'Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!"
This past Sunday, we read from the prophet Isaiah. In the midst of Advent -- the four weeks before Christmas when we take the time to prepare for the birth of Christ -- I can't stop thinking of this in light of La Chureca, a seven-kilometer-wide "wasteland" that's home to more than 1,000 people in Nicaragua.
As part of my recent visit to Nicaragua to work with Mustard Seed Communities, we were taken to La Chureca. We've all seen the "feed the children" commercials and know that poverty exists. Each Christmas we usually make an extra effort to alleviate this, tossing change into the Salvation Army buckets and buying gifts for kids in need. I know poverty is not news to anyone. However, the words of Isaiah keep rolling around my head as I think about a "highway in the wasteland" and just what it means to prepare for Christ.
In Nicaragua, a mere three-hour plane ride from the U.S., there is a dump where people live and work. I heard this and didn't quite understand what it meant to live in a dump -- then I was shown. Driving in a van over piles of garbage and dirt around structures that were literally sheets of metal nailed to posts, we were told that these were homes for several families -- as in several living in one structure. For generations, these families have sorted the trash as it is dumped, selling and eating what they find. They earn only one to two dollars a day; the poverty is severe.
"Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!" After visiting La Chureca, this seems like an overwhelming command. I can't sum this up with a pithy verse or analogy so that we can all walk away from the paper this morning feeling warm and fuzzy. All week I've tried to make sense of a world in which I have been given every opportunity and have never spent a day hungry -- while others will spend their whole lives sorting trash.
Maybe the problem is that often we do try to "think it through," to make sense of the world, when we should be acting. We can shake our fists at God, asking why people are suffering, but if we listen, we'll find that he's asking us the same question.
As we prepare for the coming of Christ, as we try to straighten out our lives to be more aligned with God's, it means looking at this uncomfortable reality. La Chureca -- and poverty -- won't change overnight. However, as we prepare for Christmas, are we focused on acquiring as much as we can? Or looking at how we can serve those in need with what we've acquired?
Alison Griswold is the director of youth ministry at St. Francis By the Sea Catholic Church. Follow her on Twitter @alisongriz. Read her blog at www.teamcatholic.blogspot.com.