To begin with, let me provide you with some numbers.
Former street kids at the Manuelito Project: 32
Different subject areas I’m teaching: 3
Class sessions per week: 31
Ages I’m teaching: 5-17
Days of classroom teaching experience: 4 as of Thursday
Days I have technically spent at the project: 10
Number of calls and texts home: unfathomable
Words written in my word-document “journal” since arriving: 12,938
And in spite of that last statistic, I find myself remarkably tongue-tied as I sit down to write this post.
There are so many different things I want to share with you, and at the same time I want to hide all my experiences and stuff them away.
My time at the project has been intense, for lack of a better word. Intense and deeply trying. I think that the best experiences in life can be described that way.
To give you a flavor of life, here is what an average weekday looks like for me.
6:00: wake up after 8-ish hours of sleep and either shower or read my Bible
6:30… or 6:40 or 6:50: help the under-six-year-olds shower, get dressed, put lotion on, and walk over to the school
7-12:40: teach 8ish classes of English, Bible, and computation, and eat breakfast somewhere in there
1-1:30: eat lunch with the young’uns
1:30-4: prepare lesson plans for the next day, nap, read, call home, entertain children if I have time or energy
4, approximately: teach piano lessons to whatever student wanders into the general vicinity
5-6:30: eat supper and then either wash dishes or keep under-sixes from killing each other
7-8: devotions with the girls of the project
8-8:30: invent or embellish stories for the younger boys of the project (and the older ones who surreptitiously listen in)
8:30-10ish: plan classes and devotions for the next day, then sleep
I am caught in an interesting place. I have been in Central America for 4 and a half months. That is a long time. And I just moved to Honduras after about four months of experience in Guatemala. I thought Guatemala was unfamiliar while I was there, but now I look back on my time there and know differently. I knew the layout of the town I lived in. I had a tribe of people around me who knew me and who had lived through many different experiences with me. I knew what words I should say and which words I should not. I knew without a doubt how to correctly address a person.
In Honduras, everything is different. I have not arrived fresh from the states, but rather after a very long time away from home and after living in a different foreign culture. While the people I live with expected me to be put off by electricity and running water outages, the things that actually shook me up the most were more along the lines of eating red beans instead of black beans and using “vos” instead of “tú” or “usted.”
But these little differences don’t matter. While black beans will always be superior, I have grown accustomed to red beans. While I will always feel like a bit of an impostor using “vos” in my everyday speech, it is no longer foreign to me.
The factor that matters most now is the time I have already spent away from home. After an entire semester away, making the transition to a new country and new people and new places, with all their accompanying culture shock, is exhausting. I desperately want to go home. And it has absolutely nothing to do with where I am right now. While working at the project is difficult, the trials and challenges I face spur me on to live more excellently and to be a better resource and friend to these kids. No, this is a battle being fought on the most treacherous battleground — my own heart.
The leaders of the project sit me down and ask me how I am doing sometimes. How do I respond? How can I respond? “I love the kids, and I just want to see my sister face-to-face.” “Yes, the food is delicious, and I would kill for some baby-back ribs and a salad with lettuce that I trust.” “You guys are incredibly kind to me, and I desperately need to hug my mom and dad.” There is no “but” in those sentences, because one phrase does not negate the other. The two truths — these two worlds — are coexisting in a way that I had never thought possible.
And even as I am torn between Honduras and Minnesota, Guatemala edges its way into my heart and whispers, “Have you already forgotten about me? Have you forgotten about the beautiful trajes that the indigenous women wear? Have you forgotten about lazy walks through Parque Central? Have you forgotten about breaking your thumb, and eating with your host families, and watching the Bourne movies with your friends, and the purple splendor of Semana Santa?”
Even as these thoughts — these unwanted but desperately needed memories — crowd into my heart, I smile and continue reading the Beginner’s Bible to a classroom of 1st and 2nd graders with huge eyes, scars on their skin and souls, and hearts so desperate for love and affirmation that closing myself off for a moment leaves them withdrawn and afraid.
