“How are you guys doing? How’s the transition going?”
This is a good, right, and considerate question people are asking us right now. We hear it a lot.
Here’s the problem: Nicaragua is a mess right now. Our “civil unrest,” which might be too euphemistic, keeps spiking.* Protestors keep getting murdered. Right this second, I’m praying for a friend who is driving home from his ministry. He works out in a remote pueblo in the campo, where he visits once a week. The drive typically takes three hours. But many of the main roads here have roadblocks where those protesting hold traffic for two hours. Stop and imagine that. His drive home–it’s 6PM now–will likely take between six and nine hour. I’m praying for his safety. I believe he’ll be fine. He’s not in imminent danger, certainly not compared with many who are speaking up, putting themselves at risk by seeking justice and regime change here.
Meanwhile, in our little lives, we’re moving back to the U.S. That matters. It matters to us. It matters to some people here. To a few people here, it matters a lot. But in the big picture, it is not the big picture.
How does this work? How do we think about this? How do we do it well?
A brilliant Episcopal priest friend who died many years ago taught me a truth I found profound yet simple and, in my experience, rarely taught. He said, “My twisted ankle hurts me more than your broken leg hurts me.”
He was right. That isn’t a lack of empathy or compassion. This is not to say that I believe my twisted ankle is worse than your broken leg, which would be self-centered and immature. I get that you are in more pain than I am.
But I cannot feel your pain the way I can feel my own. I just can’t. To be a mature human being means acknowledging others’ pain and not merely my own; to be a Jesus follower means to embrace the radical teaching that I am to measure my response to your pain based on how I would have you respond to my pain. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” This does not mean discounting or ignoring our own suffering, but it does mean seeing beyond just myself, even when I am suffering.
Transfer this now to our situation here: I’m living my life, ridiculous as it is. We’re in the final months and weeks of seven years loving and failing and be-neighboring in Nicaragua. I hate that we’re leaving, and I especially hate that we’re leaving now, in light of these terrible circumstances. But I believe God is leading us back and I’m choosing to try (or trying to choose) to trust God in this.
I know me and I wouldn’t be having an easy time of this in ordinary circumstances. I’ve watched a lot of missionaries and ex-pats come and go in seven years. I haven’t seen the perfect way to do depart, though I’ve seen a wide range of approaches; most people just stumble through, trial and error, trying to figure out the best process for them.
Last Thursday, the remainder of our school year on campus was cancelled and we are finishing school online. I can’t tell you how much this sucks for our kids, especially the seniors. Some people have left abruptly while others are considering doing so now, since online school is, you know…online. At one point not long ago, I thought we had an outside chance for one final basketball game for our team. Nope. Currently, I’m praying about how to give a commencement speech for a class whose final year has been so truncated.
In the midst of all this, that voice in my head keeps saying, “This is your last time to get to…” “You only have so many more chances to…” “Do you honestly think you’ll see him/her/them again?”
This is a stupid and bad time to be going through such a transition. What’s happening here, the horrible fractured femur Nicaragua is suffering, matters so much more than my ridiculous twisted ankle.
Yet all I can do is live this, moment to moment, as present and invested as I know how. Pretending my situation doesn’t matter, or is meaningless in the face of Nicaragua’s misery, only cuts me off from anything positive that could come through this closure process.
Here I am, therefore, trying to keep all of it in perspective. I hate to see the agony this beautiful country suffers. I cry to Jesus for peace and justice, over and over, and ask everyone who prays to join me in seeking God’s face. I’m limping, because my twisted ankle does hurt,** and I’m a little better able to resist self-pity because this pain is a small discomfort in the face of what swirls around us every day.
Tomorrow, we’ll celebrate our son’s 11th birthday, his party hosted at the home of one of his best friends, whose mother generously offered to let twenty-odd ten-and-eleven-year-olds rampage around her property. They are a Nicaraguan family. The party-goers will be a wonderful mix, boys and girls, Nicas and gringos. I’ll remember one of the reasons God moved us here, right before my eyes. I’ll grieve that this will likely be the last birthday he celebrates in Nicaragua.
And I’ll pray that there are no more murders of college kids or any other protestors or police. I’ll pray that somehow negotiations will lead to a better government for the people here. All of that together is how the transition is going.
Post-script: My friend made it home in 8 1/2 hours.
*Nicaragua’s crisis in numbers: 76 dead, 868 injured, 438 detained in a month of protests, according to prelim report by @CIDH, concluding 4 day visit to 4 cities and hundreds of interviews. #SOSNicaragua
**By the way, thank God I mean this figuratively and I’m still able to exercise and stay sane that way while going through this.