Sunday 12th February
Many of you will remember me coming up with this crazy idea of walking through Central America last year. The 1200km walk took nearly five weeks and raised a considerable amount of money for the work in Guatemala and Honduras.
Soon after the “Camino por Amor” walk was completed I planned to return to the road and visit all the families that had never met us before but offered us accommodation and support. This time I was not planning on walking, but rather driving back along the same roads I had walked upon in July and August last year and to surprise people with a small box of groceries each and to let them know that Jeony and me actually made it to the finishing line in Guatemala City.
I was not alone on this trip as Alex Soden and Matt Levett, from the UK, had wanted to come on this trip with me for many months and so at 3am we set off on our road trip through five countries, passing by some of the most dangerous parts of Central America. The scenery is just stunning and Alex kept asking me to pull over so he could take in the views and snap away on his phone.
24 hours later we arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica, having to navigate very diplomatically through the borders. At times we wondered if we would get through as the bureaucracy is unbelievable and, at one stage, I was asked to produce a letter from me telling me I could drive my own car!
A quick turn around in San Jose saw us heading back up the Pan American Highway at a much slower pace while I remembered all the places we stopped and were given food, water and shelter. Our first stop in Costa Rica was to see a family on the border with Nicaragua who offered us a place to stay and who gave up their evening meal so we could eat and continue our walk last year. As we pulled up outside their home they started to come out of the house as not many people visited them at 6:30am! I opened the car door and was welcomed with shouts and laughter and they were so pleased I had come back to say thank you. We shared with them, prayed with them and left them a gift that I know would be used well over the coming weeks.
After getting through the Nicaraguan border we found a small village and walked to a house where we had been invited to stay the night on the walk. I remember when arrived from a long walk from Costa Rica the family could not believe we had walked that far. Despite us being very tired and hot they begged us to help them run a children´s party that afternoon. It was a memorable time and so going back with Matt and Alex was very moving as we presented the family with a large box of groceries and a donation to encourage them. They were very affectionate and pleaded with us to come back another time and visit them again.
We moved on to visit an inspirational project on the shores of lake Managua run by a female pastor and her daughter. Jeony had been given a contact last year as we made our way through Nicaragua of a pastor who could probably put us up as we walked North. The pastor´s name is Sarah and I had already warned her we were going to visit as she was now a friend of mine on Facebook. Her posts were amazing and demonstrated her passion to help high-risk children in the area. What we didn´t know at the time was that Sarah sustained her ministry of feeding 120 children a day by washing other people´s clothes.
There was lots of beeping of the car horn as we drove into the project and Sarah came out to see us pull up outside her church building. We were taken round to the rear of the building to see her plans for the building of rooms for volunteers and talked about her dreams of building a children´s home. The more she talked the more emotional she got as she told of her own personal story of growing up in an abusive home. This was one of the factors that drove her to do what she does - so that other children don´t suffer what she suffered.
She then told us the story of one of the mums who came along to her church one day with her young son in order to get some food, as they had nothing. The mum was desperate and after a few weeks of coming along was told that her son needed an operation on his legs. She had no money for this and the hospital had taken x-rays of the boy´s legs as he couldn´t walk. The doctors said he legs would need be broken in several places and then reset. The length of recovery was long as well as painful and so she came to ask for prayer. Sarah then burst into tears as she told of the day the lady went to the hospital with her son and they took another set of x-rays. The doctors then ran around and spoke a lot behind her back, checking x-rays and examining to boy over again. It seems that on that day a miracle took place and the boy´s legs were totally normal and he began to walk. It was an incredible story.
Leaving was not easy and we were keen to see if we could help provide funding one day to help with the feeding centre for 120 kids a day. But we did need to move on and visit more families and drop off more boxes of groceries and this took us into Honduras. Our penultimate stop in Nicaragua would be to visit a family who had offered us a place to pitch our tents back in August 2016. It was a memorable afternoon when we first arrived as we found three women and two children trying to exist on next to nothing. We had asked for water and they glady gave us water to shower with in the corner of their field and then we saw them using a rope to pull the water from the well. It was hard work and so we pitched in. This time I wanted to see how they were and if they were still pulling water from the well as we had tried to fix an easier extraction system before we left. What we had fixed did not last long and the women were back to pulling a long rope from the well many times a day. Matt, alex and me took time to help fill up all their water tanks and left them with a large box of groceries.
We had planned to visit one more family who lived near the border and who had offered us support last year. They had set up a project in a mining town in, what we thought, was the middle of nowhere. However we got lost and before we knew it we were at the border! So we decided to continue to through to the capital, Tegucigalpa, where we met with the AFE staff and to see how the work was going.
AFE is a project we have supported for about 13 years now and they work with children who live and work in the city rubbish dump. The school that has been built over the year, just across the road from the dump, is now offering quality education and a hot meal each day to 140 children. Due to lack of funds the school had not opened as planned at the end of January but knowing that funds were now on the way, thanks to donations from Radio Christmas, the school could open its doors and so we climbed up to the dump to recruit children for the new school year.
As we walked through the piles of rotting rubbish and trying not to get knocked over by rubbish trucks coming and going, as well as avoiding the violent gang that now runs the dump, we cam across Jimmy. Jimmy was born here and has grown up among the rubbish and was working here today and looking forward to school starting back. It is so hard for 17-year-old Jimmy who, like all those on the dump, have to work four hours a day for the gang and then are allowed 4 hours to work for themselves. When they sell what they have scavenged for, they have to sell to the gang who pay a fixed price. This means they now earn half the money they used to earn and get even less from what they gather each day.
Jimmy talked about his brother as I had asked if he was working with him. Little Dennis was not well and Jimmy said they had no food in the house and that he had borrowed money to pay for some tests for his little brother at the hospital. As he talked I then realised that that box of groceries we had in the back of the car was actually for him and his brother and so we drove him home, dropped off the groceries (photo) and gave him a few bags of crisps and things we had left in the car and paid off his debt so that his brother can get the treatment he needs.
The last part of our journey took us to the Manuelito Children´s home. Fortunately we had three days here and this was good news to little Duncan (photo with Alex and me) who was pleased his dad had come to stay. The home is an oasis of calm (most of the time) and a place of tangible love that can overwhelm even the hardest of visitors. Our three days were spent just hanging out, playing games, chasing kids, pushing them on swings and in meetings to talk about finances, plans and reporting. The later being the business side of things but the former being the most fun!
We returned to Guatemala with one very dirty car but with grateful hearts and so many stories to tell that will have to put into a book one day. The walk did so much for so many people and I am thankful to God for giving me the strength to get through. It was so rewarding to revisit the route and thank all the families who had supported us along the way. If you have not seen the daily blogs from last year´s walk or wish to revisit them then please do check out the YouTube channel.