If Mahathma Gandhi was correct in saying, “the children are the future of a nation”, then it would be correct to say that Micah’s work has the beginnings of Nation building in Honduras. The first-world Nations lead the world because the people of the nation know to lead themselves well. The banana republics* are nations that are led by the ambitions and desires of the oligarchs at the top. Starting from the Gold mining Spaniards in the 16th century to the Coffee, Banana and Textile conglomerates of the 21st century the oligarchs have controlled the destiny of Honduras. How can a 'banana republic', which serves the interest of the rich and powerful, become a democratic republic, which serves the interests of the 'least of these'? The answer: By forming Christlike, self-giving Christian Leaders in the community, which is the work Micah Project is incarnationally involved in at Honduras. I had the opportunity to visit Micah Project last week. Below is a reflection of my observations.
Yellow-Glue-Boys & their Lost Humanity:
On the streets of Tegucigalpa there are a few hundreds to thousands orphaned boys aged 7 to 17 years. Most of these boys, like the lost-boys of Sudan, experienced violence first hand during their childhood. Most of these boys have seen their family members killed in gang wars. Even as they grow up memories of having seen their family die continue to haunt them. I spoke with a young man 'on the street' JJ (I will call him), who fled to live in the streets to escape the reach of the gang members who had killed his older brother. JJ showed me a scar on his chest through which his lungs had been ruptured when some other gang members assaulted him. He continues to live on the streets looking over his shoulders.
I also met Micah-man, I shall call him, Olv. He was on the streets before Micah rescued him during his mid-teens. He explained to me that he left home to get away from a drug-busing mother only to find himself with a group of drug dealers. The drug dealers got him addicted to drugs in order to use him in to do their dirty work. By God's grace, the Micah intervention saved him. However, he continues to suffer through depression and suicidal ideation because of the trauma of the childhood violence.
One a common denominator in most of these boys on the street is their addiction to 'yellow glue'. ‘Yellow glue’ is a cheap drug that gives a ‘high’ – an escape from painful reality. These forsaken boys find their solace by smelling themselves to oblivion. Yellow glue helps them deal with the loneliness and the psychological nightmares resulting from their traumatic childhood experiences. It also helps them forget their pangs of hunger and deprivation.
Smelling glue takes both the physical and psychological pain away, but at the terrible cost of gnawing at their cognitive abilities. When these boys smell yellow glue for prolonged periods at a young and formative age, it eats away their developmental abilities making them in-effect, less human. I will never forget the first time I saw a boy, looking visibly deranged, with a bottle stuck between his teeth smelling the glue while going about the streets of Honduras. I am still at shock and disbelief at my reminiscence of the boys sniffing glue on the streets, unable to even walk straight (because prolonged addiction to glue has affected their brain and their motor nervous system). With each sniff into the bottles of poisonous forgetfulness they are inexorably losing their humanity.
The Embrace into a New Humanity:
In spite of the squalor of the sight of the yellow-glue-boys, I could still see a lingering glimmer of the Image of God in them. I saw this glimmer when the staff from Micah hugged them and their jaded facial features broken into a smile displaying some vestige of their boyish innocence. On the streets, I saw the faces of the native Hondurans squirm when the sordid looking, foul smelling yellow-glue-boys got near them. In contrast, the Micah staff embraced these ostracized boys with Christ-like compassion. Every loving embrace of the Micah staff injects a new humanity back into the lives of these boys. This new humanity injected into them is the humanity 'in' Christ. The Micah staff members are the channels of this love of Christ in Tegucigalpa.
Seeing the Micah staff embrace these 'untouchables', I realized how special Micah project and their staff are to these forsaken boys who had lost their childhood to violence and were losing their humanity to yellow-glue. I began to wonder what made Micah project and its staff special. Stephen is one of the staff at Micah. He described his work of embracing the yellow-glue-boys into a new humanity in Christ as something he wouldn't exchange for anything else in the world. Jeremy said serving the boys in Honduras is what his life was all about. When I asked Kelsey why she went to serve with Micah project she replied that being Micah was to be close to God's heart beat. When I asked Lucy, an intern, what was the best part of serving at Micah project, she said it was to share the 'silly things' of childhood with boys who had been robbed of theirs.
