Best Taxi Ride Ever

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 46

I don’t like taking taxis in Managua.  I would rather walk 5-6 kilometers in the heat and humidity than take a taxi.  Some of that can be attributed to my own personal version of crazy.  But there are various other issues, from feeling taken to experiencing my least favorite turn in the passenger seat while a stranger decides when it’s safe to go.  I do ride in taxis here, sometimes three times a week.  But I prefer to avoid it, when I can.  

The best taxi rides usually happen when the taxero is friendly and wants to talk a little.  I almost always ask how long they’ve been driving and if they like it.  The neutral ones occur when they don’t want to talk but we just go straight to my destination safely.  Sometimes they pick up another passenger and we take a circuitous route, once or twice I’ve offended the driver and gotten an earful (I do try to learn from my mistakes), and more than once I’ve had a strong hunch that my driver would not pass a breathalyzer/substances test.  I do pray a lot on those rides.

Then today happened.  Raindrops were falling on my head.  I signalled, the taxero stopped, I explained where I needed to go, he asked me how much I thought, which might have been a first, then tried to overcharge me.  I told him that was too much and offered 20 cords less, which was still more than I should pay, but I’m not here to haggle cordobas and I needed to get to school.  He tried to insist and I told him that my offer was already “un precio gringo,” a gringo price, meaning already inflated and an attempt to overcharge me.  He accepted my price.  I got in.  

Then I saw the taxero’s daughter.  

She started talking to me instantly.  She smiled at me.  She laughed.  

For the next nine minutes, I fell in love.  

“Cuantos anos tienes?” I asked.

“Cuatro,” she said, holding up five fingers, then four, then five again.    

“Tres,” the driver told me.  

“Como se llama?” I asked.  

“Naomi, Naoooomi, Naomiiiiii!” she exclaimed.  

Naomi’s father has driven a taxi for 10 years and Naomi has a brother who is 18 months older.  The best part of the best taxi ride ever was when her father encouraged her to practice her counting in English.  Naomi can count to five, and on five, she gives you a high five.  

I have had some nice conversations with taxeros.  I’ve met a few very strong believers and really enjoyed our brief conversations about God and faith and Nicaragua.  I’ve enjoyed several of my rides.  But only today was I sad it was over.  I tipped enough to give him his original price.  

I wish I had a picture of Naomi’s smile to share with you, but that would have felt invasive.  I’ve just got this image in my mind of her beaming and talking and telling me about the tooth she just lost.  You’re going to have to trust me what a beautiful child she is.  

Now it’s Nicaragua, so everything is a mixture of joy and sadness.*  Naomi rides with her dad every day from 2PM to 3PM because her mother gets off at 3PM from her job, so she spends an hour each day making friend and brightening people’s lives (that’s my loose translation of what her dad said).  In Nicaragua, the people in the front seat must wear seat belts.  If there is a law regarding baby or child car seats, I’ve never heard it nor seen it enforced.  Naomi was standing between us the whole way, her feet in the backseat but her little body hovering between the front seats.  

I’m used to Nicaragua.  It will freak you out to know that we don’t use seat belts in the back seats of our cars, but we don’t.  Our van–that is not currently running–has one out of the back five that works.  I tell you that knowing I’m going to get lectured, but you need to get that this man wasn’t doing anything unusual.  We see tiny babies riding on motorcycles between Mom and Dad.  We see little ones holding onto Dad’s waist on the motorcycle.  I’ve seen a family of five on a motorcycle here.  Those scare me much more.  

But it reminded me today what a bad idea this lack of seat belts is.  The same way I feel whenever I see a baby sitting on a lap in the front seat here, which is too often.  

Every day for an hour going through traffic all the time.  

Thanks, Lord, for the beam of sunshine you gave me today in Naomi.  Please keep her safe in her daddy’s taxi.  

Amen.  

 

*Maybe that’s true everywhere.  It’s true here.  

Friends Come Back

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 45


Sorry I haven’t posted lately.  I don’t live in delusions of grandeur that people sit around wondering why I haven’t posted.  I do imagine that, eventually, someone notices.  

Sometimes the darkness overwhelms me.  I tried to write a post about the school shooting in the Spokane area and about a horrible response to the young woman who was murdered in Charlottesville by a white supremacist who attacked a group of pedestrians with his car.  If that’s not an act of cowardice, I don’t know what is.  Someone from our county posted a meme mocking victims of such violence on an official county law enforcement page.  I dug for a response but couldn’t find it.  Maybe I will.  


Today, we had brunch with friends, the Whitings.  The Whitings lived here and served as missionaries with Servant Partners.  Then the Whitings moved. 

But the Whitings came back!

Part of missionary life is learning to live with the revolving door of gringo friends.  I’ve had three sets of what I would consider best friends here who all moved.  (Yes, it might be me.)  Now that just sucks.  Developing the trust and openness and honesty, figuring out if you’re safe to be honest and open, finding those people who will love you back and have your back and laugh at your stupid jokes, that’s hard.  And costly.  

I have some close Nicaraguan friends. Some of my Nicaraguan friendships continue to get closer, 7 years later.  Praise God. Very few of them have moved away.  

But these stupid gringos keep coming and going again.  Plus, as I’ve described, I do student ministry, so I’m setting myself up to say goodbye to young adults in whom I’ve invested my heart, time, and energy every single year.  That’s just the cost of using the gifts God’s given me.  

Today, though…today we celebrated good friends, great people who love Nicaragua who had left but came back!  Their story isn’t mine to tell–

Who am I kidding?  I’m a writer; we steal everyone’s story.  They left because their situation here was not working for their family.*  We grieved their departure.  It came as a shock.

Here is the normal process:  People decide to leave.  They either have a clear idea of where God is calling them “back home” or they don’t.  If they do, it’s easier to bless them, though not always easy to let them go.  Often I’ll have a conversation with them about how they hope to come back to Nicaragua.  We pray for them, they leave, they’re gone.  

One of those stands out as the epitome of these conversations:  a gal who had been working with girls rescued from prostitution told me how heartbroken she was to leave and described her plans to return. She had done a fantastic job of pouring out God’s love to those girls.  I gave her my advice about keeping that connection from a distance and the focus that she would need to come back.  Not long after that (by my time) I saw she’d gotten engaged.  She got married.  She had a baby.  She’s not coming back.  

