As I sit here in my favorite coffee shop Two Rivers Coffee I’m here today to reflect on my trip to Nicaragua with Restoration Covenant Church this past month. It has been 10 days since we returned home and I’ve had some time to put my thoughts and reflections in order, and that’s what I’d like to share with you in this blog.
I had a few verses and passages of scripture I had chosen–or had been chosen for me–to study and draw new meaning from on this trip. The first was Romans 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism.” This verse came to me a through a friend, Isaiah Tatum, who gave me a hat to wear and bracelets to give out to friends I met while on my trip. The bracelets said “God Got Me, God Got You” on them, which I’ll go into more detail here in a minute.
The second verse was the entire passage from 2 Kings. This was the passage our mission trip leader Dan had chosen for our group. We read it through completely before the trip and got some context, and were encouraged to think about it during the trip.
Reflecting, there were many instances during the trip where I can draw a lesson from this piece of scripture that applied to my trip. But first, a review of the passage.
Depending on how you look at it you could split this story up into two parts, which is how I prefer to share it.
In verses 1-14 we learn of the story of Naaman, a high commander of the army of the king of Syria. Naaman, a mighty man of valor for the powerful kingdom of Syria, had Leprosy. A servant of Naaman’s wife, a little girl whom they had captured from the poor refuge country of Israel, told Naaman of the prophet in her country that could cure him of his leprosy. Desperate for a resolution to his illness, Naaman went to the king of Syria and spoke of the prophet from the little girl’s home. The king obliged, and sent Naaman to Israel’s king with a letter, that the Israeli King might cure him of his leprosy.
Let’s pause here. The king from a mighty, powerful country is sending one of his highly respected soldiers to the King of a country much less well-off than his own to receive healing.
The king of Israel didn’t react to this news well, thinking the mighty king was looking for an excuse to take his country to war. So the Israeli king did something that almost never happened during Biblical times. He deferred Naaman to the prophet of his country, Elisha.
Finally, Naaman showed up to the home of Elisha the prophet, Elisha sent a messenger to him saying “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”
Pause. Do you think Naaman was frustrated? He was a soldier of valor from a mighty country with many clean rivers to wash in, and upon arriving at the prophets doorstep in Israel a poor country the prophet would not even go and greet him, then instructed him to wash in the dirtiest river in the country seven times.
What happened next was one of Naaman’s servants came to him and reminded him that it was a great word the prophet had spoken to him. “Wash, and be clean.” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
Verses 15-27 is the story of how Naaman offered to pay the prophet Elisha for his good works, but Elisha refused except for the holy land Naaman asked to take as a remembrance of his healing. Gehazi, Elisha’s protege collected a reward even though Elisha had refused, and as a result, Gehazi was taught a lesson and contract the leper’s disease himself.
For the sake of this reflection on my trip, I’m going to keep my focus on verses 1-14.
Drawing new meaning, 2 Kings was a story that drew on many parallels. Rich vs. Poor, politics, letting go, and perhaps the most important, listening.
Story 1 – “The Jordan River”
As we were in the van driving back to the airport from Leon to Managua, the four of us on the trip were reflecting on the trip with SuNica’s leader, Josh. I remember Josh’s second question, what was our highs and lows from the week?
When it got around for me to share my reflection, I shared that my high and low were the same:
On the first day of the trip, we loaded up the van and headed to a retreat site with all the SuNica ministry leaders. This was a great time for us to get to know the SuNica staff. The day started with us going around the circle and introducing ourselves to everyone. Having studied Spanish and practiced before the trip, I gave my 30-second introduction in Spanish and did my absolute best to comprehend everything everyone else was saying in Spanish. Soon after this exercise is when I hit my low point. I wanted so badly to be able to connect with people in their native language while I was there, to not be seen as someone who was there on a mission trip but as someone who was just there to help and come alongside them. I came to the realization that if I were to have any impact and have fun on this trip I wasn’t going to be able to do it whilst speaking Spanish.
Devastated, is how I would describe how I felt for a few minutes after coming to this realization.
After hiking out into the wilderness for prayer and reflection, and a couple yoga poses, I decided how I would respond would be to completely “Let Go” of attempting to fully comprehend conversations in Spanish, and also of attempting to form complete sentences in Spanish. I would instead practice active listening, feeling what the person speaking was feeling, and then doing my best to line up what my interpreters translated with what the person speaking was feeling.
It was my response to this “letting go” that would reveal many lessons God had in store for me on the trip.
Story 2 – “To Serve & Be Served Lunch By”
The second day we helped out digging trenches to lay pipe for the showers and bathrooms at the new community center SuNica was building for the Limonel community that lived next to the dump. Limonel literally translates to “City of Lemons.” There were many lime trees around which we squeezed into our water bottles, I did not see a lemon tree though, maybe they just weren’t in season!
