Her brown eyes followed our van as we passed her on the bumpy road, looking through the windows at a dozen Americans conspicuously out of place in her neighborhood. We had come to bless a local Nicaraguan pastor by painting his house, a luxury for a man whose family can easily be without food.
She spoke nothing to us, but I wondered what her words would be. What stories could she tell of living in such a place? Homes walled with black plastic sheeting; floors nothing but dirt. Garbage littering what passes for a road, leading to a neighborhood where children wander unattended and adults loiter because there is no job to be worked.
I saw her for just seconds, but her face is on my mind tonight.
She could be me.
My natural reaction on any trip away from America is to pity the inhabitants of wherever I travel.
“They just don’t know what they’re missing,” I think.
Which is what? More electronic devices than there are people in the house? So much food that I toss expired bags full? So many channels to watch that I never have to converse with the people I love most?
Maybe I’m the one who is missing something.
Poverty is not just a physical condition. So many of us – rich Americans who are spoiled more than we know – are really the poorest of the poor. We lack contentment in our everyday and peace in our condition because we know too much. We know that the world is full of more – more to do, more to buy, more to see.
But now as the rain is pouring and I am reflecting, I wonder… Does it matter that there’s more? If peace is possible in the scarcity, why do we convince ourselves it’s only found in the plenty?
If I have learned anything from the people of Nicaragua on my trips to their country, it is this: possessions are not the purpose, and poverty is not just physical. I have walked into houses with no beds – no beds! – and the inhabitants smile and hug. I have played with children who don’t have playrooms mimicking Toys R Us, and they are exuberant. I have seen cardboard as the only barrier from the elements, and the families are joyous.
I want that to be me.
That should be all believers.
Christians are not immune from the traps of the world – more, better, now. We spend on what doesn’t last and invest in what is fleeting. We store up here and neglect what is to come.
Remind us that we are your hands and feet, Lord, and that unless we serve, people hurt. People starve. People die without You.
You have commanded us to love, but we choose when and where.
You have commanded us to give, but we selfishly hold some back.
You have commanded us to go, but we make excuses and sit in comfort.
Forgive us, Lord.
Create in us a new heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within.