“One who really loves another is not merely moved by the desire to see him contented and healthy and prosperous in this world. Love cannot be satisfied with anything so incomplete. If I am to love my brother, I must somehow enter deep into the mystery of God’s love for him. I must be moved not only by human sympathy but by that divine sympathy which is revealed to us in Jesus and which enriches our own lives by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. (Love) must be at the same time supernatural and concrete, practical and alive."
- No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton
This January I went with a team of people from my local church and coworkers to continue a partnership with a missionary couple in Belize. The focus of the trip was to continue to develop relationships, offer a three day medical clinic, and disperse dental hygiene products. An important area of focus was the distribution of water filters to some of the neediest residents.
But as usual, I took away much more than I left behind. I learned about love on this trip to Belize. I encountered the passage above from Thomas Merton as I was on the plane heading down. I knew I needed to learn about real love for people in need. It wasn’t about pity or helping the poor or fulfilling some kind of philanthropic American dream. It was supposed to be about connecting with people in relationship so that they become friends. When your friend has a need, you want to meet that need. It isn’t a burden or a philosophical construct, it is practical and it comes from deep within.
The person who became my friend this time was Rosalita (name is changed for privacy). Rosalita is a single mom who works six days a week at a company doing shipping and ordering. She makes about $3 US an hour. She is also a Community Health Worker in her neighborhood. This is a person who is trained by the government of Belize in very basic health care knowledge. She checks blood pressures, blood sugars, answers questions about sick babies, and talks about the importance of diet and hygiene. She coordinates with the area nurse and doctor to bring people to clinic and be sure they have their medications. She is supposed to do this in addition to her more than full time work and care of her young son and aging parents.
She is a kind and caring person who knows everything about the people she helps. She takes off two days of work to come serve as our translator at the clinic. She is amazing! When we would start our evaluation by asking a patient’s chief complaint, many of our patients would just say to Rosalita, in Spanish - “you tell them what’s going on. You know everything about it.” And she did. She knew these people intimately and cared deeply about their needs.
I spent three days with Rosalita at the clinic. I got to know more about her story and how her daily life works. I truly can’t imagine doing everything she does. I began to understand a little about her life. She became my friend. At the end of clinic, we went to her house to drop off some of the remaining medications and supplies so she would have tylenol and vitamins to distribute as well as supplies for diabetic checks. We walked into her kitchen and dropped a duffle bag of supplies that basically took up half her kitchen floor. Her whole home is probably a 12x12 concrete slab with thin walls and a tin roof. I could tell she was a little embarrassed so we talked a little more awkwardly than normal and complimented her on her home. We met her son and then said our goodbyes. As we were leaving, we asked if we could pray for her. Here she stood with four Americans in her home and she could have asked for anything. She said, “I would like to get closer to the Lord again, I've been feeling distant lately." And so we prayed for her.
As we left, my heart broke. She was no longer another Spanish woman or a resident of Duck Run 3, or a Belizean. She was my friend. My friend has physical needs to be sure but she asked for prayer for her spiritual needs. This was too much for my heart. I was overwhelmed by the reality of profound poverty not as a moral or social problem but as a real way of living for my friend, Rosalita. I was so moved because her physical needs are great but she was more aware of her spiritual need and wanted us to meet her there. As we continue the relationships we have developed with local missionaries and friends in Belize, the most important thing we offer isn’t the stuff we bring, the money we contribute, or the healthcare we can offer. It is the relationship we have with our friends. Our mission is to help them do their mission. Rosalita taught me that.
This trip to Belize offered me insight into all kinds of things. We made great strides in strategic planning for future medical outreach and support of existing infrastructure. We were able to help almost 100 people in the clinic. But I hope, more than anything, we fell in love with people and that love is really what moves us forward.
“Love must be at the same time supernatural and concrete, practical and alive”. - Merton