(We asked for guest post submissions from those of you who have been on service trips. This post is from Sheila of One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books‘ son)

Reflecting back on the missions work I have done in Honduras for the past three years is a very overwhelming feeling for me. I worked at a project is Talanga Honduras, where Pastor Jorge Pinto helps homeless children living on the streets. What Jorge has done for the past 10 years is provide a safe environment for children who have been abandoned to the streets. Their stories will haunt you. One of the girls, Michelle, was found at the age of three in a dumpster. Some stories are worse than that. Pastor Jorge puts the children through programs to get them off drugs and hunger.

My parents went to Honduras several years before I did. They asked me to go and I always said no. The year they quit asking me, I asked them. It was my senior year of High School and I said I could do either Honduras or our family vacation but I could not do both. They said they would love to have me experience Honduras with them, and so in 2008, I went for the first time.

The poverty in a third world country is extremely different than what we are used to here in the states. I have seen cardboard boxes used as homes inside a dump, glue being used as a supplement for hunger pains, and children who have been abandoned from birth living on the streets doing anything for money or food. many of the kids who live on the streets have a vacant look in their eyes from all the years of inhaling glue. Glue is the drug of choice as it is cheep and it takes away the hunger pains.

It is so moving to see what Jorge has built in the Talanga community. The children he is able to save work hard and get the help they deserve to grow up and make something of themselves. The Manuelito Project, which is where I have been working at for the past three years during missions trips, has helped local poverty and province-wide poverty for over a decade now. There are many projects in Honduras that fights the daily battle of poverty – many of which have great people working for them and helping the cause.

Working in Honduras and helping any way I can is always a huge part of who I am. I gave Honduras a chance after my parents went for four consecutive years and fell in love with the ministry first day. It is very life-changing to extract yourself from one culture to the other and become absorbed in what they stand for. Hanging out with Hondurans and the children at the project was my favorite part because I got to use the little spanish I know and make some pretty great friends. I didn’t know how much I would invest my life into the country and project, but after that first year I was hooked and decided to go back. Missions work is a great part of what christianity stands for. You may not think you can make a difference, but you will be amazed at how much your giving is not only life changing to them, but also to you.

Carlos and Jorge from the manuelito Project. Both boys were abandoned to the streets.

A child in Talanga Honduras

Boy in Choltecha Honduras

We handed out rice to the povertish community of Choltecha

Me and Christian (a boy from Manuelito – his mom had died from aids)

The dump in Tegucigalpa Honduras. A community lives in the dump – this is where my mom takes people every year to work.

A boy looking for food and things to sell in the dump

Myself, a boy from Choltecha, and Kasey (a girl from our team)

Hope Fires in the Desert by Sarah McCoy

Across the border in winter, Juarez families burn trash to keep warm. Smoke rises liked dirty cotton candy spun heavenward in hot plumes. Driving around the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), you smell it before you see it. Ripe and burnt, it assaults. You wriggle your nose, hold your breath, circulate your car fan and press on the gas pedal to get away, pass the unpleasantness. From my El Paso home, five miles west, I can see the gray tunnels like circus tent stakes holding up a cherry pie sky, Mount Cristo Rey cloudy in the distance, the giant stone Jesus with arms flung open.

It’s warm now. The burning has ended for the season. The smoggy air has been pulled back to reveal summer laundry lines strung round ramshackle houses like protective webs. On a typical Saturday, families gather beneath these homespun streamers in plastic lawn chairs to eat tamales and roasted pork from tinfoil trays, listen to mariachis on the radio, and laugh with their children dancing round. It’s inviting and not much different from my own family; but by Sunday morning, the dusty white streets are quiet empty to the point of distress, intimately naked. The Monday news reports: gunfire, death, rape, victims, gangs, drugs, sorrow, mourning.

