This week I learned about the death of Don Victor, a pastor who answered God’s call on his life to be in ministry of people in a shantytown. I’ve been reflecting on his ministry this week.
Where pavement meets gravel in Cartago, Costa Rica, is where you enter the shantytown of Los Diques. This is a place where people with no other means go. Families escaping abusive fathers. Mothers addicted to drugs. Grandmothers raising grandchildren. Young boys whose only way out is to join a gang; young girls whose only way out is to sell themselves. And this is a place the government would rather not exist, which is why they have been so reluctant over the years to give the basic necessities for these people.
Yet, none of this mattered to Don Victor.
Back in 2005 I was in seminary and making plans to do a directed study in Costa Rica that included a mission trip to Los Diques. After much preparation and great support from family, friends, and a church who caught the vision, in January 2006 the first team made their way to Costa Rica.
Since that first trip in 2006, my experiences in Diques have influenced my preaching, teaching, leadership, and ministry in general in various ways. It’s not uncommon for me to share the story of Don Victor, the pastor at the Church of the Light of the New Day in Los Diques, when teaching or preaching.\
I left the house, most likely barefoot, and started walking through the woods. There was a path that had been worn in the dirt from all the other times I had walked this path. It is what I did when I needed to clear my head, ponder something, or escape from the stressors of teenage life. I would later have the epiphany that what was really happening was prayer. I was communing with the Creator.
There was an old stump by the creek where I would go and sit and think . . . . .I mean, pray.
One of the highlights of the mission trip to New York was the expected visit to a 9/11 memorial. A highlight because I had hoped that we would get a chance to visit the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero.
One of the church members from Christ Community suggested and then took us to a 9/11 memorial at Breezy Point. There was a deck on the beach looking out over the bay, with a great view of the cityscape, including the Freedom Tower, filling up the lack of space left by the World Trade Centers.
Along the deck were tributes to each person from Breezy Point who was lost in the 9/11 terrorist attack. There were lined up all along the deck. It was a moving tribute to the individuals the community lost. Moving, as well, because there were so many.
In addition there was a cross, made with beams from the World Trade Center Towers. A cross was beat, bruised, and bent. A reminder to us that in the darkest of tragedies and storms of life, there is One who has been there. One who is always with us, and One who loves us through the worst life can offer us.
On Wednesday we got an earlier start to our day. Arriving about an hour earlier than the other days, the group got to work right away. Some continued working in the room with they hung Sheetrock. Today they laid down new flooring.
A small group went back out into the community handing out more flyers inviting people to the cook-out on Friday. Many were very grateful for the invite. They also visited two firehouses, inviting them to the cook-out as well.
One lady invited some into her home, showing them what work has been done. This house is one of the original houses built in the 1930s. I met a couple while we were out who explained to me that all the houses back then looked like this one. Both the husband and the wife grew up at Breezy Point. They, like many yesterday, told us that before Sandy no one knew that Breezy Point even existed. The people we talked with today were anxious to get back in their homes.
They celebrated the efforts of Habitat for Humanity, who has been in Breezy Point since Sandy. They told me how they drove through the destruction with a small trailer handing out Sheetrock. The Habitat folks have been using Christ Community has there base for their work in the area. A lot of work has not been done on the church till we arrived. They decided to join us in our efforts. Which has been a blessing in both directions. They have worked alongside our group as if they were all one group. Members are hoping to start holding services inside once we are done.
A number of the youth and adults also cleared out a huge trash pile that had been collecting since before we came. When we arrived this morning we were greeted with the joyful site of an empty dumpster. Though it was not empty for long. Groups set out in search for another worthy dumpster and when that was full, the search resumed. At the end of the day the group filled at least three dumpsters with trash and debris from the church.
While clearing out trash, the group also worked on the courtyard and other basic landscaping issues to help make the area loom more welcoming, especially since we were handing out 1500 flyers for the cook-out on Friday.
It was another great work day. The team pulled out of Breezy Point around 1:45 in the afternoon. Upon arrival back in Brooklyn, the rat race to the showers began as they all got ready for Broadway in the evening.
I walked into the small grocery store and bought an iced tea. As the sales clerk gave me my change, she said, “Thanks for all that you all are doing.” That has been the norm here in Breezy Point.