July 7th 2014
Three young boys remained on stage, all just shy of 7 years of age. Nervous. Excited. Squirming with anticipation, as they would each be called to the solo microphone to correctly spell a given word.
It's the annual "Concurso De Ortografia" ( Spelling Bee) in Copan Ruinas--a small town 4 hours into the mountains west of San Pedro Sula. The event is sponsored by UrbanPromise Honduras.
Five years ago there was little happening for children and teens in Copan. But a couple of visionary leaders had a dream. They dared to believe that a ministry could be built in this place--a ministry focusing on developing young leaders from this community. They dreamed that Copan could become a fertile birth place for leaders who one day could play significant roles in their community....and possibly start new youth centered ministries around central America. And its happening. Sixty percent of the staff are now local Hondurans.
But dreams need to start somewhere. Leaders don't just magically appear because of good intentions and pithy quotes pasted on office walls. Leadership is shaped through thousands of moments and situations that call us to confront our fears and build our courage....like Spelling Bees.
"Vaso," calls the MC as seven year old Elmer settles himself in front of the microphone.
Elmer pauses. Silence falls over the audience.
"V"..."A"..."S".......Elmer stumbles and looks towards the floor. I wonder what goes through his young mind as he searches for that last vowel. I wonder if he realizes that this small act of courage will embed itself in his collective memory, possibly giving him the confidence to face his next life challenge.
"O", calls Elmer, breaking the pregnant hush.
The panel of judges raise their "Si" signs. The crowd applauds wildly. Elmer breathes a sigh of relief, smiles and moves back towards his chair. He survives another round.
Ten years from now, when I return to Copan for my annual visit, I imagine I'll bump into Elmer. I'm hopeful that I'll meet a young man, working at one of UP Honduras' summer camps, serving as a tutor, mentor, role model for younger children in his community. I'm hopeful that Elmer will have a vision for his life, will have the skills and courage needed to fulfill that vision, and will have his own dream for the future of Copan and his country. And I'll remember that night, at the Spelling Bee, when Elmer refused to give up, when he said no to the voices of surrender, and found the "O".
May we never give up searching for that last vowel.