If you meet him as he is returning home from work, as I have, he will not give a hug or even a shake of the hand. With an extended forearm, you’ll just get an elbow bump. José works in the city dump, located just across the ravine from his home in Barrio Roberto Clemente in the city of Diriamba, Nicaragua. Always the considerate gentleman, he’s careful not to share any of the dirt or grime that his body has collected after hours of picking through the dump garbage looking for recyclables that can be sold. But as soon as he’s had a chance to clean up, he’ll give a warm, generous hug.
José was the first person I met in Barrio Roberto Clemente two years ago. I consider him my “go to” guy in the neighborhood. He is one of three individuals selected by the residents as an informal leadership council. You don’t have to know José for very long before you understand why he was among the chosen. A hard-working father and grandfather, he is loving and deeply caring. A friend to all, he is kind and unfailingly honest. A faithful believer, he is humble and always positive. Living amidst deep material poverty, he approaches life with dignity and spiritual richness.
José assures me that had I met him five years ago this would not be my description of him. Then he was an angry man. Angry that he was poor, that his life had no purpose, that life seemed unfair. He was a fighter, a womanizer, a drinker. One particularly difficult day he was so overcome with unhappiness that he just stopped and told God that he was ready to surrender to him and he asked for help.
Life is hard in Roberto Clemente and it is not difficult to understand José’s previous life. There are others who now live as Jose used to. But since accepting Christ as his lord and savior, Jose has lived a good life and desires to help his community to grow. “I know I am poor in material things but I also know that my spiritual life is rich. I am happy and I want others to be also.” So José and others like him are using their example to bring more faith, hope, and love to this community.
As I write this blog, I am back at Barrio
Roberto Clemente investigating how 516NOW can continue to serve this community. But I wanted to pause and briefly introduce you to José so you can better understand why we are drawn to – indeed, called to – this remarkable community.
Scott Votey, Secretary 516NOW