It’s hard to believe it has been eight years since I journeyed to Central America in December of 2002, but I regularly find myself thinking about that trip and its impact on my life during the holiday season in particular.
Thanks to the Winnipeg-based Canadian Foodgrains Bank, I was able to participate in a two-week food studies tour of Honduras and Nicaragua. I had traveled internationally prior to that but never to developing countries. I was excited for the tremendous opportunity to see firsthand how the CFB was making a critical difference in the lives of those trapped in the relentless grind of poverty.
Our team traveled around both countries with a hectic schedule – visiting several farming projects where locals are assisted in growing food to provide for their families. It was an amazing experience – exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time. Time and again, people were warm, welcoming, and unbelievably generous with what very little they had.
It was also painful to see the horrendous, and never-ending levels of need that plagued so many. For many, just getting through each day was foremost on their minds.
To this day, images from that trip surface in my memory. I remember praying when I returned to Canada that I would never forget what I learned during that journey. And to be honest, I believe the trip’s poignant impact is with me still.
Which brings me back to my opening point. As I mentioned, the trip took place during the first two weeks of December in North America essentially means one thing – a frantic rush to get all that last minute shopping wrapped up before Dec. 25 arrives.
I remember flying back to Toronto from Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a couple days prior to heading home. My cousin took me on a shopping trip downtown and I was nearly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of products practically falling off the shelves, not to mention the sense of panic amongst the shoppers.
How different it had been just a day or two earlier, when our group was zooming around dusty Honduran countryside from community to community, visiting with folks who couldn’t imagine such North American opulence. In a way, I wanted to be back there for a while longer – focusing on issues that, in the big picture, really mattered.
The contrasts between there and here were indeed striking. In Central America, amidst all the hardship, there was a powerful sense of community. You really got the feeling that what mattered most were friends and family – not possessions. People seemed most excited about simply being together. It was a beautiful and refreshing perspective for me, and I remember realizing how disconnected our North American society had seemed compared to the emphasis on belonging I sensed so strongly in Central America.
Perhaps the more people have materially, the more security and stock they put into it. We may be comparatively wealthy in North America, but I believe we are very poor in other ways. There are lonely, desperate people out there with nowhere to turn. People can be carrying the most immense burdens and tragically often go unnoticed in the increasingly fast-paced society we live in today.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m thankful for Canada and all the blessings that have come my way simply by being born in this country. But since traveling to part of the world that has so little those several years ago, I’ve learned that having much in one way doesn’t bring automatic fulfillment and peace in a spectrum of other ways.
The Christmas season seems to bring much into focus. We enjoy the bountiful blessings, but also can become more keenly aware of the need around us. I pray that the joys of this season and the sense of giving will grow in people’s hearts.
And not just for a few hectic weeks in December, but through the entire year as well.