Tag Archive | Honduras

Memoir of a 70-Year-Old Super Hero

Do you ever fantasize about being a super hero like Superman, Wonder Woman, or even an old fashioned hero like Roy Rogers or Robin Hood and Maid Marian?

I just finished reading a book about a woman that I can somewhat identify with. She’s about my age. She quit her job as a counselor and social worker to begin a new adventure. She plays the piano to relax. Several years ago she moved to Honduras and began an amazing adventure. She became a super hero in my mind, although she would never make that claim herself. Here’s a blurb from the back cover of the book, EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My Seven-Year Journey as an Aid Worker into the Heart of Honduras.

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_In her 60s, and living in Seattle, Ellen Lippman Finn on a whim signed up for a homestay visit to learn Spanish in Honduras. What began as a two-week vacation became a journey that would transform her life.

It would be love at first sight for the former social worker and jazz musician. She fell hard  for the people living in Copan Ruinas and the surrounding mountains of western Honduras. She divested herself of her possessions in the U.S., and moved permanently to the area, where she felt at home for the first time in 50 years.

When Ellen first moved to Honduras, she focused her energy on raising funds to provide school supplies for children living in the rural villages nearby. One school she visited had no blackboard, no desks, not even any books. The teacher taught arithmetic by drawing numbers with a stick in the sand.

But the lack of school supplies was just one problem. The extreme poverty of the area meant little food and serious malnutrition. Ellen turned to her North American friends to raise funds for food and clothing as well as school supplies.

I first heard about Ellen several years ago from the daughter of one of our assisted living residents. At that time Ellen was raising money to give Christmas baskets to rural families. For $25 you could provide a family a gift basket that included toys, clothes, and food for the whole family. We still donate money for four baskets every Christmas to Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors), the organization Ellen created.

Each short chapter in Ellen’s book is the story of some kind of adventure she experienced while living as an aid worker in Honduras. Some of the stories are funny, like her description of learning to ride a horse – the only way to get to a particular rural mountain village. Others are sad, like the story of a father carrying his small son wrapped in a blanket to get some medical care, but by the time he arrived, the son had died. Some are scary, and many are heart-warming. All together these stories provide a complex picture of what life is like in that area of the world.

As word spread about how Ellen was able to raise funds and work with the local people on projects that would improve the living situations in many of the poor mountain villages, more and more people came to her for help. Unfortunately, the drug traffickers learned of her reputation, too, and put her name on their hit list. They didn’t want her working in their territory. Ellen escaped Honduras just in time, recuperated with a friend in the States for a few months, and then moved to Guatemala, where she is continuing her work as Buenos Vecinos in that country. Meanwhile, the particular drug traffickers who were out to kill her have been arrested and are currently in prison. That means she can make occasional trips back to Copan Ruinas to visit her friends there.

This is my 70-year-old super hero. Some of her success stories are listed as an appendix at the end of the book – with thanks to her donors.

  • Communities served: 80 in Honduras, 10 in Guatemala
  • Ongoing nutrition and health programs for many schools
  • School supplies for students in 80 communities
  • Teaching materials for more than 100 classrooms
  • Christmas baskets for more than 250 families yearly
  • Shoes for more than 2,000 kids
  • Construction projects completed: 
    • 20 schools and classrooms
    • 2 school playgrounds
    • 2 bridges so children could access the schools from their homes
    • 1 community medical clinic
    • 1 cooperative bakery
    • 11 water projects
    • 1 library serving 7 villages
    • 16 school bathrooms and wash sinks
    • 30 villages received school repairs and renovations
    • 60 schools received shelves, desks, and blackboards
    • 11 clinics received furniture

That’s just some of the items listed in the book. See why she’s my super hero!

One of the themes of the book is Ellen’s evolving perception of her role as an aid worker and her relationship with the people she is working with. There’s one long chapter near the end of the book that explores that theme in depth. Good intentions don’t necessarily result in good outcomes. Establishing boundaries can be extremely hard, especially in life and death situations. Trying to be helpful can get very complicated. Even for super heroes.

I highly recommend reading the book. Here’s a link to it on amazon.com.  I guarantee the book will make you laugh, cry, and think.


Do Something!


Pastor Jeff Vanden Heuvel

“You’re not dead yet. Do something!”

