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A short history of Professionals to the World

by John Potts
February 27, 2014

I simply agreed to take our children’s high school youth group to Mexico with Azusa Pacific University’s “Mexico Outreach.” I had no idea that the trip would trigger a small personal avalanche that would eventually change the direction of my life. After that first trip in 1988, we took kids down there every spring. 

In 1993 our son, Steve, spent six months in Honduras, helping develop water systems as part of his college program. Toward the end of his time there my wife said I should visit him. I told her I was too busy, but she insisted, so I went.

While there, I thought about all the youth we had taken to Mexico and wondered if maybe we could take a team to Honduras and do the same thing. God gave me the opportunity to talk to a church in the village where Steve had worked and in 1996, seven men, including myself, returned to present Bible classes. We were inundated with children, 350 of them. Two Honduran men, on staff with Campus Crusade, showed the Jesus film to 1000 people one night. That began our ministry in the villages.

For years my wife and I continued to take teams from the U.S. to minister in the remote green hills of Honduras. I was content to do this for the rest of my life, but God had a different plan.

Jose Luis Ordonez, the young Honduran with whom we worked, saw a desperate need in the national university in San Pedro Sula. He wanted to minister there, but Campus Crusade preferred that he continue his work on the Jesus film project. After much prayer he decided to leave Campus Crusade and go to the university.

Before Jose began his ministry there, a medical team had tested the 10,000 students and found that a thousand of them had AIDS. After a few years, partly because of Jose’s work with the students, and partly because of other factors, the incidence of AIDS had decreased significantly.

But now Jose realized how much more could be accomplished if he had a small building on campus from which he could minister. With this in mind, he went to the director of the university, to request the right to construct such a building. He knew this was an impossible request. No other campus in Latin America had such a building, and he also knew that the director had been educated in Moscow.

He told the director about his work with the students. He could do so much more, he said, if he had a small place on campus from which to operate. 

“Let me get this straight,” the director replied, “You want to have a church here? I know you call it a ministry site. But there is no way you are going to have such a building on my campus.”

Jose left discouraged, but at least he had tried. A few weeks later the director came down with an infection in his tooth that put him in a coma for six days. He almost died, but eventually recovered. When he did, Jose went to visit him to see how he was doing. Jose was like that, making friends with even those who opposed him.

When he walked into the director’s office, the man looked at him and said, “Jose, before I got sick, I didn’t believe there was a God, but now I know there is a God. Now, what is it you want to do on my campus?”

That was the beginning. A small building was quickly constructed. Shortly after that, the Rector of the entire university system met with the director of the university in San Pedro Sula. Together they decided that a bigger presence was needed on the campus, and asked us to construct a much larger building that would accommodate a hundred students. They also wanted conferences on topics of interest to the students, things such as dating, study habits and jobs, in addition to the work that Jose had already started. The building was raised that year and, along with its garden that covered half the campus, it became the most attractive structure on the campus.

The next year we took a team of professionals to teach at the university. We were met with many enthusiastic students, excited to hear what we had to say. The following year Professionals to the World was born. After that many professionals traveled to Honduras with the goal of motivating students and teaching them how to succeed in their future careers. Together, those men and women spoke to several thousand students.

This was a new vision for the universities and the impact was significant. Some of our professionals would have as many as six or seven classes a day, with 30 to 50 students or more in each class.

After several years though, things began to change. Although we taught at many different universities in Honduras, on each trip we had fewer and fewer classes in San Pedro Sula, where it all began. We did not understand the reason for this decline.

Then we learned that the building, which had been intended as a ministry site to students, had, in reality, become a church. Having a church on campus was in direct conflict with the charter of the university, which, like the United States, required a separation of church and state. Although the church seemed like a wonderful idea to the Christian community, it closed the door to our work there. The university closed the building, and it has not been used since.

Jose moved off campus and went on with his work in the church, while we continued taking professionals to other universities.

And then our ministry expanded in an unexpected direction. A few years ago, my wife and I were sitting in the office of the dean of engineering in the National University in Tegucigalpa, talking with him about Professionals to the World. I noticed on his wall a banner about the reformation of the university system, with a long list of things required. The first item on the list was ethics.

Well aware of the tremendous problem with corruption in the country, I asked him, “What are you doing about teaching ethics?”

After a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Nothing.”

“But it’s number one on the list for reforming the university system.” 
 
“Well, no one seems to know what to do,” the dean said. We then had a long discussion, and he asked, “Why don’t you see if you can find a book that will help us? If you can’t find anything, write one yourselves.”

We returned home and read through many books on the subject. But since none seemed right for Honduras, we decided to write our own. We spent the next four months intensively writing the book, Values and Principles that can Change the World.

It has taken several years, but the impact of the book on students and faculty has been surprising. Over 3,000 books have been sold to students, as well as many more given to faculty and others. Professionals from the U.S. have spoken at all of the eight national universities, several private universities, and the Honduran Air Force Academy. We have also met with many high ranking military officials and the head of the national police. It’s been quite an adventure.

We now have a new building on the national university campus in Comayagua, dedicated to teaching values to students. It is intended as a place where conferences can be held for all the universities. The professors in Comayagua are teaching the material to their students weekly. At some universities there may be only one professor teaching values, but at others, all the professors are teaching the material. To make the classes more than theory, the teachers are connecting them with social projects, so that students will learn the importance of serving. Sometimes these projects are life changing.

For example, an engineering student at the National University in Tegucigalpa wrote, “Often we go through life focused on ourselves. When our class in values and principles visited the children’s cancer ward during our Day of Kindness, my eyes were opened, and now I know there are many people in need, and that I can help and encourage them.”

Today, the committee that governs the entire university system has realized the importance of this teaching for the future of Honduras and is looking at the work in Comayagua as a model for all the schools.

Amazingly, doors have opened for us to work with leaders at the highest levels in the universities. At several schools, in addition to professors teaching the values curriculum, values committees are being formed to guide the process.   

As a teacher it is not easy to teach values to your students, since you need to be a model for them to follow.  As one professor put it, “I’m a very negative person, but I can’t teach this material and be negative. I have to change.” And that is exactly what is happening. A transformation of mindset is occurring in both the teachers and students who study values.

Our goal is to bring this change where it is desperately needed. God has given us this opportunity, and what a privilege it is to be part of this great work! 

Although Professionals to the World began the process of teaching solid values to students, the curriculum has progressed to where the universities in Honduras are now beginning to take responsibility for the program themselves. We continue to help and encourage them by taking professionals to talk about their careers. But we are realizing that it is even more important for those professionals to share their life skills with both professors and students.  

These life skills, consisting of such right values as honesty, competence, courage, compassion, generosity, hard work, responsibility and perseverance, are not usually taught in a classroom, even though they are critical for a life that works. Most of the adults who travel to Honduras to teach have learned that their families and careers have succeeded only because such values have become a daily part of their lives. 

And how do young people in their teens and twenties receive this instruction? Quite often the professionals who go down to teach are surprised and delighted to find the students hungry to hear. They want to learn how to build a career, how to make their families work, how to help their country. In short, they want to learn how to live. And they are eager to hear what we, who have traveled ahead of them on the path of life, have to say.

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