Friday, August 9, 2013

Tamasa's Story

When the opportunity came to go to Honduras on a mission trip in July of ‘99, I never considered going. My church was sending a team to help rebuild homes devastated by Hurricane Mitch in the Fall of ’98. Through a chain of events and unexpected provision, God made it obvious He was sending me too.

I was ready to throw in the towel and quit. A lot was going on in my life and I was feeling sorry for myself. A breakup with the only boyfriend I’d had since my divorce in ’88, left me heartbroken. My daughter wanted to go live with her dad, who had a big house in a nice neighborhood, an in-ground pool and all the freedom a 12-year old could want. We lived in a small rental house in Conyers, Georgia, that didn’t have central air. As you know, it’s hot in July in Georgia. We had two window air conditioners I turned on only when we were home so we wouldn’t run up the electric bill.
I had nothing left emotionally to give and wondered what purpose God had in sending me to Honduras. I later learned it wasn’t because of what I could give, but something God needed to do in me. Kind of drastic, I know. I figured the worst that could happen is I’d get Malaria and die.

We rolled into Monjaras on a yellow school bus. Dozens of village kids greeted us with hugs and smiles. This village had been ravaged by floods, and people had pieced together homes from sticks, corrugated metal and heavy plastic, held together with dried mud. We were merged with another team from California and assigned to three families to help rebuild their homes for the next 10 days.  
On about the 3rd day, I was redirected to another work site with another group. I was upset because I’d gotten to know the Honduran family I was working with. I was sure it wasn’t because of my labor skills. On the way to the new site, I was told the family consisted of a young woman with three kids. I was also told she had the cleanest outhouse in the village and if you had to “go”, hers was safe.

As part of the requirements for a new house, two family members had to work with us in the construction. When I asked about the father, they said he’d left them a long time ago. The mom and her 14-year old son would work with us. I thought, “A single mom. How does a woman with three kids survive out here with hurricanes, floods, boiling temperatures and the constant threat of diseases?” I pictured a small, frail woman with a tired and sad face.
We arrived in front of her stick and mud house. Pieces of plywood were “weaved” through the gaps between the sticks for privacy. There was no door, just a walkway. We unloaded the supplies off the truck and slid two-by-fours through gaps in the house.

I carried a load of wood into the house and that’s when I met Tamasa. She was sweeping the dirt floor and tidying up. She greeted me with a beautiful smile, showing me where to store the lumber in her one-room house. I stood inside gazing at the walls of dried mud and sticks. Large pieces of plastic covered one side of the house to protect them from wind and rain during storms. The hammocks they slept in hung from the ceiling on one side of the room. Sunlight streamed in from another door-less walkway that led outside the back of her house. I’m sure I looked like a wide-eyed kid trying to soak it all in.
I was struck by Tamasa’s beauty. Her big, dark eyes and hair complimented her creamy, brown skin. She didn’t look at all like I had imagined, hopeless and depressed like me. She was pretty, vibrant, hospitable and happy to see us.

For days we worked side by side in 100+ temperatures. Every afternoon she’d walk to the nearest town to a part time job, while her 14-year old took care of the two younger siblings. As I spent more time with Tamasa building her house, changes were happening in me. I thought of my own home back in Georgia and how I thought I had it so bad. I had windows and doors I could lock at night or close during bad storms. We had a bathroom with clean, running water and a flushing toilet. My floors weren’t made of dirt, but were covered with carpet. I felt ashamed as I watched her sweep her floors every day and clean the outhouse, mix cement, layer concrete blocks with us, then walk into town to her job.
One day I asked Tamasa if I could take a picture of her family. She didn’t respond, but walked away from me calling her kids inside the house. I thought I’d offended her or maybe my broken Spanish wasn’t clear. After what seemed like an hour, Tamasa and her children emerged from the house dressed in their finest clothes and their hair fixed to pose for my picture.

While taking their picture, I felt bittersweet knowing our time together would soon end. I hugged her, telling her how much God loved and valued her, that He had a plan for her life, as if I had some great wisdom for her. It was clear she understood and trusted in the Lord. Even though we spoke different languages, she spoke great wisdom and knowledge to me through the way she lived her life.
God used this single mom in one short week to do a permanent work in me. Tamasa survived a hurricane and devastating floods that washed her home away. She was abandoned by her husband, left to take care of three children in unspeakable conditions. She took pride in her makeshift home, sweeping dirt floors and making sure her outhouse was clean and her children cared for.

The last day came too soon, as our team boarded the yellow bus that brought us there. I sat looking out the window at all the village children along with a few adults who’d come to see us off, waving and hugging new friends goodbye.
There stood Tamasa with her kids, waving and smiling. She had the calm, peaceful smile I’d become familiar with. Even though I didn’t want to leave, I had a renewed hope that only God can give. I was ready to get back to my life at home and tackle the challenges I faced.

When I walked through the front door of my house, I was overwhelmed with the things God had blessed me with. A refrigerator to keep food in, beds to sleep in, carpeted floors, painted walls and a car parked in the one-car garage. It was stifling hot inside my house, so I flipped on the window air conditioner, noting I had electricity. I had clean, running water and a bathroom with a flushing toilet. My list grew. What I didn’t have didn’t matter anymore. More important than the material blessings God had given, I had Him, just like Tamasa. No one can take that away. If Tamasa could be a survivor, how much more could I, too, survive? And because she didn’t give up hope, she had a brand new home in Monjaras, Honduras, to live and raise her children in.

(This short version of Tamasa's story is taken from Markers for Single Moms: Finding God's Direction in the Chaos, now available on Amazon.com.