It’s hot everyday. It’s so humid that you don’t want to move. Not even turn your head. You sweat just by sitting still. Your house sits with its doors and windows open, hoping for whatever breeze that may exist to pass through. You wait for it among the shadows, trying to stay cool.
Be still long enough and the market comes by your door. Everyday people walk past your house announcing out loud the products they carry in their baskets, buckets, and truck beds. Be still and you will hear the daily news, things that are relevant to your neighbors. You hear it between the exchanges of greetings and sales. You hear it as vehicles roll by slowly carrying loud speakers, carrying voices that shout verbal headlines, like the passing of Doña Rosa. She has gone to glory and apparently is survived by several sons and daughters. Her funeral service is happening right away, this afternoon.
This is León, Nicaragua.
When Roberto swings by on his motorcycle, I’m almost too happy to hop on for a ride just to catch some wind. Almost. With no helmet, and hanging on for life, I ride with him as he whips through bumpy roads and between semi trucks. Occasionally I work up the courage to open my eyes. People are standing on the side of the road in groups, waiting for rides. I see people on bicycles and motorcycles. One little girl sits on her bike while holding a three liter bottle of red gaseoso (soda/pop) on her head with both hands. Her little sister has arranged herself to sit on the bike without actually sitting on the seat. One sister pedals, the other guides the handle bars. These kids have skills. With all the motorcycles and bikes on the road, it might seem that the country is “going green”. The diesel fumes from the buses and trucks suggests otherwise. We turn onto a dirt road and pass by a bus with a picture of Jesus on the windshield. This is a school bus converted to a city passenger bus. Not an uncommon sight. This bus reads over its windshield, “Dios te Ama.” God loves you.
Roberto and I are headed to meet with leaders in the barrio of Eugenio Perez. I’m sure that might be an actual person’s name, but it’s also the name of the community. We were just on a busy road, whipping through the alleys of a city. Then, we’re in a neighborhood that seems like it’s been somewhat forgotten. It’s strange, but a strange that’s becoming familiar as it’s happened a few times already in my travels in this country. No more traffic or clear paved roads. No more motorcycles. Instead there are horses galloping by, dragging crates of wood on their backs. Stray dogs, not unfriendly, trot toward us as we get off the motorbike. Across the alley a group of children are playing in the bed of a pick-up truck that has been dead for years. We are in a dirt parking lot and I see a simple rectangular concrete structure just meters away. It has rusted doors and open windows with rusted metal frames. Gold drapes hang in front of each window. No one has to tell me what this building represents. I can feel this is a sacred place.
Our American timing gives me several moments to take in the environment while Roberto and I wait for the others to arrive to our meeting. The shade of the trees makes this place very cool. Rosters crow nearby and the chittering of insects is heard in the leaves above. After a while, the pastor of the church appears. And again, I don’t have to guess who he is or what role he plays here. His presence commands respect. His brown eyes are friendly enough to bring you in, and serious enough to let one know he is about God’s business. A few of the sisters of the church come and we sit outside. Together we discuss the work that God is doing in the barrio of Eugenio Perez. We talk about the church building behind us. About the calling the pastor felt to serve this community. About the church plant that is only seven years old. We talked about the future of this community and the vision God has given this body of believers to transform it from a community in the margins, to a community that honors and glorifies God with its full potential. We also talked about some of the challenges. For example, the need for clean water, students losing some of their school-year learning during school breaks, and youth in need of positive role models.
I am blessed to be a part of the work in the community of Eugenio Perez and two other local communities for the next three weeks. The teams working for community development in these contexts heard a bit about my experience in urban ministry and with youth. They’ve asked me to help do some training with their leaders and work hands-on with some of the youth they are trying to reach. They want me to share my testimony. But, really I love to hear their stories instead. I love to hear the history of their community and country. I love to hear how God has been working through them to bring justice for their neighbors. When I listen to them I know they are the real experts, living out the call of transformative ministry everyday and suffering with the people whom they are called to minister to.
God is choosing and using people every day in unlikely places and we’re invited to tag along in what God is already doing. In the Lord’s prayer we petition, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” The team in the barrio of Eugenio Perez is just one example of God’s will being done here on Earth, as it is in heaven. Often, when I talk with groups about community transformation I ask, “Where do you see God in your community?” If we step back from ourselves and open our eyes, we can see the Holy Spirit, who has and is establishing peace and justice in unlikely places. God arrives in the margins, long before we find our way there. Just like this place, everywhere on Earth is God’s country.