I’m 30,000 feet in the air.
Looking out the airplane window.
Somewhere over Central America.
The mountains of Nicaragua are getting closer.
Sometimes we find ourselves in places we didn’t expect and have no better explanation than the most obvious. But let me back up for a second. I need to tell you a few more details of how we took the longest trip ever.
Our plane was to fly from Tupelo to Nashville to Houston to Managua.
We get to Nashville. We get ready to leave for Houston. There’s a delay. No big deal.
Eventually, we get on the plane. We wait. We wait some more. Then the pilot tells us that the Houston airport has closed temporarily due to weather. So, we get off the plane. No more flights to Houston tonight. We have to stay in Nashville. Fly out tomorrow.
But our flight from Houston to Nicaragua is gone.
As Woody Allen brilliantly put it, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”
Our team has to split up. 3 will fly to Costa Rica to then hit the connector to Nicaragua. The other 5 fly to Miami to hit the connector to Nicaragua. No problem.
But in Miami, we hit another snag. We were never actually assigned seats on the Nicaragua plane. United blames Copa. Copa blames United. We are stuck in the middle. Or, in Miami to be more exact. And there’s no escaping it, we’re staying the night in Miami.
They give us a flight the next day to Managua. We go to print our boarding passes. They won’t print. After debating with the Copa representative, he finally agrees to check the computer. We aren’t assigned seats. He says it’s a problem with United.
We go back to United. They tell us Copa overbooked and won’t fess up. Round and round we go.
Now, staying in Miami doesn’t sound so bad, but it takes 5 hours to get this whole mess straightened out and it’s late. We make the most of it, Uber to a restaurant, and then get back to the hotel. Need to be up the next morning by 4am. No South Beach for us.
United Airlines does help us out. They get us a room at the hotel airport. They give us $90 food vouchers. They clean up the mess Copa Airlines made. They get us a flight to Panama.
From Miami we fly to Panama. From Panama we fly to Nicaragua.
We make it to Managua and then drive the 4hrs to La Dalia. We are 2 days behind.
But what are you going to do? You can’t control the weather. Or airlines. Or other humans. Only your attitude and actions. You can only do what you can do.
When asked why he went to Nicaragua, a missionary once replied, “Because you won’t.” The point is not that everyone should. And I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think what he was saying was, you’ve got to do something. And for him, it was Nicaragua.
I want to tell you the story of a boy named James. And the first thing I should tell you is that his name is not James. But that’s not what’s important.
James doesn’t know how old he is. He doesn’t know when his birthday is. He doesn’t know where his parents are. He doesn’t have a clue what the future holds.
He says he’s 15 years old. I’d say 13 at the oldest.
He’s been an orphan for years. Living on the streets of Nicaragua. Begging for money and food.
He was taken in by a group and dropped at a drug and alcohol rehab facility. A facility that is more like a self-sufficient village. It’s a non-government organization and survives on donations and small payments from those that can. They raise livestock and grow their own crops. They attempted to grow coffee, but the first crop wasn’t successful and now it will take another 3 years. The rehab is underfunded and understaffed.
Sometimes government agencies bring orphans to stay. It’s safer than the streets. Food, water, clothing.
James is dropped off with the thought he will be picked back up at some time and taken to a family to care for him. But this doesn’t happen.
James is at the rehab a few months, when the unthinkable happens. He is raped by 3 men.
The rehab is voluntary for some. But there are also those that the courts have sent there. So in the mix you have people seeking recovery, convicts, addicts, and orphans.
But what choice is there? What choice is left for James? There’s no home to go to. There’s no family waiting.
Nicaragua is a lot like America, there’s just not a lot of people willing to take in orphans.
Another doctor once asked me why go to a third world country to practice medicine for a week. It can not possibly do any long term good. One week of care makes little difference in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s what I used to think: Everything changes if I go this week, he goes the next, then someone else the next, etc. Because the lack of justice in the world is nothing more than willing inaction. So I can’t wait for him to take action. Because I can only control my actions, not his.
But maybe it has nothing to do with that. Maybe it’s all about James. The boy with the lost past, the tortured present, and the unknown future.
Maybe just hearing his story, being there to listen, to care, to heal: Maybe that is the beginning. The beginning to something else.
A future not yet dreamed of.
We can close our eyes or keep them wide. The choice is ours. To make the world what it will be.
I realize I never actually gave you any travel tips. Here’s one: Don’t sweat the small stuff. There’s real problems in the world. Your flight times do not count.
You don’t have to go somewhere exotic to make a difference in someone’s life. Everyone has a story. And there’s a world of need, right in our backyard.
Much thanks to my friend Robert Welch for creating order out of the chaos and making sure we made it to Nicaragua. Thanks to the whole team for serving, laughing, letting me win in poker, and just being all around awesome people. And much love to Rick and Mary for all they do.