As I write this, Laura and I have exactly one week before we sit on a Delta plane travelling south to spend our next two years in an extremely rural village of Honduras, not listed on any map, but defiantly bearing the name Nueva Esperanza. Nueva Esperanza, translated New Hope in English, was established after Hurricane Mitch ravished Honduras in 1998. The people living there have no common roots other than the experience of decimation and displacement that was thrust upon their innocence. Ironically three years later, the orphanage Montaña de Luz, on a hill overlooking the refugee town of Nueva Esperanza, received the first of many children born with the HIV virus. Like the people of the newly established town, these innocent children had no common heritage other than being unjustly stricken with a merciless, fatal disease. Originally, the orphanage was conceived of as a hospice; a place where children without hope could die with care and dignity. But soon, through the generosity of sensitive souls, the children began to receive medical treatment and medication to stave off the cruel sentence of an undiscerning disease. It seems now, the children and the villagers, having shared no common heritage or history, are finding and building community; a community founded in the commonality of their innocence.
For the past few months Laura and I have spent our days decluttering. So much stuff accumulated over so much time that I might muse that the purpose of life was only to gather. This is not so much a rail against a materialistic, consumerist society, though I would not hesitate to make that argument. Rather, in my self-discernment, I now ponder the value of such an amassed collection of possessions. What did they mean to me? Did I feel I needed these things to defend and define myself? And were there times when I might have confused the things I owned and valued as surrogates of myself? Now that Laura and I have whittled down the essential stuff, that which expresses who we are communally and/or individually, to fit in a thousand cubic foot storage unit, I wonder whether the many things I possessed gave me anything at all. Not really. I am the same as I was and will be, though perhaps just a tinge more honest. Like the children and the villagers, I share the commonality of our humanity. Perhaps this is best expressed in our innocence. The things that I collected, the things that I might have once thought made me rich, or comfortable, or stable, or secure, never overpowered the essence of who I am. Like the children and the villagers, I am nothing if I am not innocent. That innocence yields my vulnerability, something I always am whether I am willing to admit it or not. Vulnerability is the fertile ground where community can take root and grow. Over the last weeks, many persons have expressed how wonderful and altruistic Laura and I are. I am not one to scorn the praise of others, but they really don’t get it. Laura and I are not doing this for the children, or for poor people, or for Honduras, or even for peace and justice, even if these missionary ideals are the only means of comprehending our present endeavor. In reality, we are only doing this for ourselves. We want to be radically present to our innocence, and openly embrace our vulnerability. I think it is only then when we begin to live the sacredness of our common humanity.