Political unrest in Honduras is disrupting the peak of one of the world's busiest seasons and settings for short-term mission trips.
Many North American mission groups have delayed or canceled their July trips to the impoverished Central American nation following a June 28 government-sanctioned military coup, leaving some Honduran Christian organizations in the lurch.
Orphan Outreach, a Christian relief organization in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, has sent four mission groups home early and canceled two groups slated to come in July. Another group decided to go to Peru instead. Other organizations, such as the Mennonite-backed Mujeres Amigas Millas Apartes (Women Friends Miles Apart) in the industrial center of San Pedro Sula, counseled groups to delay trips in order to avoid potential social unrest during the heated standoff between supporters of Honduran president Manuel Zelaya and the interim government that ousted him.
Safety of visiting missionaries is an important concern, yet Honduran ministries admit that these cancellations have a profound effect on the local organizations that rely on mission trips to meet operational costs.
"These groups bring supplies, clothes and operational money," said Jeony Ordoñez, director of the Amor, Fe y Esperanza (Love, Faith and Hope) school for children who live and work at the municipal dump in Tegucigalpa. "If they don't come, we don't get it. [Cancellations] are affecting us significantly."
Honduras is the fourth most-popular international destination for North American mission groups, according to Robert J. Priest of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. The bulk of these groups come in June and July.
The events that sparked the cancellations—a proposed popular referendum by Zelaya to change the constitution and his subsequent early-morning ouster by the military—were the by-product of tensions brewing for years in a country long-plagued by poverty, a troubled judicial system, and a powerful elite group of rich families. Yet the coup was dramatic enough to bring to the forefront longstanding divisions in the Honduran evangelical church and motivated church leaders to take their previously private political stances public.
Church and politics: Evangelicals as agents of political change
Most evangelical pastors in Honduras acknowledge the need to speak out against the injustices plaguing their country, but they differ on the appropriate method.
Some, such as Evelio Reyes, pastor of Vida Abundante (Abundant Life) megachurch in Tegucigalpa, have taken to the streets in support of acting president Roberto Micheletti. Others, such as Mario Cantor, pastor of a small church in a marginalized neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, attend pro-Zelaya rallies. Rene Peñalba, pastor of 5,000-member Tegucigalpa megachurch Centro Cristiano Internacional (International Christian Center), says that "neither marches nor sit-ins will solve this crisis."
The ongoing political crisis has exposed divisions within the Honduran evangelical church that have been festering for years. This polarization, according to Cantor, runs deeper than pro-Zelaya or pro-Micheletti leanings to differences as fundamental as rich and poor, urban and rural, "leftist" and "right-wing."
Oswaldo Canales, president of the Confraternidad Evangélica de Honduras, an umbrella group for Honduran evangelicals, says these divisions are overblown. He believes marginalized churches suffer from problems of "low self esteem."