Well, we finally made it.  It took a few extra days, an extra stop along the way, and even involved splitting up our group temporarily….but we made it home, safe and sound.  It’s wonderful to be back!


A trip like this takes a long time to fully process, and as we begin that process we look forward to sharing our insights with you.  There will be a presentation at the church in the next few weeks…stay tuned for details.  Also, members of the group may wish to write further reflections on this space in the coming days. 


Many thanks to everyone who supported us – through gifts, prayer, reading this blog, and countless other ways.  We could not have done it without you!

Posted on August 30, 2011 .

On the Road Again...

We will all be out of Honduras by noon (Honduran time) bound for Houston. As of now, there are no options for the group to fly directly to Philly or New York. We are all booked for Pittsburg as previously laid out on the blog. Attempts will be made once on American soil to manipulate these plans.

Posted on August 30, 2011 .

And Now We Are Eleven

The four of our team who had previously decided to extend their mission trip into a mini-vacation are safely on the island of Roatan, enjoying some of the finest scuba diving and snorkeling in the world.  As you can tell from the picture, things there are quite lovely.  We hope they enjoy their trip!


And the rest of us…we are stuck in San Pedro Sula.  Our friends at Continental Airlines are trying their best to return us home safely and quickly, but the wrath of Irene has caused mayhem in airports around the globe.  As of this moment, our plans have not changed from what was posted earlier – we will be speaking with our agents tomorrow late morning, and if anything changes we will be sure to let you know. 


For now we sit and wait, and try to relax as best as we can.  Honduras, we are told, has two seasons: hot and hotter.  Today fell into the hotter category.  But our spirits are up, as we hope for a speedy and timely return home.  

Posted on August 28, 2011 .

New Flight Info

As you might expect, the scene at the airport this morning was a chaotic one.  We decided to get there extra early, though, in hopes of at least arranging some way home.  As fortune had it, one of Brad's oldest friends was working the counter at the desk!  He sadly told us that all flights to the Newark/Philly area are canceled for today and tomorrow.  So, here are the new plans:

Monday: everyone leaves San Pedro Sula for Houston (depart 11:45 AM, arrive 3:28 PM)

Then our group has to split up.

P.J./George/Kenny/Michelle: leave Houston at 7:05 PM Monday and arrive Pittsburgh 10:47 PM Monday

Susan/Mary Cate/Mary Beth/Bob/Reid/Marco/Stacie: leave Houston 7:15 AM TUESDAY and arrive Pittsburgh 11:03 AM TUESDAY

From Pittsburgh, we will have to arrange cars to get us to Newark (for P.J., George, and Kenny's cars) or Philadelphia.  

There is a slight possibility that these plans will change, if Continental decides to add a flight Monday or Tuesday monring direct to Newark.  As of now, that has not happened.  If that happens, we will let you know as soon as we can.  

Obviously, this is not ideal, but it is all out of our control.  We will be staying at the hotel Copantl in San Pedro Sula - the same hotel we used for our mission in 2008.  It is a very nice place - we are safe and very comfortable.  

For now, we hope everyone back home is safe and dry!  

Posted on August 27, 2011 .

Rest - And a Change in Plans

Today we enjoyed a much-needed day of rest, and traveled to Copan to visit the Mayan ruins there – a culture that thrived 1300 years ago.  The drive was a long one, but it was well worth the time to see the stepped pyramids and intricate carvings of this part of the Mayan kingdom.  The ruins were amazing, and helped provide at least some context for us to better understand the country we’ve spent trying to help. 


The ride back to the hotel provided plenty of time to reflect on the week, and to think on the future.  It’s hard to think on Honduras and not worry about the current state of affairs: half the people of this land are below the age of 16, and from what we can see their prospects for the future do not look so good.  But seeing the gorgeous landscape, and working with the amazing people, we don’t find it impossible to have hope for the future of Honduras – and we pray our work has been a small part of building that hope. 


Upon arriving back to our hotel, we’ve discovered that our scheduled flight into Newark has been canceled because of the hurricane bearing down on the east coast of the States.  We are perfectly safe here – the storms in the mid-Atlantic region are the issue.  We are currently working on alternative travel plans, and will keep you posted.  

Posted on August 26, 2011 .


Our final day running the clinic began as the previous three had.  We awoke early, had a nice breakfast, and then were escorted to Concepcion del Norte by our driver Norman.   As usual, we were met at the turn-off to Concepcion by several armed guards, who have been with us throughout our time here.  We are told that the principal worry is that our predictable travel schedule along a long, remote road makes us easy targets for robbery.  We are very aware that our hosts are taking extra precautions to ensure our safety.  We have come to regard our guards as members of the team, and at no time have we felt even the slightest bit unsafe.


