This last time in Ecuador I had the privilege of meeting up with some lay missionaries from the US in the group Family Missions Company. They spend a good deal of their time near the Amazon jungle in the east of the country, about a whole day’s journey away from my locations. So after almost two years of trying to hook up, I finally was able to make the trip.
The week I visited was the week that they were hosting some short-term missionaries from the state of Louisiana. They were a group of high school seniors who had just recently finished high school, accompanied by some parents and a local young priest. Coming into the rural areas of Ecuador is a bit of a culture shock, and the kids only had about 6 days, so we jumped right in.
On the second day, the leaders decided that we would visit one of the remote villages. That means that we each have to put on some good rubber farming boots and climb a mountain. But the weather in the Amazon is always off and on rainy, so the trail up the mountains is constantly wet. Being really the only way up the mountain to the village, it is also the only way to bring the animals up and down the mountain. The result is a vertical trail of a deep mixture of pure mud and animal dung.
Now, I have some experience with these climbs, having done it a few times already myself. But for the kids, it was their first time. So, I decided to give a little advice every now and then. “Stay out of the middle, walk on the sides.” You do that because the sides are firmer – the animals go up and down the middle and soften it up. “Step on the places that already have footprints.” That’s because someone’s stepped there before and it was strong enough to support them. But, of course, these are teenagers, and did they listen to me? Noooo. They take off right up the middle, and somehow they always managed to find the softest, deepest pockets of mud to place their feet and put all their weight into. Needless to say, everyone started getting stuck. Then, everyone started losing their boots from their feet. And all the people came back to help them, and then they all started getting stuck and losing their boots. And then came the falling and rolling in the mud. By the end, three hours had gone by when we reached the first view of the village, and we could see kids peeking at us from the distance. We all arrived completely covered in mud.
So when we got there, we discovered that this was a village where the only way in or out was this trail of mud on the mountain. The only water supply comes from collecting rain. Food is grown, or bought from the semi-weekly trip down the mountain. So we played soccer with the people, games with the kids, brought some food and water to share, some trinkets for the kids. We prayed together and the kids shared some of their own experiences with God. We gave of what we had. We are rich compared to them, and they are poor.
When it was time to go, well goodbyes are always sad, so we said our goodbyes and started to head toward the trail to walk down the mountain. And as we went, a large group of young people began to see us off. And then to go with us. These people can go up and down the mountain in a half an hour what took us 3 hours to do, like lightning up and down.
See, when it comes to going up and down that mountain, the locals are rich. We are the poor ones. Now everything was turned upside down.
And all the “rich” and “poor” dissolved away.
And there was just brother and sister.
Jesus says in the Gospel many times, in a lot of different ways, that someday, everything is going to be turned upside down. The rich are going to become poor and vice-versa. If you had it good, you’re going to have it bad, and vice-versa. He says things like, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” Then there’s the Beatitudes: woe to the rich because they’re going to lose what they’ve got, and good news for the poor because they’re going to be lifted up and inherit the earth. There’s the story about Lazarus and the rich man, not to mention all the psalms and Old Testament stories about God turning things upside down. There is no soft-pedaling it, although it’s often ignored.
Each of us from the society in a good, developed country, we are someday going to be in a lot of need. And the people who were poor, they are going to be the ones who “have.” When that happens, there will only be one question that matters:
Did you share what you had?
Are you brothers and sisters?
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. … I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack.” (2 Cor 8:9,13-15)