• November 22, 2014

Packing party

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Posted: Saturday, March 30, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 2:48 pm, Sat Mar 30, 2013.

Randall Holahan didn’t know why he was crying.

During a Honduras Good Works mission trip about six years ago, Holahan met a local pastor who had lost hope. The pastor, who was in his late 70s, broke his cheekbone after falling 60 feet down a hill trying to put out a fire.

He had blurred vision, and local doctors had told him not to read. As a consequence, the pastor couldn’t share the Bible’s message with his poverty-stricken village.

It took the pastor a three-mile trip trek down a mountain in the Honduran region of El Pariso plus the cost of multiple bus rides to seek aid.

Six months later, Holahan went with the mission trip’s doctors on a home visit, and the pastor’s hope was restored. During the visit, the translator told the pastor, “Puedes leer.” With those words telling the pastor he could read again, tears immediately flowed down Holahan’s face.

“Then his daughter starts crying and that makes us start crying and we don’t even know why we’re crying; we’re just crying because the man’s crying,” Holahan said.

“He manages to say that he’s the pastor of the local church and because he couldn’t read, he had to close the doors because he couldn’t read the Bible. We literally brought God back to the village.”

Since then, Holahan has returned to Honduras every year during the nonprofit’s annual mission trip. He attended the group’s first of three packing parties Saturday at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Killeen.

Volunteers helped prepare 3,500 personal packs — one for each patient they intend to see. The packs contain soap, toothpaste, a toothbrush, shampoo and a comb, as well as cough syrup and 30 Tylenol tablets for aches and pains.

Drs. Donald and Bobbi Hopkins founded Honduras Good Works in 2009 after spending 10 years doing mission work in Honduras. They chose the country because of its people’s need for assistance.

When they went for the first time, there were 24 people on the trip, Donald Hopkins said. This year, they plan to take about 75 people for the weeklong mission from July 17 to 24.

They continue to return to the same region because it creates more sustainable development.

The flight from Houston to Honduras is less than three hours, but Jo Ann Swahn said it’s as if you’ve gone back 200 or 300 years. Honduras is the second-poorest country in Central America, with more than half of the country’s population living in poverty, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook.”

“You just can’t believe the poverty or the conditions and the desperation and lack of hope that a lot of people have,” said Swahn, executive director. “We work in areas that are rural, mountainous villages, and we work with people who don’t have access to medical care, so we’re the only medical treatment they get, period.”

From three generations of families living in a kitchen-sized home to a boy getting his first pair of shoes when he joined the military at 16 or a man in his 50s who remembers spending his youth eating wild animals and foraging in the forest, Swahn said the group gets up close and personal with Hondurans.

While many go on the weeklong mission intending to change the lives of the people they meet along the way, Swahn said it’s the local people who impact the Americans.

Holahan’s friend encouraged him to go, and during the first few days, he was confused.

“I had no idea why he was going,” Holahan said. “I don’t speak Spanish. I don’t have a medical background.” By the fifth day he was encouraged to go on a home visit, and the experience was life-changing.

Holahan is brigade coordinator for the organization, which means leading up to the trip, he’s responsible for organizing packing parties, travel arrangements, registration and making sure everyone is safe and gets where they need to be.

During his first trip about six years ago, the group saw 2,500 patients and distributed about 6,000 bottles of cough medicine. Last year, they distributed fewer than 500 bottles and have seen improvement in health due to eco-stoves they provide some families.

“We’re not going to change their life so drastically that they’re suddenly better tomorrow, but we do small changes, incremental changes,” he said.

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