Usually, for me, one of the most nerve wrecking things about air travel is air travel… That’s not a typo. If you get in a car accident, you get out of the car and put your feet on the ground. If a ship starts to sink, you put on a life jacket and swim to shore. When it comes to planes, the flight attendant is kind enough to make sure you know where the exits are. If something goes wrong, she wants you know where you can escape. Thanks, but escape to where exactly? Excuse me stewardess, where’s my parachute? Wait, we don’t get a parachute? We get life jackets? I’m pretty sure there’s a failure there somewhere…
Anyway, for the first time, I didn’t need a paper baggie when the plane began to rise off the ground. And flying ten thousand feet above the earth didn’t faze me. As I took off through the skyways headed to my mission trip to Nicaragua, all I could think about were the people still on the ground. I thought about my sister and her hilarious kids having VBS in the backyard with their neighbors. I thought about my friend Alex at work with folks in substance abuse recovery. I thought about my spiritual father and mentor, who was probably praying and looking for church planting sites in the Latino community. For the first time ever, I would be beyond the usual phone, text and face to face contact that I shared regularly with them and others. It would be 7 weeks before they could hold hands with me when I needed prayer. 56 days without their jokes and encouragement. I didn’t know if I was ready to leave my network of support behind.
On my final plane connection to Nicaragua, the plane began to rise, and I thought to myself, this is it. I was leaving Atlanta and the flight attendant had already told us to turn off our phones. Right after she made sure we knew where the exits where… Again, thanks. The plane was filled with a variety of tan colored shades of Latino natives. There were a few Americans, clearly marked by their matching mission trip shirts. Up until this point, I hadn’t talked with anyone on the planes or airports. That’s unusual for me. Now, I was in my seat stuck between two people. A guy going in and out of consciousness was on my right, and a young lady to my left, reading what looked like medical research articles in the light of the window. I pulled out my own book and read for a while, but I felt like God was telling me to speak with her. Eventually, I gave in.
“So… are you a doctor?” I asked. Immediately the young woman engaged me in friendly conversation. Her name was Carolina and it turned out she was going to do a medical residency in Nicaragua. She wanted to be a surgeon and she was a Christian.
After we discussed a bit about her studies and work she turned the mirror on me. She pointed to the book I was reading about the rising Latino American church. “What about you, what are doing in Nicaragua?”
Good question. And just like that, God lifted me. I shared with her, what I share with you now. While churches in the northern part of the globe are slowly dwindling, the church of the global south in Africa and Latin America are rising. The Latino American population in the states is ever increasing. The Latino community and church is need of radical leadership, leadership like that of the phenomenal staff at the Nehemiah Center in Nicaragua, to which I was headed. Latinos, specifically in my experience with immigrants and their American born children, need to know that there is a place at God’s table for them. Too long have they sat in the ashes of broken systems left behind by colonialism. Too long have they sat in the shadows as people left in the margins hoping for scraps from missionary tables. It is time for them… for us… to rise.
Our Latino brothers and sisters in the U.S. leave their support networks in their home countries and come to the states desperate for a chance to have a sustainable living. And their sacrifice for their families is so much more than the one I am taking by sitting in a plane. And so, this is my turn. It is my turn to take one for the team, just as people like my parents, have done so for me. It’s my turn to serve hard and learn from my brothers and sisters who are working to bring God’s peace and justice in their own context, so I can come back home better equipped to serve in my own multicultural and Latino context. God saw fit for me to make this my turn. Not because I’m awesome. If anything, my stress level and emotional weakness up until that point in my travel proved otherwise. No. God saw fit for this to be my turn and He would be my support and strong arm. And when I return, it will be my turn to share what God has shown me with my family and friends, in the fight for those on living life on the fringes. And God will empower us to continue together, building God’s kingdom, so that every knee will bow and every tongue proclaim, including our own, that He alone is Lord.
R. R. Tavárez