That’s what Pastor Jeff preached about at Messiah last Sunday. He talked about how difficult the past week had been – with two black men being shot in our country, just a day apart, and then five police officers being killed and more injured in Dallas just days later. When you think about all the violence in our country, and the continuing racial injustice and unrest, it’s easy to conclude that the situation is hopeless. Then, when you look globally at the inequity, hatred, and wars worldwide – the big picture only confirms that we might as well give up. Hatred is the victor. Our experience proves that love and justice will never win in this world. Why bother to fight for what’s right? We won’t win.

The Scripture Pastor Jeff turned to was the familiar story of The Good Samaritan. A lawyer had asked Jesus what he needed to do to have eternal life, and Jesus told him to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind; and to love his neighbor as himself. The lawyer then asked Jesus to define who his neighbor was – to put limits on who he had to love. Jesus then told the story of The Good Samaritan, which essentially said there are no limits. Jesus told the lawyer to go and show mercy. Period. No limits.

Pastor Jeff paraphrased that directive to us. “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” Then he offered some practical suggestions of things we can do, starting with becoming more educated on the issues, and discussing the issues with our families and our neighbors….

The day before, on Saturday, I was inspired by an email I received from Ellen Finn. I mentioned her a couple months ago in this blog. She’s the person who introduced me (via email) to Casita Copan in Honduras. Casita Copan is the organization that connected Mim and me with Dulce Maria and Leydi, the two little girls we provide monthly support for in Honduras. (Here’s a link to that post:


Ellen delivering a Christmas “basket”

I have never met Ellen face to face. A friend of mine, the daughter of one of our assisted living residents, told me about Ellen 7 years ago, when she was trying to raise money to give Christmas baskets to poor families in Honduras. Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors) is the name of the organization Ellen created. Ellen explained how she got involved with projects in Honduras on the organization’s website, www.BuenosVecinos.org:

I originally went to Honduras to study Spanish and live with a wonderful homestay family for a week. I stayed two weeks. I fell in love with the family as well as the Honduran people and the children absolutely captivated me!

I came back to Seattle and after 3 months, sold most of my belongings and my car, gave up my music career and moved to Honduras to teach English.

Within 3 months I began to see how distressed the schools were in the neighboring villages and decided that I would commit my energies to raising money to building, supplying, and repairing village schools. Soon we found ourselves expanding into areas of health and emergency relief….

On Saturday I received the following email from Ellen:


Well okay, soon it will be my birthday.

As many of you know I have been privileged and happy to be working in Central America for almost 10 years!

AND NOW, I am about to turn 70 years old and still going strong!!!


Ellen getting school supplies for her friends.

In these years, together, you and I have built 15 schools, a library, a clinic, bridges, water projects, endless school repairs and furnishings, school supplies and teaching materials for more than 100 schools … and have provided all sorts of educational and health and nutrition programs for children. We have provided emergency services for pregnant mothers, communities in distress and much more!

Many folks have asked me what I want for my birthday and I keep coming up with the same thought.  Operating expenses for a year! 

It doesn’t require much to keep us going…. we can still provide great services on less than $15,000 per year and if we had this sum, we could concentrate more on providing much needed services and projects, and less on raising the funds. This would be such a great way to start my next decade… with time and energy and support to do even more needed projects.

If you’d like to help me celebrate … You can donate at our website www.BuenosVecinos.org


With love and gratitude,


Ellen opening boxes of school supplies.

That email was inspiring to me! One person can’t solve all the problems of the world, but one person can make a difference in the lives of their neighbors.


Young Hondurans carrying benches from the storage shed to their outdoors classroom.

So, what can we do? Pastor Jeff kept reminding us, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!” So, who are my neighbors? I guess I have some neighbors in Honduras that need some help, and Ellen is willing to coordinate the logistics of getting help from me to these neighbors. I can simply go to her website and make a donation. That’s a start.

And I have other neighbors with needs…. Last week I received a phone call from someone who was trying to line up donations of winter coats for inmates who will be released from the Dane County Jail this winter. The caller asked me if I could enlist the help of our church in this project. The inmates are my neighbors, too. I guess I could follow up on that request. I could also clean out my own closet….

