“Going to Honduras was like an accident.”
While a student at University of California, Davis, Maureen Hodge had done InterVarsity summer missions trips in San Francisco, Sacramento, and Mexico, working with kids in poor areas of those cities. After college, she even spent a year on her own (which she does not recommend) in Guatemala before going to grad school and becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
But it was a miscarriage and a cancer diagnosis that got her to Honduras. Though the treatment for the cancer was successful, that season of confronting death left her pondering what’s important in life. If she was going to live, what would she live for? Maureen says, “I think I just hit that point of, There’s nothing more important than serving God.” In her depleted state, God spoke to her with an invitation:
“Sell it all.”
She brought the idea to her husband, Chris. “What if we just sold everything and moved and did something different for a season and see what God would have?” Chris is not one to make brash decisions, but to her surprise, he quickly said yes, and they got the ball rolling.
“What if we just sold everything and moved and did something different for a season and see what God would have?”
Maureen called up Will and Laurie Niewoehner—her former InterVarsity staff workers at UC Davis and part of the team that started Servant Partners—for some advice. “How do we go about this, if we’re going to do this?”
It was 2003 and Urbana was happening that year. Will asked, “Why don’t you go to Urbana? Scout out who’s doing what. See where these agencies are going. See what their values are.”
So Maureen and Chris went, asking their questions and searching for God's leading. And at the end of the conference, they felt Servant Partners was the way they wanted to go.
The Implications of Response
“We had this beautiful home in the mountains [in California],” she recalls, “that we always thought was going to be our retirement home. It was very special to us.” Before long they realized responding to God’s invitation would mean selling the house, too.
And this was just as the fires started moving through the mountains near their home. Their realtor was understandably pessimistic about a sale, but they put it on the market anyway. Near the beginning of the month Maureen prayed, “Lord, if you want us to go to Honduras, you have to just do this.” She asked for some assurance that this was God’s will for them to go to Honduras: “Sell the house by the end of the month and that will be my sign.”
The house sold that Friday. At the full asking price.
And it was a bit of a wake-up call. “Oh my gosh,” she said to Chris. “The Lord wants us to do this. Chris, we’re really going to do this.”
Nine months from deciding to go, they had chosen Servant Partners, sold houses and cars, and said their good-byes and moved to the slums. “It happened very quickly,” Maureen says. It happened quickly because the mother of the daughter they would adopt was seven months pregnant.
Openness Begets Openness
Maureen and Chris took up residence in a slum community in Honduras called Nueva Suyapa. They took on the issues of the poor, focusing on small business development.
And without planning to, they ended up adopting Abby.
As Abby grows up, Maureen is careful about how much of her daughter’s story she shares. But she can say that Abby’s life has resulted in so many opportunities to for them to work with the Honduran government on adoption reform and care for orphans.
Like the time they went to a pool on their day off and—because of Abby—got to talking with a man named Brian. They found they had tons in common. He had adopted children. He was fascinated by the work they were doing in Nueva Suyapa. Oh, and (by the way) he had just signed a deal with Honduras’s child adoption and welfare department to host a symposium that would bring together Honduran dignitaries, members of congress, and the top 25 adoption experts from the United States.
Would they want to come?
They accepted the invitation, but a week before the event they got a call from Brian. “Maureen, they called the whole thing off,” he said. “You’ve got to help me pull it back together.”
“Me? What do you want me to do? I don’t know anybody here.”
“Go meet with the president,” he said.
“The president of who?”
“Brian! I don’t know how to meet the president of the country!”
He gave her one phone number, of a lawyer, and said, “Call him.”
She called, a week later, Maureen was in the president’s home, meeting with the first lady—who is the person who oversees all child welfare services in Honduras—and her chief of staff. “It was the most powerful hour,” Maureen recalls. “None of us will ever forget it because God was in control and he was doing something.”
Maureen found herself straddling two very different worlds as she worked to change laws and improve systems. “So here we had been living in the slum,” Maureen explains. “Our water turns on once a month. There were more murders in our little community of 35,000 people than anywhere else in the whole country. Murders would happen two times a week.” But then she would leave the slum community in high heels and suits to go meet with the country’s dignitaries as part of a non-profit she’d started to help the abandoned children of Honduras. “It was so surreal!” she recalls.
A Balanced Journey toward God’s Will
These kinds of experiences keep happening to Chris and Maureen. They start something and get it going, and then God moves them along to something else. “We always have to stay open because we don’t know where he’s moving us next,” Maureen says.
This is the bottom line as Maureen understands it: working to remain open. She’s found it’s not so much what you do that God cares about, but instead that you’re open to him and open to doing whatever he would have you do.
But neither are our passions and skills irrelevant. God equips those he sends, but he is also the one who gives us our interests. “Listen to what you like,” Maureen says, “and listen to what’s important to you, because that’s often where God has gifted you. Keep going toward what you feel passionate about, and when you’re passionate about it and you’re semi-okay at it, I have seen that God uses that. I kept building—my time and education—getting better at what I thought I was good at and felt a particular call to.”
“Keep going toward what you feel passionate about, and when you’re passionate about it and you’re semi-okay at it, I have seen that God uses that.”
Maureen currently works internationally and domestically on issues of poverty and macro changes at government levels. Urbana helped change and direct her life when she first attended as a student at UC Davis. And it was Urbana that helped propel them to Honduras with Servant Partners.
Maureen and Chris have set up a monthly donation to Urbana’s scholarship fund to help pass on the impact Urbana has had in their lives. “I can't say enough how much I believe in Urbana and how God uses it to call students like me to lifelong service of Jesus. It's a life changer!”