Can poverty be beautiful? The vibrant houses painted dark orange, pink and bright turquoise blue, the stunning mountains, the people, the stories, the hope in their eyes because Compassion is empowering their community change from the inside out? Yes. I believe in the simplicity and ache of poverty…I see beauty, abundant beauty.
But yes, the ache of poverty was there too. The prayer requests for food, for housing, stories of rape and trafficking…all present and part of the story. But in this tangled up thorny life that my new friends live I found dignity and hope. These bad behaviors---rape, child brides, trafficking-- are not allowed to be normative here in the community Compassion is transforming. Justice is done by calling something right and another thing wrong. Often in communities where poverty reigns the chaos of darkness rules. But here I heard a story of justice---the woman who runs the compassion center told us they put a girl’s cousin is put into jail for raping her…because that’s not okay. She said, "finally, we are making sure that people know that you may not have sex with children." I saw hope in her eyes as she told us about taking this 9 year old girl to the hospital, getting her psychiatric care for this trauma and helping to ensure this sexual violation doesn’t become something she expects to be normal. When a child is sponsored they protect her or him from the vulnerability of being trafficked or used again and again---because someone has their name written down, and because someone is loving this child. Justice is beautiful.
I can’t tell you every moment of my day today the moments are all too rich and saturated with meaning to gloss over. I will piece it out day by day. I will share pieces as I process them. It might take me years to process what I've just seen.
Today we drove an hour in the bus to get to the base of the mountain. Two men met us with pick up trucks and we were asked to climb into the back to make the rest of our journey. We were heading to the community of Las Montanitas, deep into the hills up dirt roads to a colorful village of primitive houses where coffee farmers live and grow coffee beans. Their coffee plants have a bacteria (not sure if the right word translated to english here—-maybe be a disease), so they are now facing extreme poverty as the coffee they promise in order to gather loans to buy food, is not a commodity they can sell. They have technicians and new plants. They are earnest to change the story, but right now, life is hard.
As we walked up, the woman who runs the Compassion center was dressed in her best pink dress. She had a hat on. She looked like she was dressed for Easter Sunday. Never before have people like us come to visit their village because it is both far and dangerous to reach. The village women had prepared fruit on beautiful platters for our arrival, and ham and cheese sandwiches. As I walked around the corner I spied more women boiling chickens. This would be our lunch. I wanted to cry as I felt their kindness flood my soul.
Their best clothes, their best foods, their space prepared for our visit. We were told it is Dominican culture to treat guests with such extravagant hospitality, and I wondered, why is it that those with the least seem to be the ones who give the most? They don’t give out of obligation but out of depth and heart and passion. Their smiles wide, hearts open, and their lives authentically told: “We have hope, but we have need.”
After fruit and sandwiches and warm introductions with hugs, we went to see their coffee farm. They showed us each stage of the process. As we walked to where they are growing their new coffee plants, I walked by the most extravagant pink rose bush. The roses growing wildly, large and full. I took a moment, I sniffed the rose deeply. I am not kidding you, the rose had the most fragrant smell I have ever known. It smelled a bit like lemon and rose and gardenia. Without words, I smiled and motioned about the rose to the woman, and so she picked it for me. I was startled by her generosity and wanted to tell her no, but the translator told me to simply receive it. I shared it with everyone…and we all agreed it was unique. See, here in the midst of ache and hardship: beauty. gratitude. abundance. generosity.
We planted some coffee trees and the kids all came down. There are 350 kids enrolled in the compassion program that this church hosts. 100 of the kids, well dressed in their very best, came to greet us and go have their snack. Their big wide eyes and smiles, so much life and hope bounding in each step. It was a stark contrast to the desperation I saw out the bus window as we drove the road up to this town. You can tell the work this church does makes all the difference. The work you and I are doing with Compassion is making a difference, this is true. More true than I ever ever could have known until I saw it with my own eyes. This work is actually transforming communities, lifting children out of poverty and change the story of whole communities.
“Is there crime?” one of my new friend asked the pastor.
“No, not really. We are a community. We take care of each other.” said the pastor.
Shalom community, the way we were intended to live.
Oh there is so much more I could tell…and I’m sure I will. But for now, this is where I will conclude and go to bed.
We visited a family in their home and saw what a day in their life is like. Then, it started to rain. Not Southern California rain. Monsoon rain. Muddy river roads rain. All 12 of us piled into two small Toyota pick up trucks, and in the torrential rain, drove down the mountain. There was some yoga breathing. There was some closing our eyes until it was over…but we got to the paved road and breathed a sigh of great relief and nervous laughter.
I thanked the man who drove us and the translator told me that he said “It is my pleasure to serve.”
And that is the thing. I want to be growing in hospitality, generosity, and I want my life to be marked by the words, “It’s my pleasure to serve.”
Beauty in the midst of great poverty? I guess so. Absolutely.
Anytime the dignity of a human is restored and they stop being invisible in a harsh world, this is beauty I can barely begin to find words for. It’s the kingdom’s beauty, the kind of reality I want to know and experience more and more and more.