Overlooking the southern border of Honduras with El Salvador, this village is cut out of the mountains and jungle.  My first visit there in 1998 was a real revelation on how a large part of the world lives.  The approach into Tegucigalpa airport is through a valley, winding between towering peaks.  When the weather is not good, the plane doesn't venture into the valley for fear of smacking into the side of an unseen pile of stone.  We have had to divert on one occasion for this reason, landing first in San Salvador, attempting another approach, then spending the night in San Pedro Sula. The weather cleared, and we were able to get in to "Tegus" the next day.  We discovered where old American school buses retired... in Central America.  That was the preferred method of travel, and we boarded one at the airport and settled in for the trip.  I had looked at the map before we left and discovereed that Gualcince was 87 miles from Tegus, as the crow flies.  I was soon to discover that crows had it easy!  After four hours of reasonable paved road, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and sampled some of the local delicacies.Bus  Once again boarding  the bus, we turned off of the highway and bumped through the narrow, pock-marked streets of Siguatepeque, often passing oncoming trucks with only inches to spare.  Out of town, we found ourselves on a bumpy dirt road that wound into the mountains.  After four more hours, we felt that we must be nearing our destination.  We pulled over into a fuel station in the middle of Esperanza, unloaded, and chaperoned the ladies as they made their way to the Mercado, the Honduran version of the mall.  After the truck was filled with petrol, and we with soft drinks and snacks, we resumed our journey, which we assumed was reaching its conclusion.  Shortly down the road we turned into what I assumed was a driveway, single laned and deeply rutted.  After several hours on this path I decided that we must be lost.  I talked with the new bus driver, who was all of 15 years old (he had replaced the original in Esperanza), and he assured me that it was not much further.  We descended into a valley, where the road made an abrupt turn while traversing a river.  The bus edged through the water slowly, then was stopped by the acute angulation taken by the road.  We backed again into the stream, turned, then wetly chugged out of the water and  up the other side of the valley.  It was getting dark, and the hair-pin curves of thegame trail that we were now on had me concerned.  But the driver had been raised here, and had probably been driving these roads for years.  The traffic was non-existant.

After a bumpy 2 hour 40 mile ride, including driving through an (almost) dry riverbed we arrived in Niltepec.  There were several street, all single lane and composed of dust.  It was late, and many of the townspeople turned out to prepare a repast of local cuisine.  After a quick huddle of the gringos, we decided that to refuse would be impolite.  So, after a long a fervent pray, hoping to both bless and sterilize the food, we dined.  The food was good, made better by not asking its origins.  After a good night’s sleep, in bunks and even hammocks on the veranda, and free of ill-effects from the prior repast, we arrived at the clinic to start work.  There are 2 operating room, equipped with operating lights, cautery, and even air conditioning.  One can run any two of the three at one time… to run more causes fuses to blow.  There was only one cautery, which was passed from one O.R. to the other through a small window connecting the two.  Turn the A/C off, use the cautery a minute, then turn the A/C back on.  Just a few minutes of that tropical air convinced me that my predecessors who operated in a school bus, windows covered with aluminum foil to help keep the searing heat out, were true martyrs.  Sitting under a shade-tree with a breeze blowing was not unpleasant, though much hotter than I was accustomed to.  A searing operating light just inches over your head, and operating room garb and gloves in a windowless concrete bunker made for intolerable situation.  The A/C struggled to make the indoor atmosphere tolerable, and was a God-send.

Leslie ShawThere were several other surgeons in the group, so we could do an operation, then sit under a tree and sip refreshing iced tea and recover.  This allowed an opportunity to get acquainted with the other members.  I had joined the group with much fear and trembling.  I did not know how I would “fit in” with a group of people who were so holy that they routinely did things like mission trips.  They were Missionaries, for crying out loud!  How would a sinner like me even fit in, let alone manage to have a good time.  These people would have to be pretty dull to be that good!  If fact, these volunteers were not different in any appreciable way.  After getting to know several of them well, I found that we had similar and different problems, but we all had problems.  I was relieved to find that none were even near-perfect, nor did they even claim to be.

The patients presented with extreme instances of diseases that I see every week in the U.S.  There were huge hernias, the largest thyroid goiter that I have ever seen, just to name a couple.  Also, the area was replete with tropical diseases that I had never seen.  For example, when we performed abdominal operations, we were fascinated to see large intestinal worms that wriggled inside the gut. Most of our patients spoke Indian dialects, so our Spanish was helpful only in communicating with translators, who converted our Spanish into indigenous dialects.  Nonetheless, we were able to communicate Christ’s love for all His people that had assembled.  Daily group discussions were held, and questions about Christ were answered.  The seeds were planted, and that was what we intended to do.

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