During our lunch break, we had the opportunity to have lunch with a host family in the community. The home we were having lunch at was everything I had envisioned going into before we arrived in Nicaragua.
I won’t go into detail but it wasn’t good. The meal was though, as well as the conversation. With three interpreters listening to aiding the conversation I had plenty of teammates to lean on to communicate with the host family we were there to serve and be served lunch by.
A man and woman that spoke no English, and me having shut my mind off to attempting to comprehend and respond in complete sentences. How on earth was I going to allow the conversation to go deeper and pour encouragement to them?
Short answer, listening. I would listen so intently, looking them right in the eye, feeling what they were feeling, throughout the entire time they spoke to me. I didn’t understand a word, I had shut my mind off, but I would feel what they were saying, I could feel what they were feeling, the highs and lows of their tonality, their despair, and progress, their relationships with others. I noticed they were empowered through my active listening to go further and dive deeper into the subject manner they were speaking on, and at the end of every story they shared, I could feel they felt good for the opportunity to complete their thought and encouraged by our company.
Then it was my turn to listen to the translation of their story from my interpreters. As they shared I listened intently, doing my best to match up the story being shared with the feeling of the original storyteller. It was through this practice of purposeful listening that I was able to take in the context of the moment, of the story, and then respond in such a way that displayed a deeper comprehension of their story/situation, then respond with my own experiences and personality that aided in drawing a deeper connection for the entire group.
It was the combination of listening, trusting my interpreters, and responding purposefully that brought about a new high for the trip thus far. Once I had let go of my expectation of the way I wanted to serve while I was there I was able to not only serve the people we were there to serve but everyone around me. Amen!
Story 3 – “God Got Me, God Got You”
One of the last things we got to do on our mission trip was to take a tour of a community that formed from a single family deciding to live by some abandoned railroad tracks, near the sugar cane farm they were working at. From that single family, more families would come, until it reached its current population of around 134 families.
This was also a community that SuNica was about to begin a new ministry through a few of the leaders they’ve been discipling for the past year. So getting to be “adopted” by a family was an invaluable experience for not only us but for the SuNica ministry leaders as well.
Before we could meet our adopted families though, we would receive our tour of the town and water tower SuNica helped to erect. There is quite the story about how they determined access to water was such a need, but that’s a story for another day and another blog. The real story I want to share is something that happened as a result of letting go, letting God and listening.
There was a young girl who was staying with us with our adopted family. Her name was Stephanie. We arrived at the home just before dinner time, and as the day grew long our Spanish speaking skills began to deteriorate, and communication was becoming increasingly hard. However, with a newfound energy, Dan and I began to engage Stephanie in a conversation about her schooling. Stephanie was in high school. I asked her what class she enjoyed the most, what she liked to study. She responded that she loved to write, and that her favorite thing to write about was philosophia.
Hearing that from my translator for the evening Dan, I asked her what philosopher’s she liked to write about. She responded she hasn’t actually done any writing herself, but she most enjoys rewriting the words of other philosophers. She then shared that instead, she liked to draw her interpretations of their messages. It was at this point I asked if she would be willing to share one of her drawings, and the first drawing she shared absolutely blew me away…
I had brought my sketchbook on the trip, and the day before leaving for Nicaragua I had hand drawn an image that was almost identical to the drawing Stephanie was showing us. I couldn’t believe it. I knew God was in that conversation but had no clue what the connections were yet. Only that there was a connection here in our drawings.
I shared my drawing with the group, and we all took a step back to reflect on their similarities. We were all amazed. What did this mean? What was God trying to tell us?
Stephanie said she was drawing “God’s hand” an image of God holding the Earth in his palm. My drawing was for a client of mine who’s mission is to carry the legacy of American soldiers through her story.
I look at Dan and say, Dan… American soldiers, the most powerful country, Naaman and the kingdom of Syria, what does this all mean?
At that point, Esmirna, Stephanie, Dan and myself are all on the edge of our seats. Dan then went into what sounded like a sermon to Stephanie and Esmirna about the connection we had made about our service trip there and the passage we had chosen to draw a deeper meaning from. I could tell Esmirna had picked up on something as she responded in Spanish.
The point is it was this connection in our drawings allowed us to connect once again, and it was all because we were listening and waiting patiently for God to show up, and he was. Amen!
Reflecting two weeks later
Reflecting two weeks later on this interaction and the similarities and intent behind the drawings, I think the message God was sharing with us was that we are all one. It doesn’t matter if we come from a mighty country or a country of refugees, we are all “connected,” we are all children of God, and the more we listen to each other intently the way Jesus did it’s easier for everyone to “shine” and see God working in our lives. GGMGGY Amen!
Thank you everyone!