Memo From Mac



The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

A Great Pain, A Great Glory 

Jalapa, Nicaragua It's time to leave, and as memorable as this place and these adventures is the group I've become a part of a 17-member Witness for Peace delegation from Iowa. Its mission has been deeply spiritual and deadly serious, showing a non-violent presence and support for fellow Christians on the Nicaraguan side of the so-called "covert" war.

But what a rollicking, robust, good-humored, ready-for-anything bunch they are. And how remarkable I find it that we've been able to share our feelings as freely as our canteens of boiled water and become even closer friends.

"He's our Periodista," they kept apologizing for me, as if making excuses for a unmannerly child the journalist, always intruding with impertinent questions, even taking pictures in church.

So I struck back labeling them. First off, the Preachers: George, the caustic Presbyterian; Steve and Carlos, the probing Methodists; Suzanne, the intellectual Episcopalian. Then there were the Linguists Nancy and Jim and Judy all Spanish teachers back home whom we wore out with demands for translation.

Judy Kading is also a farm wife and mother of two and a daredevil. There was a proposal to send a truck across Honduras and Guatemala to Mexico to pick up some donated machinery. They wanted an American to ride along to make it easier to bluff their way through checkpoints. Judy was ready to volunteer.

The plan was dropped, but I couldn't help thinking of that young farmer back in Iowa trying to get the corn in, and how being married to Judy must be quite an adventure.

Next were the Youngsters: Barbara and David, students; and Marnetta, a nurse all 30 or under. Barbara's a Peace Corps and Marnetta a Mennonite Volunteer veteran; David an anti-war activist. They're indefatigable hikers, questioners.

The Explorers: Marian and Helen, a nurse and a teacher, ever probing into health and education. I could have put Helen in with the youngsters. She admits to 72. There's a rumor she's more. She set a pace for all of us. Marian always had a band-aid for my blisters.

Finally, the Saints: Dorothy's a tiny 70-year-old nun whose total unconcern for herself startles us and captivates the Nicaraguans; Stephen, the Catholic Worker ("more worker than Catholic," he claims) is supposed to get married when he goes home, but the betting is he'll be in jail for some act of civil disobedience. One day he was in agony from diarrhea, but went to the field anyway. "The greater the pain, the greater the glory," he said. Some groaned, but none laughed. Paul's a Brethren and retired John Deere factory worker who's been in Central America before helping poor farmers. He worries so about others' feelings it sometimes almost immobilizes us. Paul and Jim are staying an extra week to help plan some playgrounds.

And Beverly, our leader, who, with frowns and smiles and pleases has somehow managed to goad and shame and inspire us into shutting up and settling down and getting the group's decisions made and work done, and making us love her in spite of it. Her lanky frame, long stride and missionary charm make me think of Katherine Hepburn in "The African Queen."

So, we've survived even prevailed: Achieved our purpose in making a presence and defined some questions, if not the answers. I thought some of these days would never end. From crack of dawn until nearly midnight; after work in the day and meetings or interviews at night and ready to collapse, Beverly would still haul us into a circle to "process" the day's experiences and then to worship.

We had readings and hymns and random thoughts, adventuresome liturgies and improvised Eucharistic services a heady cross-fertilization of eight denominations. One especially lonely night, we sang Christmas carols. We freely shared our fears about getting killed, and thus diminished them.

When I marveled at our equanimity, Steve Clinton explained: "People who pray with each other every night have a hard time fighting with each other during the day."

On our last night here in Jalapa, it began to rain. Lightning flashed and thunder banged against the mountains. The drought was broken. The dusty streets turned to mud. The rainy season has come, and we must go.

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