Back in mid-March of this year, at the beginning of the quarantine here in Honduras, my little black cell phone rang (think one of those old-school phones with an itty bitty screen and no internet access). It’s not that I haven’t had the opportunity to advance with the times and acquire a more modern cell phone; rather, I intentionally make a stand and dare to be content with less constant access to technology and ‘connection’.
But my cell phone and its lack of bells and whistles is not the subject of this post.
I reached to answer the call, seeing on the caller ID (yes, my phone does have that ‘app’) that it was the local child protective services. Although we enjoy a positive, civil relationship with the team of lawyers and social workers at the agency, every time they call 1,000 thoughts parade through my mind:
Is there some kind of problem with one of our kids’ cases? Will they inform me of some new legal requirement that we must jump through dozens of hoops to fulfill just to keep our kids under our care? Are they calling to ask us to take in a new child?
My husband and I have fostered 12 Honduran youth in the last six years, seven of which have now moved on, grown up and/or returned to their biological families. After suffering too many changes, upheavals and losses in our household, we decided several months ago not to receive any new people into our family for the next few years. We are currently waist-deep in the delicate, sacred task of parenting the five under our care, and we want to do so well, without a constant flow of people coming and going from our intimate family life.
So, I readied myself emotionally to say “no” should the voice on the other end of the line ask me to open up our home to take in a new youth. I breathed deeply, sent up a silent prayer, and answered.
The voice that greeted me belonged to an upbeat female lawyer in her late twenties whom I have worked closely with in times past, specifically throughout 4+ frustrating years of trying unsuccessfully to adopt several of our foster children. Since then, we have had little to no regular communication with the agency.
I silently kept a wave of emotions at bay and braced myself for whatever might come next.
“Hi Jennifer! We just want to check in to see how you all are doing in the midst of the virus scare. We will be dropping food off to all the homes, and you all are on our list. Do you have enough provisions currently? How are the children?”
She caught me entirely off guard with this unexpected conversation topic, as we have never received financial or material assistance from the local child protective agency nor from any branch of the Honduran government. They were really going to bring us a food donation? It was almost too good to be true.
Trying to quickly gain my footing after having been caught by total surprise at the agency’s generosity, I answered, “Thank you so much for thinking of us. We appreciate the offer and are willing and grateful to receive anything that is within your power to give. However, if your supplies are limited, please donate to the homes that are in more desperate need.”
In an extremely perky tone, she assured me that there was enough food for all of the homes in our area and that they would gladly share with us a provision of food to help us make it through the quarantine. I thanked her again and asked when we should be expecting them, and she told me within 1-2 days’ time.
Several days passed, and that same caffeinated lawyer called me again. She asked me the specific ages and genders of our children, and I gave them to her (although she already has them on paper in her office and also via an online form I had already filled out): One male age 12; four females ages 15, 16, 16 and 17. She thanked me and hung up, assuring me that in a short time they would be bringing the donation of food and other items.
The following day she called me again and asked the exact same question about our children’s genders and ages. Again, I gave her the same information.
Yet again (I’m not kidding) the next day she called again. I glanced down at the caller ID on my cell phone’s tiny black screen, and wondered why on earth she deemed it necessary to speak to me again. I answered, hesitantly, and in her trademark perkiness she asked me to provide her with our children’s genders and ages (now for the third time in three days).
My manners getting momentarily put on the back-burner, I laughed out loud and asked with sincere confusion, “Again? Are you serious?I’ve already given that information to you twice…”
She laughed good-naturedly, spouted off some excuse that didn’t make any sense, and insisted on me telling her once more our children’s basic information that is already registered both in their office and online.
I took special time to annunciate over the phone as slow and clearly as possible, “One male…age 12…four females…ages 15, 16, 16 and 17…” I thought I would lose my mind if she called me again the next day asking for the same information.
Well, she did not call me again. A week or two passed, and a local friend of ours commented that she had seen on the news that the child protective agency announced that they had given food donations to all of the local children’s homes and foster families to support them in the midst of the Corona virus crisis. Our friend was pleased at this unexpected government gesture to help those in need and assumed that we, too, had received such a donation.
I bit my tongue. They never came to our property nor called to explain why.
A few more weeks passed, and finally that expensive government truck came plowing through our front gate and out popped that infamously perky lawyer in full face mask, gloves and full government uniform.
I stared on in disbelief, thinking:
Weeks ago they announced publicly that they had already given us food. If we had for some reason fallen on desperate need, we surely would have died of hunger by now (a full 5 weeks after her initial phone call)!
She and her assistant – a disheveled middle-aged man who wore absolutely no protective gear and didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned about possible contamination (or professional presentation) – efficiently shuttled six cardboard boxes and one large plastic bag into our kitchen.
They took a very official photo of the woman and me in front of the food donation as proof to the government that they had helped the needy, and the woman asked me to sign a document confirming the event. All of this in the name of feeding hungry children in foster families and children’s homes.
