Looking Back Part II: Set Up

A week or two after we arrived on the field in 2005, I got an email that said something to the effect of, "How many are y'all running at your church now?" I gasped, chuckled a little, and showed it to Robbie. "How many are we running? Are you kidding me?" Evidently we had not explained to this particular person all that was involved in setting up a new life on the mission field.

We were starting from scratch. We arrived with no vehicle, no housing, no prospects. We didn't know where the grocery store was or where to go to change money. We had to meet with a lawyer about obtaining residency. And we needed to go back to the airport to hopefully find the eight Rubbermaid containers that had not arrived on the plane with us. It's pretty scary to condense your life down to the bare essentials only to have it go missing at JFK!

Those first few months on the mission field are unbelievably crazy, especially if you are beginning a new work in a largely unfamiliar area. And let me tell you, culture shock comes right up and slaps you in the face...

After we had finally obtained housing and a vehicle, ordered major appliances, and met with a carpenter to have some furniture made, our new home was beginning to take shape. We just had not figured on everything taking five times as long in a third-world culture.

For example, we decided one morning to tackle the next item on the to-do list: a way to send and receive mail from the States. There is no system in Honduras that delivers mail to residences; that probably has something to do with the streets not having names. So in order to get mail, we had to go downtown to rent a post office box.

I tentatively followed an employee through a padlocked metal gate into a small grimy room lit by a single dim bulb. A large, bored-looking man sat behind a desk that looked like it had survived a war only to be covered by tattered letters, ratty packages, and dried up ink pads. This is where our mail would be coming?

"Excuse me, sir, I'd like to secure a post office box, please."

"We don't have any available," he gruffly replied before returning to the soccer game on the radio.

"Excuse me?"

"They're all occupied."

This was the only post office in the whole town. Not looking good.

I glanced at the wall of small boxes stuffed full of letters. It looked like he was telling the truth. Then I spied some larger boxes on the other side of the room. "What about those?"

"Oh, those are commercial boxes. They are too expensive."

"How much?" Visions of care packages were dancing in my head.

"Nine hundred lempira for a year." I pulled out the calculator that had been glued to my hand since we arrived...about fifty dollars.

"I'll take it!"

He sighed heavily and pulled a worn receipt pad from the desk drawer. "You need to buy a lock for your box."

"Where do I get a lock?"

After he pointed me in the direction of nearest hardware store, Robbie and I set off to find it. After getting turned around and asking for directions from several suspicious bystanders, we finally found a dingy hardware store with rusty, antique-looking locks. I pulled the sample the post office worker had given me from my purse. "I need one of these." She removed a small box from a drawer, took out the lock, inspected it for a seemingly endless amount of time, then quoted me the cost. I dutifully negotiated for a deal and we finally settled on a price. I reached for the lock, but she withdrew it quickly.

"No, you go pay over there at the register first."

I waited in a "line" (literally a mass of sweaty people shoving their way to the front to hand their money through the tiny opening in the bullet-proof glass), collected my receipt, and took it back to the first lady.

"Oh no, you still need to get it stamped. Go over there to that counter first."

I was beginning to feel like a rat in a dark little maze that smelled like rust and paint remover. After another wait, I handed the frowning manager my receipt which he scanned repeatedly. I saw that the first lady had given him the the box containing my lock, which he held up next to the receipt to be sure they matched. Then he removed the lock and inserted each key, opening and closing it to show me it worked. Finally, he pulled the receipt back out and checked it one last time.

I was wondering if I was going to be asked for a blood or urine sample, when he finally handed me the bag with great flair and motioned toward the door. Finally! But as I started to leave, a large security guard stepped in front of me and held out his hand. Are you kidding me? What now?

"Receipt, please." I dug the receipt out of my purse and showed it to him. He opened the bag with my two-dollar lock and inspected it carefully. Finally satisfied that I had received exactly what I had paid for, he motioned for me to leave.

Like Jason returning with the Golden Fleece, I strode into the post office and proudly presented the gruff man with the lock. He looked it over and said, "The man who installs the locks isn't here today. You'll have to come Wednesday at noon." Install the lock? Are you serious? I looked down at the simple brass object in his hand. Give me a screwdriver!

But I held my tongue, remembering he was the one who would be handling our care packages. "Oh, well, while I'm here, can I buy some stamps?"

"We're out."

A whole morning gone and nothing had been checked off our list! And the Honduran scavenger hunt was just beginning. We were so desperate to start our ministry, but many days we felt like we were spinning our wheels!

So my dear readers, please remember, if you ever email a missionary a couple weeks after he arrives in a third-world country and ask him how many doors he's knocked, just be prepared. He might just fly back home to slap you!

Thank the Lord, after a few more weeks we were set up and ready to go! Be sure to return next week for "Looking Back Part III: The Birth of a Ministry" to read about how we got started.
3 Responses
  1. Ricky Says:

    Reminds me of when my mom stood in line to get some stamps at a local post office and a rude postman refused to speak to her when she said, "Thank you." He made no comment and tried to look beyond her to the next customer.

    She had noticed how rude this man had been in refusing to speak or acknowledge the lady in line before her, so mom already had her mind made up.

    Refusing to move on, she just stood there and he looked at her like she had lost her mind. Staring at her now and wondering what was up he finally spoke, "Mam?"

    Politely she leaned over the counter and almost whispered, "I SAID 'Thank you' to you."

    Clearing his throat he gulped and got out a weak, "You're welcome."

    Suppose the Honduran postal workers got their training here in the states?

  2. Kathy Says:

    Gives new meaning to going postal! Don't try what your grandma did though...too risky there! You tell stories so well. Makes me laugh but I know those days that make you want to cry simply become fodder in time!

    Proud of you Christine!

  3. Gwen Says:

    Great story! Makes me ashamed to complain about our post office!

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