Old Loneliness (Vieja Soledad) is not the most welcoming name. Yet, for about 65 years, this was the self-chosen identity for a community in the periphery of Quezalguaque. During the rainy season, floods killed livestock and destroyed housing. In harvest season, thick clouds of smoke enveloped the homes each time that the big plantations burned neighboring sugar cane fields. Because the people did not actually own the property on which they lived, they did not possess the right to construct houses, schools, or clinics. As a result, all of the buildings were make-shift. This community, ensconced in the shade of trees and separated from the main road by a tempestuous river, was seemingly forgotten by the world. So, perhaps the name fit the spirit of the place. If nothing else, the name provided insight into how the community viewed itself.
Two years ago, however, the community of Old Loneliness began a long journey of transformation. At this time, the Nicaraguan government gave the people a plot of land where they could establish themselves away from the yearly floods. After being approached by the government, El Ayudante agreed to help construct homes on the new property as funds permitted. Now, families are slowly moving into the community.
While a change in location did not necessitate an identity shift, in the case of Vieja Soledad, such a shift is exactly what is transpiring. The decision to re-name the community presented the first hint of this transformation. The pastor at the time of the property acquisition, a man who unfortunately died of Chronic Kidney Disease before the move began, encouraged the community to shed its old name. Thus, Mount Sinai was born.
Since then–in order of request by the community members–a church, a school, and homes have been constructed. While the government and El Ayudante partnered with the people to help satisfy a need for secure shelter, the community by its own merits overflows with social capital. The community works together to construct the homes. The leaders take care of the elderly and the sick. The church shepherds the community, tending to the spirit and providing hope—as can be seen by the pastor envisioning a new name. Deciding to build the school before constructing houses exemplifies their investment in the children’s future. The people work and play, laugh and cry, live and love–all in a beautiful fellowship. Yet, not only do they love one another. They also have embraced the staff and groups associated with El Ayudante.
After wandering through the wilderness–the instability of annual floods, the inhospitality of burning fields, and the inadequacy of lean-to housing–the people of Old Loneliness are climbing the mountain of transformation and encountering the fullness of God. They are finding a renewed sense of identity as Mount Sinai. Now, beautiful gardens surround brick houses. The land is safe and arable. The running water is potable. Moreover, about a month ago, the government brought electricity to the community. The most amazing attributes of the community, however, are not those given by outside entities (whether NGO or government), but those intrinsic qualities which their own life experiences have developed and refined.
To be sure, a need signifies something lackingin a person’s life; but basic human needs also generate creativity, perseverance, love, and community. While unsatisfied needs result in some type of poverty, they also signify a tremendous amount of potential. Mount Sinai is learning to unleash that potential.
February 3, 2014
Mary Ellen Poe