Victoria reverend talks about missions to Honduras

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

July 19, 2013 at 2:19 a.m.

Honduran children crowd the church in Agua Caliente to meet the Americans visiting from Parkway Church in Victoria.

Honduran children crowd the church in Agua Caliente to meet the Americans visiting from Parkway Church in Victoria.

The Rev. Mike Hurt gently raised his body from a rickety cot and wiped the sleep from his eyes.

He gazed into the early morning light, noticing the sun's glisten upon the dirt road village and piecemealed tin rooftops in Yamaranguila - a village at the foothills of Honduras' Opalaca Mountains.

He breathed in the dewy, crisp air and pulled back his covers.

He was ready for the day to begin with his wife, three children and mission team members.

He was apt to launch a three-weeklong stay in the evangelically vacant mountainside, where he desired to share the gospel of Jesus with dozens of Spanish-speaking Central Americans.

"The people have little, but they welcome much. It's really kind of strange how hospitable they are," Hurt said, remembering the smiling, generous faces he encountered.

It was Hurt's third journey to Honduras, though his church, Parkway, has long supported the efforts of in-country ministry work and its partnering ministry organization, Mercy International.

In years past, Parkway congregants have built homes and churches and performed medical and dental services for thousands of Hondurans.

But this trip was inclusive of another area of focus. The efforts were aimed this time at supporting Mercy International launch a coffee farming business benefiting the residents of the Opalaca Highlands.

"The coffee is amazing, and I'm not a coffee drinker," Hurt said. "The idea is to help farmers plant coffee instead of corn, so they can sell the coffee and buy the corn."

Honduran coffee has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, even surpassing Guatemala's top spot in 2011. There are 110,000 coffee producers in Honduras, and during the harvesting season, coffee picking generates more than 1 million jobs between November and March.

Today, Honduras is the leading Central American coffee harvester for washed arabica beans, yet many international companies may exploit Honduran coffee farmers by purchasing the beans below market value.

This unethical business trade leaves the Honduran farmers in continuous economic distress and substandard living conditions.

"It varies from region to region, but most of the people we were serving were hand-to-mouth with no promise of food from today until tomorrow," Hurt said. "Their living conditions were below any standard of living we would relate to."

Enter Mercy International and missionaries from partner churches like Victoria's Parkway Baptist. These partnerships allow Mercy International to assist Honduran coffee farmers by helping them set up a production business that guarantees a buyer then purchases the premium beans at fair market value. After the beans are sorted and roasted, it is sold internationally as Opalaca Gold coffee on the Mercy International's website.

Hurt said he was able to buy large quantity bags of Central America's best coffee for about $15-$20.

Raimo Jones, a Parkway Church member and distribution manager at Ineos, also made the July trip to Honduras.

Since joining the church in 1999, he said he felt God leading him to lead mission teams abroad.

"He was calling me to lead teams because I wasn't afraid to travel," Jones said.

During his most recent trip with Hurt and about 10 members of Parkway, Jones worked in the village of Agua Caliente to assist with the building of a Honduran-run coffee co-op.

"A lot of the people farm coffee beans already, so Mercy International uses a business model that helps them with a product they already use," Jones said. "This coffee co-op helps these farmers get market value for the beans and that helps them. It gives them a way to provide for their families."

Hurt and Jones both acknowledge their trips to Honduras are benefiting local communities. They also both share the idea that when you serve others, you serve God and forever change your understanding of American wealth and materialism.

"It helps me to really put in perspective that Americans are the top 1 percent, one of richest nations in the world, and these trips help you understand what you really need in your life and what you don't," Jones said. "Their concern is 'What am I going to eat for dinner?' It helps put in perspective what my goals are and what I should be trying to do."

Hurt also said that his third trip to Honduras allowed him the opportunity to carry out the ultimate goal of any Christian mission trip - sharing the gospel in both word and deed.

"We start first by serving them," Hurt said. "You have to earn your right to share Jesus with them."



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