I’m not criticizing her.  She went on with her life.  I trust she’s following God.  My point is, gringos rarely come back to Nicaragua once they’ve moved away, even if they think they will. 

Except that our friends did!  You learn how things work, you adjust your hopes and expectations, and then–surprise!  

When these friends left, they were also heartbroken.  We talked together and cried.  They knew they had to go, but they were miserable about it.  The fascinating thing is, they did need to go. We didn’t even talk about their coming back because that didn’t seem possible.  

As we talked today, as I got to hear the whole story of their coming back and not merely the Facebook messages version, it became clear that there was no route from where they were to where they are now without going back to the U.S.  They had to leave for this to work.  

In their case, they knew they loved Nicaragua and they had developed profound relationships here, but they needed a clearer sense of purpose.  We’ve experienced Nicaragua as wonderful at times and overwhelming most of the time.  There are too many people you can’t help.  To live here as a foreigner in the midst of such poverty, you must either find a way to make a difference or learn to look away and ignore the suffering around you.**

I’ve certainly experienced depression living here.  During one dark period, we seriously discussed leaving; I would have quit and left at a moment’s notice.  One of the things that helped most, perhaps my crucial turning point, was reaching the point at which I could accept my limitations and focus on doing what I do well rather than on how badly I was failing at what I don’t do well.  

Our friend had gotten discouraged.  He needed to return to the States, find his way back out of the darkness, and then let God show him how to use his gifts here.  They’re going to live in a poorer barrio again and he’s going to start an ESL program.  He’s going to help people learn English so they can get better jobs and he’ll try to give them a glimpse of God’s love in the midst of that.  

It sounds like a simple decision, to return.  It isn’t.  We live here primarily on financial support from individuals and churches.  Leaving the nation and the work for which you’ve received support, explaining to your supporters why you needed to leave, then explaining how you feel called to go back and asking for support again, that in itself seems miraculous to me.  Simply considering logistics, it’s not surprising how few people come back once they’ve left.  

Now here’s the truth:  I prayed they would come back.  It seemed like a stupid prayer.***  But I knew they wanted to be here.  I couldn’t see how it could work, but they’d left so prematurely, so abruptly, under such difficult circumstances…and I wanted them back.  I figure God knows best and we can pray for selfish things that are out of our power to control.  I didn’t tell them they were wrong for leaving–we all figure out how to deal with our own struggles–but at the first hint they might consider returning, I jumped up and down.  And I admitted I’d been praying for that.  

Having them to our house for brunch today felt a little surreal.  When people go, they go.  

But the Whitings came back.  They remind me that God can do more than we imagine–we were just talking with them about this today!–and just because I’ve seen things happen a certain way here doesn’t mean things always will.  That way lies cynicism.  

So welcome back, Whitings!  Thanks for the hope!

 

 

*This story is stolen with permission.  

**I’m oversimplifying, of course.

***Are there stupid prayers?  I’ll leave that to you to answer.  

Seeking a Level Playing Field

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(Samuel and Julio.  Samuel and I were teammates, Julio was the opposition.  Selfie credit: Julio)

Nicaragua Diary, Day 39

I’m going to say some simple, perhaps obvious things about one of my favorite topics. Perhaps you have not thought of them in this way.  

Today [Saturday] we had a “hat tournament,” an ultimate tournament in which people sign up and then are divided into teams that are roughly equal (that’s the idea, anyway).  This is different than a team tournament, in which pre-established teams sign up together to play other teams.

We played at Kaiser University in San Marcos.  They have a beautiful campus and maybe the nicest fields I’ve played on in Nicaragua thus far.  They really are level!  It is a very upscale college in Nicaragua. They were a wonderful host.  

I love playing ultimate in Nicaragua because 1)I love playing ultimate and 2)playing here almost always means playing with a mixture of Nicaraguans and gringos.  I like that cross-cultural experience for myself, for my daughters who play, and for our Nicaraguan friends.  In the last pick-up game we played a week ago, my daughter and I were each the token gringo or gringa on our teams.

Many of the Nicaraguans who played in the tournament today live in poverty.  A few who played are closer to middle class and maybe a couple are better off.  The most athletic player on our team played in tennis shoes all day and still outjumped and outran the competition who were playing in cleats.  That wasn’t a strategic decision; he can’t afford to go buy cleats.*

I have a drawer full of quick-dry sports shirts.  In fact, I have two drawers full, because the nicer ones I wear for my daily life, while the stained and aged ones I wear for sports (have I mentioned this is the tropics)?  For our Sunday games, I often bring 4-5 white ones and 4-5 dark ones, so that when we play light shirts against dark shirts, the Nicaraguans who don’t have a spare light or dark can borrow them.

A wonderful thing about sports in general, and about ultimate in particular, is that it takes no account of socio-economic standing.  If you can run, throw, catch, and play defense, you are an ultimate player.  If you can do those things well, people want you on their team.  Everyone can improve at those things by practicing.  Not everyone is naturally or temperamentally inclined to play ultimate, but for those who are, it’s a great leveler.

Today we had quite a mixture of players on our team.  I know some of them come from abusive homes.  I know some of them don’t always get enough to eat.  I can’t solve those problems in a Saturday afternoon.  But I can play hard with them and high five them; I can affirm them and share life with them–one of my favorite parts of life.

Trying to build relationships with other people always has its challenges; trying to build friendships with those who live in poverty can be even more complex.  This needs to be its own post, but the constant awareness of inequity, the vast difference between having some margin financially and surviving day to day brings another set of hurdles to authentic, mutual understanding and trust.   Sports don’t magically erase those, but sports do allow a space in which they can be set aside while we connect.  Running to exhaustion while chasing a disc together bonds us.  

I love that my daughters play and keep getting better.  I love that we got to be on the same team today.  I love that they get to be part of this intercultural experience.

I also play fútbol (soccer) with Nicaraguans sometimes, but I’m not very good.  That means I don’t have the same currency to spend as I do playing ultimate.  If I tell a Nicaraguan teammate in soccer, “Hey, great play, you’re amazing,” he or she is thinking, “Uh, yeah, thanks, Gringo, you suck” or “isn’t that cute?  The old gringo thinks I’m good” (except in Spanish).

But I’m good at ultimate.  For the level we play here, I receive a certain level of respect because that’s how sports work.  This means I can spend that currency of respect given to me to puff myself up or to empower and affirm others.  I’m an enthusiastic teammate.  A teammate of mine in the U.S. once declared, “You’re the adrenal gland of the team!”