The line of families had already formed before we arrived, just as it had every day.  And, as in the previous days, our patient Alberto was at the front it, waiting to have his hand inspected.  And it looked much better.  The swelling had nearly completely resolved; there was only minimal pus on the packing; overall, he was feeling better, and his appetite had returned.  We taught his mother how to dress the hand, gave them exercises to work through to maintain his range of motion, and gave him an extended course of antibiotics.  His infection posed a serious risk to his hand – had it been left untreated, it could have threatened his entire upper extremity.  And while the wound is still in the healing process, everyone agrees that its dramatic improvement will likely result in complete resolution and return of function. 


This morning also brought a mother with a small child – 18 months old – who had a large, infected abscess on her face, just behind her right eye, where a mosquito bite she’d scratched became infected.  This condition required another simple procedure with a scalpel – no anesthesia this time, as evidenced by the cries of the poor girl.  Though we know it hurt when we drained the abscess, she will be much better off for it.  By the time we had filled prescriptions for antibiotics and given the mother instructions, the girl was sleeping in her mother’s arms.


Like our patient Alberto’s hand, this girl’s injury is now healing.  We feel blessed to be a part of these significant transformations in their young lives –and in Alberto’s case, we are glad that we have been able to watch the progress day by day.  In a similar way our team has gone through a dramatic transformation as well.  We all traveled down here not entirely sure what to expect, and yet have worked to meet every challenge thrown our way.  Some of us learned to triage and manage a crowd of needy patients; some of us treated individuals well outside our scope of normal practice; some of us stretched our linguistic and translation skills; some of us learned how to work in an ersatz pharmacy.  All of us learned to trust one another, and to be grateful for all what God has given us.


We have done all this because we have had to; because it is what is asked of us when we volunteer to go on a trip like this.  And it is what is needed of us if we are to help those whom we came to serve.  We hope we have become different people through this mission, and as we move on in our lives, we pray that we will hold on to all that we have learned. 


By our preliminary estimate, we have treated over 500 individuals, most of whom were children.  Tomorrow we will take a much-needed rest – we will travel to Copan to visit the Myan ruins before heading home Saturday.  

Posted on August 25, 2011 .


Father and PJ:
"Hey Prest."
"What Mullen."
What follows are some playful jibes that sting only if you don't know how much they love each other. Father Mullen picked the right man to lead us on this mission.

Dr. PJ Prest has  slender fingers that match his long, handsome frame. His face is gentle, his spirit is kind and his disposition, even and poised.

In western medicine, there are two camps. The "cutters" and the "medicine men." Cutters are notoriously narrow in their vision; they see a problem and they cut it away. Medicine men are more holistic in their approach; they see a problem and they solve the problem within the context of the sum total of the patient. Cutters and medicine men are as polarized as the Jets and the Sharks.

Dr. Prest is a rarity. He sees a problem and has the skill to cut it away; but PJ has the spirit of a medicine man. With a heart of gold and a keen sense of social responsibility, PJ has held us together, maintained our direction and made certain that every move we make as a team bears the mark of Christ.

Hats of to PJ for his outstanding abilities. We're blessed to know you, buddy.

Posted on August 25, 2011 .

Hitting Our Stride

Day three of our clinic began as the others have – an early breakfast at the hotel followed by the beautiful trek to Concepcion del Norte.  It had rained heavily last night, but while the ground was muddy the clouds had cleared, and a strong sun promised a hot day.  The power that supplied the church had been lost, and so the two fans – one in the clinic proper, and one in the pharmacy – which had helped keep the temperature somewhat under control, were non-operational.  But no worries – we shrugged our shoulders and set to work. 


And the crowd came.   Over 110 of them came, mostly as families.  Alberto returned this morning, proudly saying that his hand continued to feel better.  The swelling had indeed improved – it looks like his hand will be OK.  Stacie treated a man who complained of ear discomfort – when she took a closer look, she saw that an old, dead bug had apparently gotten lodged there in some wax!  Throughout the day there were many of the kind of straightforward treatments for parasites, infections, headaches, and allergies that we have seen a lot of, since they are part and parcel of an impoverished lifestyle, but there were also more demanding cases too: a child with epilepsy who needed her medications adjusted, a boy whose sprained ankle needed wrapping, and a women to whom we gave a pregnancy test that proved positive.


Our team continues to excel, treating patients with efficiency but, most importantly, with compassion.  As one member commented, because our treatments are limited, perhaps the most important gifts we can give them are time, attention, and compassion.  We are so accustomed to striving for efficiency in our lives that we sometimes have to remind each other of the need to adjust our outlook and value these very gifts that we have in greatest supply.


