The God with the Weatherbeaten Face
An address by Grant Gallup at the annual convention banquet of the Diocese of New Hampshire, October 29, 1999.
Ten years ago today I was driving the last little leg of a 4000 mile trip from Chicago to Nicaragua in a Toyota 4-runner, over the worst roads in the galaxy, which were located then as now in southern Honduras. I had been appointed by Frank Griswold, the bishop of Chicago, as liaison officer for that diocese in a new companion relationship with the diocese of Nicaragua. I was accompanied by a 70 year old osteopathic physician, Dr Russell Bissell, who wanted to volunteer to help in health care in revolutionary Nicaragua, then under siege in the Contra war. I brought him along to look after my five coronary bypasses, and to change flat tires if necessary. We arrived in Managua on Hallowe'en, a coincidence I have always noted since as a portent if not an evil omen.
Before long we were comfortably settled in a very nice house near the U. S. embassy, a house formerly inhabited by relatives of the Somoza dynasty that had ruled Nicaragua for fifty years and who had fled in 1979 to hang onto their liberty while fleeing justice and equality. Frank Griswold came to spend the night there early in 1990, when he was in Nicaragua as a member of the Witness for Peace team of international observers for the elections which brought an end to the decade of democratic socialism in Nicaragua. It turned out that we had only a few months to live in that ambience before the great change to a government which would be acceptable to Oliver North and Elliot Abrams in Washington. But I had myself first come to Nicaragua as a Witness for Peace, in 1985, and so knew a bit about Nicaragua's revolution. One day in Chicago's Loop I met Grace Gyori, a Presbyterian missionary to Guatemala, standing alone outside the post office amidst dozens of flower pots, each one of them with a little white cross painted with the name of a Guatemalan who had been "disappeared". I asked her what that meant, and soon learned of the U.S. sponsored terror in Latin America. She invited me to go to Central America with an organization called Witness for Peace, and I signed up. I had gone to the Deep South in 1964 with Martin Luther King Jr., and now went even Deeper South, to Mexico City, to meet Rigoberta Menchu, in exile; to San Salvador, to visit the tomb of Archbishop Romero, to the Altiplano of Guatemala, to visit the Campesino resistance to the U.S. sponsored dictatorship, and then finally to Managua, and to Bluefields, in Nicaragua. We had been the first delegation to be drawn from all across the U.S., and we had been as well the first delegation to sail down the Rio Escondido to the East Coast that "New England" of Latin America, the so called Mosquito coast that stretches from Belize (used to be called British Honduras) to the east coast of Panamá. Anglican slave traders and pirates had brought our unique form of the gospel to the Coast in tandem with the Black Slaves who cut sugar cane and worked the soggy soil. Columbus Day is called in Latin America "El Dia de la Raza" - the day of the Race, by which is meant the Spanish race, not the Indian race, -- and a few weeks ago, on El Dia de la Raza, Cardinal Obando y Bravo noted about Nicaragua's history ("not without some preoccupation", commented the newspaper) that for a decade, before the Spanish conquistadores "At best the majority of us were Anglicans." He chuckled. But the Anglican church all down the isthmus has kept itself pretty much to the east coast, and Anglicans are mostly "Costeños" in Central America, a kind of fading grin of the once regnant British lion, now a tabbycat in the tree, like the one in Tenniel's illustrations for Lewis Carroll.
I came back to Nicaragua for several years after that-for annual weeks of solidarity and study with Marxist sociologists and Presbyterian theologians, and Quaker educators, with laity and clergy, with a delegation from the diocese of Chicago. I found time also to study liberation theology with Gustavo Gutierrez and the Berrigans at Maryknoll, and to have that quintuple coronary bypass, and finally in October of 1989 I left St. Andrew's in Chicago and drove off to Managua,like Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, but in an airconditioned station wagon. I don't think I'll drive it back there.
