And I think to myself…

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  I see  trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom, for me and you

and I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”

Today, I found out that my good friend Pastor Bismarck’s mom died. I want to be there for the vela.  I want to mourn with my brother and his family.  I want to give him a hug.  But I’m here.

Will and Barry clasping hands in victory(?), Davey looking holy. Characteristically.

Today, I learned that Will, one of my basketball and ultimate players and the only person who has ever given me bacon socks, is not returning to Nicaragua for his senior year. When I was praying about staying for another year–even though Kim had committed to returning–I had three senior guys I envisioned working closely with this coming year, Barry, Davey, and Will.  They will be in Panama, Costa Rica, and the United States, respectively.

Today, I heard from a former student, who is dear to my heart, who is having a hellish time.  I tell my students that when they hit the hard times, I expect to hear from them.  I am a good foul-weather friend.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”

The age my girls were yesterday.

Annalise, our daughter, our Miracle Girl, is returning to Nicaragua to work with the SOAAR program (Students of All Abilities Recognized) at Nicaragua Christian Academy.  Her words:
“SOAAR helped me get through school, academically. It gave me the extra help that I needed to be able to achieve my absolute best in my classes. I’m going back, to be able to give students that know me a perspective of someone who personally knows what they’re going through, and to give back to the program that helped me out so much in school.  
Even though Nicaragua is going through a rough time, I feel like that is where I’m supposed to be, and God has made it clearer to me over the past few weeks. I feel like I can help people that are going through a rough time there, and be able to give some stability to people that really need it.

How did we get here?

Yeah, that scares us, and yeah, I wish with quite a bit of my heart that I were going back, and yeah, I’m trusting God for both of us.  Before you ask, “How can you let her do that?” or if you already asked it in your head, 1)She’s 18 and we’re committed to her making the decision, 2)We’ve talked with the NCA director, the SOARR director, and the family with whom she’ll be living, all close friends of ours, all gringos who are going back, 3)We believe this is how God is leading Annalise and we’re not going to veto that.  I don’t want to teach our kids about faith and then tell them not to live it.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you
Meanwhile, I’m living in Disneyland.  I love it here, but it’s bizarre.  I love the people here, but it’s hard for them to understand what I’ve seen or why I’m not just relieved to be here.  I read bad news about Nicaragua every day and I pray and at some point soon I will start trying to raise support for a ministry there because I have to do more than I am now.
Finally, I’m scared about what’s going on in this country.  Do people hate one another more than they ever have before or is it just louder?  How do I respond faithfully to what I see in love, as a Jesus follower, not returning hate for hate, but with courage and boldness and grace?  I’m seeking community because I know I can’t do this on my own.
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

Image may contain: 3 people, including Annalise Rumley-Wells, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Disneyland?

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Imagine you live in Disneyland.  You’ve spent your whole life in that park, except for a few short trips to Anaheim to watch the Angels play or In-N-Out to get the world’s best burger.  You see Mickey and Snow White every day.  

You know you live in Disneyland.  You don’t believe Goofy is a real dog nor Donald a real duck.  You’ve watched the movies and understand that Ariel is representing The Little Mermaid and Mulan is an actress wearing a costume.  You understand that other places don’t have Space Mountain or Splash Mountain.  You get that the Haunted Mansion isn’t, either one.  

No one knows better or more intimately than you the shortcomings of “The Happiest Place on Earth.”  You know that some of the staff fight.  You know that a lot of kids–and adults–throw their trash on the ground.  Someone has to pick that up to keep THPoE from becoming a dump.  Maintaining happiness takes work.  You also know that being in THPoE doesn’t magically make everyone happy, Magic Kingdom though it might be.  People still scream at their children.  You’ve seen children get hit.  You’ve seen children run away.  

In other words, you know the limit of the Magic.  

So you’re neither naive nor immature in your view. 

You are, however, limited in your perspective.  Like all of us, you tend to default to believing what you’ve experienced is what others experience.  You say things like, “I know not everyone lives in an amusement park,” but you’ve only lived in an amusement park, so you don’t know exactly what that means.  You can guess.  You’ve seen pictures.  You’ve heard news reports.  But there are many aspects to life outside The Park that you can’t quite picture.  

 

No analogy is perfect and every analogy, if stretched too far, will fail.*  I’m not trying to insult anyone with this one.  I’m not suggesting that suffering and tragedies we experience are less real.  There were ways life felt richer to me there than here.  

Being back in the U.S. after living for so long in Nicaragua feels to me like living in Disneyland.  This place is extraordinary, and extravagant, and has so much that strikes me as facade.  

Every school, every public school I see in our area, has facilities vastly nicer than any but the wealthiest private schools in Nicaragua.  I’ve seen poor schools in the United States.  I know they are here, too.  But even those have much more–of almost everything–than public schools in Managua.  

I’m experiencing some of the typical reverse culture shock.  Grocery stores have So. Many. Choices.  But I’m not deadlocked or paralyzed.  I get how this works.  It’s Disneyland.

Every car on the road is nice here.  I know, people drive around some serious wreck here.  Except they don’t, not really, not in comparison to what stays on the road in Nicaragua.

Where does Nicaragua get its buses for public transportation?  Most of them are “retired” school buses. Why did they retire?  You know why.  They were too old.  Too many miles.  No longer considered “safe.”  So someone got them to Nicaragua where they were wired and welded and puttied back together, then jampacked with riders such that some literally hold onto the rear door and hang out the back.

This is Disneyland. 

I’m not saying it’s without problems.  You could argue that some of our national problems are worse than those in many developing nations (not Nicaragua’s, since April 18).  But I’m returning to a life assuming lawns and lattes and golf courses and lawnmowers.  If one assumes all of those as “normal,” a world without any of those…

Okay, some people want to debate whether you can get a latte or find a golf course in Nicaragua.  Yes, and yes.  It’s not a perfect analogy.  But golf courses and lawnmowers and even the luxury of grabbing lattes are as far from most Nicaraguans’ experience as a loudspeaker playing “Zippedy Doo Dah” and Jiminy Cricket singing “When You Wish Upon a Star.”  

