This was one of my favorite days – a boat tour on Lake Granada.
“We came here to help. Not to preach or to convert, or to judge. We just came to help.”
These were my opening words to the people at ANIT, the LBGTQ+ organization in Nicaragua that was the focus of our 2019 Mission Trip in August. Sadly, Pastor David was detained at the airport in Nicaragua, and was refused entrance. In his absence, I was asked to say a few words of greeting to the people at ANIT.
For several days, our team was there. We painted walls and repaired broken things. Some of us spent a lot of time in hardware stores and Walmart, driving around the city of Managua looking for materials, sheet rock, paint, supplies, glass, and other items to beautify the office space at ANIT. We bought bright pink paint. We didn’t judge. We just painted.
As we were wrapping up our time at ANIT, Alex C., UCCH church member, sat us all down in a circle with members of ANIT. We had a couple hours together, talking and sharing about our experiences that week. I was struck by the stories of people who simply want to live their most authentic lives and be true to their most authentic selves in a world that doesn’t fully support them or acknowledge their existence.
I was moved by the love and care the members of ANIT have for one another. In the midst of living in a society that rejects them, they come together in love and form their own community. For a brief four days, we were welcomed into this community and were able to hear the sighs and sorrows from members of this community. We had just come to help, but we learned and experienced so much more.
A few days ago the director of ANIT, Ludwika, was brutally attacked by two men who tried to suffocate her with a plastic bag and stabbed her seven times. This attack took place at the door of the office our mission team just remodeled in August. Ludwika survived the attack, but the scars of injustice and persecution remain. The ANIT community members live in fear for their lives and their friends in the face of such acts of hatred against the gay community in Nicaragua. Ludwika is a heroine, a woman called to fiercely love and protect people in her community who have been rejected by society.
The commandment to love one another, to the point of laying down one’s life, is not for the faint of heart. I’ve honestly have never been in a situation where I’ve had to make that choice, but history is full of martyrs and heroes asked to make that ultimate sacrifice. I don’t know if I or any of us will ever be called upon to make such a sacrifice. It is my hope though, that in our life and work together, we simply have the hands to help others, the feet to hasten to the aid of others, the eyes to see the need of others, the ears to hear the cry of others, and the voice to give testimony to the plight of others.
With the help of God, may it so.
Dear God, I lay my head to rest, and in doing so, lay at your feet the faces I have seen, the voices I have heard, the words I have spoken, the hands I have shaken, the service I have given, the joys I have shared, the sorrows revealed, I lay them at your feet, and in doing so lay my head to rest. ~ancient Celtic prayer
I, along with 10 others from United Church, am traveling in August to Nicaragua for the annual mission trip. This year we are partnering with ANIT, an LBGTQIA+ organization, and will be working on a project with them to fix up a residential shelter for people kicked out of their homes because of sexual identity or preference. We are really excited about this trip.
When I’ve talked to people about the trip, some have expressed concern about the political unrest and violence there, and some have even told me I shouldn’t go. “It’s unsafe,”and one friend said to me, “it’s irresponsible of you.”
Yes, it’s true, there’s unrest in Nicaragua, but I’m really not afraid. I’m not traveling alone. We will have several native Spanish speakers with us. We won’t leave one another alone. And…truthfully, it’s no more dangerous than life in the U.S. these days, when going to the movies, school, church, mall, concerts, etc…are always under threat.
The John passage tells us to not be “troubled or afraid” for a reason. Imagine living your life in constant fear and anxiety that something dreadful is right around the corner? That’s not a way to live.
Martin Luther King Jr. said “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward in spite of obstacles and frightening situations; cowardice is a submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage faces fear and thereby masters it; cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it.”
It’s not in our spiritual best interest to not try something, because it’s unsafe. Traveling to a place like Nicaragua is not irresponsible, rather it’s a step of faith and of love. It’s about seeking grace in the experience of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. It’s about listening to the stillspeaking voice from God, saying “this is something you should do. It might not be easy, but it’s where I’m calling you to go. Don’t be afraid.”
Loving God, be with us as we travel in and about places unknown to us. Lead is in love and in courage. Help us put aside our fears, our anxiousness, as well as comfort those who disagree with our chosen journeys, for we know you travel with us always. Amen.