Toronto couple's missionary experience cut short by Honduran coup

  • August 6, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - It was just after Sunday Mass when missionaries-in-training Maggie and Mark Banga learned about the military coup in Honduras.

Although it was an abrupt ending to their mission work, the Bangas say this experience has taught them invaluable lessons about missionary life.

The 30-year-old couple, parishioners at Toronto’s Newman Centre, had been volunteering with Mission Honduras International, a U.S.-based Catholic Franciscan charity in Comayagua, northwest of Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa since April. The Bangas were teaching kids English and about computers at a local school. Maggie was also working with single mothers who were learning how to make and sell rosary bracelets The couple was scheduled to finish the placement in mid-July when the coup happened.

Mark said he and his wife were “fearful” about possible violence erupting in the country, not so much for themselves but for the people and missionaries there.

Regardless of who Hondurans supported, he said some people were “angry” that the coup occurred because they felt there were other democratic alternatives.

“What a lot of people said to us was they knew the coup would disrupt commerce within their country and most likely affect their reputation in the international community,” he said from Victoria, B.C.

Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power by the country’s military on June 28 in a power struggle over amending the country’s constitution. Zelaya was elected for a non-renewable four-year term in 2006 but called a referendum to extend his presidential term. This move had been opposed by Congress and the Supreme Court had ruled the referendum illegal.

Zelaya’s arrest came before Hondurans were to go to the polls and vote. He was flown outside Honduras and has since threatened “generalized violence” if the coup is not reversed.

The Bangas left the country by bus, along with other missionaries, for Guatemala.

The couple said the only challenge along the way was encountering some protesters since the seven busloads of missionaries didn’t pass through the capital.

The Bangas were hoping to return to Honduras to complete their work but said the continuing political instability made it impossible for that to happen.

Not all this Honduran experience was bad. For Maggie, one of the lasting memories was the time she and a group of missionaries were digging holes to build a fence and a group of strangers who had a flat tire nearby decided to help. The missionaries also helped those stranded to lift their truck, which was loaded with furniture, onto the jack to repair the tire.

“We were able to return the favour which was awesome,” Maggie said.

For Mark, he said he appreciated people’s hospitality, including some boys from the school who invited a group of missionaries to a hike up the mountains which led to a stunning waterfall.

“It took a few hours and it was gruelling but it was such a shared experience,” Mark recalls. “People who went on that journey felt so touched by the way that all borders and obstacles of language and culture dissolved away when people are sharing with love.”

The couple will continue their missionary training in Chicago with the Comboni Missionaries before their three-year term in a yet-to-be-determined placement, which could be back in Latin America.

Yet Mark says the couple isn’t concerned about going back to the region. Missionary work has “certain risks,” but they’re at peace with their decision to discern about their shared vocation in cross-cultural work.

Although these are uncertain economic times, the couple said they felt a calling to take a leap of faith: Mark quit his job as the director of a software company and Maggie quit hers as a naturopathic doctor before going to Honduras.

“A big way we discovered our faith, learned more about it and expressed it,” Mark said, “was through having our hearts and eyes opened up to some of the realities of our world, especially from a social justice perspective.”

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