As they were headed out the door not five minutes later, I thanked them for their generosity (and opened the door for the fully-protected lawyer who was afraid to touch our door handle). She then laughed heartily and said, “Sorry it took us so long to come!” And, leaning closer to me and lowering her voice into a whisper, she said good-naturedly, “Be careful with the breakfast cereals in the bag we gave you; I think they’re expired.”
My head swirling, I walked them to the front gate and waved goodbye as their vehicle roared off our property. My husband would be teaching our kids music for the next hour, so I walked in the scorching heat across our front lawn and back into our bright-orange kitchen.
Although the government agency had taken an inordinate amount of time to fulfill their promise and had brought us expired goods, I decided to be thankful for the donation and was even excited to rummage through the boxes and see what they had brought us. This would surely help offset our grocery bills for the next couple weeks in this highly uncertain time. I thanked God in my heart for His provision through them, and cut through the plastic tape of the first box with a knife.
My heart sunk, and confusion set in. Dozens upon dozens of packets of seasoning.
Seasoning? This can’t be right. I dug deeper in that first box to see if under that sea of packets there was something more substantial – packets of rice or beans or canned goods.
There wasn’t. The only thing that first box held were crazy amounts of seasoning – 570 packets, that is. How on earth are we going to use all this, and is this really what someone needs to receive in times of global crisis? Can eating packets of seasoning keep anyone alive?
Consciously turning off the flow of very negative and bewildering thoughts, I cleared my mind and decided to give the second box a try.
I cut the tape loose and opened the box, my heart expectantly full before it crashed to the floor again.
More seasoning. They had given us not 570 packets of seasoning, but now 1,140.
I began calculating futilely. If we use even two packets per day (which is a stretch), we’ll have enough seasoning for almost two years. There’s only one problem: it expires in three months.
Pushing my growing disappointment aside, I decided to kindle my hope anew and try the next four boxes.
Baby food in all four.
Our dining room table covered in open boxes, inordinate amounts of seasoning and now 360 packets of baby food (for a household that has no residents under age 12), I stepped back in the silence of our home and just stared.
Only one thing remained that might actually be of some use to us: the bag of expired cereals the lawyer had warned me about. Numbly, I removed the three cereals in their dented boxes and placed them in a bin where we keep our breakfast foods.
The obvious thought was for our own loss: these items, intended for our benefit, would be of virtually no use to us. The underlying tragedy (and that which was of greater weight on my conscience) was that of our Honduran government’s total inefficiency and stunning lack of organization.
My mind wandered, and I couldn’t help but wonder in disbelief: Why on earth did the lawyer give us baby food after having asked me on three separate occasions the ages of our children? Surely, there are other homes that do have babies that could have benefited from this donation. What did those other homes receive? Did they give us this donation and take the professional picture just to make themselves look good?
The Honduran government’s alarmingly high levels of dysfunction can knock a person off their feet. Having lived here nearly 8 years, my head still spins in reaction to such bizarre events. Is this random nonsense due to mere ignorance on their part? Do they not know how to do their job better; did it not occur to them to review the contents of the donations before handing them over? (Surely, it would have been more effective to divide 1,140 packets of seasoning between dozens of different homes instead of dumping them in one single place, not to mention the fact that baby food needs to go to a home that has babies!)
Oftentimes, the third world (at least in my experience) is perfectly upside-down, and those who insist upon using logic only end up with increasing psychological damage. This donation, after all, was simply unhelpful, and I ended up feeling like a pawn in some political game I know next to nothing about.
After several pensive moments standing in silence around our dining room table, our kids’ music lesson came to an abrupt end and they came bounding into our kitchen.
“Hey Mom! What’s that big pile on the table? Why did the child protective agency come? Is everything okay?”
At that point I was already about ¾ of the way into organizing and bagging the baby food and seasoning into manageable portions to share with our neighbors who might benefit from it (as in, those who have babies in their home). I wearily announced, a slightly fake smile on my face, “Oh, the agency dropped this food off for us, but they aren’t really items we can use so we are going to re-donate them to our neighbors in need.”
In my heart of hearts I was grateful to God for the chance to participate in this unique re-gifting of the goods, as I knew we would be working as loving conduits to His purposes. Even so, the utter ineffectiveness of the government’s ‘aid’ still laid heavy on my mind.
Within a couple days’ time we carried the gifts on foot to bless eight households in our rural neighborhood. It was not difficult to identify who might be able to best benefit from the goods, and we enjoyed acting as deliverers of unexpected blessing. Our foster kids participated with us, dedicating the necessary care and attention to make sure the government’s food provision truly reached those who could use it.
There’s no perfect way to wrap this post up with a neat little bow. The story I’ve shared here is one little stitch among a vast national tapestry of dysfunction and inefficacy.
I simply share this with you to shed a little bit of light on the brokenness of the system down here, always with the hope that reforms and international intervention might help establish a healthier, functioning government (including a justice system that actually responds to crime) on which the people here can depend and thus thrive.
Please pray with us for these changes to occur, and that in the meantime God’s purposes might take root in Honduras in spite of the many exacerbating factors.
God bless and keep you and your loved ones.
With joy in Christ,
Jennifer, for Darwin and family/mission