In all these years I learned a different way of looking at history, from the underside, and listened to wondrously different stories than I had ever heard before. Stories of resistance, from Diriangén, the cacique who resisted the Spaniards, and Bishop Antonio Valdivieso, the first Roman Catholic bishop of Nicaragua, who was martyred for defending the indigenous peoples, to Andrés Castro, the boy who threw a stone to fell a gringo filibustero a Century and a half ago, and is celebrated each year on September 14 as the hero of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1856. A new revolutionary group in Nicaragua, about a year old, is named for him-FUAC-the Andres Castro United Front. They recently kidnapped a Canadian mining official (the Canadians traditionally own the gold and silver mines) and are holding him for ransom.
And so I learned of William Walker, the gringo adventurer who invaded Nicararagua with these mercenaries and made himself President of the country, reinstituted slavery, and was at once recognized as such by President Franklin Pierce, and tried to bring Nicaragua into the United States as a slave state. He was chased out by patriots, and brought before a firing squad in Honduras. I learned of Agosto Cesar Sandino, the greatest of Nicaragua's mythic heroes, a little cowboy in a Tom Mix hat, called proudly "the general of free men" -general de los hombres libres--described in the National Geographic magazine at the time, as a "bandit", who in the late 1920's struggled against the last of the occupations of Nicaragua by U.S. Marines, and ousted them. The Marines went, but they left Anastasio Somoza Garcia, a friend of the U.S. ambassador, in charge. He invited Sandino to a celebratory dinner, then had him assassinated afterwards.
Years later, Rigoberto Lopez Perez, a poet and university student, took a pistol to a party in Leon and returned the favor. As he said "I go fishing for the fish of liberty in the blood of the tyrant." He shot the tyrant, but he was slaughtered as well, on the spot, 'though the U.S. flew Somoza to a military hospital in Panama, where he also died despite our doctors efforts to save him. But the Somozas stayed in charge for fifty years, passing the presidency around through family and friends, and building one of the worst tyrannies in the history of the hemisphere, which ended in the Revolution of 1979. By that time the Somozas had enriched themselves to the point that they owned a third of the land of Nicaragua, and the last Somoza --Anastasio Somoza Debayle-declared "Nicaragua is my finca." - "My farm." But Nicaragua's government always did the bidding of the United States, and its trans-national corporations, and so the anecdote may not be apocryphal, that Franklin Roosevelt is said to have declared, "Somoza is a son-of-a-bitch, but he's our son-of-a-bitch." And the U.S. had many other SOB's, all over the hemisphere, who did the bidding of Washington, with arms supplied by the Pentagon. Some of them still do.
In 1972 an earthquake destroyed Managua and killed ten thousand people. It was the beginning of the end for Somoza; he and his friends stole the millions in aid that poured in from everywhere in the world, and this alienated the ruling classes whom a dictatorship, after all, is meant to serve. They joined forces with the poor, who were already struggling against the regime and in July of 1979 Somoza Debayle fled to our Old Dictators Home in Miami, and Nicaragua had a new government, unacceptable to Washington D. C. That Revolution as you know lasted just a little more than ten years, and died a victim of the Cold War. And while many of its Achievements - its ganancias--survive (especially the new place of women in Nicaraguan society) they are steadily being rolled back by privatization and intimidation. The application of the doctrineof Structural Adjustment, the strictures of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, require Nicaragua (and all these countries) to cut their expenditures for education, health care, police protection, and all other social services in order to service their international debt.
(I don't know why poor Nicaraguans should pay this debt: they didn't borrow the money, it was never spent on them; it has ended up in the U.S. bank accounts of the corrupt politicians of these countries. The poor of these lands don't owe a dime; indeed, it is their money that has flowed north in terms of their under-compensated labor in coffee and cane, in beef and cotton and shrimp, in precious woods and in precious metals. As Noam Chomsky has written in the July-August NACLA Report on the Americas, "The first thing to bear in mind is that the (3rd World) debt is not an economic problem. It's a political problem. The debt is an ideological construction having to do with power relations." Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) plundered his people, and took away $5 or $10 billions of dollars. Who says you can't take it with you? He left his country with a $14 billion international debt. Why should the Congolese pay it?
