A letter from Doug Orbaker in Nicaragua
I saw the sign last week, near the end of October, “PREPARATE, ” or in English “Prepare Yourself.” I looked at the sign again, half-expecting it to be another warning from a church about the coming end of the world. Such signs are pretty common here in Nicaragua. But this was something different.
It was the top line of a billboard advertising a company that sells hardware and home improvements urging people to “preparate,” to prepare themselves for the upcoming Christmas season by making their homes look better for the holidays. As I go around the city I can see that stores have begun their Christmas already, just like in the United States. I haven't been to any of the malls recently (I avoid them as much as possible), but I'm sure there is a giant Christmas tree in the center of every mall in Nicaragua, just like in the United States.
I know that we all do things to prepare ourselves for Christmas, busy things. We shop, prepare and wrap gifts. We decorate, and perhaps even do a coat of paint or some other home improvement. When I lived in the United States I baked for Christmas—giving baskets of homemade breads, cookies and candies as gifts to friends and family. Almost all of us do “busy” things to prepare for Christmas.
The Advent message is quite different. It isn't “Prepare yourself.” It is “Prepare the Way of the Lord.” Luke lays out pretty clearly the message of preparation that John the Baptist presented: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
That's a long way from “prepare yourself” by painting or fixing up your house. In our churches in the United States, we tend to think of these things in symbolic terms—symbols of the changes in our lives and our culture that we need to make for the message of Christ to fully come into our hearts. But as I look at some of what we've done in the communities of Nicaragua, I really believe that there needs to be some physical preparation as well.
The heights of the mountains and the depths of the valleys is pretty important when we look at how to get water from a spring in the mountains to a community on another mountain and only a few meters lower in altitude. How else do we prepare the way of the Lord for people who don't have water to drink in their community?
The rough places in the roads, the lack of bridges, and the mud holes are all pretty important when there is a sick child or a woman about to give birth who needs to get to health center. How else do we prepare the way for those who live miles of bad roads away from the nearest medical care?
Within the last year communities where CEPAD is working and groups that have come from the United States have been hard at work preparing the way. Improvements are being planned to bring water into several mountainous communities. Groups related to CEPAD have installed over 300 in-home water filters this year. Almost 100 children have received dental care through a combination of CEPAD's organization, dental hygienists from Pennsylvania, and two volunteer Nicaraguan dentists. While a group was in the process of setting up for a temporary medical clinic someone came in who had badly cut his hand with a machete—the doctor with the group was able to clean and stitch the wound and give him antibiotics immediately without sending him 20 kilometers to a hospital. Hundreds of acres of rural fields have had erosion-preventing contour lines laid out and built by local people and groups from the United States. Youth from the Los Angeles, California, area and youth from a small community in Nicaragua worked, laughed, sang, prayed and learned together in a several-day retreat, bringing the two areas a little closer together. Dozens of water-collecting cisterns have been built, saving people hundreds of daily trips to the community well (downhill with an empty container, uphill with a full container). Recently 60 people (half Nicaraguan, half from the United States) gathered for three days of prayer, study, relaxation and celebration of their partnerships.
Preparing the way – Of course it is important to pray for Christ's reconciling love to be made manifest in our lives and in the world around us. But sometimes that reconciling love is made manifest with hands dirty from work, with clean water coming out of a filter, with an improved crop both for food and for sale, or with a recently filled tooth that doesn't hurt anymore.
Preparate – Preparations for the Christmas holidays are under way here in Nicaragua, as I'm sure they are under way in almost every part of the world. However, the real work of preparing for Christ's reconciling love to be manifest in the world is not a seasonal job, but an everyday one in the lives of many Nicaraguans and many of the people who come here to share their love with their Nicaraguan sisters and brothers.
May all of your paths be level, straight and smooth for this Christmas Season and the year to come.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 11
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 22