Fred Jacob


The task before us has been brought into focus once again by the crisis of Hurricane Mitch. It’s a call to breathe life into death, to bring good out of evil, to create new paths where the old ones are blocked.–Susan Classen, Mennonite Committee

The alarm begins its digital beeping way too early for me. I am generally more comfortable with the evening than the early morning, but in Central America life seems to begin at dawn. My reward is a glimpse of the dawn sky with the constellations Orion, Taurus, and Gemini bright in the western sky.

I arrived late last night to my Nicaraguan home in Somoto, which is located near the Honduran border in northern Nicaragua. I was returning from Posoltega after working with the psychological team attending to the survivors of the tragedy of the La Casita volcano. The emotional impact of what we saw and heard still weighs heavily on all of us.

The gratifying thing about the Posoltega experience is that there was genuine hope expressed by the survivors that we would be able to assist them in some way in dealing with the grief and loss that they are experiencing. The objective of the health ministry psychiatrist who is leading the team is to not only offer support now but to create a way to deal with the emotional trauma in the months to come.

But my scene has shifted away from northwest Nicaragua to the border of southern Honduras that abuts the northern Nicaragua frontier. As of two years ago there was a signed agreement between the health care systems of both countries to monitor the border communities concerning health-related issues. For various reasons, the cooperation has dwindled, and so the object of this visit is to reactivate the coordination.

Because Nicaragua and Honduras were the countries most severely affected by Hurricane Mitch, it seems right and proper that we should look for friendship and collaboration in this time of need. Also, San Marcos de Colón, Honduras, and Somoto, Nicaragua, have more in common with each other than with other municipalities in their own countries. A scant 18 miles is the distance between these small cities, and they are closely bonded by geography, culture, history, and family.

My portion of this medical team visit is to evaluate the potable water situation and to determine if the TASCA-sponsored water testing laboratory in Somoto has the capacity to test the water for bacteria and cholera on the Honduran side, where currently no water testing facility exists. This is just a small part of a larger health-oriented cooperation that includes vaccinations, fumigation, dental health, and sharing of health statistics for mutual benefit.

As the quote at the beginning of this journal entry mentions, it is time to energize and recreate newness from oldness. Recognize the difficulties, pain, and sorrow Mitch has brought and let these motivate us to create positive change. Take time to heal and console those who need comfort while working toward a future that builds on the past. Be aware of our own limitations, the beauty of collaboration, and the power of nature.

Mitch will be a part of my life forever and has made me aware of how grateful I am for having my eyes opened, even given the depth of the pain and sadness that I have been witness to. The emotions I experienced have and will influence the direction of my thinking, my work, and my heart. I have been ceded a new perspective on my life that I hope to remember so that it will continue to inspire and direct me.

Lastly, the hurricane has gifted me with a lifelong love and companion–for this I am eternally grateful.