The Hope Dealers of Honduras
Late one evening in April 1997, Betsy Hake put down her felt-wrapped Bibles and gift bags and sat down on the curb between two prostitutes. A bilingual missionary from Indiana, she was exhausted from trying to reach the scantily clad women and transvestites around the downtown district of Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras.
Hake asked the two, "Is there anybody here who would like to trust Jesus? Who wants to really believe that Jesus can change your life?"
Nancy, who was younger and dressed more conservatively than Vilma, took a closer look at Hake. "Well, okay. I guess I'll do that." After a short discussion, Hake guided Nancy in a prayer of confession.
Encouraged, Hake turned to Vilma.
"I'm so ashamed to tell you this," said Vilma. "Nancy's my daughter. The real reason I went to the streets was because I wanted to give a different life to my child. When she got halfway through high school and saw the kind of money I was making, she followed me here. I can't make her stop!"
Vilma then told Hake that she had been praying silently alongside Nancy for an exit from the streets.
"I finally realized I couldn't do it on my own strength—that I needed Jesus."
That night, Vilma left the streets and never looked back. But when Hake offered Nancy a ride home, she declined. "You know, I would like to do that. But I owe 500 lempira [US$24] on my rent. I really need to make that money." She left in search of her next trick.
At that moment, Hake realized it would take more than reciting the sinner's prayer to persuade prostitutes to leave the sex trade. She decided to reshape her outreach by integrating efforts to overcome the poverty that drives generations of women into prostitution.
Hake launched Jericho Ministries as a faith-based street outreach program. The organization opened a sewing workshop in 1999 where women could gain marketable skills and sell handmade items in Christian community.
In time, Nancy reconciled with her mother and joined the Jericho community. "Within five months we went from those two, mother and daughter, to eight," Hake said. "It's a generational thing. God wanted to reach not just the first generation but that next generation too."
Jericho now includes a private school in Tegucigalpa and a rural residential program. This summer, Jericho opened K-Fe, a coffee shop in the heart of Tegucigalpa where women learn new job skills.
Jericho is just one of dozens of Christian agencies in a country that remains one of the poorest in the region. The Honduran economy is growing at a modest 3 percent in 2013, yet trafficking in drugs and people, gang violence, and corruption are well established.
Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 residents in 2012, according to the United Nations. The drug trade spawns much of the bloodshed.
"Honduras is in some ways a failed state," said Joe Eldridge, campus chaplain and a senior adjunct lecturer at the School of International Service at the American University in Washington, D.C. A former missionary, Eldridge focuses on the next generation of Hondurans and their extended families. "I see the future of Honduras in the eyes and the stories of young people who have made a conscious decision that, despite the problems, they are committed to staying."
Like most Latin American countries, Honduras has had a Christian majority for generations. In recent decades, the explosive growth of the Protestant church has been the most significant change in Honduran religion. In the early 1990s, Honduras identified as nearly 97 percent Roman Catholic. According to recent Latinobarómetro research, nearly 50 percent of the population is now Protestant.