I came to El Paso in 2007 with my husband, an Army orthopedic surgeon stationed at Fort Bliss. We moved from the lush green hills and reedy waterways of Virginia to the sandy, blue heat of the desert. The first thing I noticed—the first thing everyone notices—was how close we are to Juarez. A stone’s throw. Literally. A pencil-thin, invisible line divides American soil from Mexican, and depending on which way the wind blows, it can vary a couple inches. On our tarred American highways, the license plate in front of me is just as likely to say Chihuahua as Texas. Surprising at first, I hardly notice anymore. It’s normal. El Paso and Juarez: the border sister cities, so they boast. However, the violence and poverty is a far cry from sisterly. The United States Federal Government has deemed Juarez so precarious it forbids all military personnel and their dependents from visiting. My husband showed me the email, direct from command. So all I know of Juarez is what I see from this side and what I hear from those who dare to cross.

I met my first Mexican students at UTEP where I taught English writing courses. Call them blessed, lucky or damned determined, they were often the most eager students in my classroom. In pursuit of academia, they commuted across the U.S.-Mexico border daily. Many of them were a part of UTEP’s Programa de Asistencia Estudiantil (PASE) helping Juarez students gain higher education.

In a free writing exercise one day, I asked my composition class to write about a childhood event that made them stronger. “Don’t worry about grammar or structure,” I told them. “Just write without stopping for fifteen minutes. Write whatever comes into your head, but you can’t stop your pencils.”

It was intended as a warm-up exercise to spur creativity before we laid into the day’s English meat & potatoes. Plus, it gave me time to do university business: take attendance, organize my lecture notes, arrange graded writing for return, etc. So as the students scribbled I went about these mundane chores, called time after fifteen minutes, teased them for groaning over cramped fingers, and continued on.

I read every word my students write. So three hours later, I took my stack of papers home, snuggled up in my air-conditioned den with a cup of iced tea and began to read. There was an entertaining account of a T-ball victory, a talent show success, a funny anecdote about a girl who conquered her fear of her grandmother’s poodle ‘Doodlebug’. Quick reads that brought a smile. Then, I came to one of my Mexican student’s papers and my breath caught.

His family of five crossed the border with illegal paperwork. His father instructed him, his mother and two younger brothers to wait while he met with U.S. friends who promised help. They hid in a windowless van for days, drinking bottled water and eating rancid burritos, the desert heat baking the beans to ash-gray. On the third night, he heard a knock on the passenger’s side door. A state trooper. They were quickly escorted back to Juarez, dropped on the opposite side of the American line minus one. This was the last time he saw his father who had been arrested and later sentenced to La Tuna Federal Prison. My student never learned the details, but that day, he became the head of his household. He stepped up to the responsibility of caring for his family, the responsibility of showing his two younger brothers the definition of a true man. He was thirteen at the time. He wrote that he awoke every morning to the Texas-sized flag flapping stars and stripes over an El Paso car dealership across the border and swore he’d get out of poverty. At twenty, he was a UTEP sophomore studying business with the unshakable faith that he would be something more—that he would rise above.

When I passed back the free writing exercise, he took his paper with quiet, downcast eyes, but I couldn’t move on, couldn’t wipe the story from my mind nor did I want to. “This free write,” I said, “is excellent. Strong. Very good.”

His face beamed. “Thank you.”

It’s been years now since he was in my classroom, but I still think of him and his story whenever I pass round the south side of Franklin Mountains. I gaze over the great divide where children play in the Rio Grande’s muddy banks, mothers hang laundry, bonfires plume from the sand, and I wonder how many others like him are out there looking back. I’m haunted and hopeful for them.

The Winner of The Heart is Not a Size Contest!

We are so happy to announce that Alison is the winner of The Heart is Not a Size contest with her picture and accompanying paragraph:  My Boys.

My boys. Brothers. There were no tears, no clinging to mommy’s leg, there was only encouragement that he was going to do great.

Congratulations, Alison!

Have You Been to Mexico?

