After an evening devotional at the United Brethren compound in LaCeiba, three of us wandered toward the imposing soccer stadium across the street. There was a carnival atmosphere outside as folks too poor to buy a ticket milled about trying to make a buck or a Lempira or just have some cheap entertainment to break up the monotony of hungry days.
One of the school teachers at the compound told us to pay for good seats to get away from the rowdies, so we headed over to that ticket booth. Though the game was well past half over, the folks in the ticket booth still wanted full price, 395 Lempiras for three seats, about $7.00 for each of us. I struggled to negotiate with minimal Spanish. It didn’t matter. We did not have Lempiras and they would not accept dollars. Funny, they would not accept the stronger currency that would be worth more in a day or two. People and whole countries can stay stuck in their past by doing the same thing over and over.
Meanwhile our trio with money in hand attracted a bit of attention from the crowd. One loud drunk offered to help us as he eyed the money in my hand. I tried to figure out plan B. Did we have enough Lempiras to get in the general admission entrance on the other side? It probably was not the best place to count money.
Out of nowhere came an English speaking voice, “Do you need help? I can help you.” A friendly little lady named Heather appeared on a bike with a basket on the handlebars. Her eyes twinkled with joy. “Do you know me? Everyone knows me.” I assured her that we did not know her, but somehow she knew that we were Gringo missionaries from the compound across the street. She introduced the 13 year old boy next to her as her son Joshua. It was weird yet comfortable at the same time. Heather just appeared to help us solve a simple problem of our own making, a simple want to experience a Central American soccer game.
I told her our predicament. She promptly pulled out a wad of Lempiras and said that she could exchange money for us. I tried to remember how much it cost at the other side and decided that together we had enough. That annoying drunk jumped in and said in a loud, coarse voice, “I help you, I help you.!” He saw an opportunity for gain and worked his angle.
Heather handed me 280 Lempira, saying, “You can pay me back at church tomorrow.”
I was flabbergasted. “But, but…”
“I live right around the corner. I’ll see you at church tomorrow. Come on now.”
“Okay”, and we began to walk around the stadium on a broken sidewalk…Dave, Marci, Heather, Joshua, me and the drunk. He was not giving up. He mentioned something excitedly about rushing the gate. “I help you. I help you!” he buzzed like a mosquito around us.
Heather asked me more about our group. Then she asked me if I knew Francis.
“Francis who?”, I asked. “Hummelsine, Francis Hummelsine. She is the reason that I am a teacher today.” Why, I did know Francis from my last trip to LaCeiba in 2003 and I described her to Heather. “Yes, yes. She is my mentor.” My brain crumpled again. Here was another unbelievable small world story. Like the night before when we had dinner with a former student of mine from Waynesboro! How are these chance meetings possible!?
As we approached the ticket booth, we saw that it was closed, but the gate was wide open. Vendors were rolling their carts out because the game was nearly over. We didn’t need to rush it; we just walked in to the brightly lit inner world of the stadium for free. The drunk celebrated, “See, I got you in. I help you, now you help me!” He was going to cash in on something that was free for all of us. What a con man. Heather gave him 10 Lempiras to go away and he promptly left. He had his liquor money for the moment; he didn’t need to learn how to live for tomorrow.
We sat on the concrete bleachers unsure of what to do. Heather sat with us. “I live across the street, but I have never been to a soccer game. I lived there when I met Francis. She taught me to fish. I told her I didn’t want a fish; I asked her to teach me to fish. And Francis helped me to go to school. Now I am a teacher. I was just praying this morning to be able to tell her how much she means to me. And here you are.”
We did not and still do not know which team was which. There was no scoreboard and no announcer. Instead there were rag-tag boys running about selling fried juka and other treats. Mostly they ran around. Men clung to the tall fence between the field and the crowd. They drank beer and wine and looked sauced up. I was surprised that the stadium was not even a third full. This was supposed to be a big game. The stadium I guessed could seat 12,000. Part of me wanted to see a packed stadium, and part of me was glad that it was not. We did not cheer for fear of a Central American soccer frenzy breaking out. There were a half dozen riot police on the field to protect the referees. When the game ended, we figured out that our side lost. They dejectedly filed out without incident. Oh well, it was an experience, but nothing like what we expected.
Heather invited us back to her house and we accepted. She said she would not keep us long. We trudged through the crowd and into the overcrowded street. She directed us about a half a block away from the stadium and unlocked a steel gate. We walked past several dogs, through some communal laundry and past a family eating dinner in their kitchen, three feet to the right. She unlocked her tiny two room house and told us to sit in the three folding lawn chairs in her front room. Joshua busied himself on his computer. Heather ran out to a tienda (store) to buy soda, cups and ice. She came back in a few minutes and stood to tell us about her life.
In short, it was a powerful testimony of how God’s love transformed her life and the life of her son. She told us of walking into the tall mountains to pick coffee beans. “Some trees bend and yield their beans in plenty. But others are rigid and break when you bend them.” She said some Christians were like this: they reluctantly gave of themselves. And Heather was all about giving. She talked about ministering to the homeless and drug addicted of La Ceiba. She would report to pastors of local churches, “Jesus is hungry” or “Jesus is cold”, knowing that no one could say no to a request phrased that way. She showed us pictures of her father and his Bible. It was so real and surreal at the same time. Instant intimacy.
We left her tiny house past the laundry, the dogs, the locked gate, and felt rather small in our little efforts, burdened by our abundance. She gave freely like the widow from her little while our hands were stuck beneath the weight of our abundance. So that was one night in La Ceiba.