Cheraw native Zachery Michael, 25, asks each of us to spend a little time thinking about the biggest issues in our lives. Then consider, he said, “how different your life would be if your biggest worry, each day, were finding clean drinking water.”
Michael was just 16 years old when he took his first “eye opening” mission trip to Africa, where he learned one doctor may serve a community of 120,000 people, and how essential antibiotics are to the quality of life. He was in Kenya, he said, when he learned about water borne diseases and “the positive impact a fresh well could have on a village.” Michael worked on a water purifying project there during one of his four mission trips to Africa.
Now, almost a decade later, he’s planning a trip to Roatan, Honduras, with the Youth Outreach Ministry of Pensacola Christian College where he is earning his bachelors degree in history and public administration. “You don’t have to be in the field of ministry to make a difference in someone’s life,” said Michael.
Roatan, Honduras, is an island in the Caribbean Sea, that is separated from its governing mainland by 35 miles. It’s the largest of the Bay Islands north of the mainland. Although fresh drinking water there is scarce, and adequate medical care is substandard, Michael said his focus for this trip will be teaching English.
Michael will be teaching in the village Orphanage as part of a twelve member team led by Dr. Jeff Adams, professor of law and public administration at Pensacola Christian College. These young people will take part in the construction of a new orphanage facility and offer the message of salvation through Christianity, said Adams.
“God has called us to spread his hope of salvation and to help those that are far less fortunate,” said Michael. “We can no longer sit idle and let someone else help the neighbor that is in need.”
Michael has a website that provides photos of his previous mission trips, along with information pertaining to his current endeavor. The web site, zacherymichael.com, also offers an avenue to donate to Michael’s efforts.
“I am asking most importantly for your prayers that our efforts at Youth Outreach Ministry will make an impact on the children and people of Roatán,” said Michael. “Our journey of constructing an orphanage, distributing Christian literature, teaching English in schools, and Evangelistic projects are just a few tasks in which we will partake.”
According to Michael, Honduras is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with 53 percent of the population living in poverty and more than 50 percent living without sanitary water facilities.
“Can you image living on a dollar a day?” asked Michael. On the island of Roatan, he said, approximately 20 percent of the population lives on that or less each day.
In sharp contrast to the poverty on the small island, are the large, luxurious resorts that have been built in recent years to bring in divers and other tourists from around the world. Roatan is surrounded by clear waters with visible depths up to 100 ft., filled with tropical sea creatures and coral reefs.
And while tourism is a positive boost to the economy, it also effects the social dynamics of the island’s native population. Ken Carrothers published an article with noonsite.com in July of 2012 about the social issues facing Roatan. “The cruise ship passengers do tend to help the local economy by spending money. In these slow times, the local people have no work, no source of income, and many are on the verge of starvation,” said Carrothers. “When they see a Gringo pull in with a boat worth 100 times more than they will ever earn in a lifetime, they get tempted. It’s not right, but when your kids are starving, it’s not easy to have ethics and morals.”
The website for World Youth Movement, a similar mission organization to the one Michael is traveling with, answers the question: Why Roatan? Why choose that part of the world for mission work?
Their answer: “It was originally controlled by Europe, but became a part of Honduras in the 1860’s. Because of its beginnings, English is the preferred language amongst Islanders. Honduras is the second poorest country in Central America and has recently been declared a fourth world country. Most of its citizens live off approximately $1 a day, and have limited access to education that exceeds the sixth grade. Roatan itself has recently become a tourist destination due to the fact that it is almost entirely surrounded by the second largest barrier reef in the world, but the Islanders themselves rarely see any of the profit generated as most of the resorts and beaches that the tourists visit are entirely run by foreigners.”
“Because of this, a gap has now been created between the rich and the poor that is astronomical. Because Roatan is so far off of the coast of Honduras, the Islanders have very limited access to the medical facilities that are located on the mainland, and the Island itself has remained extremely underdeveloped for the amount of tourism that the west side of Roatan sees. Most often, the Islanders are left cut off from basic needs that the mainland offers its residents.”
“There is limited access to clean water, running water, consistent electricity, and properly working septic systems. The public school system ends at grade 6, and most students leave with barely a first grade education. The public health system leaves much to be desired, and young children die of preventable and treatable sicknesses. Most every young child has been through a bout of worms, most more than once in their lives. No child should ever die from worms, but it happens on the island. The HIV/AIDS rate is the highest in Central America. The rate of HIV in Roatan is 220 times the rate of HIV in the U.S.”
According to TRAVEL.STATE.GOV, a website maintained by the United States Bureau of Consular Affairs, there are several precautions one should take when traveling to Honduras.
The Department of State has issued this Travel Warning to inform U.S. citizens about the security situation in Honduras: “Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. San Pedro Sula (which is on the mainland) is considered to be the world’s most violent city, with 159 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2011. These threats have increased substantially over the past several years, and incidents can occur anywhere. In January 2012, the Peace Corps withdrew its volunteers from the country to conduct an administrative review of the security situation.”
That same website also reports on the medical facilities and health conditions of Honduras. “Medical care in Honduras varies greatly in quality and availability. Outside of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, medical care is inadequate to address complex situations. Support staff facilities and necessary equipment and supplies are not up to U.S. standards anywhere in Honduras. Facilities for advanced surgical procedures are not available. Wide areas of the country, including the popular tourist areas of the Bay Islands, do not have a general surgery hospital. Ambulance services are limited in major cities and almost non-existent elsewhere.”
As Michael prepares for his mission, he signs his letters requesting others to join his efforts with reference to Psalm 9:18. Which, from the King James Version of the Holy Bible, reads: “For the needy shall not always be forgotten; the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.”
“If I can make a lasting impact on just one life,” said Michael, “the entire trip will be worthwhile.”
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.