In many cases where people need help, I am not sure that simply giving out things is the best solution. However, in this situation, these ladies are truly helpless. The items they get in their baby bags are things that they really need, and the extra attention we give them through the other things shows them the love of Christ.
At least that is how it's supposed to work.
I won't lie; sometimes I get discouraged, feeling like we do all of this stuff, only to get a mediocre or awkward response. Of course, it's extremely hard to tell what the ladies really think about everything. It is quite possible that they are just shy or are feeling physically, mentally, and emotionally drained to the point that they don't have the energy to express their appreciation to people who don't even speak their language. (I mean, they are experiencing complicated pregnancies are are most likely in psychical pain or at least discomfort. I think I wouldn't be all bubbly either.) Obviously we are not doing all of this for the purpose of receiving gratitude or praise. But, I would at least like to feel like I am making a genuine connection with these people, that they really know that I care. Sometimes this is hard to convey (and to perceive reciprocation of) when we come in every week and follow the same rote procedures.
There are two Casa Materna locations that we service regularly: Jinotega (where we live) and Yalí (a drive of a couple of hours, give or take, depending on the state of the raod). There is a third location, Pantasma, that we have been trying to get to for months, but our trip plans have continually been foiled for various reasons. Well, yesterday, we were actually set to go. Truth be told, though, as much as I was excited about the idea of going there, I was feeling tired and still wasn't quite over being under the weather. I had other things I really needed to get done here in town, and my thought was that it really didn't matter if I, in particular, went. Someone else could lead the songs. Someone else could help with the crafts and pass out bags. Yes, I do build my relationship with the Jinotega church ladies when I go on these trips (which is definitely important), but I didn't think that missing this one trip would make much difference.
I ended up going anyway. And I was so glad that I did.
We had been told that in Pantasma there was no actual house for the ladies and that they just had to stay at the Health Center. We honestly weren't sure if this was true or where the ladies were exactly, but we went ahead to the Health Center to check. It turned out that this had been the case a few months ago, but the government had just recently built a house to serve as the Casa Materna. However, because there are only 3 beds at the house and there are over 10 women currently being served, most of the women are still living at the Health Center (where there are 6 beds). The building itself, though, is really nice, big, and clean. Apparently, an organization from Spain sent things to fill the big, empty house—including beds—but for reasons known only to the government not everything made it there. Still, the Health Center staff members who work with the ladies were very excited to show us the house. I was impressed that they seemed to be very organized and knew exactly what was going on. They were able to give us a list of specific things that the women desperately need right now.
Something else that especially impressed me was the rapport between the preacher from the local congregation and the HC staff. It was obvious that he had been there many times and that the congregation had a reputation for giving a lot of help. The staff actually thanked the preacher very sincerely in front of us for everything the congregation has been doing. In fact, while we were gathering information at the Health Center, some of the members from the Pantasma congregation were at the church building assisting our Jinotega ladies with the food preparation.
Taking a step back and considering all of the people who are involved in this service of these women, it is so encouraging to realize that this is the Body of Christ at work. I really got the sense yesterday that this is how it's supposed to work. The baby bags and supplies for the craft projects come from congregations in the United States and are distributed through Misión Para Cristo, which is made up of both North and Central Americans. The members of several Nicaraguan congregations work together to provide physical and spiritual food for the women. In this case, the local congregation even works with the secular medical organization (and that secular organization works with the government) and does so in a manner that glorifies the name of Christ. Yesterday was really a proud day to be a Christian.
The thing that really topped off my experience, though, was our interaction with the pregnant women themselves. They were so gracious and appreciative of everything we did. This is not to say that the women in the other locations are not (I realize now that of course they are), but these women specifically expressed it. While sitting with them and helping to sew some quilt squares together, I really felt like I was spending meaningful time with them. There was a sense of camaraderie as we passed the spool of thread between us. During the devotional time I felt that we were all having the experience together instead of us just preaching and singing at them. When we parted ways, I said in Spanish something to the effect of "Goodbye. It was nice meeting you. God bless you," and they warmly reciprocated the farewell. There was a real personal connection.
It's probably not reasonable or realistic to expect this same perfect experience at every location every time we go. I realize that personal connections can't be manufactured or imposed. But, now that I have had this experience, I am encouraged to continue in this ministry and to make even more of an effort to channel Christ's love. These women are definitely worth helping as much as we can, and, at least at this moment, I see the big picture of how we can effectively do that. I am excited to serve my function within the greater context of the Body of Christ.
Part of that function, I see now, is to be the one who reports back what the needs are. I already sent that information up the chain here at the mission, but in case any of you has an interest and is able to contribute somehow, this I what we were told the women especially need:
- Beds (Right now there are 6 beds at the Health Center and 3 at the house for a total of 9. Between the two locations, more than 10 ladies are being housed.)
- Bedding, especially Sheet Sets/Pillow Cases (Some beds have no sheets at all.)
- Maternity Dresses for women at the end of the third trimester. (Many of the women show up with only the outfit they are wearing at the time.)
- Sanitary Napkins (Before we gave them a few in their baby bags yesterday, we were told that they didn't have ANY.)
- Bath Soap
- Crib Mattresses (Right now they are using cardboard and whatever random blankets they can spare.)
- [for the medical professionals at the Health Center] Scrub Tops
God bless you all,