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The Accidental Relief Program: COVID-19 in Honduras

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jun 2, 2020

In the first days of March, as COVID-19 stretched its deadly tentacles across the globe, a series of international flights landed in Honduras—little knowing that they carried the Central American nation’s patient zero. Just a week later, on Wednesday, March 8, Honduras confirmed its first six cases of the novel coronavirus. The next morning, schools shut down across the country. That Sunday, just four days later, without warning, the government ordered a complete, countrywide lockdown.

“It was scary,” said MTW missionary Michelle Cain, who serves with her husband, Adam, in La Ceiba, Honduras. “They basically said, ‘You’re not allowed to come out of your houses until further notice.’ And we didn’t know for how long.”

Locked Down

Months have passed since the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Honduras, and still the lockdown continues. Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, hospitals, and (eventually) hardware stores are the only establishments allowed to stay open. For the first two weeks, residents were totally shut inside their homes. Groceries were available by delivery only. Now, people are allowed to leave only on particular days of the week determined by their government-issued identification number.

“If your identification number ends in a one, you can leave the house on Monday; twos, Tuesday, and so on,” Michelle explained. “Basically, you can leave for groceries, the pharmacy, or the bank once every two weeks.”

For those with money or ongoing jobs, this arrangement is an inconvenience. For those who live paycheck to paycheck, or even day to day, survival under Honduras’ lockdown is completely untenable. When they can’t work, they can’t eat.

“The majority of this country lives day to day,” Michelle explained. “Whatever money they make one day is what they use to feed their family that evening, and lot of the population only eats one meal a day.”

God’s Bigger Plan

The lockdown efforts, though draconian, may be necessary to save lives—Honduras’ healthcare system is fragile and ill-equipped to handle a pandemic. The government does appear to be doing its best to care for its people, with the military going out and distributing food packs, but there are significant gaps in the relief efforts. This hit home for Michelle when a friend, a trash-picker whom she has known for years, came asking for help.

“Almost every week, I grab rice or beans or spaghetti for her out of our pantry,” Michelle said. “I just knew that there were going to be more people showing up at our gate, and I knew that I didn’t have the capacity to help them all.”

Feeling God leading her to help her neighbors in need, Michelle posted an “ask” to Facebook.

“Honduras has been on absolute lockdown for 13 days,” she wrote on March 28. “It’s been on my heart to have something to provide because I know that people are hungry. Starving. Yesterday, we had our first visitors; need for food clearly outweighing the mandate to stay in our houses. I’m looking to have these basic food kits on hand. I’m also hoping to buy some 25-pound bags of rice and beans to supplement these kits. I’m inviting you to come along if you feel so inclined. The kit includes rice, beans, lard, sugar, flour, salt, masa, spaghetti, tomato paste and some Tang. Cost is about $6 each.” That cost has since increased to $12 as bigger baskets were needed.

The post blew up, ultimately garnering more than 120 comments and 70 shares. Soon, money began to flood in.

“I was really only looking to have the funds to provide food out of my house for whoever came by our home,” said Michelle. “The Lord had a bigger plan. … Basically, I accidentally started a relief program.”

Truck Load

Working with a local friend who owns a grocery store, the Cains began ordering canastas básicas, basic food baskets containing staples like rice, beans, flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and spaghetti. Every week, the grocery store drops between 100–200 food baskets at the Cains’ house. Then, using the allotted days in which they are allowed to venture out, American and Honduran teammates stop by, fill their cars with baskets, and go back into their communities to distribute them where they know there is need. As of the time this article was written, Michelle’s unassuming Facebook post had raised $20,000, and MTW Honduras had distributed nearly 1,200 food baskets.

No one knows when Honduras’ lockdown, or the pandemic, will end. Until then, the Cains plan to continue serving their community as the hands and feet of Christ. It’s making a difference—literally saving lives. Every week Michelle hears stories from families that, down to their last cup of beans and rice, didn’t know how they would feed their kids that week. They didn’t know how they would survive. But then, working through His Church, God provided.

“My dream was so much smaller,” said Michelle. “It’s been really amazing to see the Lord provide through His Church.”

You can help the Cains continue to provide food for their community by donating to their missionary account and adding a comment that says “food kits.”

You can also help provide relief in other communities around the globe through MTW’s Compassion Fund.

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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Pray for our ministries in Honduras, impacted by severe lockdowns followed by two hurricanes.

Please pray for those in Honduras whose livelihoods have been devastated by the COVID-19 lockdown and for missionaries stepping up to meet their community's needs.

Pray today for Puerta de Esperanza (Door of Hope), which ministers to the needs of impoverished and vulnerable single mothers in La Ceiba, Honduras.

Pray for the orphaned and street children at The Peter Project. Pray for these beautiful boys to know the love of Christ and find refuge from the effects of poverty.

Pray for the street children in La Ceiba, Honduras, to find love, permanence, and a solid faith in Christ.

Pray for the used clothing store business ministry that helps young single moms in La Ceiba, Honduras receive job training.

Pray that God would call pastors to serve at a Bible institute in Honduras, and elsewhere around the world. 

Pray for the team in Tegucigalpa, Honduras as they seek to plant gospel-driven, Reformed, self-sustainable churches that will multiply. 

Pray for first-year missionaries who can feel incompetent and overwhelmed as they begin ministry on the field.

Pray for the street boys involved in the Peter Project ministry and drop-in center in Honduras. Pray that the boys will develop a relationship with Christ, grow spiritually, and heal from the impact life's hardships.

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