And so we will continue on.  Our clinic runs one more day…

Posted on August 24, 2011 .


Early this morning the rain had ceased and in its place were some low clouds and wispy mist which danced around the tops of the mountains.  The vegetation still dripped with water, and somehow seemed even more lush.  This landscape is gorgeous. 


Before we departed I saw our driver Norman – who works for the diocese – combing over his van with a checklist.  He takes his job very seriously, and I am grateful he does.  Padre Hector refers to Norman as his “Little Turtle,” in reference to his slow driving.  But he has ever reason to be slow on these roads.  They are narrow, filled with sharp turns, and laden with potholes.  He takes his time for our safety. 


We have had to employ Norman in the clinic.  Though his English is limited, he has been an enormous help at the triage station helping Marco, Mary Beth, Bob, and Susan manage the crowed and begin the treatment process.  Last night, when we explained to Norman that he was now a real part of our team and that we would be paying for his meals, he had to fight back tears as he barely got out a prolonged thank you. 


Today’s work went exceptionally smoothly.  Alberto – our little boy with the hand infection – was there to greet us as we arrived.  He felt much better, he said, and his hand only hurt him a little bit overnight.  The swelling was much improved – we re-packed the wound, gave him a dose of IV antibiotics, told him to continue with the oral antibiotics we gave him yesterday, and to return tomorrow for another look. 


There were plenty other people in need of care today …a 98 year-old woman who had lost her vision due to an infection; a young woman who had brought her 14-day old boy for a check-up; and a local woman who runs a daycare/orphanage who had with her 11 small children – and who said she’d bring more tomorrow.  We even had a young girl who benefited from osteopathic manipulative treatment!  And of course there continued the barrage of parasitic infections, gastritis, asthma, malnutrition, and all manner of chronic conditions long since ignored in this impoverished country.  


Through it all we worked calmly and swiftly.  Without any panic at all, we treated 171 patients today.  In two days we have already exceeded our four-day total from our mission here three years ago.  We had to make a run to the nearby pharmacy to re-stock our shelves of some basic things (hydrocortisone cream, children’s Tylenol, etc), and that is but a symptom of the incredible volume of people we are seeing.  The need here is immense, and we are more ready than ever to face the challenges these next two days will bring. 

Posted on August 23, 2011 .

Our Clinic Opens

(Sorry for the delay - the internet was down due to storms!) 

We awoke early and traveled the rough road to Concepcion del Norte.  Upon our arrival, crowds of people were gathered outside the tiny Episcopal Church.  Over 50% of the population of Honduras is under the age of fifteen, and the mass of patients reflected the youth of the country. 


Our team came together quickly.  Three of us manned the triage station; one served to direct traffic; four practitioners worked in stations; two served as translators in addition to the two translators provided by the diocese; four set to work in the pharmacy; and one floated, and helped where he could (guess who?).  The amazing thing was that the team functioned beautifully – you’d have thought we’d been doing this for years. 


And the patients came.  They ranged from nine months to 100 years (literally).  We treated loads of parasitic infections, gastritis, asthma, as well as the predictable aches and pains and rashes that come from an impoverished, ambulatory society.  But we saw some other conditions as well…an old blind women who hadn’t had anything to eat or drink in 4 days – we gave her a couple liters of IV fluids and a lot of multivitamins.  We encountered a young woman who was a victim of domestic violence – we offered some counseling and support.  And there was an older gentleman with advanced Parkinson’s that we really couldn’t do anything for, except show him compassion and offer some comfort.  Through it all we tried to show the grace that has guided us here, and the patients we saw showed extreme gratitude for our efforts.  At the end of the day, after we had already cleaned up and were preparing to leave, a mother showed up with her 10 year old son whose hand had been injured some days ago and become badly infected.  We decided that the best thing to do was open the wound to drain it and begin a course of antibiotics.  So we quickly set up for the procedure.  Our nurse anesthetist administered local anesthesia, our surgeon wielded his scalpel, our other docs and pharmacist organized the meds, and within minutes the boy’s wound was drained, his hand bandaged, and the danger that the infection posed was drastically curbed.  We’ve asked him to return for follow-up tomorrow.


In all, we treated 193 patients – more than twice the typical daily load from our last trip here to Honduras.  We are pretty tired, but we are energized by the need, and by each other’s gifts, and so inspired to do even more tomorrow. 

The rain that typically falls in the evening has started beating on the roof.  Now, off to bed!

Posted on August 23, 2011 .

