CONWAY—Since 2007, members of St. James Church have been taking mission trips to Honduras in Central America, where they help build churches, schools and orphanages in some of the country’s poorest regions.
They completed another trip this June, and one person who went along, Ellen DeKleva, is helping start a similar Mission Honduras program at St. Michael Church in Murrells Inlet. She is one of three people from St. Michael who have traveled to Honduras with the Conway group.
On their first trip, the St. James team worked with Mission Honduras International. After that, they paired with the Olancho Aid Foundation, a Catholic nonprofit founded in 1996 to help the Department of Olancho, a large region in eastern Honduras, which has consistently been afflicted with violence and poverty. (In Honduras, the word “department” is used the same way other nations use the term state or province.)
The Olancho Aid Foundation originally focused on building schools in Honduras, but since 2014 it has also provided water purification systems because few people have running water, and clean water is often hard to come by in the region. The systems are usually solar-powered since many people in Olancho also do not have electricity.
Wendy Donellan, one of the main organizers of St. James’ mission team, said the volunteer workers stay in the town of Juticalpa in Olancho and travel to the places where they work. Olancho Aid runs several schools and community outreach programs around the region. On the trip in June, they helped build a church in the small village of El Chaparro and set up a water filtration system so the village had clean water for the first time.
“To be able to do this is a way to show the people of Honduras we care about them and we love them,” Donellan said. “A few years ago when we were working on a school, I had a teacher tell me that he had been praying for that kind of help for 10 years. He called our team an answer to a prayer. That showed how much this work is needed and that we are all part of God’s family.”
After she returned from the June trip, DeKleva spoke with Father Edward Fitzgerald, the pastor at St. Michael, about starting a Honduran mission program in the parish. He agreed and so far about 20 people have signed up. The group is learning how to build their program by working with St. James’ team, and has already held a fundraising yard sale for a trip to Olancho in summer 2018.
“The Lord has gifted me with my heart’s desire by letting me do mission work,” DeKleva said. “When you do this kind of work, you really feel like you are the hands and feet of Christ. You see how something as simple as clean water can help a whole village.”
The goal is to eventually have people from Grand Strand parishes making a trip to Honduras each year, Donellan said. Currently, members of the Conway team go every other year.
Photos provided: Mission team members from St. James Church in Conway interact with a group of kids from El Chaparro in Honduras during a mission trip in June.