Don’t believe me?  Our neighbor, Mileydi, who became a sister to Kim, had never seen a microwave when she first came into our kitchen.  I once tried to explain to my friend Tito, when he asked me if I owned a car, about car ownership in the U.S.  He told me, matter of factly, that he would likely never own a car.

Have you ever owned a car? 

I know, some people in the U.S. can’t afford cars.  Can anyone you know personally, anyone you are good friends with, not afford a car?  Ever in their life?  

Do me a favor.  Next time you are at church, or a grocery store if you aren’t a church-goer, just pause and look around the parking lot.  Don’t look to see who has a nicer car than you, look to see how nice the cars are there and what the sum value might be in that one parking lot, in that one church or grocery store, in your one city.  

I’m trying to adjust to Disneyland.  

Again, I’m not trying to be frivolous with this analogy.  I’m trying to convey how wildy vast and staggering our resources, our wealth, is here.

 I say this with all humility: I consider it a privilege that I lived in Nicaragua and now the world looks different to me. We were able to do that because a lot of people and some churches (i.e. groups of people) shared their resources and helped make it possible.  It cost us, too:  years toward retirement, a whole lot of hair from the top of my head, whatever the ongoing cost will be for seven years of insomnia.  

I feel responsible for that privilege, especially in how I use it to impact others. 

So here it is.  We live in Disneyland.  I live in Disneyland.  We live so differently than how the vast majority of the world lives that it’s like Disneyland by comparison.  I’m not making value judgments on us individually; I’m not saying we don’t work hard. Neither am I demeaning Nicaragua and certainly not Nicaraguans.  But if we won’t see this, or if we convince ourselves that we deserve (or earned) being born where we were, I believe we deceive ourselves.  

I’ve just been comparing U.S. life (mine, at least) to “normal” life in Nicaragua.  The violence and brutality unleashed on the Nicaraguan people by the Ortega goverment–attacking and killing unarmed citizens, firing randomly into crowds, murdering children, denying all responsibility–drives this analogy deeper.  Yesterday I heard a “bang” that sounded like a gunshot and my brain whirled to place myself.  Literally, it took me a moment, standing on our property in the mountains outside of Wenatchee, to remember I wasn’t somewhere I might be in danger from gunfire.  

I don’t think I’m traumatized.  I didn’t dive behind the brush pile I was clearing.  I am readjusting to not feeling in danger.  

So if my analogy is at all accurate, then what?  

 

 

*Snap like a rubberband, I wanted to say.  But that doesn’t exactly describe it. 

Turn, Turn, Turn

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Okay, here we go.  Last night I twisted my ankle when playing ultimate for the first time since I got back to the states.  I haven’t had an injury that’s made me miss more than a couple weeks of ultimate in…years.  I’ve been tremendously lucky at this age.  But now I’m limping like crazy when I need to be going up and down hills to get our property ready to sell (and I mean hills).  Then, as a special bonus, my son vomited spectacularly at 3AM.  

I’ve got some heavy posts about transition and following Jesus in our current climate that have been swirling in my brain, starting to take shape.  But I think I need to write a different post first.

I got to do Alex and Jameson’s wedding in Austin seven days after I arrived back in the States.  They flew me to Texas, put me up and treated me to a glimpse of their city.  It was one of the best ceremonies I’ve ever done–and I’m pretty out of practice these days–for which I give all credit to God.  It was a blast. I’m not in my mid-20’s nor a newlywed, but it restored my hope in being young and newly married, because they rock and will have an incredible, God-saturated life together, spreading the love of Jesus and learning to live by grace!  

Our friend Erinn is visiting from Maryland.  Erinn and Jeff were our best friends in Nicaragua (in a series of best-friends who-then-moved-back-to-the-US*).  I’ve got I-don’t-know-how-many friends from the US whom I’ve never seen in the US.  We’ve been introducing her to our world here.  There’s something odd but satisfying about bringing disparate parts of your world together, even as it reminds you that your life is so scattered now it will never come back together. Certainly not here.

At the beginning of the week, our friends J and A gave us a car!  I’ve got to say a few things about this.  First, moving back to the States is incredibly expensive.  It’s a great chance to see God’s faithfulness because it appears that a ladle is dipping money out of a very small bowl, very rapidly, but somehow the bowl doesn’t end up empty.  We gave our van to our friends Juan Ramon and Amada.  We were told we could probably get $2,500 for our van.  J and A were asking $2,500 for their car.  Then she felt God told her to give us the car.  

Doing what we’ve done–I would say following God’s calling the way we’ve understood it–we decided a long time ago that when people choose to share with us, we receive it with gratitude.  It’s not very self-made-and-autonomous U.S. Archetype Man of us, but missionary life wouldn’t work if we could’t receive.  Likewise, returning-from-missionary-life.  It’s humbling, but not in a bad way. 

They gave us the car in response to a request I made to borrow a car while we tried to buy one.  We got six different offers to borrow a car in addition to the Toyota Camry we were given.  Six, in 24-48 hours.  

This move is hard, and my heart still feels torn not to be in Nicaragua, but our community here pounced on the opportunity to share with us.  That helps.  I don’t know why I’m back, but I feel loved and welcomed back.  And I see God providing, even as the bill to replace the hot water unit so we can sell our house costs more than the car we didn’t buy (Man, that’s a big ladle!).  

