A Dunedin couple heard stories about how Hurricane Mitch destroyed a tiny village in Honduras, leaving families homeless.
Anguished by the devastation, the Rev. David Keaton and his wife, Carey, of Dunedin Assembly of God, enlisted the help of several other churches.
They raised money to pay for materials, and 35 volunteers who paid their own way to Honduras spent a week in the village of Armenia Bonito, building nine new houses and rebuilding lives.
"It looked like a subdivision when we left," Carey Keaton said of the concrete-block structures they left behind.
The new homeowners plan to call the tiny subdivision Ofrenda de Amor, which in Spanish means "offering of love."
The Keatons have worked in Dunedin for seven years and were familiar with the village of Armenia Bonito.
They are friends with Jim and Nancy Hartsock, two missionaries who live in nearby LaCeiba and helped the same community build a church three years ago.
The Keatons said the residents, who make as little as $8 a week, were so determined to build a church that they began gathering stones in a small lot for its structure. The Hartsocks, however, were able to find someone in the United States to donate the money to pay for the tiny church.
In October, when Hurricane Mitch plowed through Honduras, Keaton couldn't get the village out of his mind. He was particularly disturbed by one news story that told of rescuers' difficulties reaching Armenia Bonito after the storm. When they finally did, they found six families who had huddled on a hilltop without even a tree for shelter as the floods washed away their homes.
"We had nothing to eat. We couldn't even sleep," Ermina Martinez told an Associated Press reporter. "We had to remain standing, with only one tarp to cover the children. It's a miracle of God that we are alive."
Touched by survivors' words, the Keatons said they decided to try to help pull off another miracle: building new houses for the victims. They teamed up with the Hartsocks and began raising money and signing up volunteers.
Members of Dunedin Assembly of God, Seminole Assembly of God in Largo, Lakeland Southside Assembly, Zephyrhills First Assembly, Lakeland Victory Assembly and other churches agreed to help.
The houses cost about $1,200 each. They are concrete block on slabs, with no electricity or running water.
But to the people in Armenia Bonito, many of whom lived in tiny wood or mud huts without any flooring before the storm, they are mansions.
"They would work right beside us, and they were ready to move in the minute we finished," David Keaton said.
The Keatons have been on several missionary trips, but this was their favorite.
"We just felt like it was the best one," Carey Keaton said. "We just really got to know the people."
David Keaton agreed. "What do you get in return? A smile, a hug," he said. "It makes it worth it."
Want to help a needy child closer to home? Somebody Cares Tampa Bay is looking for businesses to help sponsor a child for its "Raise the Roof" concert Aug. 21 at Tropicana Field.
The children selected by the organization will listen to Christian recording artists Rebecca St. James, The W's and Raze and be entertained by Larry-Boy of VeggieTales.
After the concert, the kids will watch the Tampa Bay Devil Rays game against the Kansas City Royals.
To sponsor a child ($10 per ticket), call (727) 536-2277.
_ Twila Decker can be reached by phone at (727) 892-2253 or by e-mail at deckersptimes.com.