I want to do something that combines coffee and business, Andrew told me one night when we were still in college, when the whole world seemed spread out before us like a blanket of stars, and all we had to do was reach out and grab the one we wanted. Something in Latin America—they have the best coffee there.
I tucked that conversation away and unrolled it again, seven years later, as we stood beneath the hot Honduran January sun, on the ground so fertile it feels alive, picking red, ripe coffee beans and feeling their sweet, sticky coverings come apart in our mouths. We wore boots that reached our knees to trudge through the mud, and as mosquitos picked at our skin we sucked on sugarcane and pushed back branches to find rows upon rows of coffee plants.
And I knew, right then, that maybe in college the stars were arranged on blankets for the choosing, but this one had to have chosen us, because the scenario I found ourselves in was too perfectly aligned to have been any accident. We were at Hope Farm Coffee, in Honduras. The week before, Andrew put the finishing touches on the website he was making for them.
Hope Farm Coffee, located in the mountains of Honduras outside of San Pedro Sula, was founded by Americans Mike and Kim Miller. Its primary purpose is to fund and sustain their other project: the Hope of Jesus Children’s Home, while providing jobs for the village of Esperanza.
Seven years ago I was still naive enough to approach the world of charity and American money in a solely positive light. I hadn’t yet met a missionary who never learned the language of the country they moved to, didn’t know that some moved into nice houses far away from the barrios, that money for fancy dinners out was sometimes part of the fundraising process. I didn’t know, then, that houses built by short term groups took jobs away from locals, that they could end up crumbling ten years later because the locals wouldn’t fix what they didn’t build.
Turn of all turns, what I never expected seven years ago was, as we sat in seats 27 A and B, the mountains and dense forests of Honduras coming slowly into view, to feel a squirming sense of what are you doing where you don’t belong? I spent three months in the summer of 2010 answering to gringa, white girl, being reminded every day that I don’t belong here, that my body wasn’t built for the warm mountain air, my tongue not carved to fit around the words birthed in volcano ash and mango juice. I was a foreigner, and so how could I begin to understand and address the needs of a country whose language and culture are not my own?
I think that, if there were no other reason for that star to tumble out of the blanket and start the burning in our hands seven years later, it was so that I could see how it looks when aid and help is done right, not because it is done by Americans, but because it is done by the power Jesus through those willing and in his hands.
The Hope of Jesus Children’s Home is a sprawling, three-acre farm, abundant with chickens, geese, sheep, and flowers I cannot name but that have a fragrance more delicate than any word could hold. This mountaintop oasis, home to sixteen boys and girls, provides jobs in plenty for the community in drivers, builders, house moms and night guards. It was funded by Americans, built and maintained by Hondurans, and one day, it is that hope that Hondurans will take it over. Mike and Kim speak Spanish flawlessly, and it was clear, as we went in and out of potholes on a dirt road in a pick up truck, that the Millers know everyone in this village.
We met Walter, the woodworker, who, through a microloan, is building a house for his family. We met Manuel, who, because of Mike’s financial assistance through American donations, is able to produce enough for his household. We watched Dona Maria, whose bone was nearly bursting through her skin from infection, giveMike a prescription for antibiotics, knowing he would fill it. And yes, maybe they loved Mike because he had foreign money, but maybe they also loved him because it was obvious that he really cared about them—enough to learn their language, enough to live where they live, enough to be a part of things.
Central America is a mountain land, where things have to be peeled back before you find the best angle. It’s a land that breathes out mangos, pineapples, sugarcane and banana plants, all thick skinned on the outside, moist and rich on the inside. Things in life take money, my dad told me once, and I think that’s the same in Honduras. But Mike and Kim are using the money they’ve been given wisely, so that it works as a chisel, slowly peeling back the cycle of poverty, the crime, the violence, to reveal the underneath in full bloom.
Layers of my own heart, too, were peeled back; layers of skeptism and cynicism of foreign mission that had grown hard around my heart, were melted by that burning star in my hands. I watched Andrew, who speaks coffee and websites with a fluency I’ll never know, present his work with confidence and enthusiasm, and I realized that, if January of 2015 brought us to Honduras at his persistence, anything was possible.
The stars were beautiful that night. From our patch on the mountain, next to a cluster of lemon trees, they looked close enough to touch. With tears of gratitude blurring their light, I raised my hands and waited for the next one to tumble from the sky.