Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Neighbors in Nicaragua

Me and Grama Ramona (see previous blog)
Luke 10:25-37 contains a parable that is very familiar to many of us, often referred to as the story of The Good Samaritan.  Nowadays the phrase "Good Samaritan" is a compliment, used commonly to describe a nice person who helps others.

When we read this scripture, we want to imagine that we are like the Samaritan.  We read it as a feel-good story about the average person doing good where the religious leaders failed to do so.

But the phrase "Good Samaritan" would have been a bitter pill for the original hearers to swallow.  When the Lawyer asks "Who is my neighbor?" he is asking a loaded question.  Jesus gives him a loaded answer.

This parable doesn't just challenge the religious leaders, who are shown as passing by the man in need of help.  By casting a Samaritan as the hero of the story, Jesus is challenging the religious and cultural boundaries of the day.  To the Jews, Samaritans were ethnic, cultural and religious outsiders.

In the parable Jesus describes a man in need of help, but does not give him a social or cultural identity.  He could be anyone, implying that anyone in need of help is our neighbor.

But Jesus goes farther.

The lawyer asked "Who is my neighbor?"

Jesus asks in turn "Who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The lawyer can't even bring himself to say "The Samaritan is my neighbor," but he says "The one who showed him mercy."

If, like the lawyer in the story, we ask Jesus "Who is my neighbor?" then we find ourselves not as the heroes of this story.  We are the guy who is beat up and left for dead.  We are the ones needing help.

We want to be the heroes of the story, but in this parable Jesus recasts us as the people in need of mercy.  And of course we are in need of mercy.

As Christians, we know that we are called to love others and help those in need.  But we like to be the ones doing the helping.  The problem is that if we establish ourselves as the helpers and others as the helpless, we are setting ourselves up over the people rather than entering into relationship with them.

We can only really enter into relationship with people if we open ourselves up to accepting the love and compassion (whether we think we need it or not).

This is why mission trips are so transformative.

When people come back from mission trips they are often excited about the work they've done - it feels really good to accomplish something.  They might get emotional about having our eyes open to the levels of poverty that we never see on a day to day basis.

But it is the people we meet on mission trips who really change our hearts.

We go in ready to save the world and we are changed by the kindness that they show us.

Barrio on a former dump
On my second trip to Nicaragua (over this past New Years), I learned that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

I went to a barrio (poor neighborhood) that was built on what used to be a dump.  The houses were made from branches and plastic tarp.  The yards were carefully maintained and everything was orderly, but the contaminated ground and water are poisoning the people who live there.

The people there welcomed us in and didn't just thank us for bringing groceries and clothing.  They praised God for providing through us.

They then prayed for us.

It was a humbling experience, and we were unspeakably blessed by it.  The people of that barrio became our neighbors.

And now that they are our neighbors, how can we not do more for them?

On that day, like every other day on our trip, several staff members from El Ayudante came with us to translate and to help out.  These staff members are some of the most inspirational people I have ever met.

Each staff person from the translators to the cooks to the bus drivers exude friendliness and welcome.  The translators are our guides as we venture out into the communities of Leon, but rather than standing back and watching us work, they jump into every project and activity with both feet.

We have shoveled concrete and dug ditches together.  I have watched them greet people in the barrios, schools, and churches, and seen how loved they are by the people they are serving.

They work tirelessly to combat the effects of poverty in the communities that they love, and they are patient with us as we do our shoddy best at construction projects, and awkwardly learn to pray with people through translators.

These wonderful people are by neighbors because they inspire me, and we have lots of fun together.  And also because I can't make a difference in Nicaragua without their help.

Me and Valeria
And then there are the kids!  The kids in Nicaragua are like kids everywhere.  They want to have their pictures taken.  They love hugs.  And like American kids they will totally climb up on your lap like they want to cuddle and then grab your phone and find your Angry Birds app.

I was excited to see some of the kids I remembered from last year, but I was also mindful of the fact that the kids in the EA after-school program see lots of mission teams throughout the year.  They might not remember us and that's ok.

Last year we did some work at the home of Winkler, Valeria and Valeska; some of our team members had also taken them shopping for school clothes the year before that.  When we finally got to see them at the after-school program's New Year's party, we couldn't wait to see how much they'd changed in the last year.

We said hi to those three along with all the other kids, and sort of asked "do you remember us?" They smiled and nodded and we could see some recognition on their faces, but I wasn't sure if they really knew us.

Then, a little later I watched from across the room as my team-mate Karin was talking to Winkler through a translator and telling him how she remembered going shopping with him two years before, and working at his house last year.

As he listened to the translation, his eyes lit up.  He looked around the room and found my face and said "Megan!" and then he ran across the room to Ruth Ann and grabbing her arm said "Ruth!" We were elated.

He grabbed Valeria and started talking and pointing excitedly at us.  Valeria's eyes lit up too, making the connection.  I gave her a big hug and she sat with me for awhile (playing Angry Birds).  When we went outside to break the piƱata, she sat next to me counting her candy and offered to share some.

I tried to talk to her in my few phrases of Spanish, but that didn't last very long so we mostly sat and watched the other kids.  When it was time to go, she held my hand while we walked back into the school.

Before I left I gave her a big hug, and instead of saying my normal "Dios te amo" (God loves you) I found myself saying "Te amo" (I love you).  I was really sad to say goodbye to this kid.

She smiled at me, kissed me on the cheek, and said "Y usted" (and you).

What a blessing it is to be remembered.  Valeria is my neighbor.

Serving others can only transform us if we allow ourselves to be transformed.  Being in mission with people from different cultures or whose lives are different than ours changes our hearts when we realize that they have more to give to us than we can give to them.

I receive an education in what it means to be generous when I meet people who have so much less than we do, and I see how they are sharing what they have to make sure that all the kids in the community get to eat.

I am amazed when I think of two young boys who grew up on the streets scavenging from the trash, and I see how they are just like any other boys, now beginning to thrive through the love and care of the EA staff.

I am humbled when people whose need is so much greater than mine take the time to pray for me.

I am blessed when I am remembered by people who I have met in the past.

Charity can get tiring, because we are constantly giving and there is always more need.  But when we enter into ministry with people in need we create a self-sustaining loop.  I am motivated first by my desire or obligation to help others, but as I grow to love the people I meet I want to do even more, and I want to work with them.

Moving forward, members of my team are hoping to start some more longterm projects with El Ayudante.  We want to continue working alongside the people we have met, bringing our resources to the table, and being guided by their knowledge of the needs of the communities.

And we can't wait to be reunited with our friends and neighbors down in Nica.


Blogger Merit said...

Thanks Megan...for reminding me this morning. Like you, i cannot wait to get back there.

8:19 AM  

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