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Give Love: Keeping kids safe in Honduras

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Desiree Segura-April and her husband are United Methodist missionaries serving throughout Latin America and the Caribbean and currently living in Honduras. As a Resource Person for Children at Risk Ministries, Desiree is passionate about creating safe spaces for children and shares with us how her life growing up in the Pacific Northwest continues to influence her current ministry.

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Desiree Segura-April

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This episode posted on December 17, 2021.

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Crystal Caviness, host: On today’s special Advent episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape, we talk with Desiree Seguro April. Desiree and her husband are United Methodist missionaries serving in Honduras. Desiree shares with us about her life growing up in the Pacific Northwest and how those experiences continue to influence her current ministry of helping at-risk children.

Desiree, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Desiree Segura-April: Thanks for having me, Crystal.

Crystal:  Of course. Desiree, you and your husband are a missionary team working together in Honduras. And you met in Costa Rica and now you’re working together in that region of the world. Can you tell us how that came about?

Desiree:  Sure. I was in a semester abroad when I was doing my undergraduate work. And it was called the Latin American Studies Program. And I lived with a pastor’s family. And my husband attended their church. And we were actually both studying sociology. I was studying sociology and anthropology. And they thought that was so strange because in Latin America a Christian studying sociology didn’t really go together. So they thought we were both strange. So they said we needed to meet. And we struck up a friendship. And several years later we ended up getting married, and we’ve actually been married for…. Oh, gosh. This is not a ??? number. …twenty-seven years, I think we’re going on now. So we’ve had a lot of different experiences serving in Latin America and in the United States. And he actually started first with Global Ministries. I was teaching at Fuller Theological Seminary fulltime. And he was an adjunct professor there when our son was born, who just turned 10. So that was a little over 10 years ago. And I wanted to take a little time off. So he had applied to Global Ministries actually a couple of years earlier. And they finally had a spot for him. So we decided to go back to the field, at that point. And I took a term off. And then after our first term where he was posted to the Dominican Republic, then I joined and became commissioned also. And we’ve been in the region ever since. We’re actually both regional missionaries. So we serve all of Latin America and the Caribbean. And right now we currently live in Honduras.

Crystal: That sounds like a big…. That’s a big appointment. That whole region. So are you traveling between countries all of the time? Is that what that means?

Desiree:  Well, pre-pandemic, yes. We were…we traveled some and we already were doing a lot virtually like everyone has now learned how to do, I think, over the last year and a half or so that we’ve been dealing with this global pandemic. So, yeah. We would go and work with different partners in the region and do intensive trainings and courses and different things like that. And then follow up the virtual methods. So for the last year and a half we are not allowed to travel at all. Global Ministries is wanting everyone to stay safe. And so we’re…we are not allowed to travel even within Honduras. So we’ve been doing everything virtually. And we’ve had to adapt just like everyone around the world, and figure out how to make our trainings be done via the Internet and Zoom and readings and online platforms.

Crystal: So you mentioned that when you were in school you studied sociology and anthropology. How has that interest and study and work that you’ve done in the past, how does that play out now in the work that you do for The United Methodist Church?

Desiree: Sure, yeah. All of my studies have really been helpful. I actually have a PhD in intercultural studies from Asbury Seminary. So the sociology, the anthropology, the intercultural studies in my PhD work, my research was focused on the girl child in Latin America and mission with girls in particular. And so all of that lays a wonderful foundation for understanding the people that we work with in the region, for understanding the different variety of cultures. Of course I speak Spanish so that also helps. And I think it really has prepared us to be able to work across cultures and to try to be doing mission in a way that’s more mutual. We think of it as partnerships. We think of it as we’re all learning and growing together and participating with God in God’s mission. And it’s just a privilege to be able to do that.

Crystal: You mentioned the work with the girl child. And I read that a lot of your work is helping at-risk children, especially girls perhaps because of your interest. How does that fold into what churches are doing there?