A fellow gringo player here once speculated on how many high fives I’ve given out in my life– on every point I play, I almost always give every person on my team a five after we score. Usually I give a few when we get scored on.   Often I’ll give them to opposing players as we’re passing to prepare to start the next point.

These are the obvious things I’m saying: First, sports works in a developing world cross-cultural setting because they offer everyone with athletic ability (or even just cussed determination) a chance to participate.  Today’s was a tournament particularly geared toward new Nicaraguan players put on by an organization called Breaking Borders.  The entry fee was 60 cordobas ($2).

Ultimate is particularly cheap because you can play the whole game with no special equipment other than a round piece of plastic which you can get for $5 to $8.  Cleats help but you can play without them.

Second, ultimate offers me the opportunity to build others up, to encourage and affirm and teach them.  Is it a big deal if someone is good at ultimate?  I’ll answer the question with a question:  is it a big deal if people feel loved and accepted and empowered?  Ultimate may be the only place in some of my teammates’ lives where that happens.  I’m 48, I’m slowing down, I’m not cool, and my Spanish still sucks.  But I can try to be the face of Jesus to a few young people because I can throw a disc well.

I like winning and sometimes I get a little distracted from what’s really important in being on the ultimate field.  I do play hard because in sports I believe this is respecting yourself and your opponent.  But today was a good reminder of what else ultimate can offer: a chance to be on equal footing in a country, in  a world, where people are valued for what they have and not who they are.  

 

 

*Playing ultimate, which requires sprinting, cutting, stopping, and jumping on grass, works better in cleats. 

A First (For Me)

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 33

I preached yesterday.  It went well, thank God.

Before I preached, I had a first.  

I’ve been preaching for a long time now.  I’ve had a flat tire when I needed for church.  I’ve been pulled over on the way to church.  I’ve left my zipper down and had my wife point it out right before I went up for the sermon.  I’ve had a printer fail to produce my sermon manuscript and gone without.*  I’ve misnumbered my manuscript pages, spilled water on them, had the wind blow them all off my lectern.   

I’ve jettisoned the sermon I’d written and preached on something else entirely, on the spot, I believe at God’s prompting.  

And fairly recently, I all but face planted while walking up to preach.  

So I start to imagine that I’m running out of new experiences for what can go wrong or make those last, already-nauseating moments right beforehand even more exciting.  

At International Christian Fellowship, we have headset mics.  They work pretty well.  I always struggle to put them on right.  It’s just one of those things. One of my worst preaching experiences–not at ICF–I put the headset on wrong and spent the entire sermon tugging it back down while the mic tried to climb up my temple.  So I’m always a little nervous to get them on correctly.  Even though I’ve put them on a bunch of times, I always get them on wrong at first and then I’m wrestling with them and trying to adjust them. 

Consequently, I’ve stopped using the men’s restroom in the auditorium where we meet to make these adjustments/have this wrestling match because I’ve learned that a)it always happens, b)having other guys walking in and out, watching me, maybe saying, “Good luck up there, you’ll need it,” does not, in fact, calm my nerves.

Instead, I grab my wife’s keys–ICF meets at our school–and head to the administration building where I can let myself in, have a restroom all to myself, take as long as necessary to put my mic on wrong then relearn how to put it on correctly, and triple check my zipper.  I usually go during the offering song so  that I can hear the progress, plus we’ll have another song before the sermon, the one we sing while the kids are racing off to their Sunday school classes.  

One final detail:  Kim’s keys are on a long, red loop string, basically a shoelace with six keys on it and no ends.  An eternal circle.  

I had the keys and the headset in my hand, I was hurrying to unlock the admin door, and just then I noticed that the key string had somehow closed in a perfect knot on the headset cord.  I mean beautiful, the kind of knot I could have instructions to tie and would still fail.  

Now understand, if you’ve never preached before, that the last 5-20 minutes before preaching I forget why I enjoy my calling and work very hard to keep down my breakfast.  Sometimes I feel exactly the same as when I’m on a boat on choppy water–and I’m badly prone to seasickness.  

So when I noticed this lovely knot, my reaction was not, “Hm, that’s not good, I should carefully examine this and untangle it in the exact same pattern but in reverse, because that would be a good, rational strategy.”  No, I thought, “Oh, Dang!’ and pulled on it.  The headset cord is attached to the little box you clip to your belt.  The ends of the headset cord are these flimsy little wire-and-plastic hooks that go your ears to position the mic correctly.  There is no proper end anywhere that you can just work carefully through the gnarl.  I did learn, though, that the hooks can somehow make the knot worse, since the cord runs off in two directions to meet up with them, lots of slack but nothing small enough to thread through.  

If you’ve ever fought with Christmas ornament hooks or old wire hangers, you probably know the sensation I experienced next, which is “This isn’t possible.  There isn’t enough available material to make such a huge tangle.”  Somehow the sum total of shoe lace and mic cord had tripled and most of it was now in a ball that tightened no matter which direction I pulled or pushed.

I suppose now is a good time to mention that, while God bestowed upon me the gift of gross motor skills which enable me to catch a disc and a baseball and shoot a basketball, I did not receive fine motor skills in equal abundance.  Or any abundance.  My handwriting is atrocious, I despise playing Pictionary, and art was the class I came closest to failing in grade school.  Threading a needle, for me, is the equivalent of hitting a bullseye on a dartboard from fifty yards away.**

Did I mention that I could hear the song being played back in church?  It was now half over.  I’m still standing outside the admin building, wondering with that stupid part of my brain how this will look if someone walks by.  I finally fumble for the keys so I can unlock the door and go inside to face my Gordian knot. 

Oh, yeah, one more thing.  Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, which meant there was no Sunday school nor Sunday school dismissal song…which meant when the current song was over, I was up.  

Have you seen the movie Dunkirk?  It’s excellent, truly a work of cinematic art, in my opinion, though very violent and disturbing.  No spoilers, except this one:  the soundtrack is a masterpiece.  A ticking begins when the conflict starts and it exacerbates the tension.  I heard that ticking in the bathroom.  

Song is now nearly over, I’m seriously considering leaving Kim’s keys and this ball of disaster and just getting one of the handheld microphones, which would appear bizarre to the sound crew but perhaps slightly less bizarre than having a red shoelace keychain jingling between my chin and chest while preaching.  

