Church halts mission trip to Honduras

By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

College Hills Church of Christ in Lebanon had been planning a mission trip to Honduras for several months.

The team of 45 teenagers and adults had raised money, completed service hours as well as prayed about the work they were going to do.

However, on Sunday, June 28, the government of Honduras used its military to oust the current president, Jose Manuel Zelaya, in what turned out to be a violent coup. The Honduran congress voted to strip Zelaya of his powers and make the president of congress, Roberto Michelleti, serve out the final six months of Zelaya’s term.

According to an interview with Zelaya on CNN en Espanol, he awoke to the sound of gunfire in the presidential palace and was still in his pajamas when the military forced him to leave the country Sunday morning. He was flown to Costa Rica, where he has not requested political asylum.

“This was a brutal kidnapping of me with no justification,” Zelaya said. He also called the coup an attack on Honduran democracy.

On a more local note, Jarrod Brown, an American missionary to Honduras who is sponsored by College Hills, was in the capital city of Tegucigalpa when the coup took place.

“On Saturday night (June 27), I sent a sincere email to the group leaders,” Brown said Monday. “The general gist was not to worry, nothing is going to happen. I wrote that email from my nice hotel room in the capital city.

“I awoke the next morning to the sound of fighter jets overhead, helicopters, and as I looked out my hotel window there was an enormous plume of smoke rising in the background. Soon tanks…would move down the streets.”

Brown added that he was concerned for the group of 35 Americans who were with him and decided to put them on a plane headed back home. He said that this was not because the situation in Honduras was dangerous, but that he did not know if the airports would shut down or “if this was all a bunch of talk.”

Johnny Markham, youth minister at College Hills and trip leader, said he thought it was better to err on the side of caution.

“The U.S. Embassy (in Tegucigalpa) issued a travel alert (Tuesday) morning to be in effect through July 29,” Markham said. “Hopefully, that will help us convince the airlines to refund us our money.”

Several adult team members and parents of younger members said that if the embassy did not want Americans there, then they did not want to go.

“I would love for them to go,” said Becky Kegley, whose husband and daughter-in-law were on the team, “but I just don’t want them to take any risks.”

President Barack Obama said Monday that “the coup was not legal and that President Zelaya is still the president of Honduras.” Obama did not make any comment on whether the United States would send any troops to Honduras.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, however, did comment on that, vowing to “overthrow” Michelleti. The congressional-appointed president responded by saying, “nobody scares us.”

Chavez and other leftist leaders in Central and South America are supporting Zelaya, including Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Raul Castro of Cuba, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

These leaders have sent troops to the Honduran/Nicaraguan border, and, in response, Honduras fortified her border on Sunday.

“It appears to me that Hugo Chavez wants Zelaya back in power in Honduras more than the people of Honduras do,” Brown said.

“Satan would love to take advantage of this situation to mess up the plans of many Christians this summer,” Brown said. “We have spent thousands of dollars on supplies for groups and have spent countless hours getting prepared. However, we want to err on the side of safety.”

Brown, who is also the president of Mission Lazarus, quoted an old Spanish proverb, saying, “The man who takes precautions is worth two men.”

According to the organization’s website, Mission Lazarus is a holistic ministry that focuses on basic primary education, skill development, health education and treatment, agricultural development, and preaching and teaching the Word of God. They have many projects, including digging wells in poor, rural communities so that people can have clean water without having to either pay or walk long distances for it, which College Hills helped sponsor recently.

The team was going to have a dental and medical clinic, as well as build a church and a counseling center in the small community of Los Colorados. The counseling center would help orphans in the community who have been sexually abused and would also hold a library for the children to come and read and get off of the streets.

“It’s each individual’s choice (whether to go), should they be concerned about their own safety,” said Cindy Herring, volunteer coordinator and medical supplies specialist at Healing Hands International who had been sponsoring the trip. “I think that it will take four to six weeks until people will feel safe enough to send groups there.”

HHI is a Nashville-based, non-profit organization that sends missionaries as well as food, medicine and agricultural supplies to countries from Central America to Eastern Europe to Asia.

Herring said HHI and College Hills are looking at later dates to go to Honduras. She will be taking a group there in December to deliver Magi Boxes, which are simple shoeboxes packed with toys, candy, hygiene supplies and clothing sent to needy children who have never received a Christmas present.

“There are too many uncertainties (in Honduras right now),” Herring said.

According to a Reuters report Tuesday morning, Chavez, who blamed former U.S. President George W. Bush for the 2002 coup in which he was briefly ousted, said he wants a probe into any role the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency may have played in Zelaya's ouster.

The CIA has been involved in toppling past leftist governments in Latin America. The White House has said there was no U.S. role in Zelaya's ouster.