BANGOR, Maine — Members of a youth missionary group from local churches went back to work Monday in Honduras, the day after a military coup overthrew the government of President Manuel Zalaya.
The Rev. Renee Garrett, a minister at All Souls Congregational Church and leader of the mission team, called the church office at 11 a.m. EDT Monday to say that “life is back on schedule.” The group was going to return to their normal routine of constructing houses in an area north of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, the Rev. Robert Carlson said.
Carlson, pastor emeritus of East Orrington Congregational Church, is filling in for the Rev. James Haddix, pastor of All Souls, who is in Honduras with the group of 64 teenagers and adults.
“She said, ‘Everybody is fine. It is a normal work day and life is back on schedule,’” Carlson said of Garrett’s message.
Access to telephone service and the Internet is limited and cell phone service is not available where the group is staying in the Central American country, he said.
Carlson also said that information received from the U.S. Embassy in Honduras reported on Sunday that the airport and borders were open.
Police and soldiers late Monday afternoon were using tear gas outside the Honduran presidential palace to scatter thousands of people protesting the coup, according to The Associated Press. Choking protesters reportedly were throwing rocks and bottles at the riot forces that were advancing with gas masks and shields.
Elsewhere, much of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa remained calm on the day after the coup, with businesses open, according to AP.
Peter Garrett, 26, of Austin, Texas, said Monday evening that he was not too concerned for his parents’ safety. He is the son of the Rev. Renee Garrett and the Rev. Rex Garrett, chaplain of Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. The team is staying at Campo Monte Carmelo, a missionary training center.
Peter Garrett, an emergency medical technician, was part of the mission team in 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007.
“I was a little concerned when I heard there was a coup,” he said in phone interview. “I spent time looking up what was happening on the Internet. I’m hoping they are gone by the time things get too messy. But they have so many connections down there that they have had for so long, that if something really unpleasant were on the horizon they would be able to leave early.”
Although he hadn’t talked directly to his parents, he was receiving information through All Souls and had learned of his mother’s message.
Michael Cormier, 46, of Bangor who went on the trip two years ago, said Monday that the group probably needed to get back to work to complete the cement-block homes they started when they arrived last week.
“At this point, they should be 80 percent done [with the houses] and working on the final couple rows before the roof peaks,” he said.
Each day, most of the team travels by school bus from the mission to a small village a few miles away, he said. There, they begin building a 16-feet-by-16-feet, single-room house with two doors and two windows. They do not have running water or electricity, he said, but cook on outdoor fires and use outhouses.
“The kids are involved every step of the way,” Cormier said. “It’s a crash course in how to build a house and it takes a whole 10 days.”
Which families move into a new house is decided by the pastor in the area, he said. Most houses are occupied by families of between four and six people. They put up clotheslines and blankets to divide the large room into smaller ones, according to Cormier.
Equally important to the community, according to Peter Garrett, is the medical clinic set up in the area where the houses are being built. Several doctors and nurses travel to Honduras with the teenagers, chaperones and ministers.
“People line up and wait hours to see a doctor or nurse,” he said. “It’s a limited clinic, and sometimes we can’t help them because their problems are too complex. I remember some people being turned away because there wasn’t enough time to see them all.”
Peter Garrett said that he already was headed toward his current career before he began going to Honduras. Now that he’s been working for a few years, the EMT said that he better appreciates the clinic the church takes to Honduras.
“There, it’s all centered around helping people,” he said. “There’s no paperwork, no HMOs. It’s purely medicine and helping people. The level of care may not be comparable, but any care is leaps and bounds over the nearly nonexistent care they have access to.”
The mission team is expected to fly out of Honduras on Wednesday. Team members are scheduled to arrive in Boston after midnight and board a chartered bus for Bangor. The group is expected to arrive at All Souls between 6 and 7 a.m. Thursday.