Tick, tick, tick…

At this moment, with less than sixty seconds before I need to be walking up to preach, it occurs to me:  I can unplug the cord from the little box. Yes, I’ve been praying–fervently–this whole time, and yes, that thought just hit home.***

…tick, tick, tick…

The next forty-five seconds are a blur of clumsy fingers and wires and string and keys.

…tick, tick, tick..

And then somehow, the keys disentangle and fall to the floor.

…tick, tick, tick…

I’ve got maybe 15 seconds and my mic isn’t on yet.  Slam it behind my ears and hope it’s right the first time, this once.

…tick, tick, tick…

 Snake that blessed cord down through my shirt so I don’t catch it when I’m gesticulating and have it rip the headset off, like that one time.

…tick, tick, tick…

Back through the doors, last note fading, musicians just starting  to exit the stage, and I’m scooping up my Bible, manuscript, and water bottle as I stride by my seat and my kids to (don’t puke) stand up in front and, 

“Good morning.”  

 

And the sermon went really well.  God’s funny like that.  

 

 

 

*Of course, once that happened, I never left printing to the last minute ever again.  Yep.  And once I realized it was embarrassing to be late, I was never late again.  

**Okay, that’s hyperbole.  Forty.

*** In fairness to me, some of the headsets unplug and others I’ve tried but those cords would not come out for me.  They probably all unplug, but some come out so hard it feels like I’m about to rip the wires out instead of the plug, so I don’t try.  

Manuscript: Blessed Are the Shalom Makers

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In Houston, where flooding has displaced 42,400 people as of Friday, a man who owns a giant mattress warehouse took in refugees from the storm. He let them stay in his store and sleep on his new furniture. He sent out his delivery trucks and helped carry over 200 people out of the water to safety. He has a National Guard company on break sleeping on his beds. Mattress Mack. I was watching a news clip of this and there was a woman and her little dog, sitting on a $9,000 couch. I don’t know if he has “help people suddenly homeless from hurricanes” insurance. But I know what I saw.

I saw another video clip about a program for holding babies who are drug addicted at birth. When a mother is doing drugs while pregnant, her baby can be born already addicted. They’ve studied how these children suffer withdrawal from the time they are born and what can be done to help them. Do you know what helps them heal faster, reduces symptoms of withdrawal, and allows them to give the babies less medication? Cuddling. Having someone sit and cuddle these impoverished, addicted-at-birth babies. Physical contact and affection.

In Matthew 5, verse 9, in the midst of Jesus longest and, arguably,’ most central teaching, He declares “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Here it is in context:

 5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I watched this video of men and women holding these tiny, helpless, suffering babies and I started weeping. And it struck me: this makes me cry because I’m seeing what love looks like. A tiny glimpse. The babies can’t pay these people back. The drug-addicted moms won’t be. They’re just loving for love’s sake, loving someone suffering, loving someone who can’t repay them. I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Children of God. People who resemble God, who are made in God’s image and act like Jesus, who love like God. God’s own children. God’s image in the world, love with God’s Spirit, incarnate in the world.

I cry when I see this video because these babies are so helpless, such innocent victims, but even more I cry because that’s what God’s love looks like. That’s a snapshot.

The biblical word for “peace” is Shalom, a Hebrew word, and it’s one of the coolest words in Scripture. Strong’s concordance defines Shalom as completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It means reconciliation and right relationship in all dimensions. Shalom means living in right relationship with one another. Shalom means being in true relationship with God.

John Driver defines Shalom this way: It meant well-being, or health, or salvation in its fullest sense, material as well as spiritual. It described the situation of well-being which resulted from authentically whole (healed) relationships among people, as well as between persons and God. According to the Old Testament prophets, shalom reigned in Israel when there was social justice, when the cause of the poor and the weak was vindicated, when there was equal opportunity for all, in short, when the people enjoyed salvation according to the intention of God expressed in his covenant.”

Lisa Sharon Harper writes, At its heart the biblical concept of shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships.”

The shalom makers are blessed, for they will be called children of God.

Mattress Mack, letting wet, cold, suddenly-homeless people be warm and dry and safe on his fancy, expensive furniture, is being a shalom maker. Adult volunteers holding drug-addicted babies are bringing shalom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not the mere absence of tension but the presence of Justice.” To be a shalom maker requires more than not fighting or arguing. Again, Shalom means wholeness, completeness, well-being, living in right relationship, and biblically, that requires justice. The biblical view of justice is God’s justice, of course, in which all the victims of oppression and persecution and racism and discrimination are upheld, in which God’s people stand by those who are suffering. Shalom and justice are intertwined, because to be a shalom maker is to address the conditions that prevent others from living in shalom.

 

Here are a few verses on God’s justice

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.Ps. 140:12

Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov 29:7

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9

For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. Psalm 11:7

My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10

3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3–4

 

Isaiah 1:11, 17 “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats.” 17Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”

Isaiah 56:1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.”

Jeremiah 22:16

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.

 

And when Jesus describes this in Matthew 25, he makes it even more personal.

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

When, Lord? ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

That’s a handful of passages. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning the poor. You can’t understand what God means by justice unless you understand the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

In Leviticus 25, God commands a year of Jubilee among the people of Israel: 8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.

That means if you screwed up financially or suffered a drought and lost your land, your family’s land, you would get it back in the fiftieth year. If you lost everything, your family would not have to suffer poverty generation after generation. That was the point. God’s justice in the Year of Jubilee required that if you lost your property, you got it back, if you had to hire yourself out as a laborer, in the fiftieth year you and your children returned to being landowners, providing for yourselves.

A couple points on this: fifty years is still a long time. God isn’t being a helicopter parent who swoops in and rescues his children from the consequences of their own actions. But what the Year of Jubilee sets out to prevent is generational poverty, generation after generation born into poverty, with little to no chance of changing their circumstances. What we see in our barrio, which is kids at 12 who can’t read, little girls pregnant at 14, and what’s the outlook for the baby of an illiterate 14-year-old?

Justice, God’s justice, is that child, who didn’t make poor life choices or invest unwisely, will be cared for and loved and have advocates among God’s people. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

My wife, who is the teaching coach at NCAI, also runs a preschool out of our carport, to give the little ones in our barrio a little better chance to learn to read, to know their numbers, to hear that Jesus Christ loves them and died for their sins, to give them a better chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.