One more thought on that, especially if you read the above and thought, “I would never take a car from someone!”   We’re able to be generous because we know God will provide for us.  I mean, we were able to give seven years of our lives because we knew God would not let us or our children go hungry.  One reason we came back, probably my least favorite but a legit one nonetheless, is to reenter working toward retirement.  As Jesus followers, we walk in faith and trust God while using discernment and acting wisely with what we’re given.  Wise doesn’t mean, “Mine, all mine!”  Neither does it mean, “I don’t need to worry about my bills!”  I think wise means we walk close to God, with open hands, giving when we see opportunity, receiving when we see opportunity.  

Finally, as I’m trying to let myself be here, not wishing I were back in Nicaragua, not questioning or arguing with God or even forcing the inevitable grief and culture shock that I’m still waiting to engulf me,** I’m reminded that God meant it about “For everything there is a season.”  I loved being in Nicaragua–I mean, after I got over hating being there–and that makes it tempting to cling to what was.  I don’t know what this new season is yet.  I don’t even know why this new season is yet, though I could explain the reasons we moved back, at least somewhat convincingly.  I simply know this is a new season and that means God has purposes for it, most of which I can’t yet see.  I could feel guilty for being back here where so much is easier–life works easier here, in so many ways.  Instead, I’m choosing, and I mean minute by minute here, to walk with my hands open for this season itself.  I don’t know what God is giving us.  I don’t know what we’ll be giving, of ourselves and what we have.  

I just know seasons change.  

 

*Jacques and Amanda, Jeff, Jeff and Aaron.  

**As someone who deals with depression, I’m daunted that re-entry is a phase in which most people experience depression.

Police Summons or Why I Left the Scene of an Accident and What Happened After That

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[I told a version of this story in my last International Christian Fellowship sermon, if you prefer to hear me tell it.]

I left the scene of an accident.

I consider that one of the truly horrible things to do, ranked somewhere in the range of mocking disabled people and hurting children.

But I did it.  I drove away.

I did return, but the other car was gone by the time I got back.

Now I don’t blame you for judging me, but unless you’ve lived through a collapsing government, I’m going to suggest you hold off.

I’m writing this with one week to go in Nicaragua but I’m not going to post it until I’m out of the country.  Do I think there could be retribution?  I do.

I pulled out to turn left on the same highway where I had my horrible accident because it’s also the place I had to drive every day.  But his time, our country was in upheaval because the government had been directing violent backlash against the protestors. This also led to a lack of police presence and neglect of protecting citizens, which meant random crime and violence was on the rise.  I’m describing June 1st.  It’s still happening.

I used what I have come to consider a Nica driving maneuver for a left turn, pulling out across lanes of oncoming traffic and waiting there, so that I can slip in when there’s an opening in the lane into which I’m turning.  Is that a dangerous move and emphatically illegal in the States?  Maybe.  I’ve become accustomed to it; I’ll need to unlearn it.

An oncoming car slowed for me—which is normal since I’m in his lane and all—and I saw a sufficient gap where I could enter, so I pulled across—and got hit.  Slammed my front passenger corner, shockingly loud, and suddenly I’m sitting still in the lane and have just shouted something and my girls are silent and what just happened?  How was there a car coming at me where I’d already turned left?

I broke a Nicaraguan rule immediately: I pulled off the road.  I sat there and breathed and prayed and groaned and probably said a few other things.  Then I got out to look at the damage to our car.  It was surprisingly minimal, considering.  Our car has headlights and also lights below.  The collision took out the passenger side foglight and scratched and dented that corner, but the bumper and the actual headlight were, to my great surprise, intact.

I then looked out at the car that had hit us/we had hit, sitting stopped in the lane, as they’re supposed to.  Someone had gotten out and was walking around the car, leaning in through the window, walking around some more.  We looked at each other.  They didn’t approach me.  I didn’t walk back out into the road.

I circled our car some more.  I breathed some more.

Now what?  Call the police?

The police had stopped functioning as police.  I hadn’t seen a single traffic police officer in over a month, since we were in Ireland and it all went crazy.  It’s not like the States, where police cruise and patrol and you might see several randomly or not see one. Here they stand by the side of the road.  In fact, about 150 meters up the road from my accident, there was a police station.  I say “Was,” because protesters burned it while Kim and I were in Ireland.  Burned it completely inside, so that there’s still a building but it’s just a shell. Before things fell apart, I’d see at least two policia transito at that station, sometimes six, at any hour, standing there waving people over, doing their thing.

But last week our friend got mugged in broad daylight, literally across the street from where I just got hit, because the police were no longer a presence.  No, that’s not true.  The police were no longer a presence restraining crime and violence.  They continued to be a presence threatening and attackingn protesters, shooting at unarmed civilians,* and guarding areas the government does not want protesters damaging. The police would dress up as civilians and commit crimes and hurt people to discredit the protestors.

Do you call the police?

Here comes the kicker:  I didn’t have my license.

Context:  I’d left my backpack, including my wallet, at our basketball team goodbye party the day before.  Stupid, but such is life.

Context: Kim had stopped carrying her license or purse at all when she drove, because again, no police on duty, and having her purse taken now seemed more of a danger than getting pulled over without it.

Context: Kim’s first week-ish driving in Nicaragua, she got pulled over without her license and the policeman immediately threatened to put her in jail. Just a threat to get a bribe? Maybe.  Probably.  Scare the gringa.  She was scared then.  Since then, she’s become such a BA she would not have blinked at that—I mean, before this all went to hell and now we’re all afraid of the police because they shoot into crowds and use sniper rifles on unarmed protesters. Because just yesterday another child, eighteen months old, was shot and killed by police.

So there I am, with two daughters in the car, trying to figure out how I got hit, trying to grasp my new situation, and I realized, “I cannot have the police come talk to me without my license.  I can’t.  I will be in a potentially bad situation that I am not prepared to put my family through—I’m not going to risk going into police custody for that.  Not now.   Not with the reports we’re hearing.”

I stood there for a while and prayed the other car would drive away.  But they didn’t.  They just looked over at me, then the person standing outside the car got back in the car and they sat there.