With the world being in such a sorry state, there are plenty of opportunities to be a good Samaritan. As Pastor Jeff suggested, I need to educate myself on the issues underlying the tragic problems in our neighborhood, our country, and our world. I need to look around to see and understand the needs of my neighbors.

Like Jesus said,

“Which of these three [the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan], do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” [Luke 10:36-37 NRSV]

Or, as Pastor Jeff said, “You’re not dead yet. Do something!”


Jail inmates released in the winter months will need warm coats. Maybe we can help….

(You can hear Pastor Jeff’s homily on the church website. Pastor Jeff always begins his homilies with a song and a story. Even if you just watch the first few minutes, you’ll hear a great story about an old and very clever German Shepherd.
Note: You may have to click the refresh button of your browser and then click the arrow for the July 10 sermon.)

Another Piece in God’s Puzzle


Copan Ruinas, Copan, Honduras – where Casita Copan Children’s Home is located.

A couple weeks ago I received an email from Karina Sibrian Zepeda. She’s the new Director of Development for Casita Copan in Honduras. The subject of her email was “Why do you support Dulce Maria and Leydi?” This is part of her email:

My name is Karina and I am the new Director of Development for Casita Copan. I hope this email finds you well! First, I want to thank you for sponsoring Dulce Maria and Leydi. Dulce Maria is very mild-mannered and a bit shy, but will never deny a smile! Leydi is a very hard worker and likes to keep busy. They are both so lucky to have you as a sponsor;  you are ensuring them with the consistency and support they need to grow. 

This spring, our goal is to get sponsors for all the Casita Copan children, and what better way to persuade new sponsors to sign up than by showing them the benefits of sponsorship from our current sponsors, like yourself? This is why I am writing today to ask: what is your favorite part about sponsoring Dulce Maria and Leydi? 

I took a few days to think about her request before responding to it. I’ll show you my response at the end of this blog post. But first, let me provide a little background – both about myself and about Casita Copan.

Mom-Dad on stump

Mom and Dad in their retirement years. Here they’re watching two grandchildren compete in a high school cross country meet.

I grew up in a family where the biggest disagreement between my parents was over how much money they should donate to missions. My mom was much more generous than my dad. They eventually worked out their differences when they retired and had separate checking accounts. They each had their own social security checks deposited in their own checking account, and they agreed who would pay which bills. What was left over they could each use as they pleased. In 1986, when my mom died, one of my jobs was to write to each of the missions and non-profit causes she regularly supported to let them know her monthly support of $5 or $10 would end. I sent over a dozen letters. The one letter I couldn’t send was to World Vision. Instead I wrote them a different letter – to change the sponsorship of a little girl in India from my mom to me. Mim and I continued her support until she became an adult.

A few years ago, Liz, the daughter of one of our assisted living residents, told us about Ellen, a woman in Honduras who was raising money to give Christmas baskets of food and clothing to poor families in rural Honduras. Liz knew Ellen personally, and she told us how much Ellen was able to put into a basket for a mere $25. We sent a donation of $100 to Ellen to cover the cost of four baskets. Through email, we still hear from Ellen occasionally, and we continue to donate Christmas baskets every year. It was through Ellen (another piece in God’s puzzle – to continue the metaphor I used in this blog a couple weeks ago) that we learned about Casita Copan.

Ellen emailed people who had provided money for gift baskets to tell them about Emily, a teacher she knew in a rural area of Honduras who wanted to help poor children in her community have a more stable childhood. Emily founded Casita Copan Children’s Home. This is Casita Copan’s Mission and Vision:

Our mission is to reduce child abandonment by nurturing orphaned and vulnerable children and supporting single mothers.

Our vision is to break the cycle of child abandonment by providing essential childcare services to working families whose economic situation puts their children at risk of abandonment and creating real homes for orphaned and abandoned children. We believe that all children deserve to grow up in caring, nurturing environments where they are supported and empowered to achieve their dreams.

In 2012, Emily started a daycare program for children so that single mothers could drop off their children on their way to work, and their children would be well taken care of during the day while their mothers were at work. The organization adopted a sponsorship model to raise ongoing funds to support the program.

When you choose to become a sponsor, you guarantee that a special child in Honduras will grow up with the nutrition, education, medical care, emotional support, and love that they need to achieve their dreams for a better future.


