It's taken me a while to post about the incredible experience of serving on a FOCUS Missions trip in Nicaragua, but I think I've finally had enough time to upack (literally & figuratively) the trip to attempt to share the impact it has had on my heart and the hearts of the students.
In the eyes of the Western world, the way that the Nicaraguans live - the clay huts, the wood burning stove, the lack of technology - is heartwrenching. We want to fix their lives, with hopes of finally allowing them to be happy, but we've totally missed the point. The people that I encountered are happy, much more than most anywhere I've ever been.
During our first day of work we took the Nicaraguans off guard with our speed and focus on the task at hand. They watched us, laughing as we got lost in our speedy work and eventually asked if we would slow down. They explained that they enjoy working alongside one another. They desired to converse and form relationships as we worked to complete the task together. I began to recognize how easily I get caught up in my work, moving from one task to another, and forget to be totally present to those around me. The truth is that we can never completely eradicate poverty from the world - it just isn't possible. We can do everything possible to alleviate the pains of poverty, but the true beauty of serving is living with compassion and solidarity with those in poverty, and translating it to the poverty around us and within us.
Mother Teresa says, "The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty - it is not only a poverty of loneliness, but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God." So which is the greater poverty? The people that I encountered in Nicaragua were so filled with joy of the Gospel. They didn't desire more things or money - they were content with what they had. They recognized the spiritual poverty that many of us carried, and they reflected the hands & feet of Christ in loving us and teaching us the true importance of life.
Celebrating Mass with the Nicaraguans was easily the most powerful of all. In recognizing the universality of the church, we recognize that Christ is present in Nicaragua and in every Mass in which we partake. This unites us all - we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are truly the body of Christ, and they treated us in this way. During the sign of peace I felt as if my heart may explode with love as men, women, and children flocked us with hugs & kisses. They were filled with such love and gratitude for us being there. The parishoners explained to us that merely taking the time to be there, we reminded them of the importance of "going outside of yourself" to share the faith. They continued to describe their joy in sharing in the body of Christ with us.
Throughout the week we worked to replace the roof of a church - their tin roof had begun to rust away and had several holes. Later in the day we spent time praying with families and playing with the children & teaching them Bible stories. My fellow missionaries and I gave talks to the student missionaries to teach them different forms of prayer and to aid in translating the experience into lifelong mission. It was truly beautiful to see how the group came together and opened up through nightly sharing of testimonies and experiences throughout the day.
The entire time we were in Nicaragua I felt as if my heart was coming alive within me. I've realized that traveling reveals a part within myself that I never knew to exist. God reveals the beauty of Himself to me in a new way, through nature and people. I often ponder this reality of "beauty" and of "God the Creator" and the ways that God reveals himself to me through His creations. As an artist, this speaks deeply to my heart. Blessed Pope John Paul II, in his letter to Artists says, "That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their 'gift,' are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission. Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece."
The greatest lesson that I have taken from the people of Nicaragua is the art of living. I've learned that the art of living is in being completely present to the moment at hand and to love the person next to you with the joy of Christ. It is the ability to see with God's eyes, to hear with God's ears, and to love with the heart of God. In being present I am able to recognize the way that the Holy Spirit is working through and in me right now. How I choose to respond are brushstrokes on the canvas of my life and of others, and He has entrusted me with the task of bringing Him glory through creating a work of art, a masterpiece.
If you'd like to see more pictures, check out my entire
Nicaragua Mission Trip album here.