Baby’s plight leads to Little Hands, Big Hearts
Just 6 pounds at 6 months of age, born with Down syndrome and club feet, his family couldn’t afford to keep him. So they packed him in a cardboard box and abandoned him. He came precariously close to dying.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
“Mom, I have a baby,” said the voice over the telephone.
Brenda Young was startled, as any mother of a young, single daughter might be.
It was 1995, and Brenda and Mark Young’s 21-year-old daughter, Amber, was calling from a church camp in rural Honduras where she was working. She had found little Jose alone in a nearby home and was seeking advice from her parents on how to help him.
And that’s how one little boy, and a phone call, blossomed into Little Hands, Big Hearts, a ministry for disabled children in Honduras, the third-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti and Cuba.
As for Jose, the Youngs, who were living in Ellensburg, Wash., at the time, raised enough money to bring him to the United States for surgery.
Now 14, he lives with a foster family in Honduras.
Mark, who is executive director of Little Hands, Big Hearts, and Brenda have devoted much of their lives since 1998 to building a family center in Trujillo, Honduras, a remote area along the Caribbean coast.
The mission provides nutritional, educational, spiritual and therapeutic assistance to children with disabilities and their families.
This fall, the Youngs led 11 volunteers from around the Northwest to Trujillo on a 12-day mission. The Youngs’ home congregation, Summit View Church of Christ in Yakima, oversaw the mission.
While there, they acted as aides for the physician traveling with them. They also distributed beans and rice to needy families and gave out nutritional information and vitamins.
In addition, they helped in the preschool and oversaw several classes, such as Bible study, character building for teens and a sewing class to teach a marketable skill to girls and women.
The Youngs established the mission several years after they first visited Honduras in 1998. Although they were drawn in by the plight of Jose, they initially had no intention of doing anything permanent there.
“We were satisfied being middle-class people with good jobs, but that’s not what God had in mind,” Mark recalled.
When they visited the impoverished country, they saw firsthand that services for disabled children were nonexistent, with food and shelter scarce for everyone.
The Youngs decided that they would devote themselves to helping families see that special-needs children aren’t a liability.
They quit their jobs, went to a Spanish language school and settled in Honduras from 2002 to 2006.
They found a former orphanage building to begin their mission. At first they arranged for children to be flown to the United States for treatment.
But that proved prohibitively expensive, with the added disadvantage of separating children from their families.
Now, medical personnel travel to the Little Hands, Big Hearts center in Honduras at least once a year.
A team of four Florida physicians has made the trip twice, and a medical and dental brigade from Mississippi has also visited. The mission’s medical director is the Youngs’ daughter, Dr. Amber Figueroa — the same Amber who rescued little Jose 14 years ago. She’s now a family practice physician in Yakima.
In addition to Amber, the Youngs have three other biological children, who are adults, and a 19-year-old adopted son.
About 300 people have traveled on Little Hands, Big Hearts missionary trips through the years. Each one pays $1,200 for the 12-day experience.
Once in Honduras, they don’t exactly encounter luxurious conditions: There’s no hot water at the center, no air conditioning and often no electricity, but there’s plenty of humidity and mosquitoes.
Still, it was a life-changing experience for Cherrie Picatti of Yakima, who joined a mission trip in 2006. She taught Bible classes to children in both English and Spanish, handed out medications and helped out in the kitchen.
“It made me more grateful for what I have,” she said.
‘IT’S ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD’
It was also uplifting to be part of a group that ranged in age from 30 to 70, all with different talents and all working on the same goal.
“It was inspiring seeing people from Washington, New Hampshire and Georgia, who didn’t know each other, come together to help children,” said Picatti, 60.
Since 2002, Little Hands, Big Hearts has helped 30 children with serious problems get medical treatment or undergo surgery. More typical illnesses seen in the clinic include infections, parasites, malnutrition, complications from HIV and wounds.
Funding comes not only from members of the Summit View Church of Christ, but from seven other churches across the country that contribute monthly.
Another 34 ministry partners also give money. It costs about $3,000 a month to operate the mission. Even though the Youngs receive no salary for their mission, they describe being compensated in many other ways.
“It’s all to the glory of God,” said Mark. “The satisfaction comes from knowing we help families and children.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see the ministry’s Web site at littlehandsbighearts.net.