One might assume that because I was in rural Nicaragua last week I may have been unaware of all the political chaos going on in Washington, but let me tell you—I got a bigger dose of world politics there than I ever have before. Though I may not have had internet or television for most of the trip, I most certainly got wind of events through word of mouth and local newspapers. It was actually fascinating to see American events from a Nicaraguan perspective and also to learn about Nicaraguan politics simultaneously. You see, despite the huge dissimilarities between the two countries, the Nicaraguans that I talked to can still heavily identify with many elements of American politics. Two major parallels that I picked up on were the following: 1) both countries have presidential elections coming up and 2) both countries have pressing, long term problems. For Nicaragua, it is the extreme poverty and lack of economic growth especially in the autonomous regions, while for the United States our major problem is the massive debt looming over our heads. But both instances, these are long-term problems that call for long-term solutions and leaders that think beyond their next election.
In his book, When Helping Hurts, Brian Fikkert focuses heavily on the importance of long-term over short-term approaches in alleviating enduring problems. He says that there are three forms of aid: Relief, Rehabilitation, and Development (107). Relief is immediate short-term aid that serves to lessen suffering in an urgent situation such as a natural disaster. Rehabilitation serves to “restore people and their communities to the positive elements of their precrisis condition” (108). Finally, Development is the long-term, ongoing change that ultimately transforms individuals and communities for the better. One of the major problems that Nicaraguans talk about is that oftentimes their political leaders will give them temporary relief or rehabilitation (mostly just to get votes) but what they really need is development. They recognize that their own people become dependent upon these quick fixes and will stop exerting energy to find more enduring solutions. One simply cannot fix long-term problems with short-term solutions. Development is a slow process though and it can take generations to transform a community as impoverished and underdeveloped as Nueva Vida, Nicaragua. The effects of development tactics may not be seen for years to come, which can be discouraging for Nicaraguans and Americans alike. Development work also requires a huge amount of time and sacrifice. It’s often easy to get discouraged when things don’t go according to plan. Let me tell you, most things do not go according to the plan. Even this literacy program has had a slower start than anticipated due to its developmental nature. There have been a lot of “bumps in the road” so to say, but at the end of the day we know that it is worth it.
Something that I have realized though is that these concepts aren’t solely for the NGO, the Peace Corps member, or the political functionary. The model of Relief, Rehabilitation and Development and the value of long-term endurance can also be applied on an individual, microcosmic level. In fact, I can see a lot of this in my own personal experience as a Christian. When I first accepted Christ, it was like Jesus offered me that initial step: Relief. With His grace and forgiveness He set me free from the “natural disaster” of my life and offered hope. Then, He helped Rehabilitate me through His healing and restoration of my relationship with God. These two moves prepared me for the long term growth—Development—that would mark my journey as a Christian. For me, my faith is not just a short, one time decision but a lifelong journey. It is a process of growth and personal transformation that takes patience, sacrifice, and trust. It isn’t always easy or painless, but its worth it.
Likewise, I think that the citizens of Nicaragua and America currently witnessing all of this political turmoil can agree that though it’s going to be a tough journey from here to turn around both countries, it is worth it in the long-run. Though things may seem dark at times, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The people of Nicaragua I have met this summer certainly believe this and continue to blow me away with their perseverance, patience and hope.