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Doors of Friendship and Grace

Written by Alyssa Burns
August 12, 2014

Recently, I was one of six adult chaperones on a Mission Pilgrimage to Nicaragua. On the morning of June 22nd, 2014, our group gathered at the Columbus, Ohio airport at 4:00am. Literally, TSA opens at 4:00am in Columbus and our flight was at 6:00am so that’s what time we had to be there to check-in. It was admittedly an ever-so-slightly rough launch to our international 2-leg travel day. I have to say though, for teenagers who had recently begun their summer break, they certainly rose to the occasion and trooped through ticketing and security with surprising alertness! Many of our young adults were also first time flyers but they all handled their first flight ever (on a small RJ jet nonetheless) with confidence and calm. After a short layover in Miami we were finally on our way to Managua, Nicaragua!

There were four people from the Convención de Iglesias Misión Cristiana waiting to meet us at the Managua airport. A couple of the chaperones and myself, who had been to Nicaragua before, recognized Sonia, the Secretary of the Church. Whilst overjoyed to see her again after four years, we were also introduced to the other brightly shining faces in her company- Magyolene (aka Mayita, and Global Ministries missionary), Joel, and Carlos.

We loaded up our mighty autobus (also fondly referred to as “The Magic School Bus”) with our suitcases, carry-ons, and fresh beads of sweat from the mere five minutes we had spent in the unfamiliar humidity. Yes, we are from the Midwest, but summertime, and even spring, in Ohio had thus far been pleasantly lacking in humidity. Regardless, the seat-to-person ratio and absence of air conditioning did not help to distract us from the dumbfounding heat- that is until we started towards our destination: The Emmanuel Center in Ticuantepe.

It was about a 45 minute drive from the airport to what became our home for the week. In that time, we passed through urban, suburban, and a little bit of rural area right around where we were staying. In all of these areas I was struck by the elegance of the doors and gates to people’s homes. Part of it was that you could admire the little details of each door/gate even in three blurry seconds as we drove past.

But the other astonishing feature of these doors/gates was how they juxtaposed the very infrastructure encasing them. And so, I decided I would try and photograph as many of these doorways as I could during our trip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take as many pictures of the doors and gates that I wanted; but, I did discover and learn a lot from photographing them and am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to do so.

On our first day we went to the Church Office to help with grouting the floors and some walls of a new conference room they are adding on the second story. We also helped with moving sheets of aluminum roof and cleaning their yard and entryway. I absolutely loved the large entrance doors here.

In addition to the intricate aesthetic details of the entrances placed in front of their property, there was a related behavior I also observed about the owners of these homes. Rain or shine, they would be outside sweeping their stoops or the area immediately in front of their door. Often times, especially in the most poverty-stricken areas, this would be the public sidewalk or even the street but they still took the time to sweep away the dust and debris with fanatical regularity.

To me, these doors and gates and general behaviors all speak to something much more important about the people of Nicaragua. It speaks to their attitude as a whole: towards life, towards strangers, towards friends and family, and to neighbors. It is a reminder that even small things can nonverbally communicate to those around you that you appreciate the act of entering into relationship, friendship, meaning, conversation, and understanding with someone. They are signs that create and foster a true sense of community. They are all a sign of welcoming. I can honestly say that while everyone we met in Nicaragua had less money and material things than anyone I’ve ever known, they were also easily the most hospitable.

Now, to include a picture of this last door might seem like I am contradicting myself; but, I hope to properly explain my thoughts about this door for it is perhaps the most important.

This door was right outside Church #13 which we were told is the poorest church in the Convención. The tin walls, concrete, and wood surrounding the door are not necessarily uncommon among Nicaraguan architecture but there are no elegant, intricate details in this door. In a photograph, it does not look welcoming. It is almost falling off one of its hinges.

Nevertheless, this is the place where I felt the most positive energy and love just emanating from every crack in the asphalt, every hole in the wall, and every door falling off its hinges. This community plainly does not have the means to have a better door than the one pictured here. But what they do have is impenetrable grace; lifesaving smiles; beckoning arms; larger-than-life hope; warm eyes; soulful songs; a resounding love for family, friends and neighbors near and far- and that makes all the difference in the world. It is these things that make these people living in such subjugating poverty indeed the richest of all. For they are the rich in spirit. 

We have everything to learn from the rich in spirit. As an American it is easy to arrive in a place as monetarily poor as Nicaragua, to look around and only notice things such as dilapidated buildings, and think of all the money or material things we could afford to give these people to help them. But once you are there, the beautiful people open their uniquely striking doors and instantly you are standing in the foyer of deep relationship, friendship, meaning, conversation, and understanding. They are giving you unrivaled gifts of listening and kindness. It’s an “Aha!” moment: continuously, warmly welcoming our neighbors we both already and do not already know is opening our hearts and loving one another.

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