The humidity was at least 1000% and we were all tired and grumpy. We had left the United States early in the morning and arrived on Roatan, Honduras, in the early afternoon when the salty air was thickest with heat. After gathering all our luggage and supplies, we loaded into a van and experienced our first glimpse at Central American traffic, which was not the best antidote for my already queasy-from-travel stomach.
Once we arrived at the compound where we’d be staying, we unloaded what seemed like twelve tons of suitcases, totes, and boxes only to find the electricity turned off during the random outages that occurred daily on Roatan. Since resting in the unbearable heat with no breeze was deemed impossible, we loaded up on the van, our skin sticking to the leather seats and headed to medical clinic where we’d be gathering the rest of the supplies we needed for our week.
I was fourteen hours into my first foreign missions trip and frankly I just wanted to go home. I’d signed up for playing games at orphanages and leading women’s Bible studies and singing in churches filled with people thankful for the sacrifice I was making to be there. My heart, as prepared as I thought it was, was woefully unprepared for the work that serving here would involve.
That night, after dinner at Bojangle’s (who knew?!) and a time of worship with our team, I laid on my bunk, the window air conditioner humming and the heaviness overwhelmed me.
- Why had I come on this trip?
- What was I expecting?
- How had I reached the point in my Christian walk that even serving had become all about me?
For six more days, we ministered on that little island. We sang songs and taught Bible studies, played with children, and we worked. We carried sound equipment up narrow stairs with no railing and sat in churches where the only moving air was the waving of hands lifted in worship as we sang. We unloaded box after box of supplies for the teams that would follow us later that summer, the ones who would build fences and repair ceilings. We carried plates of food through streets lined with shanties made of cardboard and rusted metal.
On that last morning, we walked through raw sewage to stand at the door of a shack where Ms. Maddie lived. We handed her a bag of food and some bottles of water. In the midst of poverty and stink, she smiled and Jesus shined bright. The men sang “Beulah Land” at her request and she grabbed my hands and looked deep at me, as if she could see my soul, and told me I was beautiful.
I bit back the tears and hugged her neck and realized how little I know of beauty.
That was four years ago. Etched in my mind remains this image of a wrinkled hand touching my face in a weathered shack, deep brown eyes staring into my own green ones, and a voice that spoke of a beauty I didn’t know existed. A woman, worn down by a hard life, who saw in me something I had not yet found for myself.
Since then I’ve learned a little about that beauty Ms. Maddie saw. This beauty is a pleasing aroma, the place where work is hard and service is sweat and tears and exhaustion and it all blends into a fragrant aroma of worship that wafts heavenward. The avodah life … and it is beautiful.