I don’t know how to break this to my wife, but I fell in love with somebody else while I was in Nicaragua. She has green eyes and a smile that will light up a room. Her name is Naomi, and she is ten years old.
I met Naomi at Cancha Cristo Rosario, a barrio in Managua. A missionary was going to show the film, “The Cross and the Switchblade,” and my friends and I were going around door to door, inviting the residents. Naomi was one of the first kids to run up to meet the gringos from Southern California, and we became fast friends.
Nineteen pastors and leaders had gone to Nicaragua to view the Latin American Child Care schools and see the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. I went expecting to have my heart broken, but never expected to lose it to a little girl.
Naomi and her family live in poverty that you and I cannot possibly imagine. As I walked the streets surrounding the film site, my heart went out to the people and children living in houses made up of scrap wood, sheets of tin and plastic. Few of the houses had electricity, most had no windows, and none had air conditioning. There was garbage everywhere. Most of the children in the area will not attend school of any kind. To say they lived in squalor does not adequately sum up the conditions.
Naomi talked to me and held my hand tightly. She looked at me with those big green eyes and my heart melted. As we stood conversing in my broken Spanish, something magical happened. We were no longer a gringo from Southern California and a girl in the barrio. We were friends.
Naomi asked me to sit by her during the movie, but I had to leave. Her eyes filled with tears as I told her goodbye, and so did mine. As I walked away, my big, tough heart melted into a puddle in my shoes.
The next day we went to Betesda, a refugee camp that was established to help people whose whole community was wiped out in a matter of minutes. There was a sign on the road leading into the camp that read, “Have mercy on ‘Los Damnificados’ (the damned).”
Hurricane Mitch had brought rain for 72 hours when a volcano erupted, causing a landslide that loosed a wall of water moving at over 60 miles per hour. In a matter of minutes, over 3,000 people were dead, 800 were lost and presumed dead, and two communities were gone without a trace. We spoke to one man who held tightly to his young children, only to have them washed away from his arms and swept to their death. Another man lost over 80 members of his family.
Betesda is a haven for these survivors. We saw their schoolhouse, a tent hastily erected with homemade desks and no textbooks. Children ran around in various stages of undress, and a horse was being used to bring water up from a deep well. My friends helped us provide toys for the children of Betesda. The joy that these children felt over a thing as small as a Hot Wheels car was a sight to behold. Again my heart broke, and my eyes filled with tears. If you want to make some quick money, buy stock in Kleenex (and Imodium AD) before I take my next trip down there!
I gained so much more from this trip than I could have possibly imagined. As I stood in the dirt at Betesda, I cried out to God and begged forgiveness for ever whining about my life. Those people have so little, yet have so much joy and hope. They looked to us for comfort and guidance. Instead I learned from them. All I gave them was tools and toys, they gave me a sharpened focus on what is really important. I came out way ahead.
Changed forever by ten days…. Jerry