‘I was thirsty and you gave me drink’
Sister travels to Honduras with Benedictine College students on a clean water mission trip
(This story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Threshold magazine)
by Sister Barbara Smith, OSB
During spring break in March 2014, seven students from Benedictine College invited me to accompany them on a mission experience to Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. It was a Water With Blessings mission which involves mothers and missioners bringing clean water to God’s thirsty children. This program provides water purifiers to women who do not have access to non-parasitic water. Sister Larraine Lauter, an Ursuline sister, is the executive director.
Our group stayed at a Franciscan Friary next to St. Maximillian Kolbe Parish of 25,000 members, up on a hill in a neighborhood called San Francisco. It was a cinder block, walled-in complex of about five acres. The friars were from Romania, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Honduras. Friars Isidoro, Ramiro, Juan Gabriel, Mario, and Jonathan were most hospitable the eight days we stayed there and we learned much from them. It was truly a life changing experience!
How was it life-changing? Behind the walls of the friary and being with Sister Larraine, the friars, the driver Sebastian, the parish council president Jorge, or youth minister Dennis, I never felt unsafe; however, we were in an environment where it was not safe to go out by ourselves.
So Sister Larraine took us to see how the “water women” really lived in their homes and this did help me see the conditions beyond the walls where the water training took place. It was “real” out on the streets and in the homes, and it was also disturbing to see how poorly the people live. What was truly a gift was their spirit of graciousness in accepting our presence in their homes, as shabby as they were and with as little as they had. They greeted us with smiles and showed us how their water filtration buckets worked and they were proud to be water women helping their neighbors.
Later in the evening Jorge told us their stories, which were even more devastating. Each had her own tragic health story and battle with drug lords on top of daily struggles of trying to make a living. One woman was a seamstress for the local firefighters and also made jewelry and rosaries. Another was too ill to work and depended on her teenage children and sick husband to survive and maybe have one meal of tortillas a day. But it was their beautiful transparent faith-filled spirits that sang to me and filled the room when we walked into their homes or when they came to the friary.
What will I take away from this experience? I have been processing this experience for weeks now and I think I will continue to do so for the rest of my life as it has emotionally touched me and changed me as no other experience has. I may never “get it,” unless I live in the shoes of those who suffer the way they do. Clean water is truly a basic right for every person. We have so much that we take for granted. We waste so much. We all need to reverence our natural resources, be aware of those who do not have, and share equally with everyone.
- Sister Barbara Smith, at back of the line, went to Honduras on a Water With Blessings mission trip in March 2014 with Benedictine College students.
- A Water Woman watches as clean water flows through a filter into a water jug.
- One of the Water Women embraces a Benedictine College student who provided child care during Water With Blessings training.
- Sister Larraine Lauter, right, executive director of Water With Blessings helps a Water Woman prepare a bucket for clean water.
- A Benedictine College student with one of the Honduran children who will benefit from clean water.