Tuesday, May 17, 2011

AFE's New Teachers

As more and more kids move on to high grade levels there has been an increasing need for more teachers. This last year we have been delighted to welcome three new members to AFE’s staff and two new short-term volunteers.

Oscar Manuel Rosales Hernandez is a young father and new Christian, who is seeing his life-long dream to teach become reality. Pastor Jeony was impressed with Oscar when he first met him. He jumped into church-life with fervor in his faith and action. He is a likeable young man who finds his joy in teaching. He travels nearly an hour across to town to come to AFE, then returns home to care for his six-month old baby. Oscar teaches 4th grade in the mornings and 4th and 6th in the afternoons in our adult education program.

Many will recognize Jose Arturo Lopez Valladares from the Amor y Vida Church. On Sundays he is often in front of the congregation helping to lead worship with evident passion for his savior. Arturo was hired to teach 2nd grade at AFE because he is “an exemplary husband and an exemplary father,” (says Jesi Ordonez) and AFE’s children desperately need positive male role models in their lives. In the afternoons Arturo also serves as a good role model to our older students in the adult education program.

Jeymi Johana Figureroa comes from good genes. She is the cousin of the famous Figueroa siblings: Roger and Wendy (who now serves as AFE’s social worker). Like her cousins, Jeymi is a grounded young woman…something the children of AFE truly need. Jeymi came to AFE to teach the sixth grade highly recommend from her church, in which she was a leader in Christian education. She can often be seen hanging out in her classroom after the bell rings, chatting with students who need someone to listen to them.

Vannesa Nicoll Romero Ordonez has been a part of AFE for the majority of her life, working alongside her parents Jeony and Jesi Ordonez, to help as needed. Now she is excited to work more directly with children from the garbage dump, teaching biology and chemistry as she herself studies medicine at the university level.

AFE is excited to welcome this new staff and to see the impact they have on the children of the garbage dump!

Monday, May 16, 2011

What Makes an Effective Mission Team?

Many scholars in the field of World Missions have recently been noting the ineffectiveness of short-term mission trips. In their book When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett question the effectiveness of short-mission-trips, partly because the total cost to send the team abroad could be used instead to hire indigenous workers for a year! This investment is often justified because we expect the visiting team to continue giving to missions when they return. Yet findings prove otherwise. “Kurt Ver Beek’s data indicates that there simply is not a significant increase in long-term missions giving for either the team members or their sending churches” (Fikkert and Corbett).
As a long-term missionary who receives more than 20 mission teams a year, I can see their point. When some people visit, we enjoy their company for a week (or for a day if they came to serve at other project but just visit AFE); we see that they are touched or moved by the children of AFE, but then we never hear from them again. My hope for these people is that they plug in somewhere else, to be used by God to help the poor in some other capacity. But Fikkert and Corbett suggest that this is often not the case.

This begs the question, what makes an effective mission team? What happens on a team so that its participants experience long-lasting change from their time abroad?

It is difficult to measure how much impact a visit to AFE can have on team. I believe the job of follow-up falls on the leader of the trip, or the pastor of the visiting group. Did the participants make a covenant with God while they were here? What happened with that covenant when they returned home? How are they doing spiritually a year after their trip? Are they still spending themselves on behalf of the poor once they return, either by supporting a ministry or more direct involvement?
One way to monitor the long-term involvement on trip participants is by child sponsorship. Sponsorship is a commitment that lasts a year after the mission trip ends and it involves Americans supporting the poor from their personal resources. It is not the only way to determine long-term impact, but it helps.

With the last mission team that we received, a family team of 25 from Washington Cathedral in Redmond, WA, the results were quite astounding. Of the 13 families who made up the team, 10 sponsorship relationships emerged from this trip. The rest of the families contribute to the church’s auction which raises money for AFE. Every single person on this trip is involved in a long-term relationship with the poor of the Tegucigalpa dump. How did this happen?

I interviewed the trip leader, Debi Raines, who is a Holy Yoga instructor and member of Washington Cathedral to find out more information.

Where did the participants come from?

Most of those who go on our mission/work trips are from Washington Cathedral, but we usually have a couple people who come from other local churches. Those who are not from Wa Cathedral typically have a friend who went on the trip in previous years and spoke so favorably about their experience it encouraged them to join the group.
How were they involved in God’s kingdom work before coming on this trip?
We encourage all to be plugged into church in some way. Most are involved in small groups, bible study, involved in some sort of leadership, or discipleship program. Several members of our team have been to Honduras on previous trips and have formed such a bond with the kids and staff at AFE, that they return every year.

What kind of preparation did they have?

We start meeting as a team 2-3 months before the trip. As a group we learn about the Honduran culture and customs. We talk about the different levels of social status and the difference between about where we live compared to those who live in the dump community. The team is encouraged to be open about the Honduran ways and not to think that our way is better. We also prepare to work as a team and we spend time getting to know one another and setting the intention of the trip clearly before we step on the airplane.
What kind of follow up did they have?

We do follow up with emails and phone calls when we return home. We also gather for a dinner together about a month or so after arriving home. This reunion gives us an opportunity to talk to each other about favorite memories, what we learned about ourselves, what God has been speaking to us about the people and ministries in Honduras. The team leaders try to follow up with the team members encouraging them to follow through with the plans God laid on their hearts and continue to pray for AFE and the kids and staff. The annual Honduran auction is also a great follow up and reminder to our team. The annual benefit auction raises money each year to support AFE and the team is strongly encouraged to support and attend the auction.

