Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Family United

This year’s LARA activities included a special dimension.  One of the members of our group is a twenty-one year old man Yester Voss from Hamilton, Ohio.  Yester was born in Honduras near Santa Barbara with a severe cleft lip and cleft palate.  When he was a baby, Yester’s condition could readily be repaired in the United States, but his family could not afford to get the required series of surgeries.  Nineteen years ago, Delores Williams of Casa Rosa arranged for him to be adopted by a family in the USA who agreed to see him through the surgeries and to give him a future that he could not have in Honduras.  Today, Yester has no facial deformity and no speech impediment.

As a teenager, Yester began to wonder about his family roots.  Did they care about what happened to him?  Did they miss him?  Did he have Honduran brothers and sisters?  His uncle in his adopted family, as a frequent LARA participant, was a friend of Lourdes Tangen.  Lourdes is a Honduran woman from Santa Barbara who fell in love with and married Mel Tangen when he came to Santa Barbara on a LARA trip about fifteen years ago.  Lourdes moved to Minnesota with Mel and taught in a public school. Mel and Lourdes visit Santa Barbara every year, including the LARA mission.  They already have built a house in Santa Barbara, which they plan to use much more frequently after Mel retires.  Yester made contact with Lourdes two years ago and asked her to track down his sister when she next came to Honduras.

That year was my first time serving in LARA, and several of the people in this year’s group were here when we went with Lourdes into the mountains to find Yester’s mother and to give her Yester’s picture.  It took all day to drive into the higher mountains where the coffee harvest was still under way.  Every few miles Alejandro stopped and asked if anyone new where we could find her.  Each time they would reply something like, “just take this road across the next stream and over the mountain to the next valley.  About four times of crossing the “next mountain,” we found her.  She was expecting us because word went out to the local radio station that a group of Americanos were looking for Yester’s mother.

The response from Yester’s mother and his sister led Yester to decide to visit his birth family.  Lourdes arranged for him to participate in this year’s LARA program and for him to have as much contact with his birth family as he could manage personally.  He had continued the contact with his younger sister in San Pedro Sula during the two years since his initial contact.  During the flights to San Pedro Sula, Yester told us that he was excited, nervous, and afraid all at the same time.  He made a scrap book of his life during the last nineteen years to facilitate a “conversation” between him (who speaks no Spanish) and her (who speaks no English).

Throughout our nine days in Honduras, Yester’s awareness of his birth family grew.  His nineteen year-old sister Breci hoped to meet him at the airport, but she was not able to get off work before we left for Santa Barbara.  They sent text messages to each other using translation software.  She told him that he had four brothers and four sisters.
Yester meets his birth mother for the first time.

Yester’s mom, two sisters and a brother rode the bus from her village high in the mountains to San Nicholas (N 14⁰ 56.472’, W 088⁰ 19.555’) on Wednesday morning and traveled to San Jeronimo with us.  He learned that she and Yester’s father divorced shortly after Yester was adopted, and she is planning a third marriage later this year.  Breci actually is his half-sister.  There were many hugs and tears on Tuesday, but Yester arranged for his mom, his little brother, and Breci to visit us again on Saturday.  His mom and brother accompanied our group to a school restoration project in Santa Rosita (N 15⁰ 11.119’, W 088⁰ 18.205’) in the northeastern part of the department.  Breci  sent a message that she would take a bus from San Pedro Sula to Santa Barbara after work on Saturday afternoon and meet our group upon our return.

Friday afternoon yielded an unexpected surprise when we returned from Los Anices.  Seven more of Yester’s family were waiting for us in the lobby of our hotel.  Yester’s father heard a radio broadcast announcing that a Honduran-born man named Yester was in Santa Barbara with a Rotary International group from the United States .  He thought this must be his son.  Yester’s dad picks coffee beans in a village that is a two hour drive from Santa Barbara.  He loaded as many of his family as possible in a truck and drove to the city in hopes of seeing his son again.  With his Honduran father was Yester’s twenty-three year-old full sister Wendy.  Wendy was four when her very special little brother was sent away to the USA.

