As someone who grew up in a Christian home and took ownership of my faith from a relatively young age, it’s easy to say that I have always believed that God can do anything.
God makes miracles happen every day. God equips those He calls to further His kingdom and carries out the work He has started in each of us who have put our faith in Him to completion. Yet, it can be surprising when God shows you how little faith you really have – and how great your need for Him is.
As a sophomore in college, after checking a GoFundMe listing, I signed up for a week-long backpacking mission trip in a remote, mountainous region of Honduras.
The trip was in partnership with an established ministry organization focused on reaching the Lenca people group in Honduras with the Gospel message.
The purpose of this particular trip was to visit five different villages, sharing the Gospel through preaching, personal testimonies, and showing a film in that plays out the narrative of the Bible in their dialect of Spanish.
After our group of Americans came through and piqued the interest of the natives – who so rarely, if ever, receive any kind of outside visitors – the Honduran pastors who traveled with us would return to those villages and plant churches where none currently exist, building up a community of new believers in Christ. A short-term mission trip with a long-term goal.
It sounded challenging enough, but I was definitely blind in my ignorance of the physical endurance that this week would require of me.
I enjoyed spending time outdoors, and had been on one weekend-long backpacking camping trip in high school, but I was in no way at any physical advantage when it came to a week of hiking up and down mountains in 100 degree weather with my entire supply of food, clothes, and sleeping materials on my back.
Other than a few training hikes up and down the bleaches of the football stadium with textbooks in my backpack, I was utterly unprepared for the physical toll that awaited me.
To give you an idea of just how remote these villages are, consider how we got there:
My team of eight from my university flew into Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. From there, we took a yellow school bus and rode for a few hours to meet up with the group of Honduran Christians and another small group of Americans who were joining us on the trip, then drove another hour to a campsite where we slept on our first night in the country.
We then woke up at the crack of dawn to get on another yellow school bus and rode for several more hours – up windy mountain roads (all unpaved), to a point where the road we needed to take was too narrow for a car to navigate, and we got off the bus and started hiking. Five miles uphill later, we arrived at our first village, El Paraiso.
I knew that the journey would be physically demanding, but I never could have understood the amount of endurance I would need just to make it through each day. Day one was one of the shortest in terms of miles hiked, but it was an immediate eye-opener to how difficult the days ahead would be. At the end of that day, my legs and back were more worn out than I had ever experienced in my life – and this was only the beginning.
Day two started with us hiking six miles, mostly uphill, with temperatures just above 100 degrees. It wasn’t long before we realized that we didn’t have the stamina to keep up the pace – or any pace – all day.
We stopped to eat lunch in a shaded area beside a dried-up creek bed, the road ahead of us leading up a massive hill overlooking the ridge. We were starting to get low on water, and a few among us were already feeling the ill effects of heat exhaustion – which was not something you wanted to happen to you on a steep mountain trail in a location you probably couldn’t even point to on a map.
If someone collapsed, there was no calling an ambulance, no way to get to even get to a place where we could find a vehicle to take us to a hospital other than hiking back down the mountain for hours. Going back wasn’t a choice but going forward seemed an impossible task. The only thing we could do was to pray and ask God to sustain us.
Shortly after we prayed and resolved to continue on, a few of the Honduran men who were hiking with us offered to run ahead to the top of the next hill to get a feel for how long this uphill section of the trail was, and by some miracle they ran into a small house that was the residence of a man who happened to have a cattle truck that was just small enough to navigate the hilly road we were walking.
They ended up paying him to borrow his truck, and once we made it over that hill, we piled into the back of it – which somehow had just enough standing room for our entire group – and drove the remaining five miles of the trek to the village we were visiting.
I still distinctly remember the feeling of awe at God’s blessing while I was riding in that truck (hanging on for dear life as we traversed a few very curvy ridges) and having the realization that there was no way that we could have finished the hike that day in the heat without that truck.
For the entirety of our hike so far, we had seen very few homes and even fewer cars but happened to run into one when we needed it most. If that’s not a modern-day miracle, I don’t know what is.
The toughest day was still ahead of us.
Reliance on God’s Word
Scripture quickly became the driving force behind my team’s (and my personal) trek. I wrote down one or two verses for each day of our hike – words of encouragement through difficult trials and pain. I kept the verse of the day in my pocket as I hiked, sharing it with the group each morning and repeating it quietly to myself with each step.
The mountainous backdrop made Psalm 121 an appropriate passage, as it begins “I lift my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This chapter has always resonated with me in times of trial, but it became so much more vivid when I was able to read this truth when literally going through many of the challenges described by the Psalmist. Verse 3 says that God “will not allow your foot to slip,” calling God a “Protector who will not slumber.” When I felt that my legs could not carry me another step without falling, I spoke this verse to myself, and God did not allow my feet to slip.
I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not allow your foot to slip;
your Protector will not slumber.
4 Indeed, the Protector of Israel
does not slumber or sleep.
5 The Lord protects you;
the Lord is a shelter right by your side.
6 The sun will not strike you by day
or the moon by night.
7 The Lord will protect you from all harm;
He will protect your life.
