MU student returns home safely from Honduras

Sunday, July 12, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — As soon as Tyler Shields walked off the plane, his mother screamed and gave him a big hug.  

It was an emotional reunion for the MU senior and his parents on Thursday evening, with Shields returning to the United States after being stuck in Honduras amid a government coup.  

“I breathed a sigh of relief when he finally got back,” his father, Mark Shields, said.

In an attempt to block Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from returning to the country, interim government officials closed the country’s main airport last week, leaving Shields to find an alternative departure route.

Shields, who was in Honduras for six months on a mission trip, said he was calm at first but started to get unnerved as the week wore on.

“I was so anxious the whole week,” Shields said. “How am I going to get home? Am I going to get home?”

Answering those questions was no easy task. Shields and his parents scrambled to make plans for him to fly back to the United States. One option was to fly out from neighboring El Salvador, but getting there proved to be difficult.

So Shields instead took an eight-hour bus ride from Choluteca, where he was doing his missionary work, to San Pedro Sula, a city in northwest Honduras.  

“The bus ride was not fun,” Shields said.

Part of the reason was because he was nervous about being in the country illegally.  His visa expired Wednesday, but he was able to leave the country without facing repercussions.

During the bus ride, Shields said he saw broken windows along the main boulevard of the capital city, Tegucigalpa, signs of the protests that hit the city in the past week.  

From San Pedro Sula, Shields flew to Miami and then to St. Louis.  

“It’s really weird to be back,” Shields said, still reeling from the culture shock. “I think I’m still processing things in Spanish.”  

Shields might use his Spanish again soon. He plans to return to Honduras as early as December to visit and might permanently return once he graduates. He said he wants to continue his work with AIDS victims and impoverished families.

Shields said he is happy to be home, but he has not forgotten about his friends in Honduras.

“I escaped the situation, but it’s still going on,” Shields said.  “I still have a heart for those I left behind.” 

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