A letter from Tracey King in Nicaragua
March 3, 2008
There are no words that can adequately describe what I felt when I saw her eating out of my garbage. The leftover rice that didn’t seem like enough to save for later got tossed in the trash without a second thought. But then, on trash day, my excess waste put out on the street for pick up was being sorted through, and that mouthful or two of rice became someone’s sustenance. How do I make sense of this? Of course no one should have to search through garbage to find their next meal, but it happens. For me, the luxury of not knowing or facing this gruesome reality is something I have had to give up now that Nicaragua is my home.
I miss some basic luxuries, such as pressurized hot water showers and reliable electricity and water. I love it when my parents have fresh sushi waiting for me when I come home to visit because they know that I can’t get it where I live. And I miss being able to see my family regularly. But I also know that in coming to Nicaragua my life has been incredibly enriched. Life here, though in ways harder, feels raw, less packaged, and perhaps more real. The reality I face when I step out my front door helps me to keep issues of social justice and structural violence at the fore.
Nicaragua is an extremely impoverished country. Nearly 70 percent of the population survives on less than two dollars a day. But I am not impoverished. My missionary salary is more than enough to live on. I am able to dine out and go to the theater. I don’t worry about where my next meal will come from. Along with high levels of poverty, Nicaragua is marked by disparity. The gap between the rich and poor is worse than ever and growing. The visual clash seeing the latest Hummer at a stoplight and a 5-year-old boy reaching up to try and wash its windshield in hope of a coin or two is hard to stomach. Day in and day out, I am confronted with images like these.
When I saw that woman eating from my trash this morning, I couldn’t deny that because of my steady income, access to healthcare, and other basics that I take for granted, I am part of the wealthy class. Fortunately my faith brings me to acknowledge and struggle with this reality. I came to Nicaragua as a missionary because I want to be actively struggling for the answers.
Padre Fernando Cardenal is a Jesuit priest and former Nicaraguan minister of education. He led the literacy crusade that taught the majority of Nicaragua’s population how to read and write. Cardenal talks about Jesus’ example and what God expects of us. He often refers to Matthew 25, saying it’s all very clear and straightforward. It’s our “final exam,” he says. We will be asked, “Did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger or visit the prisoner?” Because, as Scripture tells us, “just as you did it to one of the least of these … you did it to me.”
Jesus taught this message by example. When it came to the “least of these,” Jesus sought them out, ate with them, treated them with dignity, and invited them into community. Though it sounds simple, I know how hard it is to live out. I lived much of my life in a place where I rarely came in contact with “the least of these”—a yearly mission trip to the Tijuana city dump or an volunteer shift at a soup kitchen. For the most part, I avoided the harsh reality of poverty. My choice to come to Nicaragua, as part of my faith journey, was a choice to seek out the least of these.
Though I still live apart from that reality, I face it daily. My faith journey feels like the jerky mechanical rides at a small town carnival; it shakes awake my anger at injustice and my compassion for the marginalized. More often than not though, I don’t know how to respond. Like my encounter with the woman at my garbage can, seeing poverty can be like an accident on the side of the road: I slow down to see it, then quickly turn away, not wanting to know what is really taking place.
I don’t know how I’ll do on that final exam. Some days I think I do well and get the answers right, recognizing the Christ in the person I pass in the street by offering a hand or a smile and a simple greeting. Other times I keep going through my busy schedule with blinders on. But here, in Nicaragua, at least it is part of my daily struggle. For this I am grateful.
I am moved by prayer from the 2003-2004 Horizons Bible study, “The Face is Familiar: Remembering Unnamed Women in Scripture.” It expresses my desire and my failure to live Jesus’ example.
Loving God, I do not feel bold and courageous. I would rather hide in the shadows and remain unnoticed. Yet the light of your grace is blinding and I cannot resist. Help me to claim my true identity as your beloved, that in so doing I may see your face in all those I meet. Together may we move with your spirit in the sacred dance where all are healed, all rejoice, all belong. We pray with confidence in your unlimited love and unmerited grace and in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Peace and hope,
The 2008 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 255