After all of the stories you have read about the life of a Torcher on campus at Baxter I am sure you have been wondering about the arrangements girls experienced “back in the day.” I can assure you it was much different from the girl’s point of view.
If you have ever been on a youth group trip, especially one of mine, you probably have experienced staying at a host family house. My groups did it all of the time and it is just the way you do things when you take a road trip to work with a church group or stay in an area where lodging is scarce or expensive. Families volunteer to host one or more in their house during a trip and provide beds, meals, and anything else needed during that time. Its easy, fun, and you never know what to expect.
So, the same principle was used in the early days of Torch. Steve Davidson, one of the co-founders of Torch, the youth minister at the Vultee Church of Christ in Nashville, was certainly familiar with housing arrangements during youth trips and Miguel Agular knew families in Tegucigalpa who were more than willing to be hosts. 2+2= 4, right? Well, yes and no. Yes in the fact that this idea would work, no in the fact that we did not know how well it would work. It didn’t take very long to find out.
Since the guys were staying at Baxter we did not have to worry about anything beyond the perimeter walls of the campus. The walls not only established the property boundary of Baxter but also served as a protection. Baxter also had security guards on duty 24/7. We were not allowed to leave at night, unless we were walking down the street to the local pulperia, in a large group. This was all done for safety, even though it was no more dangerous than it is today.
Girls, on the other hand, had to leave the property in the evenings after our work was done and go to host family homes. Most families lived within walking distance of campus. However, the distances were at times farther than you might expect. And since the girls had to walk home on the same sidewalks that they guys were not allowed to walk on except in large groups, it presented a problem. We certainly could not allow our girls to walk home alone. So, in the evenings, they were escorted home by a large number of guys. The guys didn’t mind much, especially since they could stop at the store and buy a cold drink or a bag of chips on the way back to campus.
However, the nighttime walk was only the beginning of a system of flaws and errors that we had going for us. Some host families could only keep 1, maybe 2 girls. Others could keep 4 or 5. So rooming assignments were challenging. Some families could speak English while most could not. Some of the girls could speak Spanish while most could not. Some host families had large houses with several bedrooms and extra beds while most did not. Some families were relatively wealthy while others were not. Some had running water, hot water, and even maids. Most did not. In other words, there was a huge variance of living conditions the girls were experiencing.
Some girls started their days with a hot, delicious breakfast and fresh squeezed orange juice after taking a nice hot shower. Others started their mornings with cold cereal and warm milk after taking a cold shower. Some girls slept on thick, fluffy mattresses and pillows while others slept on a thin foam pad on an old bed frame. Some girls had their own bedroom while others had to share a bedroom with the host families’ children. Some came home each day to find their clothes washed and folded on their neatly made beds. Others had to wash their own clothes on scrub boards in the back yard. Some host families had cute puppies as pets while one family had a pet pig! Not just a pig, but also a very large one that loved sleeping under the bed in the guest room!!! As you could see, the living conditions varied widely.
Now, add to the fact that the girls came to Baxter every morning to share in their experiences they were having with their host family. We had girls who were getting little to no sleep in their houses because of the roosters and dogs and pigs (oh my! Sorry, you knew I was going to say it….). We had girls that were hungry because they were not getting food that they could eat. We had girls that were taking ice cold showers and wearing clothes that had been washed “the old fashioned way.” And we had girls living in the lap of luxury, so to speak. All I can say is that I am glad I was not the one who was making the housing assignments!!! Yikes! We had some unhappy campers who kept using the term, “this is not fair,” a lot. And honestly, it was not fair and something had to be done.
So, after a couple of years of this system, it was time to change the system. After all, returning Torchers knew who to request to stay with and the poor rookies were getting shafted. And, interestingly enough, a large number of the shafted first timers were not coming back on repeat trips. Something had to be done to bring about a more equal living environment for the girls and the only real choice was to get them on the Baxter campus. But how? They certainly could not stay in the men’s dorm and there was little space in the apartments built for the married students. But, after some thought and ingenuity, Tim Hines and Timeteo Estrada came up with a solution. It became known as the pit of despair.
Directly under the cafeteria was a huge bodega. It had been used as a staging area for work. Supplies, such as food, clothes, shoes, toys, etc, were brought to the bodega to be sorted and stored until distribution. This room was so large we could easily unload 2 trailers of supplies in it with room left over. Tim and Timeteo measured the room and designed a plan to build a small dormitory for the girls using about half of the bodega. Showers, sinks, and toilets were installed along one side of the bodega and a wall was built to separate the bathrooms from the living area. Then bunk beds were built, 3 beds high, to utilize the space. Once completed, the girl’s dorm could house about 45, in a not so comfortable room. No windows, no ventilation (except for fans), and no privacy.
Now, I am not sure anyone out there reading this has ever experienced living conditions like this before (unless you actually lived in the “pit”), but it is hard to describe. It’s hot. It’s dark. It’s crowded. It’s messy and unorganized. There was no place to store your stuff or put your suitcases. No place to hang wet towels or clothes. The bunk beds (made of wood) moaned and groaned at night as people toss and turned trying to get comfortable. There were plenty of challenges in the new living arrangements. The good news was everyone was now on campus and safety issues had been addressed and solved.
The bad news? When you have 30-40 in 1 room, chances were you were going to have some personality clashes. Early risers disturbing late risers. Night owls disturbing those who went to bed early. Light sleepers being kept awake by the slightest sounds. We had those who snored and those who talked in their sleep. We had girls who wanted to stay up at night to talk and visit and those who wanted some peace and quiet. Type “A” personalities clashing with each other. Neat freaks living with not so neat freaks. Wow, all I can say is that I am glad I was not a girl living down in the pit of despair!!!
But, it was fair. It was equal. It was practical. And miserable. And most importantly, it worked. We made it work. We had strong women who went into the pit to make it work as smoothly as it could be done. And we made sure everyone kept receiving a healthy dose of why we were in Honduras in the first place. After all, going out and working among the people each day always brought even the most miserable person back into reality knowing that our plight was nothing compared to those we were ministering to in Honduras.
So, now, when we unload our stuff at the Mission House and you receive your housing assignment, take a look around and see what you have around you. Hot water showers (most of the time). Clean bathrooms (most of the time). Running water. Comfortable beds (in perspective mind you…). Good food. Peace. Quiet. When you think about it, we have it made compared to the “good ol’ days.” Those of us who have been around long enough to remember know how good it is now. And believe me, we appreciate it more than those who have come on board after the fact. As they used to say back in the 70’s & 80’s, “We have come a long way baby!”
As plans for the 2010 trip continue, please continue to pray for Honduras. Pray for a quick end to the political unrest and that the right thing will be done, both for the country and its government, but for its people as well. Pray for those who are in the field (Jennifer and Josua, Mark and Lori, Jen, and Marc and Terri) who are working in the mist of the crisis. Pray for those who are securing goods and supplies to be shipped down. And pray for our plans for next summer and how God will use us. May we be willing vessels for His will. Use us as You see fit Lord. As Isaiah said long ago we say now, “Here am I send me.”