Right relationship with God and with one another requires God’s justice. The work of God’s Kingdom is bound up with justice for those who are poor and abused. To bring shalom is to work for God’s justice. I John 3:16-18 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

This can look a million different ways: if you have fancy couches, share them with hurricane victims; if you have two arms, hold a recovering baby. Love some preschool kids from a home where no one is yet literate.

 

We talk about grace a lot here. I talk about grace a lot here. And we should. In my opinion, we should talk about grace first and last, because without God’s grace, there’s no hope. If God didn’t love his enemies, [pointing] his enemies, then we would be without hope in this world and absolutely doomed in the next. But God does love his enemies, Jesus dies for his enemies—you and me–and we can’t repeat this too often: In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Grace leads to a desire for justice. As we live and grow in grace, we come to understand shalom in our lives. We learn, day by day, what it is to live in right relationship with God. We grow in our love for others. We start to grasp how to do to others as we would have them do to us. And as we hang out with God, we start to see others more as God sees them.

 

Jesus says, “Blessed are the shalom makers.” Who is the shalom maker? Jesus is. Listen to the description of Jesus making shalom possible in Ephesians 2.

Eph 2:11-18 11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.4 For he is our peace; he is our shalom; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making shalom, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed shalom to you who were far off and shalom to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

 

One way to read the Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount, is as a description of Jesus, so that when we talk about “being like Jesus,” we have very concrete directions of how to do it. To be peacemakers in the world, to be shalom makers, is to walk and act as Jesus did. As Jesus does.

Our question is how do we bring shalom in our circle, in the place we live and work and go to school and hang out, in our circle of friends and acquaintances and co-workers and enemies, honestly.

We’ve chosen to live in a poorer barrio here so that we can be neighbors and seek to build relationships there. That isn’t the “right” way to do this, it’s the way God has led us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We are the children of God. We are the shalom makers, beginning with our own lives and then reaching out the lives around us.

Blessed Are the Shalom Makers

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Sermon I preached at International Christian Fellowship, 9-3-17, on Matthew 5:9, looking at the biblical concepts of shalom and justice and how they fit together.  Biblically, if we desire shalom, we seek God’s justice for others.

I  use a whole bunch of other Scriptures, so it may help to have a Bible to track with me.

BTW,  it’s 34:53, not 49:09.  Don’t let the timer fool you.  

Finding My X

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Disclaimer: This is not Rumley. I am the captain now.

Okay, for real. If you understood and laughed at my meme reference, thank you. Rumley has invited me to be a guest speaker in his blog, which is honestly crazy to think about and even crazier I said “yes.” My name is Rebeca Reyes, aka Beca. I just graduated high school this past June. If we are being honest here, high school was simultaneously amazing and horrible, and I am still trying to figure out the midpoint of it all.

It was amazing in the sense that I was able to discover my true group of friends, be part of events such as Amplify (worship band) and Launch (high school youth group), find mentors that truly shaped my spiritual development, and actually have teachers that made learning enjoyable. It was horrible in the sense that I fell off the wagon multiple times and my anxiety was in an all time high, specifically the first semester of Senior year. But if we are focusing on the positives, I think the best of them all was finding good mentors.

Rumley is one of them. At the end of Junior year he asked if he could mentor me, which I was shocked because I hadn’t really talked to him much previously. In our first session I said, “I don’t cry a lot” and proceeded to cry, but that’s besides the point. Rumley was also our Senior class second semester Bible teacher, where he introduced us the idea of: X, which it’s actually supposed to be two arrows but this works as a visual. One arrow is your passion, the other is the world’s needs, and the midpoint is your calling.

Throughout the entirety of my Senior year, I had no idea what my calling was. I had an idea, actually a thoroughly thought out plan of what I wanted for my life. I have been a straight A student since 1st grade and have always been a firm believer of self-improvement, which eventually led to pushing myself too hard. The point is, in 10th grade I decided that I was going to study Biomedical Engineering at an Ivy League college, UPenn being my top choice. Let me clarify, these goals in and of themselves are not at all bad; they are actually pretty solid and ambitious. Still, all my high school I worked up towards this goal. In my mind, all I needed to do was work hard. Even when I told my close friends about my plans they would reassure me with, “Oh, you’re totally going to make it.” Although they meant well, it made me more anxious.

Senior year came by, and my plans for the future started to change. By the first month of Senior year I wanted to study Creative Writing in Boston University, another dream that isn’t bad at all. My father being father, of course, opposed this idea because “I had to make a living.” All in all, I was very confused my Senior year, which made me so frustrated because I felt that all of my plans, everything that I had worked for in these last 4 years, had gone to waste. With that thought, I honestly believed that God was mocking me. My mind was flooded with thoughts like, “Why did you think you could do it? You’re not good enough. Deep down you knew it wasn’t going to work, so why did you try so hard? Dad was right.” They are dark thoughts, but that was going through my head.

By the end of Senior year, I stopped caring #senioritis. With the help of my mentors, I realized that all of those thoughts were lies, and I had to start the journey of finding out who God really is and what would he really say. So, when I say I stopped caring, I mean I came to the conclusion that whatever needs to happen will happen; I became okay with not knowing. I still made plan B-Z and worked with whichever seemed more viable. A week before graduation, I finally made the decision toattend the University of Waterloo, studying Environmental Engineering. When I made that decision, I cried (shocker) because it was a sudden wave of relief. There was still one thing I wasn’t so sure about: what am I going to do with that degree?

Still, having  no idea about my stupid X, I graduated high school and rolled into the summer. During the summers, I work as a translator for short term missions trips, and during this specific summer I worked only with Connect Nicaragua. I had met Katie McGrew and Larrys Mendoza, the leaders of Connect, on the summer between my sophomore and junior year when I took my first missions trip to Rio Blanco. They both showed me the embodiment of loving others with God’s love. The following two years, they had invited me to work with them as a translator, and Katie quickly became my mentor and friend.

Rio Blanco 2k17

I still remember the first year I was working with Connect, and we had a women’s night in the church in Rio Blanco. After the service, Katie came up to me and she told me, “you have to stay or at least come back to Nicaragua.” I remember being shocked because never have I ever been introduced with the idea of being a missionary. I left it at that and never gave it too much thought. This summer, at another setting but the same city, while we were saying goodbye to the kids at Walter – a public school we work at in Rio Blanco – all of them were lined up to sing the national anthem. It was around 5:00P.M. The sun was setting, and the sky above us were cotton candies and lilac fields. While we sung the national anthem, there was this focus from all of the kids and team members. In that moment, I knew I had to come back to Nicaragua. I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do, but He confirmed that this is where I need to be after college.

