COLUMBIA — An MU senior on a mission trip is stranded in Honduras amid a government coup.
With the recent ousting of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, interim government officials have closed the airport at the capital in an attempt to block Zelaya from returning to the country.
MU student and Rock Bridge graduate Tyler Shields, who traveled to Honduras as part of a church mission trip in January, was scheduled to leave for the United States on Sunday. Airport closings have left him uncertain when he will be able to return home.
“My entire ability to come home hinges on Mel Zelaya and his followers in the capital,” said Shields in an e-mail interview.
Honduran officials said they would not reopen the airports until unrest in the country calms down. Zelaya was ousted because of fears he was trying to extend his presidency. Shields said he heard rumors that Zelaya planned to use underhanded tactics, including bribery, to gain support for an extension.
“The general consensus from the community is that they do not want Mel Zelaya back,” Shields said.
There are also people in Honduras calling for Zelaya’s return, however. The United Nations, the Organization of American States and the United States are working to facilitate a resolution between Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti.
Shields is staying in Choluteca, about two and a half hours south of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where most of the protests are taking place.
“I’ve never felt in imminent danger, but there is a slight scariness in being trapped in another country without being able to return home,” Shields said.
The scariest part about the experience so far, Shields said, is the curfew the interim government has imposed. Each day, the government announces what the curfew is, sometimes only hours before it takes effect. Because of the threat of imprisonment, Shields said, there are always people rushing back to their houses to beat the curfew.
All of this is a far cry from what Shields went to Honduras to do: Carry out missionary work. The Rev. John Drage of The Rock Church in Columbia said Shields went to Honduras with a group of nine church members but decided before he went that he wanted to stay longer than the others.
For the past six months, Shields has worked with the program Casa Hogar Vida to help AIDS victims. Drage described the program as an “AIDS orphanage” that helps children who lost their parents to AIDS find a home and educates youth and the public about the disease.
In addition to the work Shields has done for Casa Hogar Vida, he taught at an elementary school in an impoverished rural community and volunteered at a malnutrition clinic.
When Shields’ mother, Lisa Mision of Columbia, heard about the problems in Honduras, she tried to convince her son to come home early but to no avail.
“He’s very committed to what he’s doing down there,” Mision said. “He wasn’t budging.”
Mision, who communicates with her son on Facebook, said Shields has been to Honduras two or three times before but only for short periods. He decided to stay longer this time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, she said.
But Shields' visa expires Wednesday, and the Honduran government has suspended all flights through the middle of the week.
His father, Mark Shields, said although nothing is confirmed, his son is making arrangements to be driven to El Salvador and fly out from there Friday.
Shields’ mother said she is holding her breath until then.
“We’re on pins and needles right now,” Mision said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.