It shouldn’t be a surprise, of course, but to be honest, it shook me a bit. We were touring the grounds Friday. The intermittent rains had let up enough that we had a safe enough window for the two hours or so it would take us, and we had Nelson to guide us. (He promised he would show us all the places he got in trouble, but that didn’t pan out!).
Casa Suyapa (the baby house), the shop, the cocina (kitchen)—newly expanded and remodeled since our visit three years ago—and Dona Gloria in the doorway of her tortilla house, the saint of a woman who has made millions and millions of tortillas over the 28 years that she’s cooked for the ranch.
Casa Raina, the abuelo house where elderly adults live and become grandmothers and grandfathers for the hundreds of children on the ranch. El Buen Pastor, the Good Shepherd, the boys’ hogares, then the school where a hundred or so of the younger boys and girls were out playing.
That’s where it happened. We walked into a swirl of activity. Probably a hundred younger kids playing on the concrete under the covered shelter. It is one of those idyllic images that I’ve grown accustomed to at NPH Honduras. Groups of kids scattered on the hard surface like so many drops of rain, others running, playing. So much energy! Smiles. Laughs. Pure.
I was standing there, taking it all in, when two young boys, 9 or 10, I’m guessing, started scrapping. It took me a while to process that they were actually fighting. I mean really fighting. Fists flying. Bodies slamming to the concrete. One boy pulled the other’s shirt over his head and then blows to the body. One after another.
I was stunned. I just stood there, frozen. Once I realized what was happening, I began to look around, expecting someone to intervene. Waiting for a tio or tia, an adult caregiver, to run up and separate the two. Finally a pequeña, a girl perhaps two years older came over and tried to separate them, mostly unsuccessfully, the focused rage was such a force. One of the adults from our group stepped in as well, and finally it was over. One boy, the smaller, stormed off. I didn’t see where he went. But the other stayed on the ground. And as the endorphins drained away, the tears welled in his eyes, and he sobbed with that “what just happened?” dismay that is intelligible in any language or with none at all.
Of course this happens here at NPH too. Why wouldn’t it? But it is so unexpected. I suppose because I want the dream, the ideal, the Kingdom and it is tempting to ignore the “real” to find it. Of course it happens. This is about being human, about figuring it out, about growing up and sorting out what makes for life and for death and making a choice. We learn by our mistakes. We find our way by getting lost.
Of course it happens. And that is what makes this place all the more astonishing. Because there’s room for it, and there is space carved out for reflection on it that molds a soul and a body, a self as one, a whole. NPH gets this and makes intentional space for learning. It’s another one of those things they continue to perfect over years of reflection followed by practice followed by more reflection. After all, those Liberation theologians of Central and Southern America, intent on the Way of Jesus gave us the word: praxis.
And not everyone ends up in the same place. Sometimes this is a tragedy. Sometimes kids leave the community. Sometimes they have to. Of course NPH knows this heartbreak. And God knows where these two little boys will be in a few years. I hope right here or somewhere else caring for their little pequeños, breaking up fights, holding crying little boys, and showing them different paths and new possibilities for their lives.
The astonishing, lump-in-your-throat thing about NPH is how most of the time they seem to get the Kingdom. There is much for us to learn here. Much for me to learn about growing a community that is intentional in the ways that it gives life, that it nurtures, that it practices goodness, faithfulness, peacemaking, and love. The blows that happen are such a shock because there are so many hugs, and head rubs, and pastors getting on their knees to offer the bread of Life to a little one. There are so many warm, intent, undistracted gazes deep into the eyes of these little ones by these bigger ones.
So, all in all, it was a pretty good walk. We didn’t get to see all the places Nelson got into trouble as a little pequeño. But we got Nelson! We have Nelson! And that is more than enough.
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