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Volunteers pitch-in to help in Honduras

BY PJ HELLER | TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras | November 4, 1998

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Nov. 4, 1998) -- From the seventh floor window of the

Honduras Mayan Hotel here, members of the Tarrytown United Methodist Church

could look down on the surreal situation taking place in the Honduran

capital.

"We could see furniture and refrigerators being washed away in the floods,"

said church member Doug Aycock. "We could see the water actually going in

and taking down houses that were built close to the river. We watched the

water rise on warehouses until they would collapse and then wash away.

"From where we were, you could see it happening and you didn't know what to

do about it," he said.

The 17 members of the Austin, Texas, church, along with four United

Methodists from two other Austin churches, sought refuge in the nine-story

hotel after being evacuated from the central part of the country, where

they had gone to help build and equip a school library.

Church members were no strangers to Honduras, having previously "adopted" a

village there.

"After two years, that official relationship ended but we continued to send

mission teams to that same area to help with various things," said church

spokesperson Terry Junttonen.

The church group is just one of many faith-based organizations that have

strong ties to Central American countries. The groups often send teams to

Latin America to help the impoverished countries.

Such connections are expected to be helpful in the days, weeks and

months ahead as both Honduras and Nicaragua struggle to recover from the

devastation caused by former Hurricane Mitch.

Government officials fear more than 7,000 people may have died, making the

storm one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit the region.

The Tarrytown group started out Oct. 24 on its mission to help the town of

Dos Rios. It soon turned into a mission to help thousands affected by the

hurricane. Along the way, the church members became eyewitnesses to the

death and destruction caused by floods and mudslides caused by the killer

storm.

For Aycock, the experience left a deep and lasting impression.

"It makes me feel guilty, shameful about what we take for granted, about

having clean clothes every day, about having an umbrella when it rains,

about having sidewalks wide enough to stay out of the puddles, about having

water to drink," he said.

The church group's trip from Rancho el Paraiso where they had been staying

while working with Honduras Outreach, Inc., to the capital was a harrowing

journey. They had to clear mountain roads of mudslides and downed 40 to

50-foot trees left in the wake of former Hurricane Mitch. They also tried

to help drivers whose vehicles became stuck in the mire along the narrow

winding mountain roads.

One truck, carrying a husband, wife and baby, couldn't be pulled free and

was abandoned. The couple and their child managed a ride with another

motorist.

"Shortly after that, the rest of the hill caved in and that truck was

buried and pushed down the hill," Aycock recalled.

"In that particular place we all did have fear," he admitted, noting that

they faced mudslides from above or having the road wash out from under

them. "That was the only place that we all realized that we were in a very

precarious position."

Had they remained at the ranch, he said they would have been trapped there

for weeks with no way to get out of the country. When they left, the ranch

area had no power, no telephone service and no water, he said. He added

that it will be months before anyone can make their way back there because

of the blocked and washed out roads. The library they were building, which

remains unfinished, survived the storm.

Church members loaded up two vans and a pickup and made the journey out,

first to Juticalpa and then to Tegucigalpa. What would normally be a

four-hour car trip to Juticalpa took them eight hours. When they got to

Tegucigalpa on Friday (Oct. 30), they found "the entire city was in a state

of chaos and riot," Aycock said.

"They wouldn't let us leave at night because of the looting," he said.

The team was scheduled to leave the country on Saturday but was forced to

remain at the hotel because the airport was closed. While waiting for

flights to resume, the group assisted relief workers by preparing some

25,000 meals and helped do laundry at the hotel when employees failed to

show up for work. They also went to refugee centers in the city to help

sort donated clothing and food.

"If we hadn't been helping, we'd just be sitting around," said Robert

Durkee, a team leader.

On Monday night, Aycock was the first of the group to return to Austin. The

others, including new Associate Pastor Steve Sweet and Liby Beck,

coordinator of lay ministry, were scheduled to arrive home Tuesday night.

Aycock, a 50-year-old insurance salesman in Austin who was making his first

trip to Honduras, said he was happy to be home.

"I'm glad to be here, yes indeed" he said, adding that he felt the journey

"made me a better person."

"I think we learned a lot more from them (Hondurans) then we could have

given to them," he said. "We learned you can find true happiness without

'things.'

"The one thing I'm afraid of today is getting caught back up in the

business mentality of working and trying to succeed and measuring success

by money as opposed to measuring success in your gift to others," he

explained. "I do not want to get caught up in the materialistic values of

life or the vanity of life.

"What I really brought back is this desire to need less, to want less," he

said. "What we take as a normal dinner here, for instance, would feed four

people down there."

Aycock admitted that the Honduran adventure "changed me tremendously" and

said he told his family that they should go to the Central American country

as well.

"I want them to value life and to value other people's lives so you're not

so caught up in your own needs," he said.

"I've already told my daughter, my son and my wife that they absolutely

have to go," he said. "I told them I didn't ever want to go back... but I

probably will."


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