I have been in Nicaragua for the last week, taking pictures and filming interviews for an organization known as NRN. It has been a great experience in many ways, but has also been very tiring. I remember our second day being an exhausting mess of inner city travel and 2 language interviews. By the time I would get back at night, I was exhausted and ready for a quiet dinner and to maybe take a leisurely walk up to the ice cream shop for a cool treat .
On most nights I would change into clean clothes before bed, and settle in to the fresh cleaned sheets for anywhere from 4-8 hours of sleep. The next morning would bring breakfast, and then a quick meeting before being driven out to shoot interviews all over again. It has been tiring, but it has also been very rewarding.
In fact, as I wrapped up an interview with one of the doctors working with NRN, she asked if she could ask me a question. After assuring her through a translator that she could, she asked me why I was doing all of this work. I wasn’t exactly sure why she had asked that question, so I told her that I wanted people to know about the ministry happening here, I told her that I had been to the website before I came and that even after that I had no idea the extent of the medical ministry that NRN was doing.
After the few moments it took for my answer to be translated, she began speaking again, sharing that the people in the clinic had noticed the same problem and had actually been praying that someone would come to tell their story. She thanked me for being an answer to their prayers, and for bringing my equipment and my talents to serve when I knew I would not be paid for my time.
It was a moving moment for me, an acknowledgement of the work I had come to do. For this doctor to take time to thank me has encouraged me to keep going for the rest of the week. She saw the sacrifice I was making and made sure that I knew that she had seen it.
The thing is that it hasn’t really been that much of a sacrifice. Each night I have a hot dinner and a clean bed to sleep in. During each interview I had a translator putting my questions into Spanish, and then each answer was brought from Spanish to English. I haven’t had to wash my own clothes or cook my own dinner for the whole time I’ve been here. When I am here with NRN, I live like a rich man that can afford to have his menial tasks done for him.
If I had to clean and cook in addition to all of the other stuff I am doing here, I would be struggling to keep ahead of it all. It might be possible, but the longer I am here, the more I begin to doubt that I could do it all. The framework of people who are around me is the only reason I can continue doing what I am doing. The cooks and translators and laundry washers are an integral part of my small work here.
The Nicaraguans serving NRN are the bones, the frame that holds up our North American short term teams. Many people who interact with NRN in Nicaragua may never see the people who are the bones, holding the organization together. I look around at the people who are visibly serving and I see just skin. Our team gets to go out and look good in the communities we serve only because of the cooks who get to work at 4 in the morning and who are there when we finish dinner at 6 at night. We wear fresh clothes that were lovingly washed by ladies who may never get to see the impact of their ministry. We sleep in comfortable beds because our sheets are changed for us.
We are the skin and we get the credit for so much beauty.
They are the bones that we so often forget about.
We need both to live.
So as I sit at home thinking about my trip, I find that the people I keep thinking about aren’t the kids at the church or the people on the team, but those who quietly served us while we did our best to minister to their countryman. They recognize we have a platform to speak to their friends and family in a way that they never could, and they give us everything they have to make our jobs more comfortable. They willingly step out of the spotlight and serve us so that we can make Jesus look good.
So for the doctor who thanked me, I would like to thank you. You are changing the world, in ways that I never could, and I am so grateful to have met you. You may be saving a life right now, while I sit in my air conditioned home writing an essay that will draw attention to me and my work. I hope that I can tell your story in a way that helps people understand the importance of your role. It is the least I can do.
For the workers at the Quinta who kept us safe at night, washed our clothes, cooked our meals, and maintained the grounds, I can’t wait for you to see your rewards in heaven. I often see clearly the moments when I make a difference to someone, but you may not know until you reach heaven, and I will be rejoicing with you as you learn of your colossal impact. Nicaragua is different because of you, and I know my heart is different as well.
For the facilitators who are our ambassadors, sharing our messages and translating our thoughts, thank you for your service. Without you, I and so many others would be lost, unable to share our heart for your people, to share our love for your people. You have a great gift, thank you for using it in service of the kingdom of God.
For those of us from North America who serve on short term teams, who receive the accolades of the church and post pictures on social media of all the work we have done, I offer just this.
May we never forget the bones who uphold us.
May we love them as we love ourselves.
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