Over the last 18 years for one week every February, Conyers First United Methodist Church dispatches a mission team to remote Honduran villages to make a sustainable difference in living conditions while demonstrating Christ's love in action. This year, in addition to cementing dirt floors and installing latrines outside every modest home, the volunteers stood in the educational gap for 11-year-old Nadia Sauceda.
In the Algata Valley region, where the 20 member team embarked daily from Honduras Outreach International's Rancho el Paraiso to the village, most children's education is finished after attending a rural one-room "elementary" school. The expense and distance to middle and high school is too great for two-thirds of the country's population. Various team members have sponsored scholarships for continuing education, but the schools stopped offering them to the remotest villages due to lack of boarding space and transportation. Girls were particularly affected because they're not allowed to sleep on porches, and many host families do not have extra indoor space.
Enter the Kelecheck family, George, Toni and Jordan, a 16-year-old Peachtree Academy sophomore, along with bilingual team member Meredith Serrano, a 15-trip vet who began traveling with the team when she was a high school senior. Toni and Jordan had formed a bond and correspondence - translated by Serrano - with Nadia during their previous two trips.
"Nadia was an obvious leader in the school, and all the other children looked up to her," said Toni. They related Nadia's story to the ranch's manager, and he suggested bringing her back that day to take the entrance exam, though even if she passed and they were willing to pay her tuition, a host family would still be needed. During the one-hour dirt road commute, Toni urged their ranch-based bus driver, Wilder, father of eight, with four still at home, to take in Nadia. "What's one more," she semi-jokingly asked him. Nadia passed the test, and Wilder's wife agreed with the plan.
"It was clear God had His hand on the situation, and He has wonderful plans for her future," said Jordan, "I'm thankful He allowed us to be part of it." Toni says their first trip "ignited a fire" in Jordan, and they've also traveled to a Haitian orphanage twice with plans to return on a water filtration mission in October.
During the mornings, some of the women conduct Vacation Bible School before joining the work crews. "Besides June threatening my life if I didn't, I would feel something missing if I didn't go one year," said Serrano. In a twist of fate, Serrano - nee Elliot, ended up marrying a native Honduran, Tony Serrano, and post-mission was able to visit with in-laws.