I hang her picture on my bulletin board at home.
A small brown face with a shy smile. Our sponsored child in Nicaragua. Her name:
Each week after dinner we sit around our table and pray for her, unsure of what her family needs, but knowing that God knows her needs anyway.
He knows that little girl in a small village in Nicaragua. She sleeps under the same moon every night like we do. Under the same sky.
We are packed in the back of a very small taxi, bouncing down a dirt road with our translator. We drive by kids walking. The taxi stops. Our translator looks down at his paperwork and says something to the driver.
The driver backs up down the road, passing the same kids, who stare in amazement at us as we travel backward.
We stop at a small walking bridge made of very thin sheet metal crossing over a dry stream.
This is the way to her house, we realize. Across the bridge, down a small path where a girl named Angeli waits with two sisters and her mother.
The metal bridge bends with every step, but I know, sometimes the only way across is trusting that the bridge will hold you.While the temperature soars near one hundred and the dirt is dry as dust, we see that this girl, who’s only been a picture hanging on my kitchen bulletin board, is a real person, standing in front of us, the same shy look on her face.
Her mother welcomes us with hugs and it doesn’t seem to matter that we’re sweating right through our clothes, because love never cared about appearances anyway.
She tells us about her school, the one we are helping her attend through sponsorship
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” I ask Angeli.
She answers in Spanish, “A doctor.”
Her mother shakes her head smiling.
“We want her to be a doctor,” the mother replies, “but she wants to be a teacher.”
I tell this girl with the shy smile, “That’s okay. My parents wanted me to be a doctor too. And I became a teacher.”
Her mother beams and tells us how they promised her a gold ring if she graduates from school.
But Angeli has better plans. She wants to attend university.
We sit on three plastic lawn chairs in the yard. Angeli’s mother tells us how they planted plantains from seed and now have a small orchard. This land, she tells us, had nothing on it when they inherited it ten years ago. They took it and made it into a home, and are able to eke out a living by selling plantains.
She tells us about their church they attend and before I can even ask her how we can help their family, she beats me to it:
“What can I pray for your family?” The mother asks.
I look at her in blank amazement, because I don’t get it at first. I’m here to serve you, I think. Not the other way around.
But she proves me wrong. She’s leaking her Jesus love all over our family.
It’s the upside down world of faith:
The first shall be last, the last shall be first.
And it doesn’t make sense: A family in Nicaragua eking out a living selling plantains wants to know how to pray for us.
A family who lives in a house as small as a shed teaching me that mission trips aren’t about what “we” can do for “them.”
It’s about the beauty of realizing it’s no longer about sponsorship, because now it’s about relationship.
And I start to understand how Jesus’ love always leaks out when you experience his love first hand.
As we huddle together, the taxi waiting on the dirt road beyond the bridge, the mother starts praying for us in Spanish and the father and translator join in.
Under the blue Nicaraguan sky, it’s an old fashioned prayer meeting, the English and Spanish words mingling in the air, a glimpse of what heaven might sound like.
When we turn to go, they invite us to come back next year.
Christian love is always about relationship, despite distance and language and a thousand excuses to stay where we are.
When night falls, I look up at the moon sitting in the black Nicaraguan sky, like a giant yellow grapefruit. It’s the same moon at home. We are under the same sky, Angeli’s family and I. And when we look up at the night sky, it’s the same sky we see.
I want to look at that sky and remember that moment that we stood and prayed under the plantain trees and how the picture on the fridge became a real live God-moment under the stars.
Because in that moment when helping someone out becomes something more than just an exchange, that’s the beginning of community.
It is about putting your personal comfort zone aside and loving someone when it is not easy or convenient. It’s about loving someone through your brokenness.
As Stephen Bauman says,
The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it’s community.
We are richest when we live in the beauty and depth of relationship.
Her picture on my bulletin board is not just a face anymore, but a real girl from a family who struggles with the same struggles, who worships the same God, who prays under the light of the night sky to a God who hears our prayers.
I see that giant grapefruit moon and I realize we are not so far apart.