Two weeks ago, Andrew and I made the trek to Caisan, Panama to take part in the monthly feeding program. It’s a bit of a rough trip to make for someone to make who has issues with motion sickness, especially when there are three people stuffed in the backseat of a truck and the aforementioned person is in the middle of two guys getting slung around. I was extremely grateful for the smooth border crossing as you’ve all heard by now about the treacherous trip from Costa Rica, through Nicaragua, and into Honduras that we made last month. It was almost eerily smooth and uneventful. Nonetheless, I was happy to get off the road and reach the site where we began getting the food sorted and ready for delivery.
The entire week was enlightening for me in several arenas. As we made our way to the first few families to deliver their food, it was wild to me just how far we had to hike to get to them. I have read the Acts 1:8 verse many times – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnessesin Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” For some reason, I always equated the ends of the earth to be the point farthest away from where I was. I guess that would make the ends of the earth somewhere in Africa or Asia. I realize that this thought process is quite naive, but it’s what I went with for years. Now Panama doesn’t exactly sound like the ends of the earth to me, but some of the places we delivered food to were out there… way out there. We would drive up as far as we could by car, then go another 10 or 15 minutes by foot through fields and streams and down paths wide enough for only one or two to walk through at once. Logistically, I just could not comprehend how anyone could live like this so far from everything. There are families in the program that would have to walk at least 30 minutes to get to a hospital, and that may be a generous estimate. By lunchtime on day 1 of delivering food, my understanding of the ends of the earth had been drastically redefined.
It should have made more sense to me after seeing the Ngobe people. After all, indigenous people are those that have historic ties to a territory prior to colonization or formation of a nation state (as defined by Wikipedia). It should make sense that they would be behind the times a little bit. But you just can’t imagine it until you see it. It’s much more than “behind the times.”
We came across a lot of families in the 3 full days we delivered food. The one that will forever stand out in my mind is “stick lady.” She lives on the far side of a corn field up next to a power plant in town. It’s interesting to see just how close she is to modern day society, yet she lives in an encampment made of bamboo and plastic tarp creatively held together. This woman had 3 children at one time. A few months ago, they were taken from her. The story is quite vague as to what really happened to the children. Perhaps the police or social services showed up and took them. More likely, her husband sold them. It doesn’t even sound like a legitimate option in most parts of the world. Because of this woman’s state of mind, it was determined that only 2 of us would go to her house and speak with her so she would not be overwhelmed. Maiko and I made our way to her “front door,” a very loose description. As we approached the house, we were saying “hola” to make her aware we were there. The tiniest little voice would respond with “hola” each time we said it. The youngest child was back, the older two children still gone. The mother came out and we tried to talk to her and understand what was happening with the children. She was completely incoherent. We tried to get the mother to bring the child out to us so we could assess the situation better. She was visibly terrified. Maybe she thought we would take the one child that had been returned. Some of the rest of our group had walked around back and through the bamboo sticks inside this home, they could see the little girl standing there naked watching her mother from afar. One thing is for certain, that little girl was starving to death. As we left the cornfield, I felt terrible about leaving the girl behind knowing she was starving and even though we just delivered a bag of food to them, her mother was in no way capable of taking care of a child in her current state.
I began reading a book before we came to Costa Rica called “When Helping the Poor Hurts.” I think about the word “poor” and how most people would define it. The most common response would probably be lack of money and other material things. After our visit to many of the families, and in particular to see “sticky lady,” the scope of poverty became so much wider. It’s no longer just a matter of not having enough money to buy things you need. There’s a physical aspect to poverty that is apparent in every “poor” area I have ever been to. Sickness and disease run rampant. Mentally, these people are beaten down by life which is perhaps much stronger than any physical hold that poverty could ever have on them. Looking someone in the eyes knowing they don’t have an ounce of hope for their future and no dreams for their life brings the word “poor” new meaning.
A long time ago when I first began going on mission trips, God broke my heart for the things that broke His. I prayed that He would never stop. No matter what country I am in or who I am trying to help in this world, I never want to become numb to the things that absolutely break God’s heart. I can imagine some people would want to go through life without seeing the sadness or without ever being exposed to that kind of heartbreak. But the thing is, the moment that all of it no longer has any effect on me is the moment that I have given up hope that God’s kingdom is ever present here on earth as it is in heaven. So as much as I pray for the heartbreak, I pray for the hope that still exists from here unto the ends of the earth.