 

I kept working with the Connect team throughout the summer. I had already worked with one team from Virginia Beach, and it was the last day of another team from Washington. For many reasons, this team was one of the most intense ones I’ve had so far. It was the last day and we were back from working with eighty, yes ochenta, kids at an organization called MIMA, which works to prevent kids from being exposed to life on the streets (drugs, prostitution, etc). It was a pretty hectic day, to say the least. Still, those kids are so wild and joyful, and they are always in constant need of extra love, which in their language might mean wrestling with them. Annelise, a girl I befriended on the team, needed a bag, and we went inside Katie’s house to ask her for some. We sat on her couch and stayed there talking. I am not sure how the conversation came up, but I started thinking about when I came back to Nicaragua from college. Then I blurted out, “Will you wait for me? Will you be here when I come back?” This was an odd question, especially since it came literally out of nowhere.

At that moment, I knew what I was supposed to do. I wanted to graduate college, come back to Nicaragua, and work for Connect. Katie asked me why, and I suppose a lot of other people will ask me why. All my life I have been imposed these high expectations from my dad, friends, and mostly myself. I grew obsessed with achieving this image of perfection that would please others. By the end of my high school career, I could achieve this perfect outwardly image that completely wrecked me inside. However, in doing God’s work, there is no expectation other than loving, and I can’t even love with what I have. I have to love with the love God gives me. There is nothing of my part, and there is no gain or praise for what “I” have done because it’s not me, it’s God working through me. Additionally to hearing the greatest relief of my life, I truly can say I love being with people. If you know me, you know I always enjoy a good laugh while speaking to you in some heavy Spanglish.

And no, it doesn’t make sense what I want to do now. It really doesn’t because when Nicaraguans get the opportunity to study in a bilingual, private school it is to leave for college, and when Nicaraguans get the opportunity to leave for college it is “for good.” In a way, I am so glad it doesn’t make sense because it just confirms what it says in 2 Corinthians that “if we are out of our right mind, it is for the sake of God; if we we are in our right mind, it is for you.”

I said it before, and I will say it again: my original plans were not bad. The only bad thing is that they weren’t my calling. I was dreaming for myself  and what I  could do. I forgot to dream with God. The idea isn’t God joining your great plan, it’s how you can join God’s great plan.

 

So, how did I finally find that X I was fixated and obsessed with my entire Senior year? I stopped looking.

 

Horse Cart

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(Typical horses and carts here, not the horse we saw.)

 

Nicaragua Diary, Day 26

 

Today we saw a man beating his horse.  It was a nightmare, the kind of thing you hope never to see, much less have your children see.  

We were on our way home from church.  We’d turned onto “the narrow road,” which is exactly what you’d guess–people frequently drive with two wheels on the sidewalk to be able to pass oncoming cars.  As we turned the corner, we saw that vehicles were backed up.  That’s not unusual; sometimes large trucks take the narrow road and the going becomes very dicey. 

Today, though, we saw a horse cart ahead of us.  Horse carts are very common here.  When walking to school, I might see one or I might see five.  Kim describes the cart horses here as “bullet proof.”  Nothing seems to startle or spook them, in spite of how “lively” and unpredictable traffic can be.  

This horse was different.  It was balking and pulling one way and then the other.  It kept turning sideways in the road.  The driver of the cart had a homemade switch with which he kept striking the horse.  The horse was not responding well.  Now cars were backed up ten deep in both directions.  

The man jumped off his cart and started whipping his horse with the switch, very hard.  Another man, I’m going to guess drunk, walked up and tried to push the horse in the right direction with his shoulder.  

Then we saw the horse rear.  It stood on it’s back legs for three or four seconds.  Kim said, “I’ve never seen a horse rear here.  Ever.”  

While this was happening, people on both sides of the street were watching, appalled.  But no one seemed to know what to do, how to help, or whether to intervene.  A few cars had honked at first–honking is very popular here–but the scene grew too ugly for petty impatience.  

Then the man took a board from his cart, maybe a 12″x6, which he grabbed with two hands and swung at his horse.  

Kim, in the driver’s seat, simply said, “That’s it” and jumped out of the car.  

Now freeze the frame for a moment.  My wife is hurrying toward the man who is violently attacking his horse.  We’re the only gringos on the street.  The street now feels full.  Is the man drunk?  She didn’t discuss with me what she should do, and now she’s twenty yards up the road, twenty yards from the man.  I’m sitting in the passenger seat which doesn’t open from the inside.*

I shout, “I need to get out of the car!”  I’m seeing bad scenes in my head of what happens next.  One of my kids jumps out and opens my door.  I go running after Kim.

She approaches the man and tells him, calmly, that the load on his cart is too heavy in the back and it’s causing the strap under the horse’s belly to pull up–it’s cutting him across the belly.  

The man doesn’t seem drunk, at least not obviously so.  The horse is small, young, and bleeding from multiple points I can see–two different places on her nose have been rubbed raw to open wounds.  Oh, and I figured out the horse is female.  

Kim is right and the man, to my surprise, responds to her instructions.  She helps calm the horse,  The man redistributes the load in his cart–it’s full of some plant I don’t recognize.  They get the cart pulled over to the side so some cars are able to pass (after going around our car, abandoned forty yards back).  

Kim talks to the horse.  She helps calm it down.  The man finishes getting the load balanced and climbs back into the seat.  He’s blamed the horse, not himself, but he hasn’t been belligerent or even defensive.  He thanks us, more or less.

And now this scene is ending, Nicaraguans on both sides of the road still staring, Kim’s hands and church clothes dirty, my adrenaline still blowing like a geyser.  Kim says, “I had to protect the horse,” to which I respond, in my best we’re-married-a-long-time-and-respect-each-other-voice, “I had to protect you.  A man who would hit his horse with a board might hit you.”  

Our children all said, “Great job, Mom! Way to go,” when she got back in the car.  We drove home, quietly debriefing what we just saw.  That included this statement:  “We should buy that horse.”  

When we got home, it quickly became apparent we weren’t done.  Kim told me she wanted to go find the owner.  The narrow road is a little over a kilometer from our house.  We know a few people there by sight, but our only friend is the woman who owns the fruit stand we frequent.  