I drove away. We drove to school in absolute silence.  But the thought kept blaring in my head, “My daughters now think I’ll leave an accident!”

I got my backpack.  A few people spoke to me and I acted like things were normal, because AAAAAAHHHHHH!

Then I drove back.  Crazy, wild thoughts banging in my head.

When I got there, the other party was gone.  Normally, meaning back when Nicaragua was its version of “normal,” the police would arrive, eventually, talk to both parties, look at things and take pictures while traffic somehow weaved its way around.  Leaving cars exactly where they got hit is one of the Nicaraguan rules of the road I have to question, but you could always count on that it would take a long time.  Usually hours. I was composing the Spanish to explain why I’d left, which would include neither “I ran to get my license” nor “I don’t trust the police not to hurt me.”   But no one was there.  So I drove home.

I told Kim I’d been in an accident.  To her credit, she didn’t freak out at all.  She agreed that I had to have my license.

Oddly, bizarrely, I then jumped back in the car and drove the same route an hour later to pick the girls back up from youth group. Because life goes on, even when the country is coming apart.

“I had to get my wallet,” I told them.  “I couldn’t talk to the police without my license.  I felt like it was the wrong thing to do but there were no right options and I couldn’t just see how the police responded now without having it.”

“Yeah, of course,” they agreed.  Then we talked through the accident.

“How was there someone there?  Wasn’t I on the other side of the yellow line?”

“Yeah, you were.  He shouldn’t have been there.”

“Okay, that’s what I thought.”

“He came out of nowhere.”

“So…he pulled around the person who waited for me and tried to pass there?”  Because that’s a really busy, crazy place to try to pass, even for traffic here.  I mean, a motorcycle still would, but a car?

We all concluded that’s what had happened.  The fact that they hit my passenger side meant they had to be way over there, because I was turning left, remember—they should have made contact with my driver’s side.

I still felt freaked out and bad, because that’s something I never thought I’d do, but the mitigating factors remained  1)the police here, 2)I thought the other driver was at fault, 3)it was too minor of an accident to have caused injury.

I was nervous for a couple of days, just moderate anxiety to blend in with the overall anxiety of living in increasing violence and chaos.  Or disintegrating society.  Or bordering on civil war. Call it as you see it.

But really, since they were on the wrong side of the road and the police can’t really be trusted, they weren’t going to tell the police. I thought.


Last Thursday night, I came home from a wonderful, gut-laugh-filled dinner with what I affectionately referred to as “Last Gringos Standing.”  Not literally, of course, but a handful of the remaining gringos of our community.  I had been fed and loved, which felt exceptionally marvelous because 1)my family had been gone from me since that Sunday, 2)I had gotten nasty sick with some chikungunya knock-off that was still close enough to cause me misery for four days straight and this was my first day back eating a real meal or, for that matter, seeing the outside world.  Not exactly how I’d planned my last hurrah in Nicaragua, even my adjusted last hurrah within the crumbling world around us.  But there I was, glowing with amistad and choosing to focus on how great Katie and Amy and Nate and Claire and Landon are instead of “Was that my last time hanging with them?”  That was a choice.

I got home and my neighbor immediately messaged me that he had something for me.  Cool.  Totally full, but our neighbors really love me, far beyond anything I deserve, so I was nearly sure they were bringing me food, since I’m living as a bachelor without a stove.

Juan Carlos walks across the street and I make a joke about bringing me more cats.  But it’s not cats.

It’s a summons.  I’m to report to the police at 8 the next morning because of my traffic accident.  It has my name on it.  It has the license plate of my car on it.  How freaked out was I?  I went over and checked that it actually was my license plate.

Since the country erupted on April 18-19, I’ve felt moments of real fear two or three times.  Mostly, I’ve just carried the vague anxiety/trauma that it’s coming apart, people are getting hurt, and it’s impossible to know exactly how to stay safe or to help.

But when I read that, I immediately felt scared, and more than a moment’s worth.

I ran from the scene of an accident, no one knows that I came back, and this accident got reported by the guilty party—which could only mean they were prepared to lie boldly.

Possibilities:  I’m put in jail.  In Nicaragua, during crisis, while uncounted hundreds (or thousands?) are being held in secret, indefinitely.

I’m not allowed to leave the country.  Kim and kids flew out on June 18th and I could have been in the US on that date and never have seen this piece of paper.  But now I’m here.

Is the other driver going to try to shake me for everything he can get?  That’s done a lot here. Some good friends just went through that, including coercion and threats, false witnesses, police seeming to have been bribed, and ended up paying over $4,000 on false accusations.

Or did the other person get hurt?  Is that somehow possible after all?  

Lord Jesus, hear my prayer.

I think you’ve grasped context enough to know that I’m not making up bogey men here.  My Spanish is still only passable if I’m with Nicaraguan friends who adjust to help me understand them.  I can’t go to the police station alone.  I mean, besides the obvious it-would-be-good-for-someone-to-know-if-they-jail-me.

I’m writing this calmly because it’s now, but I was Freaking. The Heck. Out.  Racing, spinning, cartwheeling thoughts of worse-case scenarios.  So do I not go?  What happens then?  Do I change my ticket to fly out tomorrow? Will they stop me at the airport because of this?  Who knows?  Sometimes information enters the “system” here and a lot of times it doesn’t and who can tell which, especially now?

Again, I’m not talking about “I did something wrong and now I want to evade responsibility.”

Just to bring that into focus:

I wrote my good friend, one of the best friends I’ve had in my life.  He’s been here longer than I, dealt with an accident or two, navigates the culture far better than I, and is not one to get ruffled easily.

