From early on after our family’s arrival in Honduras at the end of 2004, a frequent topic of conversation as we got to know people was “el Mitch,” in reference to Hurricane Mitch that devastated Honduras in 1998. As we listened to the personal testimonies, we began to piece together the traumatic series of events–stories of intense rain, catastrophic flooding, sudden mudslides, hurried evacuations, bridges collapsing, whole houses being swept away, families being separated, loved ones lost.
All were sober reminders—and warnings—of what could happen when a major storm washes over an ill-prepared and historically poverty-stricken region. Every tropical storm over the years since we’ve lived here have been compared with Hurricane Mitch. For those that lived through that storm, it was one of those events that left a lasting mark because of the trauma experienced.
Little did we know back then that we would personally experience two such storms within two weeks during a record-setting storm season in the Atlantic that would literally change the landscape of Honduras and leave a path of destruction and loss surpassing “el Mitch.”
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average season has 12 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 3 major hurricanes. The 2020 season in comparison had 30 named storms, 13 hurricanes, and 6 major hurricanes. The names Eta and Iota will forever call forth memories of devastation and catastrophic loss for this generation of Central Americans in the most affected regions of Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Considering the damage to the country’s infrastructure, property and agricultural loss, some estimates place the total loss for Honduras alone at more than ten billion dollars. Two families in our church watched helplessly as their homes and livelihood were overwhelmed by the swollen river and everything was swept away before their eyes.
Other families have homes to return to, only to discover that everything inside is ruined by the filthy flood waters and sediment deposits. Those that were delayed in returning to their ruined homes are finding that any items that still retained value fell prey to the thieves and looters before the owners had a chance to salvage anything. These stories are abundant and multiplied all across this region. Stories also abound of human resilience and neighbor helping neighbor.
Yet those who analyze what happened through eyes of faith can see God at work through it all, softening hearts and beckoning His creation to be reconciled with Himself. Through eyes of faith, God has reinforced several lessons from His Word:
The fragility of life
This lesson continues to come to the forefront in this turbulent year that has given us a global pandemic, racial tension, political turmoil, and general unrest. The book of James communicates the reality that life is like that fleeting breath on a cold winter’s day – here and gone in a moment (James 4:14).
The loss of human life in Honduras cannot be adequately counted yet because, as of this writing, the flood waters had not receded in many parts of the country, though the time will come all too soon when the grim truth will be revealed. Stories are emerging of families being swept away by the raging torrents or being buried alive by mudslides.
What of their souls? The only hope for corruptible humanity is to be saved by the One who is Incorruptible. What Honduras needs more than ever are messengers of the Resurrected Christ that proclaim the gospel hope of redemption and abundant life in Him.
The futility of accumulating things
King Solomon is recorded as saying: “All is vanity” (Ecl. 1:2). The things of this world are useful as tools in the hands of God’s stewards, but they are worthless as a destination for satisfaction.
As I look at the indiscriminate destruction of property both of the rich and the poor, I am reminded that material possessions can never bring ultimate comfort and satisfaction. More often than not they serve as a stumbling block to entering in at the narrow gate of salvation in Christ.
Things that were once treasured, possessions that were obtained after years of hard labor and effort are now cast out into the street in heaps of muddy rubble. Old things, new things, expensive things, nostalgic things—all are destined for the scrap heap, whether by natural disaster or eventual disinterest or inevitable disrepair. The things that matter are eternal things.
Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, …But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Mt 6:19-20). When you have the right perspective about earthly things and the right priority on eternal things, it’s a whole lot easier to move on from material loss.
The fearlessness of a divine peace
The follower of Christ knows a peace that the world does not understand (Phil 4:7). That peace is never more evident than in adverse circumstances. I have witnessed this peace in action in the lives of Christian’s who have experienced indescribable loss.
Sure, watching your house get carried away with all of your worldly possessions is beyond comprehension for most people, including myself; but to hear the Christian homeowner’s profession of unwavering trust in his Sovereign God despite those circumstances is something that can only be explained by a divine work of peace.
Another family watched their home fill with water to the ceiling, ruining everything inside. After the water subsided, a group from our church helped them shovel the calf-deep mud out of their house and pressure wash the inside. The work was ongoing when the second storm hit a week later, undoing all of the work that had been accomplished and filling the house again to the previous level with flood water and mud.
Even so, they have remained steadfast in their testimony and disposition. As they cheerfully serve at church, their testimony of peace in adversity has impacted many who are watching these nightmarish events unfold. I have seen the apostle Paul’s instruction to the Colossian believers lived out in the lives of these church members when he said, “let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Col 3:15). What a comfort to know and trust the Lord Most High, the Creator, and Sustainer of all things.
The fragrance of community in Christ
The response of the Church both locally and abroad has breathed new life into a region that is doubled over in despair. Those that are at the forefront of the relief efforts are churches. Many times it goes unnoticed because they don’t seek the publicity or try to politicize their efforts, but those on the ground know that churches are leading the way.
I am overwhelmed at how our local church in El Progreso, Honduras has responded in this crisis—both in the community at large, but also, and especially, for those of the household of faith. Our church congregation, who taken together have an average annual median salary below the poverty line in the United States, have organized, prepared and distributed hundreds of meals for the families displaced and living in shelters; they have donated clothing, toiletries, shoes, household goods, and toys to people who only escaped with the clothes on their backs; they have been active in community cleanup.
It is a beautiful thing to see the church united and serving as the hands and feet of Christ. Those within our church who lost everything are experiencing the overwhelming love of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Truly the local body of Christ is demonstrating solidarity with its hurting members and sacrificing to mend the wounds and hold all things in common, as the first-century church exemplified.
I know it’s easy to criticize many aspects of the Church in general, but in hard times, family comes through; and there is no other community to which I’d rather belong.