So Kim and I change out of our church clothes and start walking.  Anytime we’re alone for even a matter of seconds, one of us will say, “It’s like a date,” because raising four children has trained us to seize any moment we’re not surrounded by kids.  We have a little walking date.  

We discuss what happened, and Kim says, “You don’t want your kids to see that, and you really don’t want your kids to see that and you not do anything.”  

We talked about why the man responded relatively well to us.  This is a machismo culture, and a woman coming up to tell a man what to do in a difficult and stressful situation often would not be well received.  

We asked a few people, including a guard we know at the church on the corner, if they’d seen this cart.  Then we reached the fruit stand our friend runs and, not surprisingly, she knew everything.  She told us yes, he’d come by, and now he’s back home, drinking, of course.  Kim explained what happened and what we were thinking and our friend told us that the man probably feared we would call the police, because “If a gringo called the police, on your word they’d probably come and arrest him.”  

She then started shouting at a man down the street.  The man turned around and walked toward us. He was either the horse cart driver’s partner or brother–we’re still not sure which.  Our friend told him we are interested in buying the horse.  Kim explained that it needs to rest.  The man then told us the horse is young and named a price three times higher than reasonable.

Our friend looked away and gave this priceless expression, a combination of “That’s ridiculous” and “We’re not having this conversation anymore.”  It’s a non-confrontational culture, so she didn’t say, “That’s ridiculous!  Don’t be stupid!”  But she communicated just fine.  The man shrugged and left.  

Freeze frame again:  No, we don’t need a horse.  No, we don’t have extra money to buy a horse; in fact, our budget is very tight and I’m hoping there’s money for me to get paid this month.  With all the suffering around us, on one level thinking about buying an abused horse seems crazy.  We would simply try to find a rescue or a farm where it would be cared for and, God-willing, nursed back to health.  On the flip side, these things don’t always have to make sense and God can provide the money to rescue a horse.  We see a lot of suffering we can’t change.  We try to help where we can.  This might be one we can change.  

Kim thought “the horse is young” justified the outlandish price, while I thought it explained away Kim’s suggestion that the horse needs to rest.  We all agreed that he had offered el precio gringo, the gringo price, i.e. “how much can I overcharge these rich and ignorant foreigners?”**  She told us she would talk with the owner later, by herself, and let us know in the morning if he would consider a price we might pay. 

So we’re praying about saving a horse.  

There are three more things I need to tell you:  

Being around suffering is dangerous because it can make you numb.  Kim said, as we walked home, that she used to feel sick every time she saw a horse with all its ribs sticking out or a starving street dog, but she’s gotten used to it.  On one level, you have to; on another level, we don’t want our hearts calloused to the misery we see.  

Poverty inflicts suffering, grinds people down, and allows people no margin against disaster, but in itself it neither makes people evil nor saints.  This man was abusing his horse, not because he is poor nor because he is Nicaraguan, but because his heart is hardened and sick.  Judging by our friend’s description, it may relate to his alcoholism.  Abusing animals is evil.  Many Nicaraguans take great care of their horses, even though they have little money to spare.  When I tell ugly stories in this diary, that means I’ve seen ugliness in individuals.  Nicaraguans are beautiful people.  They are people.  

Finally, we know this man will probably buy another horse.  Buying this injured, abused animal from him won’t mend his ways.  But sometimes you just have to show mercy.  Kim has always loved horses–she bought and trained one on her own when she was twelve, which still boggles my mind–and she really feels we should try to save this one.  Maybe that’s how God speaks. 

So we’re going to try.  

 

 

*Our car has a LOT of personality since my accident.  We’re hoping it hangs in there a little longer.

**Getting the better of a rich and foolish foreigner is a sport in itself here that will need its own post.  

Freezer Space

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Nicargua Diary, Day 25

I have several purposes in creating this Nicaragua Diary.  I hope to convey some of our daily experience living in Nicaragua.  I’m trying to give a glimpse of life in an impoverished country, especially for people suffering poverty, which, to varying degrees, is the vast majority.  And, of course, I’m aiming to get rich and famous through my writing.  That one’s a longer-term goal.  

I’ve described before how one of our neighbors in her twenties had never seen a microwave before.  We also have a freezer, separate from our refrigerator, which some would call a “chest freezer” and others a “deep freeze.”  We got it from friends who gave it to us because it had stopped working and they didn’t want to pay to repair it.  The repairman charged us 2,000 cordobas (almost $100).  I thought that was a gamble, but Kim believed it worth the risk.  She was right.*

In a place this hot, cold=good.  We freeze a ton of fruit, have bags of ice, and I have an ice-pack for old man injuries that one of my daughters uses almost every night to cool off so she can sleep.  We also stock up on different foods that can be frozen, like fish and…fruit.  A lot of fruit. 

Most of you reading likely think this is “normal.”  Everyone knows you save a lot of money by buying in bulk and life is much more convenient when you have the groceries you need already on hand.  

Most of our neighbors cannot imagine this “normal” of ours.  They buy their food daily, or at best every two or three days.  A family who lives very close by and has 11 people, mostly children, living in about 200 square feet, sends one of the smaller children past our house every day to buy rice, beans, or oil up the street. 

If you don’t have electricity, you don’t have a refrigerator, much less a deep freeze.  If you need the 100 cords (3 dollars) you earn today to help you buy food for today, you aren’t stocking up.  

We live in a barrio that you would call a “residential area,” and it certainly is not what any of us would think of as zoned for business, yet there are probably 12 homes within a 3 or 4 minute walk that sell food and drinks.  Maybe more.  Some of those tiny pulperias stock mostly junk food, but at others you can buy staples: eggs, tomatoes, peppers, flour, and of course rice, beans, and oil.  

These businesses work largely because few of our neighbors have cars.  It’s much easier to walk next door or three doors down to purchase today’s groceries than to walk ten minutes to wait ten minutes to ride a bus twenty minutes to a larger grocery store, especially when you don’t have that much to spend…and will need to make the same trip tomorrow.

 Much of the economy in our barrio is local because 1)most of our neighbors don’t have the means to stock up, 2)some people don’t have any way to preserve left over food, and 3) very few have cars, a few more have a motorcycle, but most have no motor transportation at all.  

