Real Community Service

Everyone in this world has dreams no matter where they live, how old they are, or what language they speak. When I think of common dreams the following come to mind: having a certain career, living in a nice house, going to college, having a big family, staying in good health or achieving something special before one dies. In Nicaragua this week, I heard a new one. I learned about a father whose dream is to read the Bible before he dies. I was left speechless. I felt privileged, moved, guilty, humbled and inspired all at once. Something that often seems so simple to us was so profound for him.

In my prior blog posts I emphasized the impact of education and literacy on both individuals and communities. However, those thoughts and opinions were based upon books that I had read, not firsthand knowledge about what the people themselves wanted. Those words were written from the perspective of an outsider, one who had not personally experienced the hearts and desires of the people. I underestimated how deep the desire to read actually was and how strongly it weighed on the people of Nicaragua. Thus, I was completely blown away this week by the enthusiasm and receptiveness shown by the people towards this literacy program—youth and adults alike.

On Tuesday, I interviewed the local leaders and pastors of a small, rural, Miskito village on the East Coast. They were ecstatic about the program and the opportunity that it afforded to the adults of their village, of whom they estimated only about twenty percent were literate. When asked which language they preferred to be educated in, Spanish or Miskito, they said “Spanish, Miskito and English. All three! Whatever we can get!” From there, they proceeded to volunteer for the positions of teachers and program coordinators. It was amazing to see their faces light up and their heads nodding with enthusiasm as I elaborated on the program. When I inquired about their energetic reactions, one elder explained that “when one has the ability to read, you can understand more things in the world.” A teacher in Puerto Cabezas named Javier echoed these statements saying that the “people don’t want to be ignorant and just believe everything that they hear.” He explained that Nicaraguans are often taken advantage of and misled by political leaders because of their ignorance. The people yearn for knowledge—knowledge about the Bible, agriculture, government, medicine, you name it.  The leaders, most of whom are literate, strongly desire to see their village transformed and are willing to sacrifice their own time and energy to help others. Even though the five pastors from the local Miskito villages represented five competing congregations of different denominations, they didn’t care who attended their particular church. They simply wanted the people to be able to decide on their own and to read the Bible—the one force that unites the different churches.

A group of youth in a community called Nueva Vida on the west coast exhibited this same enthusiasm and determination for education. Every student knew someone personally who was illiterate and who they thought would want to participate in the program. After talking to them for a while, I asked the young adults to raise their hands if they would be willing to help teach their fellow community members to read through this program. All hands went up. Even after I proceeded to explain the huge time commitment required, they remained steadfast.  I was so impressed at their willingness to sacrifice their own time to serve others, without any reward in return. They attributed this to their love for their community and for God.

One key observation from my interviews with Christians in Nicaragua was that volunteering and serving is an integral component of their faith. Just like the people from Christian Fellowship Church are actively living out their beliefs through their service to the poor, the youth and the elders of these villages also view volunteering as a duty of ones faith.

Richard Stearns, the CEO of World Vision, one of the largest Christian international aid organizations, wrote a book called Hole in the Gospel. In this, he claims that if a person took a pair of scissors and cut out every verse in the Bible that pertained to poverty, wealth, justice and oppression, the Bible would literally fall apart. The point is to illustrate the immense centrality of these themes in the Scripture. When one ignores these issues and fails to heed God’s commands to help those who are suffering, one is living by a fractured and partial gospel. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that read, “A day should never pass without an act of charity.” I was like “Wow, what an awesome bumper sticker, I want one!” But then I asked myself, “What was my act of charity today?” Since I got back from Nicaragua, whose dreams have I helped to make a reality in my community?  We don’t really like to ask ourselves these questions because it often means that we have to sacrifice something, whether it be tangible possessions or simply one’s time. The people I met this week inspired and challenged me to examine the ways in which I do or do not serve my own community and the role that my faith plays in motivating me to do so.