"Our cultures are different, but we are one in the spirit," says one of 11 missionaries from New Port Richey.
Some of the 11 people from Westminster Presbyterian Church who traveled to Honduras this summer said their lives will never be the same.
"We worked with children playing games and making crafts," said pastor Gary Carson. "We assisted in a dental clinic held by a Presbyterian dentist (from Plant City), put a patio on a church and dug the footer for bathroom facilities."
They also distributed clothes, shoes, blankets, toys and sheets. They participated in church services and Carson baptized three new Christians.
Susan Carson, a nurse and the pastor's wife, said she was appalled at the condition of the women's teeth.
"The childbearing women had horrendous teeth, because they don't have the proper nutrition," she said. "I'd like to go back again and do a women's care clinic. It is needed badly in this country that doesn't seem to care about women."
Karen Simpson, another sojourner, said even though the people spoke different languages, they still understood each other.
"Our cultures are different, but we are one in the spirit," the 46-year-old nurse said.
Simpson's 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, said she didn't realize how fortunate she is in the United States until she traveled to Honduras.
The people "touched me in a special way. It changed my life," she said. "Everyone was so friendly, reaching out to us, trying to communicate."
Ashley bought a small ceramic rooster to bring home as a memento of her trip.
"There was a rooster in the city that woke us up every morning at 4:30," she said. "He was an old rooster and he sounded like someone was choking him. We didn't need an alarm clock."
The group from Westminster teamed up with seven people from First Presbyterian Church of Plant City on the mission.
It was one of four trips a year the Presbytery of Tampa Bay makes to Honduras, engaging in a variety of mission projects. In about five years, the presbytery has established 13 Presbyterian churches in Honduras. "This relationship with the churches allows for a ready distribution network of materials collected for Hurricane Mitch relief," said pastor Carson. "To date the Tampa Bay Presbytery has sent more than 100,000 pounds of material to Honduras and distributed these materials through local leadership."
The youth of the New Port Richey church raised almost $2,500 in six months to help fund the trip. They held car washes, catered two dinners and had a silent auction, where they offered their services for housekeeping, babysitting and other chores. In addition, members of the church donated to the cause.
Church members collected items, local doctors contributed medical supplies, and the mission group bought other materials.
They traveled to the city of Tegucigalpa, then to the village of Las Botijas.
In the village, the missionaries slept on the floor of the community center. Meals were prepared on gas camp stoves by women of the local church.
In Tegucigalpa they delivered medications to an AIDS clinic, where they discovered that 16 percent of the country's population has AIDS and 65 percent of them live in Tegucigalpa.
"There is no education to teach them about protecting themselves from AIDS," said Karen Simpson.
One of the most satisfying parts of their trip was providing money for pig sties for Heifer Project International. Animals are provided to people with the agreement that one female out of every litter be given away to someone who has no animals, Carson said.
"Hurricane Mitch not only destroyed the town but killed all the animals and vegetation," said Carson. "We had extra money with us and we were able to give them $500 right away to help them get on their feet, with the promise to send another $500 later. One thousand dollars builds 40 pig sties for the pigs from Project Heifer. The project is like the scripture that says to teach the person to fish, not just give them a fish."
Fourteen-year-old Nissa Kowalski said it was sad to see everyone living so poorly.
"I really learned to appreciate what I have _ the luxury of a shower, drinking water and electricity," Nissa said.
Interacting with the people, especially the children, proved the most rewarding.
"Using their Spanish skills learned in school, our kids spent hours conversing with Honduran youth, who used their English skills learned in school and from previous visitors," said Carson. "They carried on "chipped' conversations that were often filled with laughter from both the form and content (of the language)."
Carson said Christianity is never intended to isolate.
"We grow and expand as people and as Christians with one-on-one contact," he said. "The last night I was asked to say a few words in church. When I stood in front, I saw our Honduran friends mingling with our people, and I realized it is because of the call of Christ. As we open our hearts to one another, we feel the connections."
Others who went on the trip from the New Port Richey church are Jonas, Krista and Stacy Carson; Cynthia Kowalski; Meghan Vaughn; and Margaret Vanden Bosch.
_ Michelle Jones covers central Pasco community news. She can be reached at (813) 226-3459. Her e-mail address is jonessptimes.com.