Santa Barbara to Concepcion

The main road disappears, and we are met by a posse of young, armed officials dedicated to our safety for the duration of our stay in Concepcion del Norté.  Those who participated in our last mission agree: we are penetrating into a  deeper, more rural area of need in 2011. The terraine is a challenge every step of the way. Our van, takes the trip in first and second gear. We're following our supplies, and everyone has fallen silent. For near an hour, we drive through lush, mountains spotted with live-stock and young men, carrying machetes. Some wave to Padre in the lead vehicle.  Livestock cross our path frequently. Disorganized corn fields, banana plants and coffee groves line the way.  We briefly encounter a cluster of homes, but these disappear as we continue on our way. Then emerges a church. And children. Lots of children. Swarming us with excitement and joy and wonder. And we know why we're here.

Posted on August 23, 2011 .


Father Madrid ties his cassock with rope in an elaborate and pleasing way, with two fine loops and an elaborate, central knot, and that knot tells a story of a skill he possesses. Having arrived in Honduras with 400 pounds of medical equipment and the personal luggage of 15 missionaries, we were instructed to pile our bags in the back of a small white pick-up truck. Higher and higher the luggage climbed, all the while Padre lassoed rope over and through and around till finally a precarious tower of our belongings resulted.   Swaying this way and that through the potholed roads that led us from San Pedro Sula to our home base in Santa Barbara, each knot proved its purpose. Each knot bore the perfect amount of stress. Each knot contributed to the stability of the whole cargo. That -- and a prayer -- got out stuff safely to it's destination.

Posted on August 23, 2011 .

God Bless Alberto

After treating some 65 families (193 people), fourteen year old Alberto came to the door. "No no.  Come back tomorrow," we told him. Alberto says nothing but only raises his arm to show us his hand which is disfigured with swelling,  red and "hot," filled with serious infection. Alberto was polite, but fixed his eyes on us boldly as if to to say, "I hope that you think this is important.

We think it's important, Alberto. In fact we think it is perhaps the most threatening malady we've seen this day. Despite the late hour, everyone agrees that the right thing to do is open Alberto's hand, create a "wick" for the infection to drain, put him on antibiotics and follow his wound every day we are here.

Alberto showed enormous courage as local anesthesia was administered, his tears, the last vestige of a boyhood passing quickly. Dr. Prest opened his wound, drained, packed and wraped it. Dr. Moreschi wrote for two antibiotics for Alberto to begin promptly.

We all piled in the van for the arduous ride through the mountains to our home base in Santa Barbara. The gaurds wished us well at the bottom of the mountain  and we clip eagerly home.

There was a bit of well-deserved, congratulatory chatter in the van, but mostly the ride was quiet as we nodded in and out of half-sleep. God, bless our team. Bless the people of Concepcion. God bless Alberto.

Posted on August 22, 2011 .

Ready to Go!

After a good night’s rest, our team awoke early and traveled to Concepcion del Norte.  It’s just under an hour journey from our hotel through spectacular hills and lush valleys with mountains in the distance.  Cattle and farms line the roads.  The town of Concepcion is much more remote than our last experience in Trinidad, and as a result more depressed.  We found out today that a medical team has not visited in over seven years. 


The level of poverty is striking to us.  One member of our team who travels frequently in Central and South America commented that it is by far the poorest place he has ever been – and seeing it again after several years was a sharp reminder of this fact.  We notice that both in and out of the towns, most people live in homes that are little more than shacks.  Much of our journey to the village is over poorly kept dirt roads; people walking down the roads are eager to catch a ride on the back of a pick-up truck that we are using.  It appears that many people survive by subsistence farming – we see small crops of corn and bananas all along the way, and small herds of scrawny cattle being driven by old men.  Men and boys are riding small ponies for transportation.  Obviously medical attention has not been readily available here.


We celebrated Mass at the tiny Episcopal Church with Padre Hector, who oversees fifteen such small churches.  It was a wonderful service – their sincerity and gratitude is palpable. 



After the service we began the task of transforming the church into a medical clinic.  Pews were moved to form treating areas; desks were placed to make a pharmacy and triage area; a tarp was hang from the ceiling to make a private exam/procedure area.  And medications and supplies – so much more than we had last time! – stocked benches and pews. 


The church is lead on a more daily basis by Delma, who introduced herself as the pastoral leader.  She had us over to her lovely home for a gracious meal and expressed how excited she was to work with us in the coming days.  Her generosity was overwhelming. 


