Today was the last day of serving in the community. We’ll be wrapping things up in the school tomorrow, but today we finished Comanche’s covered patio and finished painting Jairo’s house. It was a bittersweet ending.
Helping people is hard. It is beautiful and Christ calls us to serve one another, but it’s also hard. It’s hard because it’s impossible to help everyone at one time, and someone’s going to get left out. It hurts to turn someone away who has an obvious need or want. And it’s hard because it can create unhealthy relationships of condescension and diminution, hence the negative associations with the word “charity.”
Working with Comanche’s family this week has been awesome, but as we wrapped things up in the community, we brought out some gifts that our group had, some clothes, soccer balls, and toys. Neighborhood kids began to gather as they saw the soccer balls come out, more kids than soccer balls. One boy who showed up first was going to get a ball from Pastor Steven, but unfortunately it wouldn’t inflate and the boy who wanted a soccer ball ended getting a fun toy that just wasn’t a soccer ball. From our eyes, he should have been happy that he was getting anything, but how can a young boy who was so excited to get a soccer ball not be disappointed and a little upset? Mothers who wanted clothes for their children were disappointed when we didn’t have enough for them. And some others expressed frustration that Comanche family should receive help with his house but not them when their needs were just as great.
We want to help everyone, and it’s hard to not be able to do that. We want to feel appreciated for what we have given, and it’s hard when the response feels demanding or ungrateful. We want to change someone’s life and we invest in that person, or situation, and it’s hard when there is no visible transformation. Helping is hard, and sometimes our reaction is to not help at all.
I’ve grown to really like and respect Comanche. God led me to him three years ago when I brought a group from Orcas Christian School to Brasilito. I had enjoyed working in the schools in Portrero and Manzanillo, but I also felt like we could do so much more to build relationships in the community and to directly improve living conditions. So on the last trip, I went walking through the streets of Brasilito, praying, and looking for someone we could support. The needs were obvious, but it’s easier to want to help someone than to know how to do it. After exploring the community and feeling overwhelmed, I decided I should head back to the group before they sent out a search party for me. On the way back, I saw a well-dressed elderly man sitting on a log by the beach, and I decided I would ask him if he knew of anyone in the community who needed help. Of course he said that we could help him, and I was skeptical and afraid of being taken advantage of. I walked with him back to his house, which was little more than a moderate sized shed made of corrugated metal with no windows. The floor was half dirt, and the only contents in the house were a hammock to sleep in and a stump to sit on; apparently he really was in need of assistance. Through Cristobal, we also connected with Comanche who lived next door and had a much larger version of Cristobal’s house.
Comanche was a pretty intimidating guy, but he took me around the town and introduced me to different people who needed assistance. He rode with me to a department store and the hardware store and coordinated purchasing the supplies and having them delivered. (Comanche seems to know everyone in Brasilito and the surrounding towns.) In addition to helping Cristobal and a few other families, our group painted Comanche’s house and helped him mix cement to patch a large hole in the floor of his house from the earthquake the year before.
We connected with Comanche three years ago, but we connected with him and his family much more deeply this time. It was fun to watch our students love on his grandchildren and the neighbor kids. We ate fruit together and tried interesting new foods. We laughed together and worked hard together, and when it came time to leave, we felt like we had made an impact and we had also been impacted. It was beautiful to work alongside this family. I didn’t feel any demanding expectations from them, and they seemed genuinely grateful for our assistance without it feeling like condescending charity. It felt like beautiful service through relationship, which I believe is what Christ calls us to. Not impersonal handouts, not gaining riches and power so we can make a bigger difference in the world, but entering into relationships with people and working alongside each other as we seek to serve one another and to “wash each other’s feet.” This kind of service is beautiful, not hard.
Written by students on SBJA's mission trips to Washington, D.C., in 2018 and to Costa Rica in 2017.