May 9, 2012 Edition

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Dan Watson continues
father's work in Honduras

Dan Watson, with wife, Susan, returned to Honduras Thursday after a week-and-a-half visit at home.

John Bland

Dan Watson is matter-of-fact when describing his mission work in the country of Honduras in Central America.

"It's like any other job - it is a calling," he said while home in late April and early May on a week-and-a-half break. "There are ups and downs; some things you like doing better than others, but we feel like the work is going forward." Watson went to Honduras to become a missionary in early July of 2011.

Watson's mission work in Honduras is agriculturally based - the teaching of agriculture to help the Chorti Indians improve their way of life. He serves as director of the Chorti Baptist Development Project.

Watson, who previously served as vice president for financial affairs at Williams Baptist College, had been with the college for 21 years. His wife, Susan, continues on staff as the dean of students and adjunct instructor of speech communications.

For Watson, his mission work in Honduras truly is a natural progression of events.

His parents, Dr. and Mrs. Harold Watson, were Southern Baptist missionaries in the Philippines, and Dan grew up there from age five through high school, except for a couple of years.

Dan's father had developed an agricultural training center, the Chorti Baptist Development Project, doing similar agricultural-based work in Honduras as he had done in the Philippines.

Dan had visited his father in Honduras a couple of times, and when Harold Watson and other missionaries had to leave, there was nobody there to manage the project. "That's why I went," Watson said.

Dan had also been learning to speak Spanish and attending a Hispanic church in Jonesboro for a couple of years.

Basically, the project has worked with the Chorti Indians to teach them to farm on mountainsides that slope at 45-degree angles. Logging companies had previously deforested the area, which caused the topsoil to quickly wash away.

They teach the Chorti terrace farming, and to use hedgerows of plants to hold topsoil and help put nitrogen back in the soil. They grow corn and beans on the terraces between the hedgerows. While teaching these farming techniques, the mission of the project includes teaching the Gospel, sharing Bible stories and trying to start churches.

New youth institute begun

A new accomplishment for Watson is the recent establishment of the Chorti Baptist Youth Institute. The institute recruits youth, ages 18 to 28, to train them during 12 weekend-long sessions. The youth are taught agricultural practices, basic health and nutrition and very basic business skills. They are also trained to teach Bible stories.

"The idea is that they go back and do this where they live," Watson said. First of all, it will speed up the work of the project with more trained individuals from different villages. Secondly, travel is difficult on dirt or mud roads between villages, and travel is not an option at night.

Construction of small metal storage silos is one of the practical things taught at the institute. These silos can hold up to 18 100-pound sacks of corn. The silos prevent spoilage of the corn so that it can last for months after harvest. The Chorti can therefore double their money as the price paid for corn goes up or they can eat the corn, months after the harvest.

Some of the youth are Protestants, others Catholic and some neither, said Watson. They teach Christianity, but there is no guarantee they will embrace it. "The hope is, first, that they become Christians, and then that they share that."

Watson lives in Copan, a small tourist town that has a set of Mayan ruins. It is especially popular with the Mayan calendar set to end in December, he added.

Copan is approximately 25 minutes from the Chorti Baptist Development Project, and Watson can get there by car but usually travels by motorcycle because it is faster and cheaper.

Watson explained that the normal Chorti family has very few possessions. "They are very, very poor," he said. Many have no electricity, no running water nor indoor plumbing.

"All farming is done by hand, start to finish," he said. They use a stick or machete to clear and harvest the land."

The government has given the Chorti tracts of land, consisting of one-and-a-half acres, for farming. However, they may live as much as a two-hour hike each way to get to and from their land. "It's just difficult - all difficult."

Funding for the mission project is "fairly good," said Watson. Several churches in Mississippi, as well as First Baptist Church in Walnut Ridge, help support it. The Agriculture Development Foundation also provides funds. "Dad still handles a lot of that," he added.

"Sure, it's hard to be away," he admits. "I'll probably be away for the birth of our first grandchild. You miss birthdays and other special events."

"I am fortunate that I can come home regularly." Watson said he tries to return home for a week-and-a-half break every six-and-a-half weeks.

"The project is open-ended - it's meeting a need," Watson said, regarding how long he will continue this work. "You don't think long term."

"We (Susan and I) both believe this is what God wants me to do," he said. "There's plenty of work to be done. I feel useful managing the project and that it is making a difference."

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