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It’s not often that I’m invited to write one of my ‘light through the cracks‘ stories for other online forums. But when Next Leadership asked me to write their monthly reflection for November, I was delighted to use it as an opportunity to tell the tale of something that happened while I was in Honduras, late last year, with work, and what I learnt as a result.

I am copying it below in full, but the original can be found here.

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When work took me to one of the most dangerous cities on earth, I was on high alert, especially when I discovered it used to be the world’s ‘murder capital’. I’ve visited several slums over the years I’ve worked in international development, but I’d never before had to wear a UN protective vest and be accompanied by gang leaders.

I was in San Pedro Sula in North West Honduras, where the slum communities perch perilously on the banks of the filthy fast flowing rivers that run through the city. They stink to high heaven of faeces, rotting rubbish and abandoned animal carcasses. Every time it rains, the rivers flood, swamping the tin roofed ramshackle houses with sewage infested water. Children have to wade through the water to get to school. Piles of plastic bags and bottles line every inch of earth.

Organised gangs rule the roost with relentless violence caused by a cocktail of complicated factors. These slums aren’t just full of poverty, vulnerability and degradation. Their inhabitants aren’t just experiencing low self-esteem, despair and a lack of dignity. Slicing through the atmosphere lies an additional layer of intimidation and fear, unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere.

I was there to evaluate the impact of a partner organisation’s programme, which is equipping and empowering people to assert the right to be resettled in a less risky location.

During the week of my visit, the city was deluged with non-stop monsoon rain. Over the course of 24 hours, one of the rivers doubled in size. The slums on both banks were flooded by torrents of rushing water, including the one where I had been meeting with people and hearing their stories. Nearly twenty houses were swept away and six people (including four children) were later found drowned downstream.

The destruction was horrific.

DSC09101 (2)
Before …
DSC09144 (2)
After …
Both photos taken from the same spot – before and after the monsoon rain.

What could I offer, as an outsider, to the women who were weeping? They had lost their homes, their children, their future, their hope. They had nothing left. The local authority had offered them tarpaulin sheets to provide temporary shelter in the immediate aftermath of the flooding, but it felt like a lamentable token gesture.

All I could do was pray.

With tears streaming down my face, mixing with the rain, I raised my face towards heaven. Compassion and courage came over me in equal measure, and I marched along the muddy, puddle-ridden, unmade road that wended its way through the centre of the slum. I knew it was risky, as I was stepping away from the safety provided by the accompaniment of the gang leaders, but I felt a prompting to be bold, which gave me quiet confidence. Head held high, I cried out loudly, venting my anger at God, reminding Him that people shouldn’t have to live like this in the 21st Century and pleading with Him to do something.

The following day, the President of Honduras decided to visit that same slum. That evening, he was shown on the national television news, walking along the very ground where I had marched, accompanied by our partner organisation’s leaders and clearly angry at what he was seeing. None were as shocked as me when he spoke to camera and pledged to provide funds and land to move 300 households to higher, safer ground.

In the midst of the despair of the disaster, it felt like a glimmer of hope.

Often, as leaders, we want a glimmer of hope. However, we first have to pray bold prayers with bold asks. We have to recognise when the responsibility lies on us and start with self-leadership: “Will I step up and act? Will I step out and take a risk? If I don’t do this, who else will?”

It takes a mixture of compassion, courage and confidence:

  • Compassion about the situation that needs our prayers to be bold.
  • Courage to seize the opportunity in front of us and not to turn away.
  • Confidence that God will take care of the details.

The writer to the Hebrews (11:1) says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith ignites hope for things that are, as yet, unseen. Faith gives us a firm conviction that things can be different. Faith is the bedrock of bold prayers with bold asks.

Something stirs when, in faith and boldness, we decide to self-lead, and it can even lead to other leadership. In my case, it led to the leader of the country, the person with power, to change the situation.

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If I have learnt anything from standing in that slum in San Pedro Sula, it was this: God sees. God hears. God cares. He holds the glimmers of hope we long to see – but He needs us to start with self-leadership.

[Top photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash]
[Other photos are my own]

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