Former residents find satisfaction helping Hondurans
Back in Carbon County for a few days of vacation, Jim and Wendy Welton can't get over how nice and smooth the roads are. In Honduras, where they've spent the past two years, they count themselves lucky to make the 20-mile drive from their rain forest mission home to the city of Tegucigalpa in an hour.
That, of course, if when they can make it at all. "I'd never been mudded in before I went there," Jim chuckles. "Snowed in, yes. Mudded in, no."
It's all just part of life in this poor Central American country. The question is, how did two Carbon High School graduates come to be in such a place? And how come they are happy about it?
The roots of the answer go back a few years, while the Weltons (she was known as Wendy Guptill at Helper Junior High and Carbon High) were living in Phoenix. Jim had a good job in information technology at American Express, but was worrying about a layoff because of the company was outsourcing jobs.
It was around this time that the Weltons had a friend from their church who had gone on a mission for World Gospel Outreach, an Evangelical Christian organization that provides humanitarian services for people in impoverished areas of the world. They had been reading the literature about the group.
One of the services was foster care for abandoned children, either orphaned or simply turned out alone into the world, who had slim chance of survival. "As I read about it, I thought that would be cool, but Wendy would never go for that," Jim recalls.
"And I was think to myself, that would be cool, but Jim would never go for it," Wendy adds.
So they got to talking one day, and about two years ago wound up at Rancho Ebenezer in Honduras.
It was compound culture shock. "It was like landing on a very, very alien planet," says Jim. Not only were they not fluent in Honduran Spanish, but the lifestyle was almost beyond comprehension. Coca Cola and milk are sold in bags, which may seem odd to an outsider. But that is not anywhere near as unsettling as another social norm: Something like 93 percent of all households lack a male resident over the age of 18. "They just don't have a grasp of marriage and family," he says.
That could explain why there are 5,000 to 7,000 homeless children in Tegucigalpa alone. Jim talks about the toll of malnutrition and parental absence. "There are kids 18 months old who can't walk. I saw one boy whose two front teeth had never grown in. And lice. We're not talking about eggs, but full grown lice in their hair."
As bad as the physical health might be, the Weltons say the emotional and cognitive impacts are worse. "Just about all the kids at the ranch have detachment issues of some kind, ADD or ADHD for example," Wendy explains. "They have been abandoned so many times that they are in a profound state of loss."
Government-run orphanages cannot do much more than simply keep the children alive, the Weltons say.
The mission takes a different tack. There are nine houses there with about 40 children. The youngsters live with two-parent families. The Weltons have three foster children now, along with their own two sons. All of them pitch in with chores, including mowing acres and acres of lawn on the rancho. They also help grow coffee and blackberries for sale.
There's a K-12 school there, that will take the students far beyond the compulsory sixth-grade educational standard of the country. Given that the foster children are going to be fluently bi-lingual and educated it should give them the skills they need to be productive members of Honduran society. The objective is not to bring the children to the United States, but to make them able to contribute to their own country, say Jim and Wendy.
There is much work to be done, even on the simple things North Americans may take for granted. Electrical service is an example. Although there is central station power, it is subject to frequent failure. A downed power line can take as long as two weeks to fix. That's why the ranch has a backup generator of its own.
There are no street addresses where the Weltons live, which is not that big a problem because there is no mail service anyway. They can and do communicate by Facebook.
While they're in Carbon County, however, nothing beats face-to-face contact, especially with the congregations who support their efforts in Honduras - Ascension-St.Mark's in Price, East Carbon Community Church and Desert Edge Christian Chapel in Huntington. They also receive support from churches in Phoenix, where they had lived for 18 years before they headed for Central America.
The Weltons are just about half-way through their four year commitment to WGO.
And they still think it's cool to be doing what they do in the place where they are.