Desiree: So yes, my area of emphasis, the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean have, I believe right now have about four strategic priorities that we’re emphasizing. And one is children at risk and mission and ministry with children at risk. And so that’s my area that I focus on. And I work mostly actually with other people who work with children and youth at risk. And we use that U.N. definition of children. So it’s anyone who’s a minor. So it’s really children and youth, is the way we would probably understand it in the church. And the idea is that I’m helping pastors and lay leaders, Sunday school teachers, superintendents of Sunday school programs, sometimes people working with other types of ministries that work with children and youth, to create more holistic ministries, to understand their context, to understand what’s going on with children in their areas. Unfortunately the majority of our United Methodist churches throughout the region are planted in neighborhoods and communities where pretty much all of the children would be considered children at risk. So even just the children that come to church on a weekly basis as well as the children in their neighborhoods and communities have a lot of needs. So a lot of what I do is training and workshops and hands-on resources and ideas to help them to understand those children, to understand the different challenges that they face, and to help do ministry in a way that’s holistic and meets all of those needs and challenges. One of the things I’ve been really focusing on is helping churches to create child protection policies. Unfortunately we did a survey, gosh, it’s been almost 2 years ago now, of all of our partners in the region, mostly of the bishops and the leaders in the ministries and discovered that 76% said they didn’t have any type of child protection policy in place, and they would like help in developing that. And 100% said they needed more training. They needed more understanding of that. So my work has really focused in the last couple of years on helping churches to go through a process—not just of creating a policy, but to really understand what it means to protect children and why we need to do that. The biblical, theological underpinnings of that as well as then how do we do that. How do we create … In the U.S. a lot of times in our UMC churches we call them ‘safe sanctuaries.’ And so we’re adapting that and creating spaces that are safe for children among all of our ministries.

Crystal: You mentioned these children having challenges. What kind of challenges do the children face?

Desiree:  So, I mean, it varies throughout the region. But there are a lot of commonalities. Probably the major common denominator are high levels of poverty. Most of our children are living in situations of either extreme or moderate poverty, which in and of itself doesn’t always put them at risk because a lot of times families have other resources and sources of family and other members of the community to help support them. But it certainly is an underlying characteristic of all of our children that can put them at risk. We also see a lot of domestic violence. Sadly, during the last year and half with the pandemic we’ve seen an increase in domestic violence. We see high indices…. Sorry, I’m getting my Spanish and my English crossed in my brain here. …high indices (I think, is that right in English?) of child abuse primarily as most people know, within the home or within/among people that they know in their families. So we talk a lot about that. A lot of my training for child protection focuses on understanding abuse, understanding how that happens, where that happens, and how we can prevent… hopefully try to prevent it from happening. We also see…. I’m sure you see…hear it in the news in the U.S., especially here in Honduras and in Central America and what they call the triangle here, we see families that are broken apart by people migrating and traveling. Some of our churches have stories of children going with their families in the caravans that you hear about. So of course that certainly puts them at high risk. We have a lot of gang violence as well in the region. And children are at risk for either being recruited by gangs or having things happen to their family as a result of the control of the gangs in their communities. Unfortunately I could keep going. But that gives you just a bit of a panorama.

Crystal: You know, Desiree, from what you’re describing it’s sounds like the church has such a critical role not just providing a spiritual haven but also a safe haven. The safe sanctuary really does extend out into the community in a really big and important way.

Desiree: Yes, that’s something that we would like to see happening more and more certainly, but it’s beginning to happen. Some of our churches have feeding programs for children where they receive that and provide meals for them. And of course with Covid it has been really difficult because a lot of restrictions were in place, especially the firs 9-10 months here in Honduras in particular. They had to close everything down. And so saw a lot of children going without meals that were used to getting their meals. So, yes, absolutely. The church is not just about Sunday school in Latin America and the Caribbean. It really has to be much more than that. We have many opportunities for ministry that go beyond the four walls of the church building or the Sunday school room.

Crystal: Well, I understand that you grew up in the Pacific Northwest. You’re a member of Covenant United Methodist Church in Spokane. Can you tell us about your childhood and growing up in Washington State and especially about any experiences that impacted your faith?

Desiree: Sure. I actually grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, a little town in eastern Washington State, a great little town, actually, to grow up in. It was a small town, about 30,000 people. My parents were both public school teachers. So there was a lot of great community there. I grew up pretty much with going to church. My mom tells me (I don’t actually remember.) that I made a confession of faith at the age of 5, and gradually grew in my faith through that. But probably what was even more formative, I was in high school and I went on my first short-term mission trip within the United States. But it was to the Crow Native American reservation in Montana, also part of the region. And that was really formative in my faith, to see … Actually it’s kind of amazing when I think and look back that I was working with children. And there were a lot of children at risk, but also vibrant and full of life. We did, you know, the typical vacation Bible school. But also we were painting and helping with construction projects and things like that. And I was really impacted by that. It was very formative. It made me really want to be a part of God’s work and be able to work with children and their families and help them to…just walk alongside them and to see how God was moving in their communities, and to move toward more holism, more shalom in their lives.

Crystal: I read that your son attends a school and maybe he still does or maybe this was in the past. But he attended a school with children from 20 countries. That must be such an amazing experience for him and for you, too, as for your family.