Have you been to Mexico? We’d love to hear about your experiences! If you’ve been to Mexico and have blogged about it, please leave a link in the comments. If you are interested in writing a guest post about your experiences in Mexico for this blog, please send us an email at theheartisnotasize@gmail.com

Review of Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez

After reading The Heart is Not a Size, you may want to learn more about the people of Juarez. Lu of Regular Rumination recently reviewed Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juarez by Marjorie Agosin. She says:

What struck me most about this collection of poetry is how quiet it is. What I mean by quiet is not that these poems are not full of anger, sadness and pain, because they are. But there is a silence in this verse that is palpable, that appears in almost every poem. It is found in between every line, it is found in the blank space on the page, it is in everything that is said about these women, but what is not said. It is contemplation and meditation; it is a slow burning sadness that fills page after page of haunting images. It is brutal and it is beautiful at the same time.

Read the rest of the review at Regular Rumination.

Jack Gilbert

The poetry of Jack Gilbert features somewhat heavily in The Heart is Not a Size.

Like Beth Kephart and the characters in The Heart is Not a Size, Jack Gilbert is from Pennsylvania originally, though he now lives in Berkeley, California.

The following is from his poem The Great Fires, you can read the whole poem on Poem Hunter:

Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.

Who are some of your favorite poets?


As hard as we might try, it’s easy to forget how much there is for which we can be grateful.  The air that we breathe, the water we drink, and the homes that we inhabitat, no matter how modest, are all blessings too easily taken for granted.

In The Heart Is Not A Size, Georgia, Riley and others from their group expand their horizons and their comfort zones while visting Juarez, Mexico.

The trip would focus on a colonia called Anapra, where the people by and large were good–working at jobs that paid some fifty dollars a week, struggling for food, struggling for water, struggling for survival in their sixty-square-foot house.

Say what?  Aren’t you almost compelled to read that sentence again?  Especially when for most of us living in a sixty-square-foot home is a choice that is available as opposed to the only option.

Sixty-square-foot home. On sale for $300,00.

Definitely something to think about.

The Heart is Not a Size Book Club

Have you read The Heart is Not a Size and are dying to talk to someone about it? Or are you hoping to read it and then gab about it with friends? Then you’ll be thrilled to know that there will be a virtual The Heart is Not a Size book club…one that anyone can join!

This book club will be virtual which means it’s open to the whole world. Our meeting will take place on June 3rd, 2010 on skype at 8:00 PM EST/5 PM PST. Having the book club on skype makes it possible for you to join in via text chat or by phone. It’s free to download skype to your computer as well. This gives you PLENTY of time to get your hands on a copy of the book and read it and join in! Your hosts for the book club will be Nicole of Linus’s Blanket, Julie of Booking Mama, Kathy of Bermudaonion, and Amy of My Friend Amy.

We want to get you really really excited about it, though, so we’re giving away ten copies of the book! Just follow the link below and fill out the form by May 8th at 11:59 PM EST. We will randomly choose ten people to win a copy of the book for the book club! You must live in the United States or Canada to be eligible for the book. You do not need to have a blog.

Please help spread the word about The Heart is Not a Size book club by tweeting it, mentioning it on facebook, and maybe even on your blogs. Let’s have fun with this!

Entry form for The Heart is Not a Size Book Club.

The Heart is Not a Size Featured on PC(USA) News Site

The Heart is Not a Size was recently covered on the Presbyterian News Service.

The article is quite in-depth and worth reading. It reveals Beth’s heart behind writing the book and the depth of her passion to communicate the needs in Juarez to teens through The Heart is Not a Size.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Suddenly you know what it’s like to look across something and it’s so close but it’s totally out of reach,” Kephart said. “Even though we knew that we would be returning to all the privileges, we still felt we understood a little of their situation.”

The “power of transformation” is one of the key points of mission trips to the border, said Amy Robinson, the U.S. coordinator for Pasos de Fe.

“It does change the way you see the world,” Robinson said. “You learn how people view the world in different ways.”

Be sure to read the whole article on the PC(USA) website.

The Heart is Not a Size Video