Early in my time at the Finca, I wrote this snippet as part of an Advent reflection:
“So I’m waiting this Advent, waiting without the false hope that all pain and suffering will vanish away, but that Christ will dwell with us in a very real way in the pain and suffering. And maybe that is the only guarantee that we are given as missionaries – the only promise we really need in order to continue serving and loving. Not that all will be well always or that mission…will unravel and take root unhindered, but that Christ will always dwell with us, in our hearts and in the faces and hearts of those whom we call brothers, sisters, and friends.”
Except I didn’t realize that this singular and ostensibly simple takeaway would come to define much of my journey at the Finca. Staying true to the story of Emmanuel, God with us, came naturally in times of contagious laughter over a shared meal with my community of Santa Teresita, or in dancing/singing to the Frozen soundtrack with my girls, or in learning how to make tortillas with the house tías, or in yelling and laughing as loud as possible on the campo while running barefoot in the rain during girls’ soccer, …the list goes on. However, being faithful to this story of God-with-us, seemed an unlikely theme at other times – in the recurring moments of deep loneliness, helplessness in the midst of suffering, and feelings of frustrating inadequacies.
I also didn’t realize that in moments of anger, sadness, and loneliness in the face of the innocent suffering of our kids or community, my faith continued to instinctively return to a Santa-element of God not unlike a concept of Multiple Therapeutic Deism wherein God watches over us from Heaven and then the good people go to Heaven (or the kids on the “nice list” get presents). Perhaps not so extreme, but in moments of bewilderment and frustration I would go to the peace garden at night and just wonder…
Okay God, I came to the Finca to serve these kids as a missionary. I am convinced that You have called me here. Yet there is so much brokenness and suffering in the lives of so many around us and even within our own community. But if I and all of my fellow missionaries continue to be faithful to You and to serve You with love, I believe that You will bring some healing and good to this Finca community…
In late May, my fellow missionaries and I returned to our respective homes unexpectedly due to a security incident in the area of Trujillo where we were living. The kids are all safe and continue to live with their house parents at the Finca. The missionaries are also all safe and back in the US and many of us are in the process of transitioning to new cities, finding jobs, and remembering how to integrate into American culture and society. As you might imagine, this was not part of the initial plan. When I left for Guatemala and later for Honduras a little over a year ago, I said goodbye to my family and friends as I embarked on a journey to serve as a missionary for 27 months.
Yet there I was back on my couch 17 months early with no plans. I was filled with sadness, anger, and confusion. Hadn’t I said “yes” to being a missionary at the Finca for two years?! Embarrassingly, these overwhelming emotions often misplaced solely as anger occupied my thoughts for longer than I’d like to admit.
It wasn’t until I found myself hiking through the giant redwoods of Northern California that I could plumb the depths of that quiet and gentle, center of stillness that had been so evasive. Finally as I followed the winding trails between century-old redwoods, I reflected on my short, but experience-filled journey of living and serving at the Finca with new eyes and open heart. Images emerged as I read over old journals and recalled many meaningful memories and relationships that had defined my life at the Finca. I walked and prayed slowly with these memories, from the laughter-filled moments with radiant kids to the more lonely moments of darkness and growth. I saw these images anew in thanksgiving and trust rather than expectation and outcome. And memory after memory led me to the same end – I must be faithful to the story of Emmanuel.
And maybe that is the only guarantee that we are given as missionaries – the only promise we really need in order to continue serving and loving. Not that all will be well always or that mission…will unravel and take root unhindered, but that Christ will always dwell with us.
There is no other guarantee. There is no insurance plan. There is no “if I do X, all immediate suffering and injury will cease to exist.” There is only the promise and truth of a story containing all other stories. And when we are truly faithful to this story of Emmanuel, God-with-us, I think we are freed from all other cheap and fleeting substitutes. Evil is never willed by an all-powerful and all-loving God, and experiences of loneliness and helplessness in the face of structural sin reveal not a reality of abandonment, but rather something quite different.
It’s true – I was called to the Finca, but it didn’t mean that everything I touched and all that I did would come to fruition before my eyes. In fact, I learned significantly more when the very opposite seemed to occur. While a part of me still longs to hold onto that rosy vision of seeds sown in toil bearing fruit one day after we are all gone, it seems that the joyous freedom and Christian hope that comes from the story of Emmanuel cannot necessarily be dependent on outcome. Emmanuel, God-with-us, is not actually about me or anything that I do. Rather it has everything to do with God. It has everything to do with an Incarnate God who humbled himself to share in our humanity, who was born an infant child to a young virgin, who walked and suffered amongst us, and redeemed all out of perfect love. That is hope – Love has already conquered over death.
And this is Emmanuel. Let us always be faithful to this story: God-with-us.
It’s been an incredible journey, thanks for accompanying me on this blog.
Finally, I would be remiss if I ended this blog without a highlight reel of just a few of the people I am deeply thankful for…
To the kids at the Finca:
your love of bunny-ears still fascinates me.
group photos also a specialty. (photo credit: Brooke)
photo credit: Brooke
You have changed me in a way I still cannot describe. Thanks for allowing me to walk with you and share some life with you. Thanks for the times you called me ballena, for the times you challenged my overly innocent and optimistic ways, for the times you looked at me like the basic gringa that I am and taught me elementary life skills. Thanks also for the quick instances of vulnerability… when you grabbed my hand when no one was looking, told me about your life passions and fears, and shared the tiniest bit of our burdens together.
To the community of Santa Teresita:
I couldn’t imagine a more dedicated, inspiring, and beautiful group of people to have shared this past year with. Thanks for never settling, for the emergency cakes and 3 liter cokes, for the heart-to-hearts, for your daily witnesses of simply being missionaries, for night prayer in the courtyard, for the water/food fights, for the coronas, for the sunset swims, for your relentless support in everything, and for the craziest, most ridiculous moments, too.
photo credit: Brooke
You taught me to point with my lips and to speak campesino. But really your incredible generosity and hospitality can only be likened to the hospitality Jesus teaches us in the Gospel. When I walked into your homes, a wide-eyed foreigner, you offered me your only chair and the food you were saving for dinner. When I was a foreigner, you eventually stopped calling me chinita and welcomed me into your lives without hesitation. You (mostly) didn’t flinch at my Spanish mumblings and loved me as your own with open arms. And those wide-open stretches of natural beauty beyond the winding dirt roads to San Pedro Sula, the gentle and rhythmic ripples of ocean water that would meet my sandy feet on a morning walk, and those lush forests full of secret swimming holes?
Gahhh, I’ll be back someday.