What makes this group of people different than other mission trips?

Washington Cathedral requires each team member to personally invest in the cost of the trip instead of allowing mission trip members to fundraise to cover their travel cost. We think that the personal investment in the trip helps each member to reap the most rewards. As Jesus says, “where your treasure is, your heart is also.”

(This is also what Fikkert and Corbett suggest to improve the effectiveness of a short-term trip. They write, “Require every member of an STM to pay for a portion of the expenses from his or her own pocket. Why? Remember, this is a learning experience, not a trip to save the world. Learners are more likely to value their training if they are paying for a portion of it.”)

How would you say the group was impacted during their time in Honduras? What made the most difference?

The group was greatly impacted on this trip and I believe it came from the personal relationships that were formed as well as the team project (building a house for a family). Having one-on-one time with the AFE kids during VBS and when the kids joined us after school for meals was a wonderful way to get connected. I don’t think I have every received so many hugs and smiles. Another huge impact on our team was the project. Building a home for a family, even if we were just a small part of it, was an amazing experience for our whole team. Being part of something that so significantly changed a family’s life is something we’ll never forget. Seeing the gratitude on the parent’s faces and the smiles of the children knowing that have a roof over their heads and a place to call their own.

How have you personally been impacted by sponsoring a child?

Having a sponsored child has been one of the best things we’ve done for our family. Our kids remember Elen every day in their prayers; they know that she is also praying for them. Our children have become pen pals with Elen and it was the most amazing thing to see my daughter (Rachel, 9 years old), meet Elen the first day we were in Honduras. They had an instant connection that lasted the whole trip. Praying for Elen reminds us every day how blessed we are and how important it is that we care for others. We feel like Elen is part of our family, we look forward to her letters and I know she looks forward to ours. Elen was carrying the pictures that we sent her of our family when our team arrived at AFE. She was just as anxious to meet us as we were to meet her. Rachel has been talking about going back to see all her friends in Honduras since the day we returned home and our other children look forward to one day meeting her as well. Knowing that Wa Cathedral will continue to have annual trips down to AFE is such a blessing because we know that Elen will be part of our lives, through prayers, letter and visits for years and years.

* If you are interested in increasing the effectiveness of your shot-term mission team, contact or for resources.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Last Leg of the Journey

For ten years AFE and its friends have looked into the eyes of their students and said, “See you at a university!”

We are on the cusp of seeing this dream realized. But to the children who wait eagerly for graduation day (Dec 10th, 2012), the date couldn’t be any further away.

Before they graduate AFE’s seniors must complete 240 hours of community service (a requirement from the Honduras government). Not just any community service. 80 hours of construction. 80 hours of farming. 80 hours in health care. “The idea behind this”, says Jesi Ordonez, AFE’s principal, “is that young people would get some work experience before they graduate.”

But AFE’s young people are tired. And their grades are slipping. With the difficult subjects of biology and chemistry, this year’s classes are the hardest. “Will, we ever make it there?!”

AFE is working hard to motivate its students for the last, most difficult haul upward. Next week they will visit local colleges to get inspired. Then they will begin studying for their admissions exams. But the next six months will need a lot of prayer. Please pray that AFE’s students will not lose sight of their goal and that they will work hard and sacrifice to see their dreams become reality.

Monday, May 9, 2011

To Be Somebody

Each has his or her own obstacles. One man works from 6 am to 7 pm every day in the garbage dump to support his family. One girl flunked first grade three times. One teenager has no one in her life to support her and runs a small business on her own. Yet, they all have something in common….they want to “be somebody someday.”

That was the general consensus when I asked the students in AFE’s after-school program why they sacrifice and give up work to study in the afternoons. Sometimes their heart-felt response was met by laughter by others from the dump community. It takes courage to have vision.

It also takes courage to be the oldest student (fifty-one)in the second grade. And to try again, once you have failed so often.

But I am proud of the students in our afterschool program. When I heard their humble confession of hope, I responded in the only way possible: “Si se puedas.” (Yes you can!)

The reason they can is because they have an advocate in you and me, and in AFE. Their teacher provides an inspiring example of hard work and wise choices. AFE’s church, Amor y Vida, is reaching out to them in discipleship. They have community and they have hope, two ingredients have time and time again changed the world!

*** If you would like to sponsor a student from our after-school program, please contact

Friday, May 6, 2011

Housing the Homeless

Last August strong rains tore apart the city. They caused tremendous damage…craters twenty-feet deep, businesses destroyed by avalanches, houses flooded. Some people were rendered homeless. Yet, when you lose your
home and you are a garbage-dump worker, you are in a particularly precarious situation. Not only do you lose everything you have, but you have to pay high rent prices (at the expense of food) or live in the garbage dump.

This was the case of one our hard-working families at AFE. Even when they lost their home to a landslide, the hard-working mother and father kept their children out of the dump. The two girls continued in school and sold candy door-to-door in the afternoons to support the family income. But life was hard with high rent prices…and the loss of everything they owned.

In Steps Community

One church in the United States with a long-term relationship with AFE got wind of the situation. It just so happened that the woman sponsoring one of these girls was planning a mission trip with the church in March.…and she had a friend coming on the trip who wanted to support a larger project. A month later a new home was completed for the Navas-Paz family. The father and four-year old boy joyfully helped the North Americans build it. The team etched “Christo Te Ama,” above the doorway to the home and I can guarantee that the Navas-Paz knows this to be true.

***** There are many more families in equally desperate situations. If you would like to help AFE house the homeless of the garbage dump, contact