Friday, June 14, 2013

Miracle at Sinai

"I lift my eyes to the hills--where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121:1-2  




I was cleaning out a drawer this week and came across some pictures that Larry shot during his last visit to Honduras almost 13 years ago.  He was there as a liaison for a relief organization that was building homes for those who had been devastated by Hurricane Mitch, a storm that killed thousands and uprooted entire communities in that small Central-American nation.  Most of the photos are of smiling families standing in front of their newly constructed cement-block houses, obviously grateful to have homes once again.   


There were a few other photographs, however, that especially caught my attention.  One shows the stuccoed exterior of a large building, unusually ornate considering its rural surroundings.  Larry described seeing this place for the first time as something like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie.  The adventurer pushes his way through the jungle with the sounds of insects and monkeys screeching in his ears, reaches out to move some heavy branches aside and suddenly a huge temple looms before his eyes.  But this was no jungle.  This was a ghost town.  Once alive with children and laughter and song, there was only silence.  And though the shells of former homes still stood, it was the temple that towered conspicuously above everything else.     

I had first heard the story of this place when we were in Honduras a few months earlier. We had visited a  Christian community where several new homes were being built and a new church erected.  It was called Nuevo Sinai (New Sinai).  A community completely comprised of Christians, these were the ones who had lost everything in their original settlement, Sinai.  As the flood waters from Mitch receded, several feet of sludge covered everything making it impossible to rebuild there.   So they found land a few miles away, perhaps a bit further from the river that had turned on them.  It was there at New Sinai that I first became acquainted with them and their amazing story of survival.

Mitch began its assault against the mainland of Honduras during the last days of October in 1998.  Hurricanes wreak horrible havoc when they move quickly, they're far worse when they hardly move at all.  That's what happened with Mitch.  It sat in the Caribbean just off the coast and refused to move.  For six days it barraged that poor nation with its torrential rains and winds.  By the time it was over, an estimated  15,000 would die in that country alone, far more than any other nation impacted by the monster storm.  That's what makes the miracle at Sinai all the more amazing.

Even though several families had already left Sinai for higher ground, there were more than a thousand people who had stayed behind, never believing that they were in danger from the storm.  But Mitch would eventually dump seventy-five inches of rain on the coast, and as the waters began to rise around their homes,  the good people of Sinai realized they had no escape route.  Their only hope was to get to the hill, the highest point in their village.  It also happened to be where the tabernacle sat.  

Robert Callejas with World Hope and Miguel, one of the Elders

I wish I had been there to hear the story from Miguel, the man who told Larry the story of what happened next.  He was an Elder in the community and had seen and experienced first-hand those terrifying hours and days that would follow.   The flood waters were already pouring onto the ground floor as all the remaining people from the town swarmed inside.  Some went for the choir loft which sat above the sanctuary.  It was a large church, able to hold twenty-five hundred or so on a Sunday morning, so the loft was good-sized.  But there were hundreds more that needed to be saved.


Another picture shows the inside of that church.  The floor is crumbling.  Plants are growing up through the cracks and coming through the doors and windows,  now devoid of wood and glass.  The roof and ceiling are gone as well, only the rafters remain.   And that is where they found refuge, the only place high enough to keep them away from the flood waters swirling below.  They reached for and clung to the rafters.  

Even though it had been almost two years since they had been ravaged by Mitch,  the man still found it difficult to speak of those terrible days when the people of his beloved Sinai waited out the storm in the rafters of their church.  Many of them were able to tie themselves in place so that when they fell asleep they wouldn't fall into the muddy waters below.  There were times, however,  when individuals did slip from their perches.  But there was always a rescuer to pluck them from the waters and to help secure them back in their place once again.  

The waters would crest at eighteen feet before they slowly began to recede on the third day.  At that point, some of the men were able to retrieve a few boats and began to gather fruit off the tops of the trees. It was the first food anyone had eaten since the nightmare had begun.  I don't know how much longer the people of Sinai stayed in that house of refuge, but eventually they were able to make their way out of the rafters and to gather their families together. Not one person had been lost.  

Sinai no longer was.  The buildings that remained would never be used again.   As for the beautiful tabernacle that had brought them together as community time and again in worship, they had gathered there for the last time. 

If I should have the opportunity to return to Honduras, I'd like to visit those people again.  I'd be curious to see how much growing they've done since that monster Mitch blew in with such fury,  bent on destroying them all.  But their determination to outlive the vicious storm revealed them to be a people of strength and unshakable faith.  They knew to cling to the rafters until the storm was over.  Yes, I believe they're doing just fine.   
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