An Adventure

For our final work day in Copan we once again all went to the school. And that formed a nice sort of book-end: the first day we all went to the church, most other days we split up according to job, and on the final days we all went to the school. Good symmetry there.

The strategy for today was to help the secondary students learn some basic construction techniques. Kind of a vo-tech unit in their regular studies. In order to build the wall we’d prepared for yesterday, rebar had to be cut, wire had to be snipped, rings had to be bent, and towers had to be constructed using the rebar, wire, and rings. It is a task we have performed countless times working on church buildings. We learned it from Hondurans. But they were adult Hondurans, and many of these students, we were told, had never made rebar towers before, and had to be taught. It was a kind of rare opportunity to pass on what we had learned.

It was going to be a different kind of workday than we were used to. “Una aventura,” someone joked: an adventure.

And in order to make it a good learning experience for the students, we were given explicit instructions for the day not to jump in and do whatever job we saw needed doing. That may be the first time I’ve ever been told to work by not working! Instead, we were to show the students how to do the task, and then watch as they did it. And frankly, it doesn’t take 14 mission trippers to instruct students in rebar, wire, and towers. We each had a little go for at least a little while with these tasks, but once the students got the hang of things, we frequently literally worked ourselves out of the job. And it was good to behold how quickly the students picked up the tasks.

As work progressed it became clear they didn’t have enough rocks for the courses of foundation for the wall. These walls are built by digging a trench, laying a course of large rocks, covering them in concrete, laying down another course of rocks, more concrete, until the trench is filled in. This is the foundation. A rebar tower is laid on its side atop the foundation, wooden forms are set up, concrete is poured in to cover the rebar, and then, when the concrete has set, cement blocks are set on the foundation. As the foundation grew, they ran low on rocks.

So Lee and I were detailed to go with Edgar, one of the leaders of the school, and four students to go down to the river and collect some rocks. “Una aventura,” Edgar said; it will be an adventure.

He may have understated the case.

The Rio Copan is pretty shallow at this point in its course. It was not uncommon for us to see trucks and vans actually driving in the river as we passed by. But it is not all shallow, and there are channels between gravel banks where the water goes suddenly from a few inches deep to a few feet deep. Nothing a person couldn’t walk through, but enough to flood and stall a truck engine. So river driving takes some skill, some finesse, and some really good eyesight to read the river.

To get rocks for construction, we had to drive downstream on the road for a good bit, then enter the river, then drive back upstream almost that whole way to get to the place where the biggest rocks were deposited. Edgar had the students stand up in the back of the pickup and call out to him which way to go to keep to the shallows and avoid the channels. This worked pretty well – until the students started disagreeing about which way was best. I didn’t have the Spanish to know exactly what they were saying, but it wasn’t hard to get that the gist was “Go left!”, “No, go right!”, “Go there!”, “Turn here!” and none of it came together into a coherent driving plan.

But we did pretty well. Once we amost headed into a channel, but pulled up before the water got over the wheels. Once we seemed a little stuck in some gravel, but Edgar downshifted and rocked a bit and the truck pulled free. And in the end we got to the rocks, picked out some good head-sized ones (como una cabeza, they said), loaded up the pickup, and made it back out of the river with all hands.

Driving back up the mountain from the river to the school with the truck several hundred pounds heavier was a little different, especially as Edgar explained on the way that the truck chassis had been broken in an accident some time before, and had been welded back together, and he was always a little leery of carrying really heavy loads. Yet even that was managed in the end, and we delivered the rocks to the school and work could continue on the foundation for the wall.

It was an adventure. Una aventura.

We usually use the word “adventure” to mean something exciting, something thrilling, something to get the adrenalin pumping. River driving might well qualify under that heading.

But the word itself simply means “going out toward.” In the basic sense, an adventure is trying something that will lead in a desired direction. Not an entirely planned and mapped direct route to a defined goal. But venturing forth in what seems like a good way, and taking what comes as it comes.

In that sense, una aventura can be riding in a truck through the middle of a river. Una aventura can be teaching skills to students in trust that they will use them for their community. Una aventura can be going on a mission trip and setting up your work day in a different way than you had before. Una aventura can be communicating in a few words of English and a few words of Spanish and a lot of pantomime. Una aventura can be trying out something new in the name of faith. You don’t exactly know where it’s going to go, but you venture out and discover what comes next.

Tomorrow we leave Copan and begin the journey home. This whole trip has been an adventure, a mosaic of small adventures wrapped up into one big adventure. And traveling tomorrow will be another adventure. And reintegrating to life at home will be another adventure still. New moments emerge, and how we go out to meet them is how we make una aventura of life.

Perhaps that’s the heart of the mission God sends us on, in other countries, in our neighborhoods, in our own hearts: to go forth and meet what comes, not knowing the outcome, but always meeting it with communion, right-relationship, and love. Una aventura.


  1. John D Lane says:

    Great reflection, Paul. Una aventura sounds a lot like a faith journey, open to the Holy Spirit and full of surprises.