Desiree: Unfortunately for the last year and a half we are home-schooling him because the school went all virtual. But before that, yes, it was an amazing experience to be with kids from all over the world. It’s one of the international schools here in Tegucigalpa. And a lot of the diplomats’ families from all the different embassies in the capitol city have their children there as well as Honduran children, as well as some…there are quite a few NGOs—non-profit organizations—and other governmental, like USAID and things like that who live in this area of the country. And so a lot of those children were there. And I think one of the main experiences…. And then before when we were in Nicaragua he also went to an international school that was amazing and also just ex pats from all over the world. And I think what has really helped…. It has been a real blessing and help for him because he doesn’t even question people being different. Like, that example that I gave from my childhood. It’s just part of life that people come from all over and speak different languages. And at this school it was really amazing. The very first day we went just to visit the school. Several of the kids came right up to him and stuck their hand out and said, Hello. My name’s such-and-such. Who are you? Because they’re so used to having people come and go and from different places and cultures. And I think it’s a real blessing and a real gift that we can give him, to have those types of interactions. I call him my little global nomad. And he’s learning to interact and to understand lots of different things and people from different places and spaces.

Crystal: So your son is how old?

Desiree: He’s 10. He just turned 10.

Crystal:  You’ve had a pretty formative experience in your teens as far as something that really impacted you and your faith and your life calling. What kind of things do you see for your son that you may guide him into, to have some similar experiences?

Desiree: You know, it’s funny. Having a kid… He’s a missionary kid, an MK, right? You’ve heard those terms, I’m sure. You sort of actually want to try to create as much normalcy and just regular life for them. And so we have tried to always have it be: this is life and this is our normal. It’s maybe not normal for people who have never left the United States. But for him it’s normal. I’ve actually lost count, but I think the last time we counted, in his 10 short years I think he’s lived in 5 countries and like 9 or 10 different houses. I think that in itself teaches a lot of flexibility. It teaches a lot of openness to other people and other cultures. And I hope that that will contribute to him wanting to be the kind of person wherever he ends up who is open and loving and caring and loves Jesus and wants to serve Jesus. So far, right now, what he wants to do is be a professional soccer player. If he ends up doing that and that’s very cultural here—lots of soccer, lots of professional teams. And he follows teams here and in Europe and all over. And he’s very into that. And part of me as a mom and minister says, Oh, surely you can do something more. But you know what? If he ends up doing something along those lines I’m sure he can have ministry in the midst of that and have a wonderful way of sharing his faith just through his life. And we talk a lot about that. But you know, we live our lives and we try to be a witness to God and God’s work in our lives through our actions and as sometimes the phrase says, ‘when necessary we use words.’

Crystal:  Desiree, when you tell people about what you do, what’s your favorite story that you share?

Desiree:  Hmm, that’s a good question. You know, my work is not as exciting or interesting, I think, to some people because I’m not hands-on with the children. And it’s training and it’s working with pastors and lay leaders. But I would say probably one of the favorite stories recently that’s happened, even with doing…. My trainings are designed to be very hands-on, very interactive. We do a lot of games and things that we model that they can use with children and youth, a lot of drawing and diagraming and mapping out and trying to use all the parts of our brain and all the different learning styles. And that was really hard to adapt to a virtual environment, to Zooming all the time, or other platforms. But it’s been really interesting to see, I believe…. I’m trying to get one of our partners to get started in the process of developing our child protection policies for quite a long time. And we had it all set up for me to travel there in 2020 and then the pandemic hit. And so when I first contacted them again they said, No, there’s no way; our pastors and our lay people don’t have good Internet connections. We don’t have the resources to be able to do it virtually. We’ll just have to wait until you can come. And then time went by, time went by. Well, finally they also had to do like everyone and figure out, okay, we have to make this work virtually. So we finally got to start with a small group of leaders in that church. And it’s a long process because I really want this to become something that they don’t just believe as a policy, but that they really take into themselves and it becomes a way of life and a way of doing ministry. And we were doing the biblical foundations. We had that session. We did a couple other sessions. And one of the people who’s in the group, who used to be a bishop in his Methodist Church there in this country, one day.... I don’t know; at the 3rd or 4th training. …all of a sudden he said, ‘As I watched and listened to these survivors of sexual abuse tell their stories I realized we have to do this. We have to protect our children in our churches. We cannot let this happen in our churches.’ And it was like seeing a lightbulb go off. And when he shared it I thought, ‘this is why I do what I do. This is why we’re all of these different session,’ because I could tell him that. And I had told him that from day one. But he had to come to that realization on his own by listening to the stories of survivors. And that, I think, is one story of feeling very gratified that the process was working, that he was coming to these realizations on his own. And as a bishop—former bishop but still in a leadership role in his church—he has a lot of potential to really influence and impact the leaders there. And so him saying that and him participating…. I mean, we draw things. We do all sorts of things that are more like what you would do with kids. And he does it all. And he sends in his drawings and he participates. And for him to have that ‘ah ha moment’ was really amazing.