When I say we live next to poverty, not in poverty, I mean this.  Our deep freeze is a beat-up, rusting cube that in the States you might get off of Craigslist for $40 in working condition–or from Freecycle for nothing.  But it’s saved us many times over the $100 we paid to have it fixed.  It has made life here more convenient, bearable, and enjoyable.**  It also gives us more opportunities to share food.  

We don’t see ourselves as living in luxury here.  We make many choices to live simply.  When I compare it with a middle-class U.S. standard of living, I can convince myself this is true.

But our freezer space is a luxury I’m remembering not to take for granted.

 

*Not the first time nor the last.  

**I’m not using hyperbole; for example, freezing one papaya would take up about half of our fridge’s freezer space, and the aforementioned ice pack that helps one of our children to sleep better would take the other half.  I’m also not trying to sell old, rusty deep freezes.  

Piña, Pitaya, Banano, Calala

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(Cutting the pitaya: aftermath)

Nicaragua Diary, Day 23

I like some things better about living here, some things I really miss about living in the United States, and some are a trade off.

1st category: Relational Culture

2nd:  Driving

3rd:  Fruit

Fruit is a big part of my life.  I probably eat more fruit than anything else–yes, including chocolate–and smoothies (batidos) typically provide my first, or sometimes first two, meals.  I started doing it after I noticed that on the mornings we had smoothies for breakfast I felt better.  That was probably three years ago.  Plus, I use mostly frozen fruit in a place where cold=good.

We come from central Washington State.  If you live there, you know what that means, fruit-wise.  If you don’t, I feel a little  sorry for you. This is the sign you see as you enter Wenatchee:  

 

 

 

Living somewhere that grows cherries, pears, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and apples in abundance, I had assumed that fruit would be a downgrade moving here.

But I eat more fruit now than I did in the Northwest.  Certainly I miss cherries, but fresh bananas ruin you for bananas that have traveled halfway across the planet on a cargo ship.  I thought I didn’t like mangoes because of that weird aftertaste…and then I had a mango cut directly off a tree–picture a 20-foot metal pole with a curved blade like a grapefruit knife on the end–plop! in my  hand, and I discovered that 1)I actually love mangoes, 2)that aftertaste isn’t from the mango.   But I don’t love them compared with Kim, who fiercely, passionately devours them.  Left to her own devices, she can eat five or six in a day.

That leads to the major contrast:  we get fresh fruit here, different than Pacific Northwest fresh fruit, but fruit here is insanely cheap.  Correction:  locally-grown produce here is insanely cheap.  You can also buy a single apple here for between a dollar and three dollars, and there’s about a 70% chance it will be mediocre or worse.  Soft, not crunchy, mealy, bland.  Without too much effort, we can find apples here grown within 30 miles of our home in Wenatchee, but they will be the worse for wear, and pricey.

In contrast, a typical fruit purchase from a fruit stand a short walk from our house would include some or all of these:  2 pitaya, 4 mangos, 1 sandia (watermelon), 2 piña, 24 bananos, 1 papaya (though they’re huge, so that might be only once every third or fourth time) and then 2 pepinos (cucumber), 2-4 zanahoria (carrots), a small bag of tomates, and perhaps cebolla (onion) or chiltoma (a mild pepper).  That would all cost $5-$6, maybe $7 if we got everything and the sandia was extra large.  Local bananas cost about 4 cents a piece.  

Oh, we’d also get a fresh bunch of hierba buena, i.e. mint.  Add that cost: 7 to 9 cents.  Seriously, fresh hierba buena, which smells like heaven will (that or essence of almond and vanilla are my bets) and makes a good smoothie incredible, may be my favorite thing to purchase here.  A bunch will last only three days before it wilts, so I’m into that for like 15 or 20 cents a week.

Pitaya, which you might find as dragonfruit in the U.S., may be our greatest discovery here.  You cut off the bright skin to get to the shocking magenta fruit.  I don’t have an apt comparison for what it tastes like.  Bright.  It tastes bright.  Our youngest daughter loves pitaya–violently–and has mastered the pitaya-calala smoothie.  

Calala is sour, but complex sour, not just lemon sour.  It’s delicious.  It has a pale yellow, very thick skin that takes some sawing through, and on the inside the fruit is almost gelatinous, a texture like tapioca pearls and slightly crunchy, edible seeds. Calala is “passion fruit” in the U.S., though I don’t remember ever trying it before we moved here, certainly not fresh.  

I could wax ecstatic about tropical fruit longer, but the other and perhaps more significant aspect of this is buying local.

We don’t buy locally-grown fruit exclusively, but we try.*  If you believe in far-fetched theories like…air pollution, that’s a good idea.  No matter how low-emission your vehicle, even if you walk and bike exclusively, you can do more to reduce air pollution by buying local.  Breathing is not overrated. 

I’ve said this repeatedly and I’ll continue, because it’s so hard to grasp:  unemployment in Nicaragua is 50-70%.  More than half the adults who live here don’t have steady jobs because there aren’t enough steady jobs.  My friends get up at 3 and go to Mercado Israel or Mercado Oriental at 4 to buy their fruit wholesale so they can sell it this cheap to their neighbors and the gringos and still make enough to live on, or at least contribute to their income.  Buying local helps in every community; here, it makes a huge difference.  A dollar recirculates 8 to 20 times in the barrio–and most of our neighbors have limited mobility and shop online a lot less than we do, which is a lot less than we did in the States. How much more important is the “local multiplier” effect in a poor community? 

The other part that weighs in favor of Nicaragua Fruit Life  (NFL?) is the harvesting season.  I remember in my first year here asking what the season is for different fruits.  I received confused looks.  I tried again, two or three different ways.  Finally, I grasped the disconnect–fruit grows here all year long.  Mangoes “only” grow from January through July or so.  Kim suffers from this short season. Cherries in the Northwest are fresh for a month, maybe while pitaya, calala, sandia, and piña are picked yesterday and eaten today twelve months of the year.  

Our neighbor across the street owns a motorcycle repair business that we were able to help him get started.  But we don’t own a motorcycle so we can’t frequent his business.  We go to the seamstress up the street every time we need an alteration or to have something stitched, but even our 10-year-old doesn’t tear his clothing that often.  On the other hand, we’re always buying groceries.  Thus, fruit becomes the way we most frequently contribute to our local economy.  

Oh, I forgot to mention limones!  And aguacates, which Kim may love as much as she loves mangoes !  And don’t get me started on coconuts and coconut oil…

 

 

 

*I have a weakness for frozen blueberries.