by Noah Stansbury
A cacophony of voices fills the community center where we’ve set up shop for the week: patients, staff, volunteers, a screaming child or two or three. I’m at one end of the room chipping away at a backlog of prescriptions while my (equally amateur) comrades in pharmacology try to figure out how to convert an antibiotic from a solid to a liquid, so I’m writing variations on the same medication instructions in broken Spanish over and over: Tome 3 pastillas 2 veces al dia come comida. Aplique la crema a la zona afectada lo necesario para el picazone. Expolve una pastilla y mezcle el polve con comida. I don’t know how long I’ve been working on this one order of drugs, creams, and multivitamins for a family of four. It could have been five minutes or an hour, but between the heat and the noise and the humidity and what is probably a mild case of dehydration, my focus is so narrow that counting out exactly 84 pills is the only thing I’ve ever known. It’s 90 degrees in Honduras and I am losing my mind.
For those of you playing along at home, we are in the early weeks of what has been called the endless green season after Pentecost, when nothing significant seems to happen in the church’s calendar for months on end. This is to say we are nowhere near Advent, that period of time before Christmas (a darker, colder part of the year that I’m quite partial to, especially now) when we remember how to look for Christ’s arrival both in the manger and in the manifestation of God’s dream for humanity. I like to say that Advent is my favorite season because I’m inherently expectant, and as I was preparing to come to Honduras, I found myself thinking about how I might look for God during this week, albeit without fully knowing what I was getting into. As we’ve moved through the days, I’ve had a few moments between ‘scripts to sit back and take it all in: the doctors and nurses from Philadelphia speaking to their patients through interpreters, the local staff and volunteers who are helping us by registering patients and counting medications and bringing us food and other things I’m sure I don’t know about, and (Lord knows) the hundreds of Hondurans who are here seeking real, corporal, incarnate relief. There’s a robust tradition in this region of the world of God having a preferential option for the poor, and a cursory reading of scripture is shot through with God lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty. I had hoped that an intensive week of ministering among the rural poor might show me something that I’ve taught myself to ignore in the urban poverty of Philadelphia. In spite of all the opportunities for God to say, “Hey, over here,” I have to be honest: there haven’t been any earth-shifting revelations. This isn’t to say God isn’t speaking. I’m probably just not listening well.
I’ve struggled a lot this week with what exactly I’m doing, and I know I’m not alone. The people we are in mutual service with are in actual need of the help we can offer, and my part in that is no less important just because I don’t have medical training or speak Spanish (though David, our 14-year-old farmacia helper, certainly is patient with me). But when I think about the lives of poverty these people are going back to, my own nation’s troubled history with the politics of this place, and the fact that I’m leaving it all behind in a few days, it’s easy to spiral out into wondering what the point is. It's a dark place where intentionally or not I make myself responsible for saving the world; anyone, even Jesus, must buckle under such a burden, and in this environment the responsibilty is crushing me. It feels like a copout to face that I'm not going to solve Honduras in this room behind this table and to name that my ability to be here is wrought with complications. Even if it's not very satisfying, in that admission I'm given the grace of liberation from having to save the world, which isn't my job anyway. The task at hand is to get my brothers and sisters their damn medicine - shut up and go do the work. That's grace for you sometimes: you don't have to like it.
After the last prescription is filled, I tidy my table, two square feet of the reign of God in action, I hope. The late afternoon light is streaming through the doorway at the far end of the room onto the rude concrete floor, and there’s a quiet buzz as the team puts their stations to bed for the night and begin to check in with each other. Someone is gently whistling “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and I have to smile. David asks me if he’ll see me tomorrow, and I do my best to assure him he will. Later the team will exchange their stories from the day, and we’ll enjoy God’s creation along the shore. It’s 90 degrees in Honduras, and I’m still listening.