We journeyed back in the rain and arrived at our hotel in time to make some final plans for tomorrow before having dinner and then an early night.  Delma anticipates us seeing a lot of patients over the next several days – potentially many more than we treated the last time.  It is scary and inspiring.  We have an amazing team of medical professionals, and an unbelievable core of parishioners.  We have abundant supplies.  We have hosts that are eager to help, and glad to do so.  And we have our faith – faith that has gotten this far, and that will continue to be our guide.  Tomorrow we begin!

Posted on August 21, 2011 .

Safe, Sound, and Ready

We made it!  Fifteen individuals – from all walks of life – converged safely at the airport in San Pedro Sula this afternoon.  Our group was split in two, and aside from the stress and predictable delays with moving and coordinating a group this size, the journey was largely uneventful.  A certain Continental ticketing agent was especially helpful in making sure our suitcases full of medications and medical supplies got on the aircraft cost-effectively.  And the best part was that we moved those suitcases through customs in Honduras without incident. 


Upon our arrival we were greeted by representatives from the Episcopal Diocese of Honduras.  We then met up with some of Brad’s old friends and ate a spectacular lunch – a truly warm welcome to this grateful country.  From there we traveled to Santa Barbara and checked into our hotel.  Tomorrow we will rise early, attend mass at the church in Concepcion del Norte, and then begin the process of rearranging pews and setting up our clinic. 


Arriving in Honduras I was reminded of two striking features of the landscape.  The first is the land seems unusually fertile – it is green and lush, with evidence of successful farming all around.  And the second is the presence of mountains in nearly all directions.  This is a fecund country, but one that is constantly facing obstacles.  The largest obstacle – and the most obvious when traveling here – is the striking poverty.  Poverty that far exceeds anything we have in the States.  As we begin our mission tomorrow, and as we try to bring what help we can this week, we will be facing plenty of mountains in all directions.   And we are ready.  

Posted on August 20, 2011 .

Packing Supplies -- ugh.

Today was the day I was to spend hours packing all of our mission supplies for Honduras. It was to be a tedious afternoon of singular labor that I was not looking forward to tackling.   When Soup Bowl volunteers heard my plans, they stayed behind with me in the church office. In one hour, every pill, bandage and suture, every IV bag, every tooth brush, in short, 150 pounds of supplies (at least), were neatly wrapped and packaged in four compact bags. My thanks to Robbin McCarthy, Julie Reddy, Jaqui (who, like Sting and Madonna needs only one name as an identifier) and Jerry Klever for sharing my burden.


Posted on August 13, 2011 .

Honduras on the Horizon

Reprinted from Lion's Mark:

Sometimes, I play on Google Earth.  Far above the stratosphere, one flick of the mouse and a three-fingered hand spins the world whimsically before plunging one closer to planet earth. First, all green over the americas, advancing toward cities, more gray. From a satellite, miles above the earth, zooming and zooming, I’m hovering now above my destination: 1625 Locust Street, 19103, N 39°, 56‘57.12”. The bell tower is casting a shadow over the nave; the green copper roof of the Lady Chapel is in clear sight! I pull the earth west and can see the slate steps to the Parish Hall, a shadow from the magnolia tree falling half along the steps...  

Now church is asking us to extend our arms to the far reaches of Central America to one of one of the most impoverished regions in the western hemisphere.  From Saint Mark’s, Google Earth pulls me back into space, adjusts my course, and plummets me back to Earth, south of the Gulf of Mexico, to a steaming hot place just west of the Caribbean but too far to actually embrace the water or its comforts. The satellite image falters greatly here.  There is no detail as fine as those captured in our region. All one can see are the tops of full, green trees. 

What lies below those trees? My best imagination is stumped by privilege and birthright.  Below the trees, I read, we will find a village.  In that village are men and women whose backs ache from hard labor and whose only relief comes from medicines brought by missionaries. There is a village below the trees whose populace share the meager food they have with intestinal worms, whose children have never tasted a multivitamin and who need antibiotics. Below one tree is an anemic woman who needs an iron supplement; and there is a man with a deep, infected wound that’s only getting worse.  We don’t know their names yet. But in late August, we will know their names and their stories.

Back at N 39° 56‘57.12”, and just west of the magnolia tree, lies an office at Saint Mark’s Church.  From Google earth, I cannot make out the diamand-cut leaded glass cut for those windows long ago.  In that office, however, I know that there are boxes and boxes of supplies that a team of missionaries from this holy place will bring with them to the town of Concepcion del Norte, Honduras this August. We will come back with stories, and each story will have attached to it a face. Faces becomes blurry at a mere hundred feet.  Stories, though, are blazoned in our hearts and can be heard from here to heaven! Fifteen of us will travel there. Fifteen of us will come home with stories, and every story we’ll heap on the alter, a sacrifice to our Lord.   



Posted on August 12, 2011 .