Micah's Incarnational Approach:
Micah is special for its incarnational approach in serving the yellow-glue-boys on the streets of Tegucigalpa. By ‘incarnation’, I mean the staff of Micah leave the comfort of their home to go into a broken world to serve the marginalized people. This incarnation metaphor works at two levels. First, the staff have had to leave their first-world, the States, to go be in the third-world, Honduras. Second, the staff leave safe part of the third-world, the Micah camp, to immerse themselves into the lives of boys living on the dangerous streets. When we were at Honduras, Stephen Kusmer, Micah's Street Minister, who is from Oklahoma, spent a whole night sleeping with the boys on the street. He said that the boys stayed awake for most of the night to protect themselves, often ‘high’ smelling glue. During the night, one of the older boys was crying when he was describing to Stephen how lonely he felt when he remembered his mother who was murdered in front of him when he was 7. Christ left His heavenly abode to incarnate onto to earth to take the sorrows of the broken world upon Himself. Similarly, Stephen incarnates into the dangerous streets of Tegucigalpa in solidarity with the suffering and sorrow of the marginalized. And this incarnational thrust is what makes Micah and its staff special.
(Disclaimer: The use of the word 'incarnational' is not meant to equate the work of Micah staff to the Incarnation of Christ. Christ's Incarnation had salvific merit - it was a propitiation for the sins of the world. The Christian's incarnation leaving the first-world and entering a broken culture in the third-world merely serves as a pointer 'signifier' of Christ's Incarnation.)
Mission does not happen unless one is willing to embrace and identify with the suffering of the broken culture one incarnates oneself into. Micah Project is special because it has staff serving who are willing to embrace the suffering in being incarnated as Hondurans. In the case of Anna and Becca, their suffering in their incarnated Honduran identity is to suffer the painful disease of Chikungunya. In the case of Stephen, his incarnational Honduran identity involves suffering the streets of Honduras alongside the boys. I was struck by how joyfully the staff took up their suffering. They suffer for the yellow-glue-boys because Christ suffered for them. The fruits of their incarnational work is evident in the life of the rescued Micah-boys being groomed into Micah-men. These Micah-men will one day become the indigenous pillars of future Honduran society.
Micah is about Christian Nation Building:
I got to meet a number of Micah-men who were formerly on the streets. Wilmer, now a Micah-man, was a yellow-glue-boy. He celebrated his 21st birthday when we were at Honduras. He wants to become a mechanic and serve the Hondurans using his talent with tools. He was given a professional tools-box as a birthday gift. Then there is Moses, another Micah-man, who is training to become a physician and serve Hondurans as a doctor. Like Wilmer and Moses there are over 15 other rescued Micah-men . There are about 20 Micah-boys now who will become Micah-men.
The tag-line on the Micah t-shirts provides the answer, "forming Christian leaders in Honduras." By investing in the future of the children, Micah is investing in the future of the nation of Honduras. Nation building cannot happen at the point of a the sword or the point of a gun. Nation building happens through the formation of Christ-like self-giving leaders. Nation building starts when Christians are willing to suffer the incarnational reality of living to serve in solidarity with the afflictions of those who are broken.
One thing that intrigued me about Tegucigalpa was the ubiquitous Christian presence in the city. Any place I went to, I could spot 4 or 5 churches within a few hundred yards of each other. Unfortunately, most of these indigenous churches seem to be very inwardly curved (Catholic churches seem to operate as shrines. Evangelical churches seem to operate as dispensers of worship experience for those who walk in). These churches, for the most part, do not seem to care much about serving the downtrodden at their doorstep. Micah is now branching out to train local/rural pastors so that they too can partake in the process of "forming Christian leaders in Honduras." Training local/rural pastors is not an easily acquired skill. It requires someone who knows Honduran culture inside-out, and has also had world-class theological education. Fortunately, for Micah, there are staff like John Bell, who has been in Honduras for many years and is also getting a Masters in Missional Theology from Denver seminary. The day when every church in Honduras operates as a mini-Micah, by launching incarnationally into the Honduran society to redeem it, that would be the day of sustainable restoration in Honduras.
Participation in the Story of the Yellow-Glue-Culture to Christian-Leadership:
On the penultimate day of our time in Honduras, I asked the handsome, humble Christ-loving humanitarian Michal Miller who is the founder of Micah project about the biggest need at Micah. Michael replied, "as unromantic an trite as it may sound our biggest needs is a bigger donor base. Micah's donor base has not kept pace with its expanded operations." If anyone wants to be a part of the Micah story of Nation Building that works, if anyone wants to participate in the story of taking a yellow-glue smelling boy and making a Christian leader out of him, here is a way to contribute.
Micah has forged for itself a unique place in missional development of incarnational outreach at Honduras. Under the incarnational leadership of the fearless Michael Miller, my prayer is that Micah will go to great heights to create a new paradigm of incarnational mission, sustainable development and nation building by being the channel of love of God in solidarity with the suffering of the marginalized in the broken world.
Ps: Opinions/Reflections expressed here are personal based on my subjective observations over a week at Micah.
*banana republic - O.Henry the American writer coined the phrase 'banana republic' based on what he witnessed in the form of the corrupt oligarchy of Honduras during his brief stay there in 1904.