He wrote me this, and I am quoting it verbatim except the names–

Listen, I hesitate about telling you this, because I’m not sure if you have a choice, but want you to be prepared and to be able to get Jairo’s opinion on this. This is a message that [a woman] sent my wife two weeks ago: “We changed our flight and left Friday. Last week was a very strange week for us. Last Monday a pastor friend of ours took our vehicles to transit to finalize the registration for them to get them out of [ministry’s] name. He let us use his name since we don’t have residency. The police ended up setting him up by putting drugs in the cars. They surrounded him after he left transit and pulled him and his friend out of our cars, beat them, seized the vehicles, and took them to chipote. Now they are charging him with drug trafficking and money laundering since he was receiving the vehicles from a non profit. It is a mess! We reported the vehicles stolen to embassy but not sure if we will ever see our cars again. [My spouse] was concerned about getting out of the country because his name was on the original donation contracts that we used to get car insurance. And then afterward found out the two attorneys that told us we could own vehicles without residency were wrong. It’s like we’re in a drama movie or something. Last week was rough. So we are thankful to be out of there right now.”
I think you need to be very careful at Transit. Just rely on Jairo for communication and be very aware of what’s going on around you.

Nope, not nervous merely about a visit to the police station, not even “just” a reckoning with having made a lesser-of-two-evils choice and seeing if I made the wrong one.

You get now why I decided to wait until after flying out to publish this?

My good friend also urged me to get everything that could be construed as anti-government or pro-protesters off social media. There are rumors the government is black-marking people who post about them. Who knows what’s true?

But I’m slightly ahead of myself, because I heard back from my friend the next morning.  I still had the night to survive.

I prayed fervently whom I should ask to help me and decided I had to ask Jairo to come with.  Jairo has become a dear friend and is extremely knowledgeable in the inner workings of immigration, police, and most of the other sources of red tape and tension experienced by expats here.  He’s also calm, godly, and bi-lingual.  He said “yes.”

That was my first moment of feeling slightly better.  Slightly.  So I did some anxious organizing, just for the sake of movement, prayed with intensity and clarity that I rarely experience outside of, well, crises like we’ve been going through here, and got all ready to go see the police the next morning.  Then I went to bed.

I tossed and turned, as expected, but did fall asleep, then woke up in the middle of the night.  Yep, that’s normal for insomniac me.  Okay, so I went to bed about 11:20 and now it’s…12:50AM.

Oh.

And that’s the last I slept.  Or I might have for tiny bursts (do you sleep in bursts?), but I’m pretty experienced at sleeplessness and this was not dozing on and off.  This was intervals of praying, futilely trying all the relaxation tricks I know, and having my mind generate new worst-case scenarios.

I gave up and got up at 6:30.  Then I read my friend’s message.

Imagine if I’d read that message before I tried to sleep.


We arrived at the police station. Everything seemed normal. It was much less crowded than any of my previous visits there. We were told I had to pay 100 cordobas as an automatic fee for the incident, regardless of fault. Then we waited for a long time, at least 45 minutes to an hour. I kept watching for the other drive. At last, a policeman came out, called me into his office, and asked for my version of the story. Jairo translated. The policemen showed me the drawing of what the other driver had reported, which was not how I experienced the event at all. Then they told me to wait.

So we waited. We sat and watched grainy (World Cup) soccer on an ancient TV. The police came and went. We waited for the other party to arrive. I tried to unclench my teeth. We chatted. We waited some more.

A younger officer came out and told us to go with him. Where? He needed to look at and take pictures of my car to help them decide who was at fault. So we went out and watched him take photos.

When we came back in, a larger, much more scowling officer asked me a question at a speed and with an accent I could not understand at all. I asked him to repeat it, which seemed to anger him more. He then stood a few feet from us and reviewed papers, seemingly on my case, for a very long time. Occasionally he would stop to watch the soccer game, then return to his papers and his scowling.

Two hours went by like this. Jairo was calm. My heart felt like I was playing ultimate. The pounding part, not the joy part.

Then a policeman, a different one than , came out and explained that they had found me at fault. Okay. No mention of leaving the scene. Okay. My multa (fine) for the accident would be 350 cordobas.

The cord is presently thirty-two to the dollar.

But no, that was not all.

As we were waiting for our next instructions, a police woman came out of her office and started to talk with Jairo. She asked a question that I didn’t understand and he said Yes, of course, and the next thing I knew, we were in her office helping her with her English homework. Active and passive voice, to be exact.

The last twenty to thirty minutes of our time at the police station was spent (passive voice) helping her complete several worksheets on English grammar.

When we finished doing that (active voice)—Jairo asked, “Do we pay the fine now? Are we done?”

And she said, “No, don’t worry about it.”

Then I breathed for the first time in sixteen hours.

So that is how I paid three dollars for my accident. Plus our labor, of course.

I am certain God answered many prayers for me. It could have been a horrible situation, and as we hear new reports of violence and cruelty every day, it’s clear this wasn’t just silly worrying.

I felt so grateful to be free and alive and not scared. Breathing free air was wonderful. Is wonderful. Freedom!

But I also remember and carry heavily that over two hundred Nicaraguans have been killed by the police in the past seventy days not for crimes but for trying to speak against injustice, for trying to have a voice, or simply for being in the wrong place when the police started shooting.  This week an 18-month-old baby was shot and killed by police while being carried to his babysitter.

Therefore, I decided not to post this until I departed.

 

*This video was taken at Metrocentro, a shopping mall we’ve visited a hundred times.  A friend who was there that day told me it was a normal shopping day, then suddenly stores were closing and owners were leaving with their arms full of merchandise.  Ten minutes later, the shooting started.

I Am Crucified with Christ

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My final sermon at International Christian fellowship, on Galatians 2:20.

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

It includes the story of my recent police station visit after my accident.

Running Out

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I’m running out of time.  I’ve got one day left in Nicaragua.  

I’m running out of food, running out of ways to feed myself–the stove and fridge have been gone for a week–running out of shampoo and soap and now, it seems, running out of functioning keys on my laptop.  

