Every year (except for one) of the last fourteen years, I board a plane in the cold of Dallas and land in the tropics of Nicaragua.
I don’t go on vacation or to discover a retirement place. It’s about kids.
Almost 2 decades ago, the church I serve, the Waterview Church of Christ in Richardson, started a simple program to feed poor children one hot breakfast a week. Kids would collect quarters and give then at the end of a 13-week class period.
It started small but has since exploded. What began with a single room of 25 kids is now four locations with over 300 kids. They get a breakfast their families cannot afford. They get Bible teaching and hygiene lessons.
For kids who live on sewer-rutted streets, it’s a banquet.
Also, we have helped with medical needs and support a clinic to provide health care for those who cannot afford it at hospitals.
So, I boarded a plane two weeks ago at 4 am and returned a week later. When I come back, people ask, “Did you have a good time?” I struggle with that question.
My typical answer is, “It was a good trip.” It reflects something different than “fun.” It speaks to more profound satisfaction.
As I came home this time, I thought about the trip. It’s always easier to see things in life’s rearview mirrors, and that is true about this part of my life.
Out of that reflection, I developed another question, one that if someone asked me, I would answer in three ways.
The question is, “How do you feel about your trip?”
First, satisfaction settles over me. I discover programs doing well due to the excellent work of local preachers. Kids are fed and happy. They greet me with a big “hola” and hugs.
The satisfaction comes from helping particular families. We helped Michael several years ago. He was malnourished and could not walk at 5. We got him back on his feet through the generosity of beautiful people who gave.
Joseline is a young lady I met when she was 12. She had a brain tumor that required surgical removal. She was blind, without hearing, and non-responsive. I met her when she was recuperating in a plastic lawn chair sitting in the heat. We helped in many ways, including food, therapy, and prayer. She’s better now, although she will never see.
Or Hillary. A little girl who had leukemia and went through some brutal treatments in not-the-best hospitals. But she’s recovering, and blood tests are hopeful.
It’s these kinds of stories that keep me boarding that plane when I would rather pull the bed covers back over me on a cold winter day.
The second feeling is the opposite. In ways, I continue to be dissatisfied. I visit homes with families who live under terrible poverty and trouble. From an American perspective, it is appalling, but they seem to take it in stride. There is always new work to do. I see girls who have had children at 13. Their eyes give away a sense of despair.
One of the American traits is false optimism. We cannot solve the world’s problems. I can help one more child. That’s the only approach I know to take.
But the final feeling is more unsettling. There is rising anxiety that each trip might be the last time I see these people and these kids.
One comes from the world we live in. Geopolitics are shifting. The world is not safe, and it doesn’t get better, regardless of political rhetoric. It may come a day where I cannot go.
The other is the simple problem of mortality. I started going in my 50’s, and now I am about to top the hill of my mid-’60s. While I am in good health, no one knows the future. Life’s end swiftly approaches, and I know my years of going are numbered.
So I make the best out of the years I have.
If there is work to be done and the Lord allows it, I will continue.
Why? Let me tell you the reason.
I told you about Joseline. I revisited her this year. She still cannot see. She has neurological issues that cause her to pound her chest. Without eyes, she depends on hearing and touch.
She touched my face, pulled me close, and kissed my cheek. She knows one phrase in English. “I love you.” She whispered it in my ear.
That’s a good reason to make an arduous journey each year.