Archive for June, 2015

El Jefe

I was having a bad day. Not a terrible one – the sky was still intact, so that was something – but just your run-of-the-mill, subpar, woke-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed kind of day.

So in an effort to ward off that sinking feeling a bad day can put in the pit of your stomach, I threw myself into the work at hand: trench digging and pipe installation for our most recent water system in the community of San Pablo/La Grecia. “One shovel full at a time,” I coached myself, “just keep digging.”

As I attempted to lull myself into a work-induced coma, a tap from behind snapped me back to the present moment. “…Ehem, excuse me,” a small voice said, “but you’re not doing that right.” I swung around to see who had interrupted my wallowing, only to realize I’d set my sights a little too high; I dropped my gaze and there he was, a 3-foot-tall, baseball hat clad little boy staring me quite assertively right in the eye.

“What’s your name?” I asked, suppressing my smile to avoid offending how very, very seriously he appeared to be taking this interaction. “Luis Felipe,” he replied, “but you can call me The Boss.”

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For the next several hours, I trailed The Boss (a six-year-old going on 30) up and down the line where we were digging. As he walked, he offered feedback, direction, and critiques to the over 100 volunteers – all at least twice his size and triple his age – hard at work that afternoon:

“Let’s pick up the pace here, we need to get more work done.”

“Everyone over here should take a break, you look tired.”

“The talking over here is much too noisy, let’s keep the volume down, ok?”

(And my personal favorite, the frequent command of) “Back to work!”

As the afternoon wore on, more and more features of Felipe’s personality (besides the general tendency to be just the tiniest bit bossy) began to shine through. He had an irresistible thirst for understanding, for example, asking question disguised as commands (“Tell me how deep this should be,” and then, when I answered him, “Ah yes, that’s what I thought.”) “This kid could be an engineer one day,” I thought.

“But then again, he’d make a great teacher,” I reflected when he stopped all work so he could deliver a mini-seminar on the importance of potable water to a crowd of wide-eyed, admiring volunteers, occasionally removing or doffing his tiny white baseball cap to emphasize his point. “Or maybe a priest, even,” I corrected myself when he almost brought another group to tears with an explanation of the hope God gives for a better future.

“In any case, he’ll make a great leader one day,” I concluded as the day drew to a close. And then it struck me: he would make a great leader, but a few years ago he may never have stood a chance. Because, in a community like San Pablo/La Grecia, if the preventable diseases like parasites and diarrhea don’t get you, then the crushing burden of poverty will.

But now, once that clean water system is finished and his family’s Modern Bathroom is built, Felipe will never again face the risk of premature death by diarrhea and parasites that kills so many kids his age. Our Education Team will make sure he has the chance to study and excel now, through high school, and beyond. And through the support of our Economic Development team, his family will access opportunities to earn enough money to ensure his health, education, and development for the rest of his life.

In short, he’ll have the opportunity to become everything he might be, and absolutely anything he wants to be. And thinking about that, I saw more clearly than ever before a vision of what it means to do “holistic community development,” and why the nine goals of our 7 Year Vision are so very, very important.

I saw that by focusing not on fixing just one or two “problems,” but rather on bringing healing to the complex combination of factors that make up the reality of families in rural Nicaragua, we can enable someone like Felipe to be everything he could ever hope to be.

So all that to say, when Felipe gets elected President of Nicaragua in 2055, you can say you heard it here first.

I Saw a Man Walk Today

I want to tell you what I saw today. In short, I saw a man walk.

Well, not just walk: walk upright, without leaning on a walking stick or limping from the pain.

Of course, it wasn’t just any man. It was a friend of mine, a fixture in my barrio, my elderly neighbor Alonzo. For as long as anyone can remember, Alonzo has lived on the same corner and run the same tienda that sells the same little candies, chips, sodas, and about a million other things you’re so glad you can buy just one block away.

The other thing everyone remembers about Alonzo is that for almost a decade his ability to walk had gradually deteriorated, year after year of standing behind the counter eventually wearing his right knee down to the point that he could barely stand.

But today, as I sat at my desk, I glanced up to see something that made my heart swell. I watched my friend, our neighbor, walk right through the Amigos office door without limping, smiling instead of wincing from the pain, stopping to say hello to everyone as he easily navigated the sprawl of desks and chairs.

The difference, the moment his story (and his stride) changed forever, was a knee replacement surgery he received when an orthopedic surgical brigade came down at the beginning of this year. Taking on a challenge many consider impossible, they have come down two years in a row to implant dozens of state-of-the-art knees and hips into the aching joints of people like Alonzo. People who could never afford a surgery like that selling Ranchitas and Coca, people who were well on their way to losing their mobility and, perhaps as well, their livelihoods.

But now, thanks to the sacrifice and hard work of our friends in that brigade and the companies that sponsor them, Alonzo – and so many others – can walk right down the street and into our office, and you would never guess that not so very long ago that simple task seemed like an impossible dream.

And so I saw a man walk today, and I will never, ever forget it.

Embracing the Uncomfortable

“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on His behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” –Jeremiah 29:7

Last week we went camping in a community about two and a half hours from Chinandega along the Nicaragua/Honduras border called Nance Dulce. We spent the night to cut travel time and have as many hours as possible to work on installing water pipe with the community.

When we pulled up the Nicaraguans were standing outside their homes awaiting our arrival. They greeted us with open arms and warm smiles, as all people do in this humble country.

While a majority of the group started to dig with community members who were already hard at work, I stayed at the school where we would be sleeping for the night to unload mattresses and help set up stalls for bucket baths. Five or ten minutes into building makeshift stalls for the showers, it started pouring rain.

As my clothes went from dry, to damp, to drenched, and the hours passed, I found myself in a very surreal situation. Standing in the freezing rain, with no overhead coverage, swarmed by dozens of bugs, using my broken Spanish to communicate with the Nicaraguan staff members, I repeatedly asked God, “What is the point of making me this uneasy?”

When I came down to Nicaragua, comfort was something I hoped and prayed to find in this foreign land. I thought that if I was comfortable then my time here would be easier to enjoy and more worth while. However, as the days and nights progressed, I realized that my life here is, and will continue to be, the exact opposite of comfortable.

But faith isn’t meant to be easy. If God wants us to live our lives as exiles, then comfort may often be the very thing He wants us to avoid. When we are comfortable, we tend to settle and not seek the fulfilled and abundant life He planned for us.

Being constantly out of my comfort zone has challenged me to be patient, to take whatever is thrown at me even when I don’t know if I can handle it, to look at things I’d normally complain about in a positive light, and to constantly remind myself that I am here for a reason and everything I am experiencing is all part of the plans He has for me.

God put us here so that we could travel as nomads and follow His callings no matter how far out of our comfort zone they might take us. For in seeking the prosperity of where and who He places before us, we’ll find our own prosperity, too.


 

This post brought to you by Kali, a Long Term Servant Leader volunteer who will be guest-blogging throughout the summer to share her experiences and perspective on what exactly this whole “make Christ more visible in Nicaragua” thing is really about.


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