Today was, on balance, a marvelous day.  I had one more ultimate game with the Chiquilistogua guys, who I have come to like so much.  Even though I’ve  never played in a tournament on their team, they’ve completely made me a member.  Today they gave me a disc they had made with a photo of their team stamped on it which they all proceeded to sign.  It will be one of my favorite remembrances from Nicaragua, a trophy not of winning, but of connecting.  After Sunday’s game they went around and shared with me what they’ve appreciated about me.  I’m etching those words on my heart.  Whenever I doubt my years here have been well spent, I’ll read them over again.  

I said “goodbye” to my friend Pastor Bismarck tonight, though of course we said “Hasta Luego.”  We”ll see each other again, sooner or later.  He told me a story I’d never heard.  We knew each other for a month when he helped me buy my car, since he is also a great mechanic as well as a servant-hearted friend.  The car cost $8,100.  We had to pay that in cash, which we did by giving him the money to make the purchase.  The man selling the car was shocked.  

“Why would they trust you with that much money when they don’t know you?”  

“We’re both Christians,” Bismarck told him.  “They trust me because we know God.”  

The man, on the spot, asked Bismarck to pray for him to become a Christian, too.  Then he invited Bismarck back to his house, told his wife, and she also become a Christian right then.  

I’m not sure why I’d never heard this before–Bismarck isn’t exaclty reserved with his storytelling–but he told to me as a “look what your trust did” story.  He lifted my heart tremendously, which was timely to the Nth, because my heart has been dragging on the floor lately.  I hate leaving this country I love that is suffering and daily watching the government kill its young people and then claim they’ve done nonthing wrong.  I don’t just want my spirits boosted while this misery falls all around me, but I do want to believe that my time here has meant something as I watch it tick away.  

I’m running out of space, too.  Out of weight that I can pack, which means I have to decide which things I’m not taking with.  I’m not really into things, but there are a couple of extreme exceptions, the biggest of which is books.  I’m not going to say it’s killing me, but it’s wrenching away one of my biggest sources of comfort–if that makes no sense to you, you’re not a bibliophile, and if you ask one, it’ll make sense to them, I guarantee.  

I’m almost done in the house, which is fortunate because I’m down to the last coach.  It’s the only piece of furniture to lie or sit on left in the entire house.  I deliver it to a neighbor tomorrow.  Our dog, who has been my faithful companion during this stretch since my family left, also goes to where he’ll be staying tomorrow.  Kim loves him the most but I’m going to miss him.  

Obviously, all these things need to happen.  This is moving.  It’s a countdown.  It was my idea to stick around a little bit longer, to try to have good closure.  Because of my choice, it’s been like pulling a band-aid off a little bit at a time for ten days.  Not the best way to do it.  More time doesn’t change leaving.

I’m still glad I did.  I believe God has good things for me back in Washington.  I get to go back to some people I really love, in a place where I can see God clearly and smell pine trees (kind of the same thing in my book).  I’ll be happy to be back, even as I work through this grief, and at some point I’ll see what God’s got for my next gig.  I’m looking forward to understanding a little better.  

And having said all that, it’s been worth figuring out how to keep eating without refrigeration or conventional cooking.  It’s been worth the figurative hair on my arm getting pulled, hard enough to hurt, for ten straight days, so I could tell some people I love them and thank you, eat a little more Nicaraguan food (Thank you, Emma!), preach a couple more times, play just a little more ultimate, and give what little I can in the face of this horrible, bloody crisis.  

The only things I’m not running out of, it seems, are words and prayers.  Zeke and César, Andy and Byron, Gerald and Jeremias, Samuel, Andrés, and Adán, Juan Ramon and Bismarck, Mileydi and Juan Carlos and Dora, I will miss you all so much.  Lord Jesus, put an and to this violence and raging injustice, to the lies and manipulation and self-deception.  Shine your light so the darkness here cannot hide any longer.  Raise up the leaders to move this country out of this night into a day of restoration.  Bind up and heal the wounds of the grieving and the broken hearted.  

Thanks for reading.  Thanks for caring about my small story in the midst of all this, my ridiculous life where I hope God’s grace pours through.  Please pray for my friends who are suffering now and will still be suffering when my time here has run out.  

#Nicaragua crisis in numbers: 285 dead. 1,500 injured. 156 disappeared. 72 detained (currently). 201 liberated. 4 people killed /day. Average “This is just a preliminary report. We wish it were the final report. That will come when social peace returns to Nicaragua.”- Alvaro Leiva, ANPDH

Currently the government denies it has committed this violence.

“Do Not Be Anxious About Anything.”

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Today at International Christian Fellowship, which had many fewer folks than usual, I gave a meditation.  Pretty sure others would still call it a sermon, but 1)I didn’t use a manuscript, which I do 99% of the time and 2)I was working my way through chapter 3 and the beginning of 4 of Philippians, giving some commentary to build to a point about how we apply Philippians 4:6 in our current context…this political crisis

Sound starts at 0:00(!) but goes in and out a bit in the first few minutes–that’s what I’m commenting about.

Hitting My Wall–Plus Good News!

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The stove and TV are gone.

The eph key on my computer doesn’t work anymore.

I gave away our second dog today.  That’s when I almost lost it.

I’ve said “goodbye” to some of the best people I’ve ever met, many of whom I–optimism aside–may never see again in this life, and hadn’t cried for one of them.  Part of it is how I’m wired:  if you’re right in front of me, I don’t miss you. If I’m still hugging you, you’re right here.  Even after we’ve said “goodbye” and I’m driving away, part of me thinks, “You just them like 30 seconds ago.”