Eduardo Galeano, the author of Open Veins of Latin America, said in a recent Interview for the Progressive magazine that "Latin America is not a stage on the way to development. It is the result of development, the result of five centuries of history."
A recent report from London from the development charity Christian Aid, says that the world's richest countries-the Group of Seven-- in fact owe $13 trillion a year to the Third World because of environmental pollution. The fish in lake Managua cannot be eaten because of the mercury contamination left by oil refineries. My nephew, an environmental engineer, says that the sale of mercury mined in that Lake could pay for the clean-up. Who will do it? The oil companies? Who will make them do it? The World Court ten years ago declared that the U.S. owed Nicaragua something like 17 billion dollars for the C.I.A.'s secret bombing of its ports during the Contra war. It is a forgotten judgment. Nicaragua had what you might call a judgment-proof creditor. The U.S. is the world's sheriff!
This unforgiveable debt cannot be erased by a Jubilee Year. Besides the money owed to it, Nicaragua has continued to suffer (as I'm sure you know -- it's the only time we get into your headlines) from hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, a tidal wave, volcanos, and plagues of malaria, dengue, cholera, and leptosporosis. If a nation can be a Job, we are it. God's servant, Job. Only Haiti is poorer than Nicaragua. I had stayed in Chicago's ghetto at St. Andrew's for nearly thirty years, in a fit of absent mindedness, as I like to say, and now have ten year old roots in the shaky and soggy volcanic soil of Managua. When the companion relationship ended I stayed on and with Miram Lazo of Managua and Ted Copland of Sarasota, Florida, I founded Casa Ave Maria as a ministry of hospitality and service.
We had to move a couple of times, but now we are in our own place-two houses that adjoin each other, with a chapel tucked in between them. The second house is called "Otro Lado" - the other side - next door - and there we have free classes in English at all levels (young people must learn the language of the domination system if they are to cope with it). We also have classes in guitar, recorder, marimba, and all kinds of dancing-folkloric, reggae, and popular. We receive guests from everywhere, and we help them forge links with poor people in Nicaragua, in projects in health, education, agriculture, the rescue of street children, the rescue of hope. A group I served with in Chicago, called Synapses, was made up mostly of Mennonites and Quakers and Catholic Worker folks. They gave us $15,000 which they had raised selling Nicaraguan coffee illegally, during the Reagan-Bush embargo, and we started a mini-bank, to lend money to micro- enterprises: a woman needed a simple wood stove to make tortillas, a man needed a horse for his horse-drawn taxi, when the old one died; a marimba maker needed raw materials and tools; an artist, canvas and paints. In Masaya, my associate Miriam Lazo Laguna, a Nicaraguan social worker, has recently obtained a grant of $250,000 from the Luxembourg government to build an albergue--a shelter-for street children. Homeless children are a problem of plague proportions in all of Latin America.
One of the parishes in the States that took a special interest in our ministry was St. Matthew's, in Evanston, Illinois, where John McCausland, now in this diocese, was Rector. He led a group of pilgrims from that parish to our Casa. Pilgrims from across the U. S. and from other countries have come to Nicaragua in these years. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco sends pilgrims each January, and they have helped to build a classroom for the only Episcopal high school in the republic, and houses for the damnificados of Hurricane Mitch in an asentamiento called Nueva Vida. St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle recently sent their girls choir for a tour and they too have for years given us money to fund a children's feeding program in Somoto, and health care projects as well.
United Methodists come from Missouri, and have done actual hands-on building for a clinic in Mulukuku, in the heart of the Nicaraguan campo. A dentist will come at Thanksgiving to pull teeth, a carpenter to hang doors. Unitarians in California come to Casa Ave Maria, and have built and maintain a sewing school and clinic in Jinotega. An ecumenical group in Illinois sent a dozen pilgrims to build and paint school furniture for an evangelical school in Managua. Parishes in Brooklyn are helping me put a young woman through Medical School, and pilgrims have come from Sarasota, Florida, from Cornwall, in England, from Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and Singapore. Father Phil Wheaton from Washington, and his wife Sue are helping to build a trade school in Jiñocuabo, near the Honduran border, a town badly damaged by the Hurricane. The Church without Walls, a housechurch in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, two weeks ago sent us $2000 for the families of San Francisco Libre, a village on the shores of Lake Managua, wiped away by the Hurricane. But they also came to visit last year. These are the vital links-the eslabon vital-that no amount of government-to-government economic assistance (usually in the form of loans) or debt relief can forge.
