Social and Spiritual Security

 

Borne up in the hands of angels

Recently I found myself airborne, launched from the back end of an ATV when the 12 year old at the helm used the accelerator as a panic button. During the first few seconds of my flight, I took responsibility for my decision to let my granddaughter try driving on that lonely dirt road and resolved to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault. That settled, I saw my feet against the blue sky and realized that I was approximately 180 degrees into what I hoped would be a full 360. I didn’t have a helmet on my head—it could easily be lights out. But to my surprise, I felt perfect peace. The kind that surpasses all understanding. I had that distinct Psalm 91 sensation of being borne up in the hands of angels and settled into enjoying the awesome hang time. I also knew that Kaela had found the brakes and was all right.

I landed on a pile of “telephone” poles laying in the ditch at the side of the road. My right elbow and ankle throbbed, but I was able to get up under my own power. No blood, nothing torn, no broken bones. Just try and walk normal, I thought, