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Saint Georgina

For many Christians around the world, the day after Halloween was not just a day to recuperate from children’s sugar highs and pick up discarded candy wrappers from the sidewalk.  No, it was All Saints Day - the day in the church calendar to remember all those disciples - living and dead - whose lives inspire us to live more faithful, more loving, more Jesus-shaped lives.  

In the spirit of All Saints Day, then, I want to tell you about a saint (lower case ‘s’, of course) named Georgina.  Georgina is a 60-year old mother and grandmother who lives in southern Honduras, in a town called El Espino close to the Nicaraguan border.  She has more energy than most 20 years olds I know, and speaks faster than an auctioneer.  

When Georgina heard that a group called MundoRenovaro (WorldRenew) was in the next village over, partnering on a public health and clean water project with the community and a university from Canada, she went to check it out, walking barefoot over the hills to see what’s what.  

She spoke so fast that we couldn't have said no, even if we’d wanted to.  And then she set to work!

Her home village relied on an ever-dwindling stream for water, and the dry seasons are getting longer and hotter as the years go on.  The kids in her village often went long months without getting enough food.   And she wanted to do something.  

She liked what she saw: mother-and-child health programs.  A pump at the edge of town, water lines going to almost every home, water storage units in each yard and at the school.  Neighbours working with neighbours.  She decided right then and there to bring the project to her village.  She marched up to my friend Rolando who works for WorldRenew and said ‘you’re coming to my village before you go.  We need water, and you’re going to help us get water.’

She convinced us, and then convinced WorldRenew.  

She spoke so fast that we couldn't have said no, even if we’d wanted to.  And then she set to work!

‘Don’t you tempt God!’ 

When my friend Roy asked Georgina’s friend what water would mean to her community, she said ‘Don’t you tempt God!’  She meant, I think, ‘don’t you even talk about it unless it’s going to happen!’ I found out later that she kept knocking on the mayor’s door until he couldn’t ignore her, and convinced him to provide the necessary paperwork. 

When our students left in 2019, she promised that when we returned, her community would be a different place.  The pandemic meant that we couldn’t come back until this past year, 2023.  

And she was right! 

  • Water is transforming the village, if slowly - more girls in school, because they don’t have to drop out when they start menstruating and don’t have an appropriate bathroom with clean water.  
  • More food in the dry season, because gardening is now a possibility. 
  • No more conflict with the neighbouring villages over a dwindling trickle of water at the river - especially because Georgina is now making sure the neighbouring villages work with WorldRenew on their own projects.

A favourite moment from our visit in May was when a group of our female students got to witness a gender justice training from one of WorldRenew’s partners - a training aimed at making the men in the village more sensitive to issues of power and abuse in their community’s life.  When my students arrived, there was barely anyone there and the facilitator looked nervous.

But then came Saint Georgina - with 10 men in tow, whom she had wrangled and forced down the road like a herd of sheep to attend the training.  When I see Georgina, I see courage and persistence and love in action.  I see the subversive power of God’s reign in action.  But what does the world see?  Does the world see her at all?  

There she is, living down a dusty road at the end of a potholed highway. Most maps don’t even have the name of the village.

If the world does see her, what does it see?  Maybe the world sees her and sees a sign that there will always be haves and have-nots, hungry and full, powerful and powerless?  Or maybe the world sees a victim of a series of systems and institutions and powerful people conspiring against her and those like her?  

God’s image, a unique and un-repeatable refraction of the love that created and redeemed the world in Jesus? 

But does the world see Georgina and the other saints in El Espino, Honduras as God’s beauty made manifest in the world - God’s image, a unique and un-repeatable refraction of the love that created and redeemed the world in Jesus?  

It’s so easy to see a suffering or tired or hungry body and to not really see them at all.  Or to just see a sign of a world gone awry, a world that will never change.  

But that’s not how the God we meet in Jesus sees. The theologian Norman Wirzba says when “Jesus saw a suffering [] body, he saw through (not around) the suffering to the love of God that was currently being frustrated or demeaned, but was nonetheless struggling to realize itself” (This Sacred Life: Humanity’s Place in a Wounded World, 2021).  

So Jesus sees Georgina - Saint Georgina - not as a symbol of poverty or hunger or anything else, but as the unique expression of God’s love and goodness that she alone lives out in the world . . . someone precious, even if their flourishing may be frustrated by forces far beyond her control.

After that anger, we get intimidated - the challenge is so big, the issues so complex. 

Our church recently recognized World Hunger Sunday, and it got me thinking about seeing: how we see, and who we see (and don’t see).When we think of world hunger, it can be easy to get lost in big numbers.

According to the Global Report on Food Crises, 783 million people will regularly go to bed hungry this year.  258 million people across 58 countries experience food insecurity. That is, they don’t know where their next meal will come from, and don’t have any real means to get it.  That’s up from 193 million across 53 countries in 2021. And 40 million people’s food situation today is what the United Nations calls an ‘emergency’.  All this in a world that produces enough food for every living person to eat 3 meals a day.

Hunger is rooted in a number of overlapping causes: poverty, pandemics, corrupt politicians, natural disasters, war, and more.  Conflicts like the ones in Ukraine and Israel & Gaza are tragic enough as it is, but they are all the more brutal when we recognize how they make global hunger even worse - disrupting food shipments, destroying harvests, diverting much needed money.

We hear numbers like that and we get frustrated.  Angry.  Furious, even.  And we should!  After that anger, we get intimidated - the challenge is so big, the issues so complex.  Or, probably even more likely, we feel paralyzed:  Who are we to do something?  What could we possibly do?  The biblical story helps reorient those feelings, I think. 

Taking Jesus’ words as our inspiration, we can work to address global hunger because of God’s delight in human beings . . . and our invitation to share in that delight.

Addressing global hunger is not about trying to solve a problem. At least, not in the first place. It is a simple commitment to the preciousness of human life.  Empowering people like Georgina - saint Georgina - to bear God’s image in the world in a way that only they can. See Psalm 72, a psalm that was probably used as a coronation hymn for Israel’s rulers.  There’s an amazing line in that psalm that always stops me short.

“From oppression and violence he [the ruler] redeems their life, 

And precious is their blood in his sight.”

Precious is their blood.  Imagine a world in which those with power see the blood of the poor is precious!That line is just one thread of many in the bible that weave together to create an image of God’s love for each and every human being, God’s image-bearers, with a special concern for the stepped on and stepped over.  

Jesus takes these threads and makes God’s intentions plain in Luke 6: 

‘Blessed are you who are poor//for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry//for you will be filled.’

Jesus appears to tell his disciples that God’s reign of love is particularly close to those who are poor, who are hungry, who weep.  

Jesus also has words for his disciples with more access to power and resources, in the gospel of Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes:  Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness (or, in Spanish bibles, ‘justicia’ - a world of right relationship).  Or: blessed are you who ache for a world where everyone has a chance to flourish.  Who long for a world of justice, where everyone has enough.  Who long to be able to say ‘God loves you’ to the poor and the hungry, and to have them taste and see that love.  

Jesus sees the world differently than many of us.  When Jesus sees the poor and the hungry, he sees Georgina.  He does not see the nameless, faceless poor.  He sees the recipients of God’s blessed delight.  ‘Precious is their blood in his sight.’  Theirs is the kingdom. 

Jesus sees us, and he sees our aching, our longing, our hunger and thirst for a world that is made right in the power of God’s love.  And he doesn’t say: “Well, that’s naive.  Silly.  A little unrealistic.” He says ‘blessed are you . . . for you will be filled’.

We can be grateful that the gospel is always an open door, a standing invitation to change our seeing and our living - over and over again, as often as we need - so that we see the world as it really is: the world in which God’s loving kingdom belongs to the poor, the hungry are filled, and those who weep will laugh because God's blessed welcome is theirs.  

Maybe that’s just a way of saying that Jesus invites us to let our lives catch up to our simplest of prayers, prayers for God’s kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.  Or prayers like this wonderful prayer that I first encountered from Mennonite Central Committee:

“To those who are hungry, give bread.

To those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.”

May we have the Christ-inspired courage to live up to such prayers.

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