I want to be home. But that doesn’t mean that I want to leave here.
I barely understand this dichotomy, and explaining it seems like a futile effort. But then I read Hebrews 11:13-16 and am taken aback by how completely the Bible applies to my life. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
I have read this before, but I have never understood it so fully and painfully as I do now. I am not home now. I will not be home in 44 days when my plane touches down in Minnesota. I will not be home if someday I return to Guatemala. Home is not a place. Home is love; home is relationship. Home is not a country or a building or a farmstead or a drink from Starbucks. Rather, home is the deepest, most vulnerable communion of souls. And where I have that, I will be whole.
However, this is a bittersweet truth, because I will not have that on this earth. Yes, I will catch glimpses. My plane will land in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and I will run blindly to my family and we will cry and laugh and say stupid things and be with each other again. I will stand in Vespers and raise my arms and close my eyes and sing with hundreds of others in a single voice. I will play duets on the piano with friends, laughing at wrong notes and making silent eye contact when a passage goes perfectly right. I will dip my gluten-free wafer into the chalice of wine and partake in the communion of saints in a church that speaks my language and knows my family and knows my history and has supported me all through this adventure. God willing, I will eventually share my heart and my life with a man and we will be the image of Christ and his church. Some of these, none of these, all of these may come to pass in this lifetime. But I will never be home.
G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “I have found out everything. We have come to the wrong star. That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. We are in the wrong world.”
I am in the wrong world. No simple change of scenery or companions will change that fact. This is a sad and glorious truth. It is sad because I am continually longing for something… different. Something stronger. Something more beautiful and perfect. I long for a world where I can simultaneously be with my roommates, my music friends, my Guatemala friends, the children and staff of Manuelito, and the family and adoptive family that is scattered across the United States. But the truth is, this desperate longing is a purification. Jesus desperately longed to be reunited with his Father, to have that communion. I am beginning to barely understand the sweetness of his prayer time and the subsequent weight in his step when he walked out of his silent places to be with the world again. I am being purified for the perfect communion. This is the glory in all of this. God has prepared a city for us.
Hebrews 11 continues on after those verses to talk about all the heroes in the Bible and their valiant acts of faith. Hebrews 11:39-40 says, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” I long for my family and my dear friends, but God has promised us that we will someday be together in eternity, partying it up forever with Abraham and Moses and Rahab and Ruth and Gideon and Esther and Jesus. How overwhelmingly, ridiculously beautiful is God’s plan for us!
God has a perfect plan for each one of us, and that plan does not look like blissful unending happiness all our earthly days. That plan looks like suffering. It looks like peace that truly passes all understanding, that comes and blankets us when we have no covering left on our raw and aching spirits. It looks like an inferno that will purify our souls. It looks like joy that lifts us out of the deep water and carbonates our souls and lets us laugh at the days to come, because the creator God of the universe became flesh and lived among us and lives in you and in me right now.
So am I having fun in Honduras? Am I liking it down here?
It depends on the moment, and probably more often than not, the answer will be slow in coming.
Those are weak words. They are human words.
I am being tested, purified, and refined by this experience. This time has been perfectly engineered to rub raw those parts of me that are rough and prickly.
I do not seek to make my experience overly dramatic or frightening to those who are back in the states praying for me. There are so many moments of every day where I just smile and shake my head and pray that this will be etched into my memory forever, because losing the magic of that particular moment would be a tragedy. One by one, these children have been prying my shriveled heart open and squeezing themselves inside of it and not budging. My time here is giant beetles in my hair, children on my lap begging for one more story, tiny faces looking at me seriously and telling me that I am not a gringa (white foreigner) but that I am hondureña (Honduran), older students going out of their way to invent inside jokes with me, and moments of blessed conversation with the other teachers and leaders as we laugh about the school day.
But at the same time, there is one pair of footprints in the sand right now. I like to say that I lean on Jesus. This time, however, is a time of holding up my arms to Jesus and whispering, “Daddy, I need you to hold me.” Jesus has been faithful to my plea. And because of that, I know that someday I will be home.