I wasn’t there.
But the reports came in fast and furious as soon as we returned to our home following a morning of teaching Vacation Bible School.
This is what I was told: our two brothers, Tony – who grew up in Telica, Nicaragua and went on to a Major League baseball career, and Oscar – who grew up and stayed in Telica, traveled to our building site in Oscar’s pick up truck. The building site is where two houses were being constructed for two families in need. Black plastic and stick shacks don’t cut it when you’re trying to raise a family.
We had three team members mixing concrete and laying blocks to assist the six local workers we hired to lead the construction. As soon as they parked the truck, Beemer came swooping down on them like a hawk plucking a salmon from a river. She was mad, and she wanted answers.
Our teams had build most of the houses in the neighborhood on previous mission trips. We built Beemer’s house. And we built the one in question.
Third hand news, passing through translation from Spanish to English, and amplified by a lot of hand gestures, finger wagging, and facial scowls can sometimes become distorted, but this is my best shot: Beemer’s brother owned the house in question and had died. Beemer didn’t like her brother’s family and accused them of unbecoming behavior. Beemer believed she was entitle to her brother’s house, and not his wife or his family.
In fact, Beemer claimed she had hired a lawyer to obtain what she believed was rightly her own. She wanted to know what Oscar and Tony were going to do about it!
Few people thrive on confrontation. Even fewer are comfortable with dealing with it. News of Beemer’s aggressive assertion was upsetting to our mission team, especially to Oscar and Tony. What should we do about it? we asked.
The front porch consensus that evening was simple: we help build homes for needy families. Legal issues are their problem.
Or, are they?
Though I nodded my consensus, I was left feeling spiritually uneased.
Tony’s spouse and our mission trip host, Halyma, told me that in Nicaragua, any lawyer can be purchased for any price to do anything under the law. God bless Halyma, for the next morning she sought out a local lawyer she knew who could provide an honest legal opinion. The long and short of the story is that Beemer hired a lawyer who had been disbarred, was unscrupulous, and was taking her money.
Let’s call this victimizing the poor.
It is easy for me to pass judgment on a man I never met, based on facts I can’t confirm, from my privileged office thirty-eight hundred miles away. However, this narrative has caused me to consider how I victimize the poor in my life. Most of the time, I don’t even know it.
Lord, have mercy.
I try my best to help others in need, but rarely do I ever reflect upon unintended consequences, or how I participate in circles of privilege, power, and hubris. It’s easy to lend a hand to a peer who falls on hard times, but how about someone taking shelter under a bridge to find refuge from the cold winter wind?
Christ, have mercy.
When I shop with abundance and consume my daily bread, how often, I ask myself, is the food I’m eating being misdirected directly from the table of someone who is in greater need? Goodness knows, I could benefit from fasting.
Lord, have mercy.
I leave with a blessing, riding my full-of-myself moral high horse, returning to my wonderfully comfortable family home, knowing full well the gathering of friends I just left will return to a group home they never selected and living with room-mates not of their own choosing.
There is no splitting of hairs between sins of omission and sins of commission. Sin is sin. And sin will remain sin unless, and until, we break every yoke of oppression. I’m up for breaking a few yokes. How about you?