That is a question I seem to be internally asking myself more frequently as time goes on. Hopefully, this happens to others, or I am giving an inside glimpse at how my brain works.
AM I ALL IN?
My passport is full; there are no pages left to attach the sticker or approval stamp. The only country I travel to is El Salvador. Immigration officials told me that a new passport would be needed, if I wanted to enter their country the next time I visited. So, yes, I have been there many times.
On my recent trip, like so many others, I glanced at my boarding pass. I quietly repeated my seat assignment to myself hoping to memorize it, so it wouldn’t have to be dug out of my pocket, again, since both of my hands would be busy carrying my backpack and second personal item that is allowed on the aircraft (don’t you just love the current baggage rules that you have to implement to circumvent the new fees?). Upon finding my seat and situating my “things,” I acknowledged the person sitting in the seat next to mine. It seems better if that is done when first sitting down; it makes it easier to continue a conversation later on, otherwise the hours long ride becomes reminiscent of a long elevator ride with the awkwardness that brings. After takeoff, the person in seat 3 D responded to my earlier acknowledgement with the question, “Where are you were going?” And a follow-up, “What do you do there?” Almost as if I was in the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, since this seems to be a recurring episode on each trip I take.
When encountering someone who sincerely wants to hear about what we do and is inquisitive of the many projects and people that we try to help, it helps oneself to be reflective on things past. One of the questions often brought up is ‘how do we decide to help a particular person,’ and ‘how is it decided how much help to give.’ That is a stupendous question that there is no real answer, for I have somewhat of a list of tasks to accomplish on each trip but no real official itinerary. That is left up to the Holy Spirit to provide, and I have never been let down. Leading us daily to many in need, some lacking just the basics for an existence with a small semblance of dignity. Others having to face life and death struggles alone or with their families with the only solution available is watch their loved one suffer and many times die. A common characteristic of many of us when we experience or hear about such anguish is to question how God could allow such suffering what is the purpose: why did he not do something – needing to place blame somewhere. Maybe we should look in the mirror and blame ourselves. God did do something. He makes us aware and places these situations in our lives. Maybe that is the miracle; we just have to decide if we want to be part of it. Sometimes, when I question the wisdom of what is being placed in front of me, I remember a quote my father used on me when I was a youngster: “IF NOT YOU, … WHO? IF NOT NOW, … WHEN?”
In the town of Berlin, El Salvador and its surrounding cantons, which is just a dot on a map in the department of Usulatan, there are literally thousands of families in urgent need of better housing, improved health care, and access to education. It is not that they are lazy or are just wanting a handout; it is that in their part of the world, there is no mechanism in place that allows the poor of the poor to better themselves and then be able to improve basic living conditions for their families; the same aspirations that we all desire.
FFIF receives hundreds of solicitudes from families to be considered for one of the block houses that we build: with each family petitioning with their respective stories of how they live, their struggles to survive and provide for their family. Often, leaving us in bewilderment as to how they have survived to that day with so many elements of human survival missing as we know them.
The building of the houses is the easy part. It is as simple as sending funds and Andres, Pedro, and Hector provide the means that produces a completed block house in 4 weeks. Then the daunting task of who should be the recipient of such a blessing and the haunting vision of the masses that won’t play as a continuous loop in my brain.
As with healthcare, there is an unfathomable need from the simplest basic needs to complex medical and surgical procedures. Many of which, here in the U.S., are taken for granted as something routine and easy to acquire by just making a phone call and setting up an appointment. And don’t worry about it because insurance will cover it. Health issues and medical emergencies don’t discriminate between the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich because all levels of society are afflicted. What is disparate is the ability to seek and receive treatment. Because of the lack of resources (money), the poor are disproportionately left to suffer and many times die.
Deciding who is to receive help to access quality health care and access to emergency medical help is just as disconcerting as deciding who the winners and losers are of any type of help that is given. The biggest divergence with help for medical care compared to other help is that it doesn’t create jealousy. If it does, we simply ask if they would like to trade places.
When a commitment is made to help it is just that, a commitment. That is a strong word, no back out clause. Maybe the farmer in me gives the faith that no matter what the obstacles (storms) everything will work out, and there is a reward (harvest) in the end. If help is limited, to become only a false hope, then it would have been better to place that in escrow and used as a burial fund. It becomes personal. There is a face to a name. You know who and what they are, where and how they live, know there families, share food and drink with them, cherish the laughter and embrace their sorrow, it is a relationship.
Many ask why, …is it really making a difference, …you help one but there are a million more that you didn’t… The answer most expect is the Mother Teresa theory: when asked how she does it, her response is one at a time. Another good story is the two guys walking along the beach. One guy occasionally picks up a starfish laying on the sand and throws it back into the ocean. The other guy says why are you doing that, there are thousands more it’s not going to make a difference. When the first guy replies, “It made a difference to that one.”
If anyone that knew me very well had been asked ten years ago to name the least likely person to travel to El Salvador, my name would have appeared in the top ten and most likely nominated for one of the top two spots. When FFIF shares stories about the many projects that are being attempted, you hear about the people who are impacted, their lives that are changed, and the lives that have been saved. In all reality, the life that has been transformed the most is my own.
There is not one person that has received assistance that we have regretted helping. The money has never been missed that has been invested in helping those less fortunate.
Many people of El Salvador have no choice but to play the cards they have been dealt, but maybe, we can be the next card turned up and help change the odds. Another question that many ask,”how long are you going to do this?” My profession was farming. My likes are blackjack and poker so I guess you could say I am a gambler: “I will quit when either I am out of money or I win.”
I guess one could say, “I AM ALL IN.” Are you?