Also, I think trying to do this transition in the midst of Nicaraguan’s violent upheaval, I have my emotions packed down tight into my abdomen.  I can feel them there.  It could get scary when they come up again, but not yet…except when I drove away after telling Sonny what a good dog she is.  I don’t know if she believed me.  She looked like she had doubts.*

We’re trying to use up everything.  We’re trying to limp by on what we have left–you don’t buy more when you can’t take any of it along.  Moving out of the country is different than moving across the street or city or nation.  Kim and I moved 9 times in our first  4 1/2 years of marriage.  I was in seminary and a lot of that was campus housing changes.  We loaded up pickup trucks or just carried boxes until it was all movd.  But we weren’t deciding among the art we brought with us, kitchen appliances, and keepsakes.  What’s replaceable?  How much to replace it?  Is that cheaper than the space it’s going to take in the suitcase? I have two full suitcases of books left

I realized as I was again going through my clothes to make another cut for tomorrow’s yard sale–our third, second in the barrio–that getting rid of things falls roughly between sense of direction and handwriting, both in order of what I’m good at and my emotional response to them.  If you don’t know me, I’ve been lost more times than I care to remember and a sixth grade teacher told me I would not pass college classes because my handwriting was so bad (she failed to foresee the microcomputer).  I was also raised by a packrat father and have the same tendencies.  So forcing myself to get rid of socks, t-shirts and ankle braces that I may or may not have money to replace kind of twists my guts.  You’d think I was raised in the Depression.

On the upside, we ventured out today and make it to the movie theater.  That was our second “long” outing in the past month, what used to be a 12-15 minute drive that now takes 25-30 because we have to take a route that goes literally in the opposite direction of where we’re actually trying to reach.  But I’m not complaining; I’m grateful we could get there at all.  We saw Solo for our last $4.50 movie tickets.  Ah, I will miss that.  A lot.

Last times, goodbyes, narrowing, and getting by on what’s left.

These aren’t real hardships, but I can feel myself hitting the wall.

Now I’m going to say a few blunt things and then something hopeful.
Most of our gringo friends have already gone.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I’m not judging; they have to do what they believe God leads them to do, just as we do.  But it’s weird.

People are expressing a lot of fear and concern for us.  I deeply appreciate the love behind that.  But we’re not afraid.  We’re not in direct danger.  We’re scared for the Nicaraguans who have no choice to leave if it gets worse.  We’re concerned for the people who are working for a meal today and there is no work.  Our beloved neighbors across the street who have become family to us had us over for dinner tonight, as part of our extended “goodbye.”  They are beautiful people who love God deeply.

They’re also so poor we bring plates with us when we come to dinner because they don’t own that many.  But this week, a man has been working for them, helping build an interior wall for the house renovation they have going–slow going, to put it mildly–and he is literally working to eat.  That’s what I’m afraid for.  So yes, pray for our safety and wisdom and discernment–but please pray for people to have enough to eat and for justice and shalom in Nicaragua.

ON that note, I’m going to end with the news I just read: the dialogue between the Ortega government and protesters went well today, for the first time!  I’m cautiously hopeful.  They are calling for an end to all forms of violence by all sides, independent human rights officials are being invited back in, they will dismantle barricades …and tomorrow they will discuss calling early elections to elect a new president and congress and that Ortega would not be allowed to run for reelection.

Wow.  I’ll end on a good note.  Pray.  Please pray.

 

Oh, and yes, I am pasting in the “f.”  Every single time.

*  As it turned out, she had serious doubts and bolted on her new owner.   They couldn’t catch her.  Kim had to go help them get her back.

Strangest Day

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It is severely stressful to live here right now. Today I said “goodbye” to a dear friend and one of my most valued ministry partners. We had a great conversation which all returned to “But who knows what will happen next?” “But who knows how things will be then?” “But we’ll have to see what’s happening by that time.”

Today, meaning 6PM Wednesday through 6PM Thursday, is officially my strangest day of being a missionary.  It’s all been strange, if I’m honest; I write my blog, in part, to convey how differently life runs here than in the U.S., at least than the U.S. of my experience.

But today, we have a paro nacional, a nationwide strike.  Have you ever experienced that?  I’m gonna say if you live in the US, you haven’t.  Nicaraguans may have.  I have not.  What will happen?  Maybe nothing, more literally nothing than most other days, if all businesses stay closed, as they might.  Will the outbreaks of violence increase?  Who knows?  Will it help?  We’ll have to see.

Our school went to online classes a month before we finished our semester, but Nicaraguan public schools, which have a school year that runs from february through November, still have kids going to class (I’m not sure about tomorrow; universities will close).  Seeing them appear in droves on their way home looks shockingly normal.

My Nicaraguan friends I saw today continued to be kind and generous and helpful.  Also, someone snuck into our house and stole Kim’s computer.  We don’t know how.  I tend to remember on some level that a spiritual battle constantly rages out of sight of most of us.  Good or bad, I don’t focus on it as much as some do.  Today, though, in the midst of all this chaos and violence and uncertainty, when I came home and Kim told me someone had stolen it, that felt like an attack from Satan.  And, of course, someone doing a bad thing to us.  She’s very sad and discouraged.  We walked around the house for a while looking for it because it didn’t seem possible.  But it’s gone.  It would take a miracle for it to come back, so I’d ask you to pray for one.

In perspective, of course, people are suffering much worse here.  It feels like a spiritual attack because it comes at such a vulnerable, difficult moment. That’s my experience of the enemy, to kick you in the gut or the teeth when you’re down.

When I say “strangest day,” I mean being face-to-face with a national crisis like this. Living in the midst of it, where life feels both normal and really freaking strange.  I mean try to imagine a US national strike in which all businesses close.  Right.  So do we hide inside tomorrow?  The Nicaraguans with whom I play ultimate invited me to their spontaneous practice tomorrow–they’re playing because hey! it’s a day off.  Will I play?  We’ll have to see.

