Having served as Max’s mentor during his licensing period, I was continually frustrated in my inability to see Max face-to-face during his detention. It seemed that every day I made arrangements to visit, he was moved to the next facility. The first time I was able to talk with Max during this whole ordeal was by phone after he landed in Honduras. In our first conversation, he reminded me that we had a mentoring meeting scheduled for April 1. He said it would mean a lot to have someone come to Honduras and see what he is experiencing first hand.
Everyone I consulted with encouraged me to make a pastoral visit to Max in these early days in Honduras. I was able to locate very reasonable flights and lodging, surprising on such short notice. Linda Shelly from Mennonite Mission Network as able to connect me to Mennonite leader in San Pedro Sula, Ovidio Flores, who met me at the airport and has offered to provide ongoing support for Max.
I arrived in San Pedro Sula on Tuesday, March 31, 2015, Max’s birthday. It was also Semana Santa (Holy Week). Gloria had sent a used iPad with me which held recorded birthday greetings from Gloria and the children. Max was deeply touched by being able to hear the voices and see the faces of Gloria and the children.
In my time with Max, it remains clear that he is sustained by his strong faith and hope in God’s ongoing work in his life and in this crisis. Max cheers himself with the belief that God has a purpose for him that has yet to be revealed. He reassures himself in the trust that the worse his situation gets, the greater the power of God will be revealed when things are resolved. Max understands the importance of remaining positive even as he works toward healing from what he experienced in the detention and deportation process.
The day after I arrived, we traveled to the rural community where Max is reconnecting with family members he hasn’t seen for many years. He seems to be in a safe location and receiving support from family members. Max is experiencing this place as a place of healing.
Max is a bit of a local celebrity in the community where he is staying. He has been asked to share a testimony or bring a message at neighborhood cell groups or church services several times since he has returned. This seems to be giving him a sense of purpose in the midst a life turned upside-down.
When we returned to San Pedro Sula on Maundy Thursday afternoon, Max contacted Ovidio again. I believe this will be a helpful relationship for Max when he goes to the city because he does not feel safe moving about in the city alone. He would like to get to know Ovidio and build a relationship with Ovidio’s church or several churches in Honduras before becoming involved in any kind of public ministry. I am impressed by the intentionality that Max is demonstrating as he considers each next step.
In San Pedro Sula on Thursday, Max and I had a final two hours to share together. Max confessed, “Dave, I know that I am making it look like I am OK, but I am not OK. I am trying to keep from being depressed.” He expressed deep appreciation for my visit. He said, “Because you were willing to come in person, I know that you love me, but in your coming I feel like I have been visited by everyone back home and I feel all their support.” In the last hours of our visit, I was reassured that this visit was important. We had an extended time of prayer together. While it was a beautiful time communing spiritually, it was also poignant, as our prayers reminded us that we do not know how long it will be until we see each other again nor how long it will be until Max can be reunited with his family.
Returning home on Good Friday, the plane from Honduras to Miami was nearly empty. Peaceful. I returned with a heart full of both pain and gratitude. I have some reflecting to do before I can be articulate about the pain. Yet, I am grateful for my brother, Max, with whom I have bonded in a new way. I am grateful for the possibility of this visit. I am grateful for the sensitive support we received from Brother Ovidio; his presence was and will be invaluable. I am grateful for the kindness of Max’s family who not only took measures to ensure my safety, but who gave me the feeling of being safe. I am grateful for encouragement I received through Max’s witness to his unflappable trust in God. With Max, I will wonder in hope what God is going to do. May our Holy Week prayers result in life resurrected and a speedy reunion for the Villatoro family!