring tools for the construction project that are not available there, gifts for friends they have made over the years, clothing, flip-flops, shoes, school supplies, Spanish Bibles and books, and cash for unexpected needs of people living in the community. 

“Once, we even introduced them to ‘smores, and this year, we brought Oreos,” O’Byrne said. “We expected and hoped to finish the house project and to encourage the people.”

The town of Azacualpa is in a green, lush and humid valley surrounded by mountains, noted O’Byrne, in one of the biggest coffee-growing regions in Central America. It’s “very beautiful,” he added.  When they visited in January, the temperature was in the upper 70s during the day and low 60s at night. They saw very little wildlife while they were there. 

“Most of the people are very friendly and welcoming to us,” he said. “Factory work is a 90-minute bus ride away, available for mostly young adults; picking coffee three months a year is the main occupation in the mountain villages, and there are some construction jobs that are $10 a day.  Housekeeping pays $4 a day.  Unemployment is 25 to 30 percent.  Many are content in spite of being very poor, but they don’t realize that they are, and even though they are poor, they have a cell phone.    

“People are the same, but different.  They have the same desire to serve God and the same desire to better your life and family.  It was about building relationships and completing a safe home for a mom and her three children, because the family we helped with the home project went from a house with cardboard walls, rusty tin roof, outhouse and dirt floors, no doors or windows to a safe home with concrete walls and floors, lockable door and windows, inside bathroom and electricity. 

“Even though I live in a rural area thousands of miles from where we go, God has given me the privilege to build relationships with people in Honduras and be used to better many people’s lives by meeting their physical needs. Also, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have led groups to experience this with me.”   

O’Byrne said they were able to complete the home which they were planning to do, and they also distributed food to 45 families in a remote village, gave away lots of Bible coloring books with crayons as well as flip-flops and gently used clothing, and provided a Sunday school ministry to 45 children at a local church. 

“It went down to the last day, but we were able to complete the house,” he said. “We got sidetracked with digging by hand the sewer and water lines into the street that is hard, rocky ground — something we weren’t expecting.  Communication is always a challenge, especially when we go to purchase items for our projects.  We do have a translator, however, getting the idea across to them is sometimes a challenge.  And sometimes what we need for the project is not available and we need to come up with a plan B.  But we provided a couple weeks’ worth of food to an entire village, brought smiles to the faces of those who received gifts from us, and my favorite part of the trip had to be hanging out and building on old relationships as well as starting new ones, and dedicating the house and handing over the keys.”    

The mission workers gained some other memorable experiences while in Azacualpa. They had an “amazing” drive up a mountain to visit a coffee plantation owned by a friend, O’Byrne said. They also enjoyed the food — beans, rice, fresh salsa, homemade corn and flour tortillas, chicken and pork, pineapple, cantaloupe, plantains, mangos and bananas. The experiences extend after the trip ended as they also always bring back a suitcase or two of freshly roasted coffee.    

A bonus experience, while not as exciting as others, is certainly memorable. “We got to experience the local music,” said O’Byrne. “Every night, pickups drive around with PA systems in the back.  Blaring.  But we got to leave behind friendships and our love.”

O’Byrne brought home more than suitcases of fresh coffee, but that’s just what he expects. 

“Every time we go to Honduras, we go with the attitude of sharing the love of Jesus wherever we see a need -- and building relationships with the people,” he said. “Sometimes the projects aren’t completed, but we will always have the relationships.  We wouldn’t be able to do these mission projects without the support of our families, friends and the Fillmore Free Methodist Church.”