Crystal: That sounds like a really special moment for sure. Desiree, this episode is scheduled to air during Advent. So I’d love to talk about Christmas for a minute. Are there any unique ways that you’ll be celebrating Christmas in Honduras or any favorite Honduran Christmas traditions that you and your family participate in?

Desiree: Oh, that’s a great question. Actually this is one area where I think we hold onto our traditions that we bring with us, because for me Advent has always been a very special time and as a…. I also served as a children’s pastor in the United States for many years. And so as a former children’s pastor I really want it to be something that is celebrated in homes and by families. So we Advent every single day from Day One. And we have candles that we light as a family. And we’ve tried to share that actually tradition here. And they’re not used to it. And so it’s been really interesting to have the churches kind of go, what is Advent? What is that? We’ve never done that before. How do we do that? And I’ve been creating Advent calendars and things that they use, activities they can do with their families and at home. So I guess to answer your question, it’s the opposite of it. It’s not a Honduran tradition, but it’s a tradition from my childhood and my home and my traditions that we’ve brought with us, that people here, I think, have really enjoyed learning about and getting to know. And it’s something that I look forward to every year, getting out our…. We have a wooden labyrinth type thing where the candle moves. And we have Mary on a donkey and she moves with the candle and we light it every day. And we have a liturgy that we follow. And it’s been very formative for my son to learn about how we’re getting ready to receive Jesus once again. And it’s been interesting and fun to see here how the churches try to adapt some of that into what they do as well.

Crystal: That sounds really lovely. And I can see how that would be a very special time every year when you pull that out, that labyrinth out, with Mary. That’s really sweet.

Desiree:  Ever since he was little we always sing songs and carols. We get out all of our instruments, instruments that we’ve made. And when he was really little he really got into it and had so much fun. He’s getting to that age where he doesn’t get into it as much. But the musical pieces, especially here in Latin America…they’re very musical and they love to sing and play guitars…has been so special as well, to include the music and the tradition. There’s a song in Spanish that just gets stuck in your head where you’re following the donkey and he goes, ‘Dokee, dokee, dokee, dokee, dokee, dokee da.’ And that song we sing for months afterwards because it sticks so much in your brain.

Crystal: I love that.  Before we go, Desiree, there’s one question we ask every guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape. And that question is, how do you keep your spirit in shape?

Desiree:  Well, that actually was what I was just sharing about. For me, it’s music. It’s praise and worship. And when I was growing up I had a piano and when we had to get rid of that piano in order to come back to the mission field, I sat at the piano and played and bawled and cried and cried because it’s my spiritual connection. It’s where I worship, where I sing, where I cry, where I pray. And so for many years I didn’t have a way to do that. I didn’t have a piano. And last year I finally decided to break down and get the fake kind—an electric keyboard and a portable one that I carried on the plane with me. It folds up in half. And it has been so amazing. I didn’t realize how much I was missing that, to be able…. I still, of course, was singing and worshipping for me a lot of the singing worship and praise songs even on my own. But having a piano again and being able to play and sit down and sing is really how I keep my spirit connected. It’s a connecting thing for me. It’s a way I connect to God and hear God and just worship God on my own and also with my son now. He sings with me and it’s really special time that we have together.

Crystal: Do you have some favorite songs that are always part of the time that you have with your son?

Desiree: You know, it’s been interesting because, you know, the ones that I love aren’t his favorites sadly. So I’m trying to expose him to my favorites. I don’t know if I can…. You know, I have sort of the oldies. Like, I’ll do hymns. But also, you know, ‘In Moments like These,’ and ‘We Bow Down,’ and ‘Majesty.’ And so I’m trying to expose him to some of those. And, you know, of course…. He’s of the next generation and he wants the more modern praise and worship and things that have a little more rhythm and beat. But I would say some of those have been really special for us to share together. The oldies but goodies.

Crystal: Well, I just appreciate you being a guest with us today. I thank you for your service to The United Methodist Church and your ministry. We just appreciate all that you do.

Desiree: Thanks so much for the opportunity to share.

Crystal: That was Desiree Segura-April, a missionary serving in Honduras on behalf of The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries. To find more about Desiree and the work she does, go to UMC.org/podcast and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find a link to my email address so you can talk with me about Get Your Spirit in Shape. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s special Advent episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.