I played with them today, which is their regular day to practice.  I can’t put into words how good it felt to run and vent off the accumulated stress.  I’d noticed my nerves were frayed and I had to control myself not to yell at my kids for things that normally wouldn’t even catch my attention–and at which I should not be yelling.  I even told my son today that a few times when I had to stop and recenter and calm myself, those were not his fault in the least, but simply an affect of the tension we’re all living under now.  Ultimate players, we played threes.  Non-ultimate players, three on three means a lot of running–I mean a ridiculous amount of running.  I loved it.  I needed it.

I don’t know how our Nicaraguan friends are coping with the stress.  I think, as my friend Eric pointed out, US folks believe  we have a right to choices, to control, to getting to decide how things go for us.  I believe many Nicaraguans, especially those who live in poverty, have fewer expectations (or illusions) to be in control of every situation, or to have the power over their circumstances to choose as they please.  I mean, like we do.

But I can say, not as a generalization or stereotype but thinking of each person with whom I’ve spoken today, that my Nicaraguan friends remain positive and hopeful.  When I ask, “Are things calm in your neighborhood” and the answer is, “Yes, they’re fine, just one truck drove by with seven guys with their faces covered shooting guns, but just that one time and otherwise it’s calm, everything else is good, gracias a Dios,” I’m pretty sure that would sound different being described by gringo friends. Or me.  

So we keep counting down days, we keep breathing in stress, we keep trying to love the people well while we’re still here.  Tonight our friend Aaron bought pizza for everyone (thanks, Aaron!) and we had two Nicaraguan families and a temporary bachelor over for dinner.  We had a blast.  We laughed.  Of course we talked about the situation here, and about our stolen computer. Not everything was light-hearted.  But we celebrated being together while we still are and we enjoyed our friendships even though tomorrow is completely uncertain.

“I came to you…”

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My emotions are so overwrought tonight I don’t know if I’ll be able to write anything coherent.  But I can’t keep going around the same circles in my head and if I read any more news I might explode or have an aneurysm.  So here we go:

Jesus always, and I mean always, takes the side of the oppressed and the persecuted.  Always.

That is what the Gospels say.

In fact, the suffering human being is Jesus.  That is what Jesus says in the Gospels.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.”

“When, Lord?”

“Just as you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.”

When you fed that hungry person, you fed Jesus.  Symbolically, metaphysically, literally, I don’t know, but you fed Jesus himself.  That’s what Jesus says.

When you did not feed that hungry person, you did not feed Jesus.  “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat.”  He says nothing about whether you saw him or lived in the same country or had the same color skin or agreed politically.  That doesn’t come up.

I believe this about Scripture: we have to understand the context of what is written and then apply it to our own context.

So, the context of Matthew 25?

Jesus is telling his disciples the last things he wants them to hear and remember.  In chapter 26, they share the Passover meal (we often call it “The Last Supper” or “The Lord’s Supper”), and then Jesus prays in Gethsemane, is betrayed, and arrested.

In immediate context, Jesus says “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him…”

 When we interpret Scripture, we discern between passages directed to a specific context and from which we glean general principles, and those that have transcendent or universal truth, meaning they apply, basically as stated, to all times and places.  

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  Transcendent.  All times, all places.

“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”  2 Timothy 4:13  Specific context, not to be applied universally.

“No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.” I Timothy 5:23  You tell me.

Thus, when Jesus says, “all the nations will be gathered before him,” we conclude, with confidence, we apply it universally.

Now, Jesus gives a range of examples in this passage.  I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger (which, in biblical context, means I was a person from another country now living in your country), naked, sick, in prison.

Question: does Jesus mean rape victims?  Is he strictly limiting this teaching to these six categories?  How loosely or strictly is he defining his words?  Lots of people go hungry every day.  Does he mean the ones who are starving to death?  Only those?  The child on your block who is malnourished?  The alcoholic who begs for change, who has not eaten in a day and a night but might take your quarter and use it on more booze?

Here’s what I think about these questions: read the Gospels and tell me Jesus’ intent.  What is his heart?  How does he treat the woman caught in adultery?  The woman bleeding for twelve years?  Peter, after Peter said, “I swear to God I have never heard of this man Jesus!”  What does Jesus tell us the father of the prodigal son does, says, is?

This isn’t a test, much less a test with tricky, loaded questions.

YES, rape victims.  Yes, children who have enough to eat and drink but who receive no attention or love from parents or teachers or anyone else.  Yes, for the love of God, suicidal teenagers.  YES, transgender kids.  Yes, middle-aged, successful-appearing alcoholics, and yes, porn addicts and gambling addicts and…  Yes.

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.

So come back now to how Jesus always sides with the oppressed and the persecuted.  Who is Jesus?  What is his heart?  Would Jesus side with the bully or the victim of bullying?

What a stupid question.

Yes, I know.

Now tell me what we do about refugees.  Tell me what we do about victims of rape and domestic violence who seek asylum in the US.  Tell me, on what do we base that decision?

Tonight, I am watching the news blow up.  Tonight, in Nicaragua, innocent people are being attacked by the police.  But worse, they are no longer waiting for cover of darkness.  Now they are attacking in broad daylight.  It’s not really safe to talk about it, but neither is it safe for my neighbors for me to keep silent.  I can’t do anything to stop the riot police from attacking innocent children–my friend Andres said his brother was smashed in the face with a gun and two of his teeth were broken but he was not protesting, he was just at work.  All I can do right now is pray and ask you to pray.  Are you praying?  Do I side with the bully or the young man getting his face bashed with a rifle butt?  Which side is Jesus on?

The United States, as I understand it, just changed the law so that women who have been raped or brutalized by gangs in their countries, whose lives are in danger, will not be granted asylum in the US.  Yes, we condemn those gang members as “animals” and decry their violence, but we will not offer protection to their victims?  No?

“I was raped and I came to you for safety and you…”

Finish that sentence.