We had walked at least two miles through a maze of dirt roads, splashing through and sinking in the mud. We’d given up dodging the puddles and swampy grasses brought by the morning’s rain.
We have four tickets left. It’s up to us to choose four families – just four – out of so so many. These four plus 46 other families will receive a bag of food in the afternoon – rice, beans, baking powder, lard, flour, and soap.
The rest? I can’t think of them.
Need is everywhere.
But so is joy.
We’re joined by a group of kiddos who are laughing and splashing as if the rainy season is the best thing since sliced bread. I have no idea what they’re laughing at as they speak Miskito – a language spoken in La Moskitia by the indigenous people there.
Their words are irrelevant. The language barrier irrelevant. We’re all speaking the language of smiles as they run in and around us. Kiddos being kiddos.
And I am tempted to complain.
I’m recovering from malaria. It’s humid and hot. My backpack is burning against my back, and I really want to toss it in the mud.
My $120 Brooks running shoes are water logged and mud covered. I am sure most of that mud has a little (or lot of) sewage mixed in as evidenced by the smell emanating from the pools of swampy water and my feet.
And then we arrive here…
And a little boy no older than 10 sees us coming. He finds a board, making us a bridge to his home, knowing that the water would be thigh deep for us. He struggles to position the board – wanting it to be just right. I am watching as my feet sink into black mud, wondering if that boy’s board is even going to hold my weight. I consider not crossing – staying outside. I even voice my thoughts…I’ll stay back.
One look from my friend communicates what I already know…I am staying back and holding back because this has all become too much.
Too real. Too sad. Too painful. Too wrong.
If I stay outside, I don’t have to know what’s inside. The houses I have seen remain structures in photographs, not homes. I am about to see how they live, survive.
Once again, I am about to know a name. Meet a face.
I walk across the sweet boy’s makeshift bridge and up the stairs to his home – careful of the porch boards that feel weak under my weight.
Inside, the boy has a brother and three sisters – two of which speak Spanish. There’s no dad. Their mom is out gathering wood, and she should be home soon. Before the family can get a food bag ticket, we talk to them and pray with them, so we decide to wait on the mother.
The boy’s brother lying on the bed confuses me. I know something isn’t right.
Our missionary friend, Morgan, explains…
At about age 10, the boy (who is now 22) went up to the mountain to find work. When he came home, he had essentially lost his mind. For 12 years he’s laid in the bed, speaking random Moskito words that make no sense even to those who speak his language.
What happened to him? It’s a mystery. He either was drugged or saw something too traumatic for his young mind to digest.
Her next words break my heart.
Sometimes they have to tie him up, attaching his hands together and to the bed so he won’t hurt himself or others.
What? Tie him up?
But, they have to. What other options are available to them? There’s no special hospital or schools for him. There’s no medicine. There’s no other good option. For everyone’s safety, he sometimes needs subdued.
I am undone. Holding back so many emotions, I think I am going to pass out. I step onto the porch.
In the distance, I see the most precious sight…the group of kiddos who’d been following us have stripped down and are literally flipping into a huge pool of water. Their laughter and flips and splashes are truly a gift from God in that moment. I felt God saying – almost audibly…my framework and perspective is not yours, Sarah. You are viewing this place through a North American lens. I am not. I am love.
At the moment, I see the kiddos’ mom walking toward home, carrying wood on her head. She sees me on her porch, and I can only imagine what I must look like to her. Standing on her porch with my Nike backpack in my cargo shorts wearing pricey running shoes and oversized sunglasses.
And I want to kick my self-righteous, whiny self.
Her bare feet wade through the water. She’s 50 according to her children. She unloads the wood and approaches me with a smile, extending her hand. I envelop her hand and offer a Spanish greeting but realize she only speaks Moskito.
But, we both speak “smile.”
I follow her into her home. It’s about 14 by 14 – just one room. Inhabited by six people. Six people who are smiling from ear to ear and welcoming us with open arms – literally.
Through her daughters, we explain that if she walks the few miles to the missionary’s house at 1:00 pm, we will give her a bag of food.
She smiles again. Thankful.
We pray in Spanish – her daughter translating to Moskito. She hugs each one of us, offering thanks – ok, I have no idea what she was saying, but it was thanks. One just knows a thankful heart.
We leave that home, wading through water to meet three more families. All with stories I hope to tell in the future. But, I begin with this story because it has changed my life and will forever inform how I see poverty and God and others and more.
For in that moment, when God sent me “to do unto the least these,” I realized I am the least of these. I may have more material resources than that entire Moskito village, but in that moment…
Their material poverty met my spiritual poverty. And together we were both the least of these, serving and loving one another, speaking the language of smile.
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25: 40.