Special to the Catholic Herald
It seems just like yesterday when we made our commitment to join the Rhinelander group on the Honduras mission. Planning for missions is an ongoing passion for our leaders, Deacon Bill and Carol Miller, Nativity of Our Lord Parish, Rhinelander.
The project was to help construct a chapel in the village of Los Lomas (meaning, “In the Hills”). This extremely poor village is located in the central Honduran plains, just west of Flores. Residents have a four-mile journey — via motor scooter, mule, horse cart, or on foot — to the nearest church.
This mission was in support of APUFRAM, a civil, non-profit organization with Catholic orientation that operates in eight departments (states) within Honduras, as well as in the Dominican Republic. APUFRAM is the acronym for Asociacion Pueblo Franciscano de Muchachos y Muchachas, which translates as Association of Franciscan Boys Towns and Girls Towns.
It was established in 1986 by the first university graduates for whom Fr. Emil Cook, originally from Salina, Kansas, made it possible to receive an education. APUFRAM’s purpose is to provide academic and spiritual education to poor children. In addition to operating elementary and high schools, APUFRAM provides a trade school, university housing, and a shelter for abandoned mothers and children.
While Carol has been on two other APUFRAM missions, this was the first year she led a full Rhinelander group, as Deacon Bill was unable to go. As the nine of us prepared for our trip, no amount of preparation could give us an idea of what was in store — even from Nativity of Our Lord, Rhinelander, members who had been to Honduras.
March 2-13 would be days full of hard work, laughter and joy from the children, appreciation of our lives back in the U.S., appreciation for the lives and faith-based dedication of the local people, and personal fulfillment in numerous ways.
Fr. Inna Reddy, sacramental minister, sent us on our mission with a blessing during which the congregation prayed over our team — Carol Miller,
Elena Chavez-Mueller (designated interpreter), Greg and Mary Dahl, Catherine Hagen, Mark Golomski, Ed Rajkowski, Gary Johnson, and me.
We arrived at the Tegucigulpa Toncontin Airport in Honduras March 2. After a brief stop at Flores, APUFRAM’s headquarters, we settled into our retreat center, Santa Teresa De Lisieux, about six miles from the city of Comayagua.
A 12-person Green Bay/Manitowoc mission team started the project a few weeks earlier by building the brick walls of the 50×24-foot structure. Our goal was to put a roof on it.
Following the APUFRAM philosophy, the first week we planned to work four to five hours each morning, then spend the afternoons visiting schools and interacting with children or visiting cultural sites.
Our first day on the job site was disappointing, as the materials for the roof had not been delivered. Our worksite manager, Edras, explained that they were on the way, but “in Honduran time.”
The second day we mixed cement to pour into the forms for the church entrance arches. Mind you, we did not have a cement mixer ; we mixed the sand, rock and concrete mix on the ground, grabbed buckets of water from the nearby creek, and began to mix with shovels, and then hand up buckets of our mixture to pour into the forms.
The materials arrived on the third day. We had piles of metal beams that had to be painted “azul brilliante” (bright blue) and then transformed into trusses and purlins. As we started with two small paint guns, Edras began the tedious welding process with what was actually a solder iron, and some creative electrical wiring. Once pieces began looking like trusses, we hammered and chiseled notches into the top of the brick walls where the trusses and purlins would sit.
By Thursday afternoon, we only had two trusses in place. We needed to make more progress, so on Friday, we packed our lunch and put in full days, avoiding the extra transportation time.
Sunday was a day of small answered prayers. We had expressed our desire to go into Comayagua to attend Mass at the cathedral, have lunch and do a little shopping, but all APUFRAM drivers are off on Sunday. To our delight, an APUFRAM family in a van pulled up to take us into the city. We were able to attend Mass at the cathedral, treat the family to lunch, do a little shopping, and return by mid-afternoon in order to do laundry — using scrub boards.
Arriving at the job site Monday morning, we were surprised at how much work Edras and the villagers had accomplished on Sunday. All of the trusses were up, and by the end of that day, we had the purlins in place.
Tuesday was our last workday so we desperately needed to get all the sheeting up. With only two sheets left, our driver arrived at 4:30 p.m. He was gracious enough to wait and witness the final sheet being placed on the chapel. With the villagers, we held the first “concert” in the chapel. Mary Dahl led songs on Edras’ guitar as we sang some hymns.
Upon returning to Rhinelander and our parish, trying to explain the fulfillment and joy of this experience was a challenge. It’s difficult to express everything God provided and filled within each of us. When Fr. Reddy asked me how the trip was, he said it perfectly: “You don’t need to tell me; I can tell by the look in your eyes how wonderful it was!”