By Norris Burkes Jan 21, 2018
I graduated from high school in Atascadero, California. In the 1970s, Atascadero was a town without a stoplight or chain stores. However, we had a lot of churches and liquor stores. Truthfully, it fit the Spanish meaning of “miry place,” roughly translated as “pigsty.”
Of course, our rivals from neighboring schools described the town much like our president allegedly did in reference to Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as “expletive-hole” countries. Supporters contest the exact wording, but not his disparagement of the developing world.
About the time he was speaking so eloquently, my wife and I deplaned in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We are here in this Central American country to bring children’s books for Chispa Project, a grassroots charity founded by my daughter, Sara, to start children’s libraries in rural Honduras.
We hit the ground running, with little time for jet lag as my daughter put her “favorite volunteers” to work. We’ve sorted through dozens of boxes of books shipped down to Honduras on pallets. We’ve shopped for library decorating supplies, made copies for the teacher workshops and tested paint samples for the library murals we will paint next week.
This is my third trip to Honduras, and I don’t find it to be a —–hole. In fact, I’ve encountered dozens of people with whom I’d proudly share my country. I’ve met printers, bakers, and restaurateurs, parking attendants, taxi drivers, pastors and teachers, and I find that they want things similar to what I want. They want fulfillment in their work, loyalty in their friends, love in their home and faith in their hearts.
Just because they often have less money than U.S.-ers, doesn’t mean they consider themselves to be a stink-hole country. It’s quite the opposite. Many find their true wealth in their love of family, friends and faith. They proudly cherish their culture, passionately defend their belief and productively contribute to their country.
Still, some people living in more posh surroundings continue to think of places like this as pigsties. When they do, I have to wonder how they would’ve welcomed Jesus had they’d lived in first-century Palestine.
Jesus came from Nazareth, likely a 400-person dot on the map. Neighboring cities held the town in high contempt, demonstrated in the question asked by Nathanial, a disciple recruit: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Today, we call towns like Nazareth “backwoods, trailer parks, Hicksville,” and yes, even “pigsties.” Perhaps we’d do better to heed the words of the Rev. James Martin, editor of America, a Jesuit magazine, who says “God, in other words, came from a —–hole’ place, and he pointedly asked us to welcome him whenever he appeared as a ‘stranger,’ or as one of our ‘least’ brothers and sisters.”
Yes, Mr. President, you’re right that we need people from developed countries like Norway who can help us. But we also need — all caps, NEED — people who can help us value life outside of ourselves. We need to welcome others, if for no other reason than for the way helping each other transforms us into the people God would have us be.
However, I must confess that I may have used the word “sinkhole” upon hearing that one of my suitcases had sunken into the abyss of the San Salvador airport. Gratefully, Avianca Airlines quickly reunited us with the lost suitcase crammed with donated books.
Next week, we will place these books in the hands of children who demonstrate a voracious appetite for learning. Many of you have been a part of that, and we thank you from God’s country, Honduras. Follow us here at facebook.com/chispaproject or on our personal blog, burkesbums.org.
Email: [email protected]. Voicemail 843-608-9715 Twitter @chaplain. PO Box 247 Elk Grove CA 95759 Read past columns at www.thechaplain.net.