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Miriam Mondragon worker with abused children

13 June 2014

'I have been assaulted several times by gun, knife, and machete'

I'm a Honduran Viking.  I came to Honduras for 21 years from Sweden to work as an educator and missionary in the slum areas of Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. I'm working with abused children within the Association for a More Just Society, and as a Tearfund "Inspired Individual".

I don't know anyone who has been assaulted in Sweden.  In Honduras, I don't know anyone who hasn't been.

I grew up as Miriam Winroth,  in a small Swedish town near the Arctic Circle. My father was a doctor, my mother a teacher, and I have two younger brothers. I am married to Alexis Mondragon, and we have two sons, Hjalmar, who is 14, and Gideon, who is ten. We live in Tegucigalpa with our extended family.

We have a lot of family.  Alexis is the eldest of 11, some of whom live with me, and also my father-in-law. It's funny - I had a garden once, but my father-in-law planted a cornfield. I was praying that the birds would eat all the corn, but my prayer wasn't answered. Every Honduran needs a cornfield like every Swede needs a potato field. It's just in the genes.

When I have the opportunity,  I love to travel to Sweden in summertime to meet family, friends, and my church, enjoying that my kids can be outside without us looking for their safety. Those who know my calling understand, but many of my friends and family still ask: "How can you bring your family to live in the world's most dangerous country?"

Of the drugs transported from South America to the United States,  85 per cent pass through Central America, mostly through Honduras. The judicial system in Honduras is weak: there is a lot of corruption, and impunity, which is a fertile ground for the organised crime at all levels of society. Gang activity leads to a lot of violence.

I have been assaulted several times by gun, knife, and machete.  There have also been many threats towards our organisation, as we work in advocacy and denounce corruption and injustice. A colleague was murdered, another kidnapped, and there have been several threats towards the staff.

But I'm not assaulted any more because now I run.  I stayed calm, I gave them what they wanted, I even asked them for some bus money, and got it. Now I'm a mother, I don't want to die. You have to take security precautions: and if they come for me, they will have to run. That's my motto.

In Micah 6.8, God requests of us to do justice and love mercy.  I can't see anything that is closer to the heart of God than to defend and restore these children so they can begin to dream again, after having suffered so much. 

The rescue team focuses on restoring victims of child sexual abuse,  while the Gideon programme that I co-ordinate works with children at extreme risk in the slum areas. We have youth clubs, sports, a family therapy programme, and legal and psychological support. These children experience violence first-hand. For example, the place where we gather with the children in one community is about 50 metres from where one gang execute their enemies.

During the day I co-ordinate the work of my team,  both the operational and the administrative part. It may involve visits to the different communities where we work, meetings with key stakeholders, such as the police and prosecutors, or with networks of other NGOs. My job is to solve problems, look for the safety of my teams, and work out new strategies.

You are never prepared enough,  but, when you work as a team, things are easier to deal with. The rescue team consists of two psychologists, one investigator, a lawyer, and me co-ordinating the work. We support each other, and the results give us energy and hope. Now we are restoring about 70 girls and boys and their families.

They are in total crisis when first we meet them,  and they have special attention in that period. Then we work to build up their confidence and self-protection, and nurture their dreams. We do group therapy, excursions - doing funny things with them, because it's really healthy to laugh and have a good time. Small girls as young as 11 have been mothers as a result of sexual abuse; so we have to teach them how to be mums. It's a combination of therapy and doing things which take them back to life. They know that, whatever problem they have, they are important to God. Girls want to dance and act; boys love football. To get them to the point that things are funny again is quite a challenge.

When the rapist or aggressor is not related,  the children stay with their family, and we work with the whole family; but when it's a father, stepfather, or uncle, we often have to take them away and have them in some Christian children's home while they are still at risk, before the person has been sentenced.

We take the cases to court,  and I have a lawyer. We use the justice system and bring evidence to the police. When the girls see men helping them, and they have a caring relationship with them, it can restore their confidence in men. This is a very important part of their therapy.

The Tearfund Inspired Individual Initiative has helped me over the last two years.  Knowing that people are praying for me around the world is a great source of support. I'm also inspired when I meet Inspired Individuals from other countries, learning and sharing powerful experiences.

The Evangelical churches of Honduras are about 40 per cent of the population,  and they could make a huge difference if they became a prophetic voice, denouncing sin and injustice and demanding changes in society. 

I think the Church is an awakening giant,  perhaps because violence has come to the very doors of the churches: 40 pastors have been killed, the churches are extorted by gangs, and many members have been victims of crime and violence. 

There are revivals in the Roman Catholic Church, too,  but how can it be that a Christian nation has the highest crime rate in the world? There seems to be a segregation between church life and life in society.

The thing that is hindering them is fear:  what will happen if they denounce corruption and crime? No one says anything. We need brave Christians who are speaking out, proposing good alternatives for change, and pressuring the government and politicians. It's the only way. Without a little fight, organised crime and corrupt politicians won't give up anything. 

I want to start working with victims of trafficking,  a huge problem in Honduras, where many children and teenagers end up as slaves, or are sexually exploited in neighbouring countries.

There is nowhere safer to be than in the will of God.  Even in Sweden you can't protect your children from everything. I love my country, but I feel my place now is in Honduras. There are the challenges, but I can make a difference, my kids are learning that we live in an unjust society, and getting a commitment to the poor.

My husband supports me,  and works as a consultant in development. He is sometimes afraid - "You are taking too many risks" - but he knows the only way to change things is being brave Christians. And we are not alone: there are many of us who are living here and wanting to change things. 

My favourite sound is the sound of the coffee brewer. 

My parents and my colleagues have influenced me most in life.  And the Bible, of course, and biographies of bold and brave people standing up for justice, speaking out even if they have to pay a high price. 

I pray for the security of my team members,  who risk their lives on a daily basis. I pray for my family and friends that no harm will happen to them, knowing that we live in the most violent country in the world. I sometimes pray to God for our investigator to find a perpetrator, and that the police can arrest him so no more children get hurt.

If I could bring a person from the past to be locked in a church with,  it would be my father. He died of cancer when I still was young. It would be wonderful to share with him what has happened since then. I think he would be quite surprised.

Miriam Mondragon was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

asjhonduras.com; inspiredindividuals.org

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