Keeping things in perspective. (originally published February 9, 2014)

The sign reads:  Welcome to Barrio Monte de Sion!  Enjoy our spectacular view of the Momotombo Volcano.  Be sure to visit our Chamber of Commerce for the latest information on local tourism and shopping.  Thank you for visiting…..

Yeah, I know….there isn’t really a sign….or shopping…or tourism…or running water.  However, there is a great view of the Momotombo Volcano.  That should keep property values from dropping, right?

Sandwiched between a clothing industrial park and a drainage basin containing grey water destined for Lake Managua, is Barrio Monte de Sion.  This barrio, barely two years old, is home to approximately 800 families.  Like other barrios throughout Nicaragua, it does not have a clean water source, and the power lines would drive a building code inspector out of his mind.  If you’re wondering, the conditions will not get better anytime soon.  Why?  Well, the families living here have no inherent right or permission to live here…..yet.  At present they are squatters, breaking the law in plain view of everyone.  Yet no action has been taken to remove them.  Hmmmm….  While I have no direct knowledge about why they have been allowed to homestead at this site.  I can speculate that a possible reason is the land isn’t worth anything.  You see, this particular tract of land is prone to flash flooding during the rainy season from the drainage basin.  Combine that with the community sitting right on top of an earthquake fault line in a country where tremors and quakes are fairly common.  Who would want to live there? Well, I mean….beside those who have nowhere else to go?  Even if they were to be forced out, there is nowhere else to go.  So, this barrio is really nothing more than a large community of homeless squatters.  However, the residents of Mount de Sion do not consider themselves homeless.  These people consider the makeshift structures of tin, cardboard, and plastic their homes.  I may be going out on a limb here, but I am pretty sure most of you would not call these makeshift shelters homes.  It all depends on your perspective, I guess.  

As we drove the dusty roads of this community with Pastor Antonio Medina, my mind began to wonder back in time.  I found myself thinking about my first trip to Nicaragua during the summer of 2010.  On that trip we visited a similar community and I experienced for the first time what it means to look real poverty in the eye.  I was primarily in Nicaragua for ensuring my daughter’s safety on her first youth mission trip…..or so I thought.  Having traveled a bit during my military service, I was no stranger to foreign countries.  I was also dumb enough to think that I had seen everything.  However, in 2010 God showed me for the first time what I had failed to see countless times before.  As we broke into groups and distributed food to the people, I was tasked with translating to our group the story of each family we visited.  It was then I began to see the real faces of poverty and their personal struggles.  Tales of abuse, sickness, lack of food, lack of healthcare, and so on, were heard as we went from house to house.  We reached the last home and a mother asked us to pray for her infant son who lay in a hammock wearing only a diaper.  The flies buzzed around him while she related that he had been running a fever for the past two days.  I looked at the dirt floor, and wooden pallets the rest of the family used as beds and ….  had a nuclear meltdown.  That’s right.  Former Marine, and then State Trooper with over 17 years of service, wept like a schoolgirl after breaking up with her first boyfriend.  (That part isn’t really important for anyone to remember.)  I’m not sure why I thought about my first experience in Nicaragua at that particular moment.  I mean, since that summer day in 2010, I have seen several of these communities.  We have 35 feeding centers and all of them are in the poorest of the poor areas.  I should be used to it by now.  Right?  But guess what?  I’m not used to it.  Maybe going back to that first experience was God’s way of reminding me not to become used to it, or calloused, or indifferent towards the poor.  Maybe, He was reminding me that I have been called to help…. “the least of these”.  Maybe….. He wanted me to have the proper perspective.  Maybe, I should get back on track……

After having counted my blessings once again, I continued to absorb the information that Pastor Medina was relaying.  Our purpose on this day was to visit the site of a planned preschool.  He related that the process was underway to make this community legal.  He explained the operation of an already functioning children’s feeding center on the weekends.  He further explained that he regularly disciples adults in their homes, holding church service at a different home each Sunday.  God has also given him a vision to set up a preschool for children ages 3 to 5.  He has found teachers willing to help him and families willing to open up their doors for the classrooms.  So, on this day, we were to meet with these teachers and some of the parents.  Pastor Medina had asked me to visit to explore the possibility of providing the children with meals 5 days a week at the preschool.  (Even though I accepted the invitation, I was going into this meeting somewhat reluctant to commit our support.  Short-term support is no problem, but I did have concerns about long-term support based on the uncertainty of future resources.)  He further explained that without preschool many children are already behind when they are old enough to attend elementary school.  The purpose is to teach them letters, numbers, colors, and bible lessons.  All important things to learn since many parents are unable to teach them.  In Barrio Monte de Sion televisions are non-existent, so programs like Sesame Street or Baby Einstein are out of play.

Upon our arrival, there was an atmosphere of anticipation.  Several mothers were present with their children of preschool age.  There were a few adult men, but most were at work in the clothing warehouses.  Pastor Medina explained the vision for the preschool and introduced the teachers.  They covered all the essentials normally discussed and answered questions.  Then he did it….Pastor Medina introduced me, asked me to come forward, and said that he had requested help from Metanoia Missions to provide meals for the children.  So, with a little hesitancy, I addressed the crowd.  On the way up I was thinking…. “Why did he say that?”…. “I told him that we needed to evaluate the request.”….. “I am just going to tell them that we will evaluate and get back to Pastor Medina.”  However, I didn’t say that.  I couldn’t.  Looking at their faces filled with hope….I said:  “Of course we will help.”  And we will.  I am leaving the HOW up to God.  Pretty sure that from God’s perspective, I have nothing to worry about.

– SDW