In the late autumn of 1998, one of the most devastating hurricanes of recorded history struck the Central American coast, centering mostly upon the little nation of Honduras.
An estimated 11,000 people lost their lives in the onslaught of rain, landslides, and flooding. Another 1.5 million people were left homeless.
I was serving as a missionary to Honduras in those days. As soon as it became feasible, my fellow missionaries and I met together to organize relief efforts to those who were suffering. Within only a few days, food and supplies began pouring into the country from foreign governments, aid organizations, and concerned individuals.
My fellow missionaries and I decided that each of us would take a particular department (similar to a state) in order to maximize our efforts in directing the supplies that had been put at our disposal to the local needs. I was assigned the department of Yoro, one of the most heavily battered regions of the country.
There was in Yoro a small village named Guacamaya, which thus came under my care. Guacamaya was an interesting little place in that nearly everyone that lived there was Christian. The membership of the assembly virtually paralleled that of the village population. The village elder, an aged but still energetic man by the name of Don Santiago, functioned also as one of the two elders of the church.
I suppose that in more tranquil times Guacamaya must have been a pleasant place in which to live and pass one’s years. There was, however, one glaring problem with Guacamaya which would only be made known during a hurricane—its location. The village was located on a narrow strip of land bound by two small and normally placid rivers. Hurricane Mitch, however, had turned the rivers’ gently flowing waters into raging torrents which quickly overflowed the banks and devastated the little village.
When, after two days, the waters finally subsided most of the houses in the village had collapsed while those still standing were buried in several feet of mud.
By the second week of November of 1998, the main highway between Honduras’ capital city of Tegucigalpa and the port city of Puerto Cortez was still unusable but an alternative route had recently been opened. A tenuous link to the outside world, the alternate route was in some places nothing more than a single-lane dirt (or mud) road along which a nearly continuous flow of heavy 18-wheelers chugged day and night. The opening of the road gave me a chance to get to the department of Yoro and make contact with those in need.
It was a sunny afternoon dominated by a blue sky dappled with cheery white clouds when I stepped down from the Land Rover and looked over the landscape. Before me was a scene of total devastation. Everything had been buried by three or four feet of mud.
The normally lush vegetation no longer existed. Only the trees, their trunks protruding defiantly from the ugly brown mud, remained.
Bricks, concrete blocks, and even entire portions of walls were strewn across the ground. I walked over to the ruins of the chapel. There was only one wall and part of another still standing.
The pews, the pulpit, and all the interior furnishings had been carried away by the torrential floods. I looked with sadness and despair at the ruins of the dozen or so houses in the little village.
Presently I saw Don Santiago, accompanied by two or three of his grandchildren, hurrying over to greet me. He grasped my hand firmly and told me how good it was to see me. Then he invited me to his home. We walked together over to a clump of still-standing trees behind which was his house, buried in the mud. He and his sons had dug a sloping ditch to give access to the front door and had laboriously shoveled all the mud out of the little house. We strode down the earthen ramp and stepped inside.
The fetid smell in the house was nearly overwhelming. In fact, I spontaneously coughed several times.
Don Santiago invited me to sit down on the couch, one of the few pieces of furniture which had been salvaged. The couch was damp, musty, and still tinged with mud but I’m sure he considered it to be the place of honor. Don Santiago himself pulled up a wooden chair and sat down in front of me, a bright smile on his face. The grandchildren stood in a corner and looked on.
After some brief introductory words, I asked, “How are the people? Is everyone ok?”
“Yes, the people are quite well,” he said with a cheery voice. “God has been gracious to us. We‘ve found housing for everybody.”
“Great,” I replied, “Now then, what about food? Do you have enough food?”
Don Santiago hesitated and then said, “Yes, for the time being.”
I was mildly surprised, knowing that the people of the village were uniformly poor and that whatever crops and stored grain they had certainly had been carried away by the floods. I suppose I should have immediately asked how long the stock of food could be expected to last but instead my curiosity got the better of me and with puzzlement I asked, “Where did the food come from.”
Don Santiago’s cheery smile faded only slightly. He said, “Through the years I’ve set aside a little bit of money here and a little bit there. My thought was that I would use the money when the years had taken their toll and I was no longer able to work. But the Lord had other plans. He knew beforehand that there would be a flood and so He had me set aside money even when I didn’t know the actual purpose. I’m grateful to God that I had savings that I could use to buy food for the people.”
I studied Don Santiago’s sun-wrinkled and weathered face. He had obviously known many hard years of working in the fields under the tropical sun. Then I looked aside for a moment because I felt my eyes moistening with tears. The old man had reached the very end of his ability to work for a living; there was little chance to replenish the funds he had used in buying food for others. He had purposely led a disciplined life when younger in order to provide for himself in his old age and yet without hesitation he had been willing to live his final years in impoverishment for the sake of others.
I turned back to him and said, “Look, don’t spend any more. We’ll have a truck with food here within a couple of days.” And then the two of us prayed, Don Santiago thanking the Lord for the safety of the people and for the food which was coming and I thanking the Lord for Don Santiago.
Funds continued to arrive from Christians in the USA, Canada, and Europe. Soon I had received enough money to purchase some new property on which to re-construct the village, land that was on higher, less flood-prone ground. We then began to make our plans for building new homes for the people. Unanimously, though, the Christians replied that they didn’t want new houses quite yet. They asked that the chapel be rebuilt first. They wanted a place in which they could meet together to worship and praise God.
Their houses could come later.
Within about a year or so the construction teams had finished their job and all was complete.
The people named their new village “Colonia Moises” (that is, the Moses Colony). Just as Moses, as a baby, had been plucked from the waters and saved, so, they said, had they.
It’s been many years since I’ve heard anything about Don Santiago. Almost certainly he is now with the Lord. If so, he is surely enjoying a glorious and imperishable reward for the exemplary love he showed during those trying days when God used him to sustain His people.
Jim is an elder at Freeway Bible Chapel, a missionary to Central America, and co-founder of Renew In Knowledge. Check out this link o read Jim’s popular study series on the Seven Churches of Revelation.