Sewing in Honduras by Lindy Thomas
This year I experienced a whirlwind 5-day trip to Honduras, where 5 amazing friends and I shared our love of sewing and hairdressing with children and teens. Our church has had a friendship with New Life Children’s Home for about 5 years now. Home to 44 children, currently ages 8-18, New Life was founded by a Texas couple in 1995.
I was recently helping two friends complete some little dresses for a missionary from our church to take to the Philippines. Sharon suggested that we should go to Honduras to teach sewing. Donna surprised us with her immediate enthusiasm for the idea, as she and her husband have been through some major health challenges in the last couple of years. Two more seamstresses joined our little group, and then Sharon talked our hairdresser, a wonderful Christian woman originally from Honduras, into joining us. God knew the skills and strengths we needed, and He miraculously provided funds, donated sewing machines and supplies.
We spent 3 intense days in our makeshift sewing and hairdressing workshops. Flexibility was key as the projects we had planned didn’t work out, but new ideas flowed and materials were found. We had more boys than expected and needs were identified, so we adapted, changed plans, and had a lot of fun. It was a satisfying moment during our last afternoon when we realized that kids were working heads-down at all 6 sewing machines and all of us were just watching. In Maribel’s room, kids were not only doing the hair styling but also instructing one another.
New Life’s goal is that the children will graduate with God’s Kingdom established in their hearts. We enjoyed fellowship and worship with these amazing kids as we shared our passions. We left them with hairdressing tools, 6 working sewing machines and supplies to continue exploring. Some will be able to instruct others; some might establish a trade.
Did we change the world in 5 days? No. We gave as we were led and got closer to what God inspired almost 5 years ago. “If it is from God, you will not be able to stop them.” (Acts 5:39) Our trust is in our God who loves those children and directs their paths.
Our Journey with New Life
My husband Lindsey and I first ventured to Honduras in 2013. A South Korean high school student who was living with us wanted to go on a mission trip. We decided to accompany her and I never dreamed that I would return to New Life three more times.
Wanting to contribute, we took a sewing machine so I could try to teach some kids to sew. Our lessons were a bit chaotic with one machine and all of the 51 children wanting to participate or at least watch. We found old sewing machines in a storage closet and were able to get one additional one to work. With intermittent electrical power and just 2 machines, we were able to knock out some projects but never had the chance to really focus on instructing any individual children.
Short-term mission teams at New Life spend time with the kids and help with various construction projects on the property. As we developed a relationship with the orphanage and its directors, we began to see that not everything brought by American teams is constructive or helpful. We gave too many gifts. We whipped out our iPhones and took pictures to post on social media, but the children never got to keep the pictures. We wanted to impart spiritual truths to these kids, but as we got to know them we realized that they had a lot to teach us.
At risk of sounding ungrateful to the sweet and generous people in my church, let me give an illustration. In an effort to include the church in our ministry to Honduras, a clothing drive was conducted. We got ages, sizes and names and families enjoyed shopping for an entire outfit to bless a child. We spent a Sunday afternoon distributing the clothes, making sure everyone got an entire outfit that fit. Everyone got decked out for church that evening. As we walked through the tiny Honduran mountain village, I thought to myself, “These kids look like American golfers.” Something seemed off. The attire was out of context.
The next year we conducted the same clothing drive. Our church generously supported the effort. When the team arrived at New Life, the director asked that they not give the clothing to the children. They had experienced problems with the children receiving so many gifts from teams that they came to expect them but then had a very hard time understanding the value of the gifts. They didn’t take care of their own things or respect the possessions of each other. The orphanage had established a merit store and they wanted all the clothes to be donated to the store so that the children could earn items one at a time with points for good behavior, accomplishments at school, etc.
This incident and others caused me to ponder and I gained clarity when I attended a workshop called When Helping Hurts. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert authored a book by the same name and they provide many other outstanding resources, including a study written specifically for short-term mission teams that they can use in preparation for their trip. These resources articulate “a biblically based approach to poverty alleviation,” encouraging us to walk in humility with the poor in ways that lead to lasting change.
The original seed of an idea that God had planted with me in 2013 was to steer kids toward a possible trade or vocation or at least a useful hobby. We weren’t able to come close to accomplishing that goal on that first trip. In the intervening years, when we visited they had saved so much sewing for me to do that I didn’t even get a chance to work with the kids.
However, in that time, we developed a friendship with the orphanage’s directors and many others involved in the organization. We have been able to visit repeatedly and show the kids that we care and we will return. And this time, 4 ½ years later, others began to catch our vision. They want to set up a permanent workshop and have a local teacher work with the students. More importantly, we had time to visit with directors and teachers and learn about their goals and dreams for the children, and how we can come alongside them with appropriate support. We were privileged to see how beautifully God is working in the lives of the children as they mature in Christ.
How God Builds a Team
Sharon Roelke first voiced the idea to take this trip. She was the one who rescued an old sewing machine on our first chaotic trip and managed to make some curtains while working with the kids. Sharon has been involved in all aspects of church missions, going as well as facilitating and sending.
Teresa Daniels brought experience teaching children to sew. She worked tirelessly before the trip researching old sewing machines owned by the orphanage, raising donations, and getting materials translated into Spanish. Her methodical approach in the classroom gave us all a framework for working with the kids.
Rebecca Carpenter is an experienced seamstress and also has decades of experience working with youth at our church. Rebecca was diagnosed with cancer shortly before we left and faced surgery soon after our return, but she took the trip with courageous confidence that God wanted her to go. She made some very special connections with some of the children at New Life.
Donna VanSickler loves to sew and occasionally gets in over her head when someone has a need. Her husband Bill has been recovering from a long illness and a lung transplant. This sweet caretaker trusted God to take care of Bill and actually thought of our hard-working trip as a vacation.
Lindy Thomas loves to sew and spent many years custom sewing for a home-based business. She loved watching God bring out the gifts of the team members in the most complementary ways, meeting needs we had not even anticipated.
Maribel Aguilar is Honduran American and she connected with the kids immediately. They loved her salon classes and her spiritual encouragement. Thanks to Maribel everybody sure looked good by the time we left.