Dulce Maria – the little second-grader Mim and I sponsor

That’s where Mim and I came into the picture. After reading Ellen’s email, we found out more about Casita Copan, and we decided to become a sponsor. Dulce Maria is the little 5-year-old girl – now 7 – that we are sponsoring.

A couple years later, a nearby orphanage was forced by the government to close because of providing inadequate care for their children. Casita Copan agreed to take in all 13 children from the orphanage. They have set up three “casitas” – individual homes where 4 or 5 children and a foster mother live. They have created a much more home-like model than an institutional orphanage, and the results have been amazing. These children know they have become part of a real family. (At the time these casitas were being furnished Mim and I had another practical opportunity to provide something useful – the funds to buy a refrigerator for the kitchen of one of the homes.)


Leydi – eager to start high school

Several months ago we learned through an email newsletter from Casita Copan that another need they would like to address is that some of their older children are not able to go to high school because their families cannot afford it. They wanted to set up an internship and scholarship program for these children. Casita Copan was seeking sponsors to provide scholarships. The young people awarded the scholarships would make a commitment to go to high school, keep up their grades, and work at Casita Copan after school in an internship program where they would learn practical job skills. Mim and I decided to sponsor one scholarship, and that’s where we were matched up with Leydi, a delightful, smart, and hard-working young woman.

Mim and I are quite excited about being a part of Casita Copan. You can learn more about the organization on their website https://www.casitacopan.org/mission-vision/.


Image 4-25-16 at 11.12 AM.jpg

Emily, the founder of Casita Copan, is in the back row, second from left.

This is how I responded to Karina’s email.

Poverty. Suffering. Injustice. These problems are all around us. Is there anything at all that we can do to help solve these universal problems? The problems seem so daunting.

Through Casita Copan, Mim and I have found a way that we can help a couple children live a better life. Nothing can make us happier than that.

We’re so thankful that Casita Copan matched us up a couple years ago with Dulce Maria, a little girl who is now seven years old. We enjoy occasionally receiving letters and pictures from her.

A few months ago Casita Copan matched us up with another girl, Leydi, and invited us to provide a full scholarship for her so that she can go to high school. We’re delighted to be able to sponsor her to allow her the opportunity to pursue further education and to continue to develop her God-given talents.

There will always be poverty, suffering, and injustice in the world. But Casita Copan has found a way to apply the meager resources Mim and I can provide to help two little girls have a better life. That’s amazing. We’re so thankful for what Casita Copan can do.

Marian Korth & Mim Jacobson

If you want to be a piece of this part of God’s puzzle, check out www.CasitaCopan.org for more information. Or, feel free to contact me directly. I’ll be happy to tell you more about “the joy of being a piece of the puzzle.”


A thank you note we received from Dulce after we sent a little extra money to Emily to buy her a birthday present last year.

Let Me Introduce My Neighbors to You

Marian and kittenWhen I was a little girl growing up on a Wisconsin farm, I thought of four families as being our neighbors: the farmers across the road just west of us – the Henry Henderson family; the farmers who lived on the farm immediately south of us – The Mulcaheys; the farmers just east of us – the Scotts; and Ruth and Merrill Kenseth, a brother and sister who were double cousins of my mom (their moms were sisters and their dads were brothers) – and they lived on the farm across the road north of us. I didn’t really know any of the neighbors very well, except the cousins. Sometimes, on a nice summer evening, I would walk over to the Kenseth farm to play with their barn cats while Merrill was milking the cows, especially when there was a brand new litter of kittens to play with.

I think the main reason I didn’t know the other neighbors very well is that they didn’t go to the same church as we did, and we primarily socialized with the people within our own church. Occasionally, Danny and I would walk down to the Mulcaheys to play with Michael and Margaret, the two kids in their family who were about our ages, but they were Catholics, so we were discouraged from playing with them too much. We grew up thinking of Catholics almost like a different tribe. They didn’t really believe in God quite like we did. They believed in Mary and the pope and saints and who knows what all… We were Methodists and we knew Jesus Christ as our personal savior. Back then we were taught to avoid people who were different from us, even if they were neighbors.

When I went away to college, obviously I had new neighbors. Living in a dorm, I had roommates, who essentially became my on-campus family. My new neighbors were the young women who lived in the rooms adjacent to and across the hall from us. Since I went to a small Christian college, these neighbors were all members of the same “tribe” and we all became friends.

