A Lesson from Northern Nicaragua

“Pam” little Lucita said, mispronouncing the Spanish word for bread while holding up her well gnawed hard-cracker called a “rosquilla” for my benefit.  “Si, pan” I responded.  Her two year old smile extended from ear to ear as she threw her head back and gurgled a peal of laughter toward the zinc metal roof.  She went back to dipping her cracker in her orange plastic cup filled with milk while perching tenuously on a cracked green plastic stool.  Little Lucita doesn’t realize she is poor – or an orphan.  She lives with an Evangelical pastor and his wife  who have been friends of mine since the days I worked on Hurricane Mitch relief in the 1990s.  “We had extra space” he told me matter-of-factly, “my kids grew up and moved out so we took in two more.”  Far from wealthy himself, his act of Christian charity toward a child in need is tremendously moving.   

For those of us who live in Washington, we all to often fall into the comfortable trap of dealing with problems and poverty near and far with an impersonal arrogance.  We talk in broad sweeping terms about health care, foreign aid, and budget deficits.  Contractors and Non-Governmental Organizations look at their bottom lines and hire experts to help pad them.  We use impersonal mechanisms like “dollars per beneficiary” or “number of fed” to ease our reporting – and perhaps our consciences.  

And ironically in our political bubble we sometimes forget that Americans are wonderful people.  On the airplane flying from Miami to Managua I observed a group of American medical missionaries.  They looked to be nurses and were set to carry out a week-long mission trip to serve.  They weren’t thinking about politics, or the US image, or how to game the system for their own benefit.  They wanted to help.  During the flight, one man turned to the other to share some sort of letter.  Discretely, I peered over his shoulder.  It was a letter from Compassion International, a Colorado based child-sponsorship organization.  The letter was introducing the new sponsor to his sponsored child – a child probably very much like Lucita.  He was trying to convince his new friend and teammate in the seat next to him to sponsor a child himself.  “Only $38 a month” he said, “and the money goes for her education, health and food.”  

I was immediately struck by a sense of humility.  For those living in Washington, who are always counting the costs, we forget that most Americans don’t.  We are sometimes blind to the fact that, for the most part, we are a good people that cares for others and quite often performs selfless acts of charity.  Our obese Uncle Sam seems to see individuals as either problems or objects, and pedantically seeks to control or socially engineer what their large bureaucracy deems as “unfit behavior”.  But far from truth, Uncle Sam is wrong.  Americans care.  

Little Lucita will learn this.  My pastor friend has built relationships with many good, caring and kind American churches.  Little Lucita is lucky, she will lead a better life thanks to the anonymous kindness of sacrificial strangers.  We who live in Washington must always acknowledge that our best ambassadors are always our own citizens.  We must remember that the sacrificial acts of “we the people” are what made our nation great – and are the only thing which will preserve its greatness.  We who live in Washington must learn, at long last, that at times its best to just get out of the way and trust in the upright acts of caring individuals.  Far from a risk, this is and always has been our greatest strength.    

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About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright, author of the recently released novel "Lords of Misrule" about jihad in the Sahara. Joel has also written "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio".
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One Response to A Lesson from Northern Nicaragua

  1. Ours is the century of enforced travel of disappearances. The century of people helplessly seeing others, who were close to them, disappear over the horizon.

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