8 The Lord will protect your coming and going
both now and forever.
God’s Provision of Needs, Great and Small
On day four, God pushed me further than I ever could have imagined, revealing Himself to me through it. With triple digit temperatures in the forecast again, we got up shortly before 5am to start hiking before the sun was up.
A couple of the girls on the team were feeling a bit sick, so the previous night our Honduran partners found someone in a nearby town with a small truck that could fit a few people and their packs.
They rented it for the morning and used it to transport the four girls who didn’t think they could make the entire hike. I was exhausted, but felt oddly strong. I knew I had a tough day ahead, but had a strong conviction that it was important to leave the truck space to those with much greater need than me.
The morning hike was tiring (and with no shortage of uphill climbs) but was also where I saw some of the most incredible unobstructed mountain views I had ever seen. My legs burned intensely, but I had a peace about the day ahead.
We met up with the group who took the truck in a field that served as a halfway point (though we would later learn that it wasn’t even close to being halfway to our destination) and all of us continued on foot.
It was during this portion of the hike where God really revealed His provision through the blessing of the selflessness of others.
The Honduran men who were serving as our guides saw our exhaustion and traded off carrying each of our heavy backpacks so that we didn’t have to. I didn’t even speak enough Spanish to properly thank Jamie, the young man who carried my pack on his back along with his small, light backpack across his chest for two uphill miles because he noticed how much pain I was in.
Jamie didn’t even have to be on this journey with us, but his desire to share the Gospel exceeded any hesitations about the journey.
He carried very little with him, yet was unhesitatingly eager to burden himself in order to lighten my load. What may seem like a small gesture to some was – and still is – a demonstration of God’s victory in the face of adversity.
Later that same day, we reached a point where the majority of us were running low on drinking water, with no indication of how much further it would be until we found a place to refill.
I was starting to get nervous, especially for the others in our group who were on the brink of dehydration already, and tried to conserve my little bit of water as long as possible in case someone else needed it.
Before too long, I came to a point physically where I needed to drink the last sip of my water, and had to resolve to trust God to allow us to find a water source soon.
Fifteen minutes later, we rounded a ridge and to our delight, could see a river flowing through the valley below.
My fears were immediately wiped away, and I knew that we were not alone in this journey – God had gone before us and was with us in the midst of our struggles.
We had no choice but to trust in Him, but in that moment, it occurred to me that we should feel the same no matter what our circumstances look like.
We eventually reached an open area with a small store where we were able to rest for a while and buy cold drinks (That was the BEST Coke I have ever had in my life!) as we waited for some of the slower in the group to catch up and take a break with us.
During this time, we assessed the situation and the state of everyone in our group, and one of our translators spoke with the owner of the store and was able to have him call someone he knew who had another truck for us to rent for a couple of hours to drive as many of us as possible the rest of the way to the village we were spending the night at.
Long story short, the truck that was planning to come ended up not being able to, but the shop owner was able to reach someone else who brought his. We loaded the back of the truck with our backpacks and about half of our group members.
Once again, I felt like I was supposed to walk, so I just relieved myself of my heavy backpack and continued on foot with the small group of us who were able.
I couldn’t have told you at the time why it mattered that I had hiked all day when I could have given in to my fatigue and opted to ride in a truck for any leg of the journey, but I believe that God had put me exactly where I needed to be.
The last stretch of that day’s hike included an extremely steep hill, which we ascended slowly and arduously. One of the men with us found himself heaving and doubled over in pain for a few minutes as the strain caught up with him, but we all managed to make it over the mountain and onto (relatively) flat land again.
Shortly after that, we came upon a woman who was standing in the road and noticed that we were Americans. We spoke with her and told her that we were Christian missionaries, and she asked us to come to her nearby home and pray over her sick son.
Despite our exhaustion, we were very encouraged by her eagerness and felt God prompting us to talk with her. After explaining that we pray to Jesus and presenting the message of the Gospel – salvation through faith in Jesus Christ – she brought her entire family out of her house and together they prayed to receive Christ as their Savior.
We told her about our worship service in the nearby village and helped her get connected with one of the Honduran pastors who would be returning to the area to plant churches.
I can’t say that it was any work or deed of mine that influenced that woman’s faith decision, but I do know without a doubt that God had a plan for us hiking that last stretch of road that day.
If He had provided a truck large enough to fit everyone, then we would have bypassed that woman’s home without a glance.
It was through the trying hike that He showed us how He brings good from the bad. Only by relying on Him were we able to get through, and in doing so, God used us to share His love with a family.
As you can tell, I could spend hours talking about the things that God taught me on this Honduras trip. I knew that I would be impacted by the people I met, but I had no idea how greatly God would reveal characteristics of Himself to me through the physical journey that we took to reach the Honduran people.
What if I lived my life as if I really believed that I needed God for my very breath? What if I faced times of extreme stress with prayer and a peace knowing that God is active and involved in my life?
God’s plans may not always (or ever!) look like my plans, but I have no doubt that He works all of His plans for my good. Who am I to think that my strength comes from anyone or anything but Him?
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