Williston Hall - cropped - adj

My dorm at Wheaton College

After college I moved to a small town in Connecticut where I was an English teacher. I rented an apartment in a relatively new apartment complex of about 20 units. I had two kinds of neighbors in the apartment complex – relatively poor families who couldn’t afford to buy a house, and young teachers who were new to the community. Basically, we became two tribes. I had very little contact with the other tribe.

4429-4433 N California

Our Chicago two-flat. Sidewalks separate us from our neighbors.

After a couple years in Connecticut I moved back to the Midwest, met Mim, and the two of us lived in Chicago together for 20 years. While we lived in Chicago, at first our concept of neighbor was not very different from what my concept of neighbor had been when I was a little girl on the farm. The houses next to us on all four sides were our neighbors, and to varying degrees, we became friends. Further down the block in any direction we didn’t even know the people, with a few rare exceptions – like when we got our first puppy, we got to know the other families on the block who had dogs.

Gradually, after living in Chicago several years, we began to think of the term “neighbor” in a little broader sense. We thought of neighborhoods, and neighboring neighborhoods. For a few years we attended LaSalle Street Church, located between Sandburg Village – an upscale high-rise residential development and Cabrini Green – the most notorious, gang-infested housing project in Chicago. The pastors at LaSalle prompted us to re-think how we should love and care for our neighbors, and just who our neighbors really are.

Back in Cambridge, after 20 years in Chicago, my concept of neighbor continued to evolve. I still thought of my neighbors as the people whose homes (or farms) were adjacent to ours. But then we subdivided the farm. Most of the acreage became new housing – a small apartment complex (The Hamptons), a condominium development (Stone Meadows, where Mim and I now live), and a couple residential subdivisions (Winterberry and Summer Prairie). Would all these new housing units, over 100, shelter a whole new community of neighbors for us? Mim and I tried to start out being neighborly by bringing homemade cookies or bread as a welcome gift to each new neighbor as they moved into their home. We kept that up for about the first half-dozen or so neighbors, then we stopped. I guess I need to think a little harder about just who my neighbor is, and how I should treat them…

Stone Meadows

This is where we live now. Our condo is on the right.

So why am I thinking so much about neighbors today?

Sheriff Mahoney

Sheriff Mahoney

A week and a half ago I went to the annual meeting of the Jail Ministry. Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney was a special guest at this meeting, and he gave a short talk about the needs of inmates. Sheriff Mahoney said that his biggest hope is that the people of Dane County would stop thinking of jail inmates as violent criminals getting exactly what they deserve by being incarcerated, but rather think of jail inmates as their neighbors. He said that 80% of the inmates are in jail for crimes related to their addiction to drugs or alcohol. They need healing, not punishment. Mahoney said that in his 35 years of law enforcement experience, he has not known even one inmate that was rehabilitated just by being kept in a cage for a while. For all inmates who have been successfully rehabilitated, they succeeded because they were in an environment that provided the resources that enabled them to heal. The chaplains and volunteers of the Jail Ministry are an important part of those resources – people who care, who listen, and who try to help the healing process.

Mahoney closed his remarks by coming back to his biggest hope – that we all start thinking of inmates as our neighbors.

The dictionary defines neighbor in geographic terms – “a person living near another.” [www.merriam-webster.com] But the Bible broadens the definition of neighbor significantly, as this New Testament incident illustrates.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Good Samaritan sketchJesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” [Luke 10:25-37 The Message]

Dulce Maria Family-cropped

Dulce Maria is the little girl on the left.

According to Jesus, it’s very important for me to love my neighbor, almost as important as it is for me to love God. In order for me to love my neighbor, I need to understand who my neighbor is, and Jesus makes it pretty clear that it’s not just the people living in the houses adjacent to my house. I think Jesus would agree with Sheriff Mahoney, that the inmates of the Dane County Jail are my neighbors. But that’s not all. Immigrants from Mexico and the Near East and actually all over the world are my neighbors, too. Dulce Maria, the little girl in Honduras that Mim and I sponsor, is our neighbor. Homeless people in Cambridge and Madison are our neighbors. Anyone who needs someone to listen and care and help. Anyone who needs to see God’s love in action in their life. These are my neighbors.

I guess I have more neighbors than I thought.