From a hotel room in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, Jarrod Brown sent an e-mail to church members preparing to lead teams to the Central American nation this summer.
The members were concerned about reports of increasing unrest in Honduras.
“The general gist (of the e-mail) was not to worry, nothing is going to happen,” Brown said. “I awoke the next morning to the sound of fighter jets (and) helicopters.”
The removal of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya caught missionaries by surprise, but none has reported deaths or injuries among the country’s Churches of Christ or visiting teams from the U.S. in the protests that followed the takeover.
Condemned by much of the international community as a military coup, the ouster happened at the height of the summer missions season, when hundreds of Churches of Christ send short-term workers to Honduras. Many have canceled or rescheduled trips.
“We do not feel endangered, but we are cautious,” said Howard Norton, who moved to Tegucigalpa with his wife, Jane, 11 days after the ouster. Norton, a former missionary to Brazil, is the new president of Baxter
Institute, a Honduras-based program that trains ministers across Latin America.
“On three different weekends, we have told Baxter students to stay on campus and not travel … to preaching appointments,” Norton said. “They either worshiped on campus or attended the La Vega Church of Christ next door to us.” ‘A SERIES OF WRONGS’
Zelaya, who became Honduras’ president in 2006, had called for a referendum that could have led to an extension of his four-year term in office, according to news reports. Honduras’ Supreme Court ruled the referendum was illegal, and the nation’s Congress voted not to hold it. Zelaya disregarded those actions and vowed to hold the vote anyway.
Polls were due to open June 28, but instead troops detained Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica. Hours later Roberto Micheletti, president of the Congress, was named provisional president. Zelaya vowed to return to Honduras.
Talks continue between Zelaya and Micheletti, but at press time the situation was unresolved.
Hondurans are mixed on their appraisals of Zelaya, seen by some as a liberator and others as a left-leaning socialist in the style of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.
Zelaya is a native of the Honduran city of Catacamas, home of church-supported Mission Predisan. On the ministry’s Web site, Kyle Huhtanen, director of international relations, claimed that the crisis resulted from “a series of wrongs.”
“The international community must validate young democracies, yet understand that they are not always going to look pretty,” Huhtanen said. “Today, Honduras looks like an ugly democracy in the eyes of the world.” ‘KNOW HOW TO LIE LOW’
Hours after the ouster, Brown and other missionaries in Honduras made frantic flight changes to help U.S. groups leave the country. Brown, of Choluteca-based Mission Lazarus, also sent his wife, Allison, and their children to the U.S., but the family has since returned.
“The large military roadblocks that were around the country three weeks ago are all gone, the military presence on the border is all gone, the protests in the capital are occurring, perhaps once a week and they are small and insignificant,” Brown said in a July 22 e-mail.
“At Mission Lazarus, (it’s) business as usual,” he added. “We are out preaching and teaching. We are out feeding the hungry and healing the sick.”
But Norton and Honduran church leaders recommend that U.S. teams postpone trips “unless they have been here often enough that they know how to lie low and protect themselves in case of violence.”
“This is especially true for large groups … whose work usually requires them to be in areas where they are very visible and not well-protected,” Norton said.
Ten members of the 151st Street church in Olathe, Kan., planned to travel to Trujillo, Honduras, on July 25 to work alongside Christians from Hiram, Ga., and Baton Rouge, La. It would have been the first trip to Honduras for seven in the group, said Bruce Vantine, a member of the Kansas church.
After weeks of watching news reports and praying, the group canceled the trip.
“The group was saddened by the decision to not make the trip,” Vantine said. “But, as one of the group said, ‘It just gives us another year to get excited about going.’”
In addition to serving the Honduran people, missions to Honduras play a role in missions around the world, said Russ McCullough, minister for the Archdale church in Charlotte, N.C.
“Need, proximity, receptivity and in-country support make Honduras a welcome training ground for future world-wide missionaries,” McCullough said. “God bless Honduras, God bless the good being done there and God bless all our missionaries — those present and those to come.”