A new Gallup poll indicates that North Americans are volunteering more but contributing less to charities. Fifty six percent of adults volunteered last year, the highest level since surveys began in 1995. But average contributions declined from 2.2 % of household income in 1995 to 2.1 % last year. Jimmy Carter, who has been a better model for us all in retirement than he was in the White House, says that "the biggest problem the world faces in the next millenium is the growing chasm between the rich people of the Earth and the poor people of the Earth." He says the U.S. is not doing its part-that it is "becoming the stingiest nation in the world." The United Nations recommends a government give 0.7% of its gross national product for overseas aid agencies. The U.S. lags behind that, at 0.09 percent, not even half of Japan's 0.22 % or Denmark's 0.98%. You've read all these statistics, I presume; 'though they are not well reported in the mainstream media. What doesn't get reported are acts of solidarity that must be a part at least of our Christian answer to world poverty. The earliest Christians, according to the Book of Acts, chapter 4, did not wait for the 19th century Jewish/Lutheran prophet Karl Marx to teach them communism. " The whole group of believers," writes Luke, "was united, heart and soul; no one claimed for his own use anything that he had, as everything they owned was held in common. Thus they continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all given great respect." In Luke's gospel, Zacchaeus set the standard for us to give away 50% of our wealth to feed the poor, besides repaying four times over those whom our business and industry had swindled.
Peter Singer (note well, this is not our northamerican Pete Seeger, but the Australian ethicist now teaching at Princeton - Peter Singer) himself gives a fifth of his income to famine relief agencies, according to a New York Times article, and insists that is not enough. "I see no escape from the conclusion that each one of us with wealth surplus to his or her essential needs should be giving most of it to help people suffering from poverty so dire as to be life-threatening. . . Therefore, for a household bringing in $50,000 a year donations to help the world's poor should be as close as possible to $20,000." (NY Times Sept 5 1999). And Peter Singer isn't even a former president or a folksinger. He's an ethicist in the tradition of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham and all those folks. So I call my fellow nonUtilitarian christian believers to a Pilgrimage of Grace and Solidarity in this coming Jubilee Year. Eduardo Galeano reminds us of the distinction between charity and solidarity. "Charity" he says, "is vertical, so it's humiliating. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other." So, Solidarity Forever! Let us vow that if we can help it, no one of our brothers and sisters will die of hunger or avoidable illness.
Now, in closing, I cordially invite you to travel to the holy lands of the Third World, the Two thirds world. Some of them are not so far away-you are more aware of where they are than I am. But you are invited to go not as tourists but as pilgrims. Tourists usually take with them a secure environment of guides, controlled space, little if any exposure to strangers, and as many amenities of the Me First World as they can stuff into their luggage. They do not go to learn but to be diverted or amused. But pilgrimage is a form of spiritual adventure with an outward turning of the spirit. Pilgrims come with humility, as much to be helped and healed as to be helpers and healers. A pilgrim wants to meet his brothers and sisters, learn their language, and their customs, eat their food, to sing, dance, and pray with them, and to join them in the struggle for a life increasingly more human and more just. A tourist will find Nicaragua a hopeless case, and practically every other of the left-out nations, the leftout neighborhoods. But to a pilgrim, wherever there is a struggle for justice, there is a Holy Land-una Tierra Santa. So Nicaragua is a holy land, a place where love has not surrendered, in whose dusty streets you may come face to face with El Dios de los pobres - the God of the poor - el Dios humano y Sencillo-the God who is human and simple - el Dios que suda en la calle - the God who sweats in the street. el Dios de Rostro Curtido: "The God with the weatherbeaten face."
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