BANGOR, Maine — Members of the mission team from All Souls Congregational Church never heard the word coup while they were in Honduras even though media outlets in the United States reported that the group lived through one.
Ministers, adult volunteers and teenagers who were part of the 64-person group from Greater Bangor held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the historic church on the corner of Broadway and State Street.
They said they were staying several miles outside the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, when the president was removed Sunday from office.
“We never felt like we were in danger,” Ian McDonnell, 18, of Bangor said. “We built [two] houses, a school [classroom] and held a medical clinic. We were focused on the work [and were] out of harm’s way.”
The team returned to Bangor by bus at about 6:30 a.m. Thursday after landing in Boston shortly after midnight. They left Honduras on schedule Wednesday afternoon, said the Rev. James Haddix, pastor of All Souls. The 62-year-old minister went on the trip for the first time this summer.
“We never heard the word coup,” said Haddix of Holden. “The people we spoke with saw it as a regular exercise in the transfer of power under their constitution.”
The day President Manuel Zelaya was removed from office by the army was a day the group had planned to sightsee rather than work. Instead, team members stayed at the mission they were using as a base camp and were able to leave messages on the church’s answering machine. A telephone tree informed parents and family of team members that they were safe.
“Although we were concerned, we were not excessively worried,” Dan McKay of Bangor said. His 17-year-old daughter, Annie, was on the trip.
The Rev. Renee Garrett, All Souls’ minister of Christian Nurture, led the mission trip of 32 adults and 32 youths for the fifth time since 2001. She said at the press conference that the group was following the example set by Christ of helping the poor.
“Those of us in the First World have had a demand on us to share with those in the Third World who have so much less than we have,” said Garrett, 56, of Bangor. “We must honor that request of Christ’s.”
In a video taken on the mission trip that played in the background during the press conference, kindergartners held up signs thanking the mission team and God for their schoolroom. The Honduran children, dressed in white and blue uniforms, made the signs with materials the team took with it, according to Garrett.
“Claire Williamson, who lives in Orono, asked guests to her eighth birthday party earlier this year to bring school supplies instead of presents,” the minister said. “We took them with us and the children were just delighted.”
The name of the All Souls’ youth group is ASSIST JC, an acronym for All Souls Students In Service To Jesus Christ. During even-numbered years, the group travels to the Eastport area in Washington County to do home repairs for elderly and other needy residents.
In odd-numbered years, members travel to Honduras. Individuals are responsible for paying their own airfare, Garrett said. Members of the youth group and adults work to raise $700 per person to be used to pay for buildings and other supplies. ASSIST JC holds a yard sale in October, sells handmade chocolate Easter eggs during Lent, holds a lobster stew dinner and sponsors concerts to raise the money, the minister said.
The trip is coordinated through Mission Discovery based in Galatin, Tenn., according to Garrett. The organization was founded in 1991 as an effort to serve Jesus Christ by combining and coordinating mission resources and U.S. churches to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the world’s poor, according to information on its Web site.
Over the past 18 years, more than 20,000 students and adults have built homes and churches and have shared the Gospel with hundreds of people in the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico, Africa, and the U.S., according to the Web site.
Mission Discovery has teamed up with Communion Baptist Church, an affluent church by Honduran standards that is located in the capital, Garrett said, to bring groups such as All Souls to outlying areas around Tegucigalpa. The work being done is a direct result of Hurricane Mitch, which swept through Honduras Oct. 27-29, 1998.
Considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to be the most deadly hurricane to strike in the Western Hemisphere since 1780, Mitch left an estimated 6,500 dead with up to 11,000 missing in Honduras alone. Up to 1½ million people were displaced and left homeless. NOAA estimated it would take 15 to 20 years to rebuild at a cost of $4 billion in 1998 dollars.
“After the hurricane,” Garrett said Thursday, “the poor who lived in the capital, that essentially is down in a bowl, were moved up into the surrounding hills and mountains. It was dry, but they had nothing but shacks made out of blue tarp for shelter.”
Since then, Communion Baptist Church has planted 13 churches in small villages in the outlying regions, she said. Each year the ministers place the names of the neediest families in jars. Families pray throughout the year, according to Haddix, that they will be blessed with a new home. Shortly before a mission team arrives, names are drawn from jars in the communities, and the prayers of a few are answered.
Each house costs $2,000 to construct, Garrett said Thursday. Each is a 16-by-16-foot, single-room house with two doors and two windows. There is no running water or electricity, and villagers cook on outdoor fires and use outhouses.
“One of the women we built a house for had been living with her family in a tent since Hurricane Mitch,” Garrett said. “She told us she had been praying for a house for more than 10 years.”
Another person the team helped was a woman who baked bread in the village. The oven, which resembled a beehive, the minister said, had sat idle for months because she had no money to buy flour, yeast and eggs. She was able to restart her business when the group gave her ingredients.
Jenna Marshall, 16, of Bangor said the experience with the youth group in Honduras had changed her.
“When I came here to church last November, I was a shy little girl, and I’m not that person anymore,” she said. “It is the real deal down there. It was amazing.”
For information on the ASSIST JC, call 942-7354 or visit www.allsoulsbangor.com.