From January 9 – 16, four of us journeyed to Chalmeca, Honduras for the annual Threads of Blessing workshop. The team, led by Terry and the Reverend Brien Koehler from Christ Church, San Antonio, included Linda Jones from St. Mark’s, San Antonio and me, Helen Schnelzer from Christ Church, San Antonio.
Our flight to San Pedro Sula was easy and brief (compared to Uganda) and rental cars were waiting - all with 4-wheel drive. A team from an Episcopal church in Louisiana, friends of Brien and Terry, joined us at Houston airport and stayed at the same hotel. Our missions were separate, but we so enjoyed their company at breakfast and in the evenings. Their presence added another dimension to this mission.
They worked in village called El Carmen painting the church (inside and out) and organizing a Vacation Bible School for the children. They have helped build this church over the years - much as we did with the Women's Vocational Training Center in Nebbi. This was the final step. At the end of our day, we gathered together to share stories and evening prayers.
Terry did an amazing job of organizing both teams and also creating the craft projects for the Vacation Bible School.
My roommate was Josefina, our interpreter, but she is much, much more to the success of our work in Honduras – coordinating car rentals, hotel reservations, dinner menus, etc. It was a privilege to be given this special time with her. She has been a friend to Brien and Terry for the past 20 years.
Brien and Terry have been working in Chalmeca for many years and have helped raise the funds for a school and the church amongst a myriad of other needs. When they moved to San Antonio some years ago, Terry was delighted to discover Threads of Blessing as an opportunity for the women of this region. Her encouragement and love for them is evident. Linda and I were pleased to be there to support her.
We spent four days full of joy with these beautiful, gentle, determined women. Their needlework is artistry executed with a keen eye for color and design, and a determination for excellence. Some of it reflects the Mayan culture of the area, and some examples reflect their heritage as Lenca Indians. We are very proud of all they are producing – placemats, napkins, hand towels, tote bags, and exceptional pieces worthy of framing or exhibited as pillows.
Each morning, we left the hotel around 8:30 and returned about 8 hours later. The journey to Chalmeca took us briefly along the main road, and then along a narrow gravel and rocky road that wound its way up a mountain. There is a charm to the area despite the poverty. Bougainvillea blooms everywhere, and the houses are painted a bevy of bright colors. The views from the church across the valley to the mountains are glorious.
We met in the new Church building with lots of windows and shutters, but no glass, providing good air circulation that was not present in the old church building next door. This now serves as an "all-purpose" room where the women slept on mattresses during the workshop. Churches in the Diocese of Louisiana, where Brien and Terry were living some years ago, began the construction of the new church. It was completed by Christ Church, San Antonio with help from the Diocese of West Texas. The “all purpose” room was rehabbed by Christ Church with grants from the Diocese of West Texas.
The women were waiting for us when we arrived – so friendly and warm with hugs and smiling greetings for all of us - stranger or friend. I have come to love their gentleness and quick smiles, but also recognize the strength behind them. Brien and Terry are very important to these people.
Our days began with prayers and Bible study using the same theme we had used two months ago in Uganda – "Who will roll the stone away for us?" based on Mark 16, v. 1-8. In Uganda, Mama Phoebe Orombi led the study that was so insightful for all who were present. Now Suyapa, a Lutheran pastor, and friend to Brien, Terry and Josefina, led the study with equal inspiration and depth – three women … strong … unafraid … determined … devoted their Lord. How do we apply this to our own lives? It was an emotional experience for me to hear it preached in both places – God’s hand reaching out in love to care for Threads of Blessing women on each side of the globe.
We showed the women a map of the world and where Threads of Blessing currently serves. We also showed them our website still under construction but about to go public. They understood and were pleased with what it meant when they saw the work and photographs of some of their members.
We listened to testimonies and heard the beginnings of new ventures. Yolanda, the leader of the women in this area, is opening a bakery to serve the local community. After giving a tithe to the Lord, she is putting all other funds from her needlework back into her business. She is also eager to continue her education to become a Deacon.
Romelia is having difficulty with her pregnancy, having lost one child at birth already. Her seven year old son encouraged her when she was tired telling her “Mommy you can do it, keep going,” and drew her attention to a small plaque in their home with a verse from 1 Philippians 4:13 - I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. When she asked her doctor if she should stop her embroidery and rest, the doctor replied, “No, this is keeping you alive.” She, too, gives first to the Lord.
A young widow told of the sadness when her husband became ill and died very suddenly leaving her with two very small children and no income. However, despite her poverty, she is making a living for them through her needlework and clothing she can make and market as a seamstress. We learned that her sewing machine was broken. Then we discovered that many of the sewing machines were not functioning, so we visited the Singer Sewing Machine store to learn the cost of replacing them. A quick email to the World Mission Department at the diocese, secured the funds to purchase ten!
One woman with a window onto the road has opened a small, small grocery store called a pulperia. When people walk by, they can purchase basic needs. As her needlework sells she adds to her stock. With the proceeds she has been able to send her children to school. Beyond that expense everything goes back into her business.
Orfilia, the wife of the Lay Leader in the nearby village of El Carmen, said there had been so much rain they lost their corn crop. She was thankful to the Lord for Threads of Blessing because she was able to buy food for her family with the earnings from her embroidery.
Guadalupe has opened her own pulperia (tiny grocery – chips, drinks, eggs, etc.) and as her needlework sells, she is able to increase her stock for sale.
Dilcia has coffee, bread and sugar in her pulperia. With each sale from her embroidery, she is able to buy a little more after giving her tithe to the Lord.
Norely is 14. She first tithes and then gives her income from her needlework to her parents to help the family. She only has a 4th grade education.
Yamileth, 31, can’t read or right, and was emotional as she told us how much she wants to read the Bible.
Threads of Blessing income has become more important due to blight on the coffee beans. Most of the people in this area depend on picking coffee for their livelihood. The only way to recover is to pull the plants up from the roots. It takes 3-5 years for the new plants to mature; hence there has been little income for many of these families.
Saturday, after the workshop, was a day to be “tourists” and we visited the Mayan ruins in Copan, a two-hour drive away. We were able to view the ancient designs the women are using in their embroidery.
Our day ended with a long drive back to El Carmen to celebrate the Holy Eucharist with the people of the area in the newly painted church. The team from Louisiana had completed their work and they and the parishioners were most satisfied with the results.
Sunday we drove back to San Pedro Sula and spent the night before leaving on Monday. It was a blessed week sharing God’s amazing love and grace with the women of Threads of Blessing. As in Uganda, we left knowing how much they had inspired and touched our hearts and lives, and trusting that we had been the same to them.
To God be the Glory!