I went to Jinotega, Nicaragua in July of 2012 to film a video for a missions agency to promote their efforts and help them raise money for future endeavors. As is the case with any of the trips I go on, I would learn so much more than I could have imagined, and I gained surpassingly more than I gave.
We landed in the Managua airport on Sunday afternoon, drove to Jinotega that night, and on Monday morning we hit the ground running with no real time to take in the change of atmosphere. The sights, sounds, and smells were new to me, but there was a spirit in this country that I had never known before. I sensed a spirit of oppression, like a thick fog hanging over this small city nestled in the mountains of South America. There was oppression from the Sandinista communist party, their black and red flags painted on every street corner and propaganda broadcasting constantly from passing trucks driven by armed soldiers in their BDU's, but there was another kind of oppression here.
It was an atmosphere of hopelessness, of a spirit crushed by a broken promise of a better day. The most palpable difference between the United States and a third world city like Jinotega, is that in America, we're taught that with enough hard work and a good education, we can be anything we want to be, and make as much money as we want to make for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This concept is lost on a single mother of four who lives in a shack constructed of salvaged corrugated aluminum and garbage; cancer spreading through her body, whose kitchen is empty of food since three days ago with no hope of ever seeing another grain of rice. How do you look that woman in the eye and tell her things are going to be okay, tell her that if she would only wish hard enough, pray hard enough, that she could do anything she wants to do. How do you look her in the eye and tell her that God loves her and has a plan to make her healthy and wealthy?
I sent the woman out of the room so that I could have time to shoot b-roll for the video, and I stood in the place where that woman and her four children lived, I dare not call it a house, and I held my camera, weeping uncontrollably for what seemed like eternity. "They're going to notice I've been in here too long", I thought.
I could not believe that this small family has been living in this helpless estate their entire lives, in complete poverty, powerless to do anything but pray that someone would show them kindness and not allow them to starve. I wept, because I thought of all the things I have, that I've wasted, the things that I own, the camera I was holding at that very minute, things that are worth far more than the sum of the entirety of this woman's possessions. I wept because I knew that when we were done shooting and we got in our car, went back to our hotel, got on a plane and flew home, they would still be there, with nothing, and with no hope for a better life... no choice but to continue living this way — surviving — until death. This is what it is like to know crushing hopelessness, to know poverty of the most profound nature.
I tell you the truth, if the Gospel we preach can't be preached both in our multi-million dollar church buildings as well in the deepest pits of poverty; it is no Gospel at all. A true Gospel is hope for the hopeless, a father to the fatherless, and a religion pure and undefiled is this: to care for widows and orphans in their affliction. If we can't preach the same thing we preach in a middle-class American church to a third world house church, what are we doing? What are we really believing? The Christian community does a great job standing on protest against gun control laws, democratic candidates, homesexual marriage, and a plethora of other topical issues, but when it comes to taking care of the poor, the widows and the orphans, we fail miserably — at something Jesus actually told us to do.
We've fashioned a Jesus that looks like us, talks like us, likes the things we like, watches the shows we watch, and most importantly, sins the way we sin. We point our finger at the speck in our neighbor's eye and say "we need to do something about this depraved country" all the while we live in decadence, gluttony, pride, and lethargy because those are the sins Jesus would be okay with. We've created a god in our own image, a god who doesn't require holiness, a god who will be okay with us just the way we are, a god that promises that we're never going to have to go through hardship, and a god that will always want us to be happy, healthy, and wealthy.
I'm here to tell you, we've traded the truth of God for a lie, and I'm not talking about the so-called spiritually bankrupt of this world. I'm talking about our churches. I'm talking about the evangelical societies collecting themselves into multi-million dollar facilities every Sunday, talking about Jesus, but missing the point altogether. We aren't called to a life of comfort or ease, we are called to pick up our cross, die to ourselves, and follow Christ, denying all else. We have removed the cross out of the center of Christianity, and made our own happiness and comfort the center of our religion. We have become widely ineffective as a church because we've sanitized the Gospel and substituted the blood for grape juice so that we don't offend anyone. We've told ourselves that Jesus didn't actually mean that everyone should go to the ends of the earth to spread the kingdom. We've told ourselves that a life of holiness is just too hard for anyone to actually strive for, and Jesus wouldn't mind if I just have this one little vice.
We come to church and play the part of a Christian for a few hours, once a week, and then we go on living our lives the way we want, seeking our own gain, never giving a second thought to the Bible in the dashboard of our cars until we pick it up the next sunday. We raise our hands at just the right moment during the songs on sunday to make people think we're worshipping, but we're more excited when our team scores a touchdown a few hours later. We want a god that will fit into a two-hour time slot so that we can control him and consume him on our schedule. A God that demands our entire life is awesomely terrifying. A God who takes our every day is inconvenient because He doesn't respect our sense of control. We forget something, though. The God we worship demands that we pick up our cross daily and carry it, and this is demanding everything. This kind of love demands our soul, our life, our all, and we don't like that... because we want to hang on to those things and use them the way we see fit.
We want to use our lives however we want Monday through Saturday, as if God was a thing that only lives at church, and then live for our own pleasure and wealth in our hearts. We have an outward appearance of holiness, but our hearts are far from God, and then we have the audacity to ask God why He isn't blessing us the way we think he should. We ask why we're not as rich as we want to be, or why our lives aren't running smoothly the way we think they should be. We say we are followers of Christ, and we want to reap the blessings and benefits therein. I would remind us that the benefits of being a true follower of Christ is that we will be mocked, ridiculed, persecuted, beaten, thrown in prison, and killed for the sake of the Gospel. This is what he promises for those who would follow him. We forget that we aren't promised earthly wealth and blessings on earth, we're promised a rich inheritance in Heaven, and a hard-fought battle on earth.
Without Christ, we too are hopeless. We are living in the most profound poverty in our spiritual soul, and we are powerless to climb out of our own predicament. We are spiritually dead, and can a person who is dead decide to become alive again? But God. How sweet, those two words. But God, being rich in mercy and love, has regarded our helpless estate and has plucked us from our hopelessness. He is hope for the hopeless, a father to the fatherless, and even while we were yet rebellious to Him, God so loved the us that He sent His only Son, that we might be alive again, a prodigal returned to the Father and seated at His table, never to thirst again.