Hola, amigos. Como esta?
Last week we had a visitor to our community. You may remember that last September I ventured to El Salvador on a life-changing expedition. Our church started a partnership with a small farming community in Llano el Coyol, outside Usulatan. I went with one of the first delegations from our church with one goal in mind – to get to know the people.
Shocking, right? When I think about “mission” work, I expect lots of Kumbayah, lots of “fixing” of “problems”, some sort of bible camp for kids, and possibly even matching t-shirts. That’s what I grew up with, coming from small towns in the Midwest. OR – if you are a REAL missionary, you get the near-death experiences, crazy wildlife attacks, and learning to eat bugs & stuff. Going off-grid, essentially, in the name of Christianity.
I am whole heartedly uninterested in either of those. No. Thank. You.
One of the reasons I really enjoy my church is their ability to appreciate and celebrate HUMANITY. The problems that come between the joys. The screwups that pepper our daily lives. Somehow, this community has a knack for making those things – the bits of our lives that make us cringe – that we try and sweep under the rug and ignore – less awful. While it’s good to talk about the beautiful world that God created and how incredibly loved we all are, sometimes what we really NEED is connection to real people. In this space, it’s OK to be imperfect. You don’t have to dress up and play the part of the perfect church-going family. You can come disheveled, drinking your 9th cup of coffee, stow your kids in the nursery, and take an hour for quiet. There are regular opportunities for people to share their honest experiences – alcoholism, cancer treatments, losing a job, infertility, familial dysfunction – and through their stories, the rest of us receive the most amazing gift.
We feel normal.
It’s incredible – it’s healing – and it’s rare. I’ll admit it – when the El Salvador committee chairs told me that the goal is to “learn from each other”, I thought – “What can we possibly learn from them? I don’t get it.” <<Cringe>> But the mentality in our church that we all share the human experience is what drives the partnership with our sister community in Llano. When we went in September, we spent a few days getting just getting to know people. In addition to the members of the community, we also got to know our travel mates much more intimately. The simple act of living together opens a group up to SO many opportunities to be vulnerable. While it was possible to remain aloof and not engage – and some did – most of us embraced the opportunity to share struggles as well as joys. Whether with the people of Llano or with our travel mates, we sat – we talked – we laughed – we sang songs – and we fought valiantly against the language barrier. It wasn’t about giving advice. we weren’t teaching them “better” farming methods. They know their land FAR better than we do, and our little backyard gardens mean nothing to their operations. It wasn’t about offering to install electricity or plumbing. It’s not a concern for them right now. It’s about learning about their community and how they live. The real beauty is finding the parallels between their experiences and ours. Their husbands work too hard. They worry about their widowed mothers living alone. There aren’t enough hours in the day for the children to study AND play. The rains were too heavy and the corn didn’t grow sufficiently (an exact flip to the plight of so many American farmers this year). Simply by being themselves, the Salvadorans taught us to bridge the gaps between “our world” and “their world.”
Given the opportunity to go outside my world and my problems, to lift my head and LOOK AROUND, I felt unbelievably empowered. I am not a person who believes in a “plan.” People always tell me, “There’s a plan. It all happens for a reason.” This doesn’t work for me. I understand how it helps many MANY others, but I don’t believe it. I do, however, believe that I control my actions. One never knows what’s around the corner – big changes, small changes, but always changes – we often have to step back and reevaluate where we’re headed. But if you meet your challenges head on – as a participant in your life, rather than an observer – the happiness will follow. The Salvadorans didn’t teach me this lesson. I’d learned it years ago. But they reminded me of my own strength – my own value – at a time in my life when I desperately needed it.
Last week a member of the community came for a visit. Just seeing his face brought it all back. We don’t need to create great works to make a difference in each other’s lives – we just need to be honest, real, and present. That’s the beauty in this partnership for me. Cutting through it all and finding friends.