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Seeley Lake girl helps
Hurricane Mitch victims

Erin poses with some of the "street children" in El Salvador. Many of these children sleep in the gutters at night and run the streets during the days. Erin said that while there is a language barrier between these people and English speaking Americans, there is no common language needed when it comes to hugging and touching. "These kids are wonderful," she said.


This 90-year-old refugee lost her whole family in the mud flows, which included about 80 people when you count all of the extended family. Relief worker Allen Daniels, just like the others in his group, spent much of his time helping the refugees remember how to smile and cope with their loses.

Erin Lindeman (left) and her roommate, Sarah Allen from England pose for a photo after graduation.
There were 23 nationalities represented in this class.

by Patricia Swan Smith
Seeley Swan Pathfinder
April 29, 1999

From experiencing how to work with the stench of dead bodies in the air to living with scorpions and cockroaches, local resident Erin Lindeman said the most important thing she learned while helping in Central America was that when there are thousands of dead around, you have to concentrate on the thousands of living struggling to survive.

And this was the case with Hurricane Mitch. Erin worked with the aftermath of that hurricane in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador in November of 1998.

Erin, 18, daughter of Ben and Jacki Lindeman, returned home after a five-month Discipleship Training School with "Youth With A Mission" (YWAM). This non-profit organization works with 20 to 25 students each session, and after graduation, those students can sign up for other missions.

Erin spent her first three months in the program on a Mercy Ship working with the crew and learning more about the bible before they headed to Central America.

"Our mission was to know God and to make God known," she said. "We went there to help the people and do ministry work."

She arrived in Nicaragua about three weeks after the mud flows. She helped take $2.2 million worth of medical supplies, food and clothing to refugee camps set up for the survivors.

"When we got there, many of the camps had no food and the people had been in the same clothes for three weeks," she said. "It was a real sobering experience to see everything so desolate. But they are generous people even with their poverty. They didn't have any food, and when we gave them cans of peaches, they would offer to share with us."

"And we had to change every time we went back on the ship."

"There was so much death, and when you walked through you could just smell it. It was mass devastation. Thirty houses in a row totally wiped out. Many suffocated in the mud and many died of starvation. They said the mud flows sounded like thousands of helicopters coming over the hill and the earth trembled and the slides took out village after village."

Due to the high potential for disease with such conditions, each of the relief workers had to make sure not to go back on the ship with shoes that had been contaminated in the field. They had to change their clothes and put them in plastic bags and the clothes had to be washed as soon as possible.

"We made six or seven trips to refugee camps each day," she said. She said that there were many other organizations there helping, and while she could not remember any of their names, she said it was incredible to see so many people working together to supply relief work for those ravaged by Hurricane Mitch.

Mitch battered the Western Hemisphere from October 26th through November 4th. The winds reached 180 mph, with gusts up to 200 mph. Rainfall of up to 75 inches for the entire storm were reported. The mud flows eventually covered an area 10 miles long and five miles wide. At least four villages in Nicaragua were completely buried. Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. Rescue attempts had to wait for days to allow the mud to dry enough to be able to get around in it.

Over 11,000 people died in Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, and thousands were missing.

Mitch was the deadliest hurricane since "The Great Hurricane" in 1790. Mitch is the second deadliest hurricane on record.

It left millions either homeless or directly affected; that's where people like Erin made a difference.

Besides dealing with the horror of the dead, there was the challenge of supplying hope to the living.

As Erin turned the pages of her photo album, she told of her experiences.

She pointed at the picture of a peaceful sleeping baby wrapped neatly in a blanket. This baby's life had been anything but peaceful. She had been swept right out of her mother's arms by the mud as her mother tried to outrun the flow. Her father and three brothers were killed in the mud flow. Miraculously, the mother and baby survived and were reunited.

Another photo shows an elderly woman with a wide gleaming smile. This 90-year-old woman's whole family, 80 counting all of the extended family, perished in the disaster.

Then there is the close-up of a little girl. Her eyes sparkle, and she smiles sweetly. With the aid of the relief workers, the little girl is learning to cope with death. Her mother and father died in the mud.

"It was amazing what these people had been through," she said.

Erin's group spent five days in Nicaragua aiding the survivors of the mud flow. From there they went to Honduras for five weeks. There they built three cinder block houses.

"It was back-breaking work," she said. "But it was so rewarding. We worked right next to the natives and tried to fit into their culture. We were not trying to 'Americanize' them."

And fitting in wasn't always easy, especially when it came to meal time. Erin ate Fish Head Soup and fried Iguana brains.

"I mean the eyes and lips are considered a delicacy," she said of the soup. "And then we killed an Iguana that had been killing their chickens, and to thank us, they fried up the brains for us."

And you may not believe this, but Erin said the fried Iguana brain tasted just like chicken.

When they finished in Honduras, they sailed to El Salvador where they used their time with ministry work. For two weeks they met with the villagers, visited an orphanage with over 400 children and worked with the "street children."

"They (the street children) loved us," she said. "They needed to be touched and hugged. Some of these kids live in the gutters. And while many times there was a language barrier, touching or hugging doesn't need a common language."

When they left El Salvador, they returned to the states, which marked an end to the five months of lessons you don't learn out of a book.

Erin has been home since February, and she will leave this Friday for Victoria, Canada where she will head out for a two-year mission with YWAM. She'll go to Alaska, Russia and North and South Korea. She will return home for Christmas, and then she'll go back to Honduras, the Panama Canal and then to the East Coast of the United States in the Great Lakes area to help raise funds and donations to continue the work of the YWAM.

"They are beautiful people," she said. "It's really rewarding work."

YWAM is based out of Lindale, Texas. If you would be interested in participating in this program you may call 1-903-882-5591 for more information.

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