Yester asked my wife Becky and LARA leader Chris Keenan to help with translation while he and his newly found family visited at a nearby restaurant. In spite of my lack of Spanish, Becky asked me to come and help her be more aware of the group dynamics.  Chris asked Yester’s roommate Kade to join us, too, while the rest of our group went off for dinner elsewhere.  Yester’s dad and his family had waited all afternoon for his return to Santa Barbara, but they needed to return home in the evening because the winding dirt roads are such a challenge to navigate at night, and everyone had responsibilities back home on Saturday morning.

Yester’s father clearly was nervous about how Yester would perceive him.  Yester’s stepmother is thoughtful and sensitive and helped to assure a positive reunion.  But Wendy’s love and joy about finding her special little brother after nineteen years was palpable.  She did not need to speak English to show him how happy she was to know that he is well and that he sincerely wanted to find them.

Yester with his dad (center), Wendy (left), stepmom (right),
and nieces.
Yester and Wendy share the same mother and father, but a birth defect separated them and led them on two very different paths for nineteen years.  Yester’s curiosity brought them together again.  He did not know about his big sister, but she had never forgotten him.  As a child Wendy learned that adoption gave Yester an opportunity for healing that was not available to him in Honduras.  She understood that he might embrace his new family in the USA and never want to see his birth family again.  But she never stopped caring about her little brother.

Breci is another amazing sister.  She arrived in Santa Barbara on Saturday night and stayed with our group all day Sunday.  Pretty, vivacious, and talkative, Breci exudes a confidence and determination that anything is possible if one cares and keeps trying.  I introduced myself to her on Sunday morning at the fiesta that the community of Las Brisas del Pinal organized to celebrate the grand opening of their kindergarten.  As salsa music blared through the sound system, Breci’s first question of me was, “Do you want to dance?”  I replied, “Mas tarde (later).”

Yester and Breci
Breci kept all the Spanish speakers in our group very busy throughout Saturday night and Sunday because she had so much to tell her big brother about each of his family members and because she wanted to know so much about Yester.  On Sunday night Becky was worn out from laughing so much and from non-stop translation in the truck with Yester, Breci, and Kade.  If ever Yester needed motivation to learn Spanish, Breci provided it.  I won’t be surprised if Breci learns English by next year because she wants so much to be aware of what the Americans around Yester are saying.

A high point in the reunion took place on Sunday morning at the fiesta in Las Brisas del Pinal.  With his mom, little brother, and Breci in the audience, Yester stood at the microphone before the crowd and announced what a pleasure it is to meet his Honduran family and how proud he is to be Honduran.  He presented the school with a Honduran flag for its new flag pole.  His family and all the community are proud of their homeland, and they welcomed his efforts to reconnect with them.

San Pedro Sula Airport donation
box for helping babies with cleft lip.
As Yester spoke with a newly found confidence before the crowd gathered outside the kindergarten, I wondered about the difference between him and me.  Was it just a fluke of genetics?  He was born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, just as I was born with hernia.  Both required surgery early on that we hardly remember.  For Yester the surgery was not accessible to his birth family.  Like me Yester received the required surgery from loving parents who raised him in the United States.  Yester was overwhelmed by the joyous welcome and loving embraces he received from his Honduran family, people of very limited means who always wanted nothing more for him than the best future possible.  Now Yester feels a deep gratitude for a caring presence he did not recognize before his journey with our LARA group.  Everyone in our group has been touched by Yester’s reunion.

Like Yester, all of our LARA team are returning home with a broader understanding of who our “family” is.  Simply by inviting Yester to join our LARA team, we shared a life-changing experience with him that brought each of us closer to mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers in Honduras.  We, too, feel like part of Yester’s family.  We are reminded of the One who said, “Whoever joins together in serving the greater Good is my brother and my sister and my mother.” At the gate at the Houston International Airport as we prepared to journey to our respective homes, Yester hugged each of his LARA family members, and we wished each other well.  We all are eager to know how Yester’s reunion will play out, and we are pleased to be part of it.

No comments:

Post a Comment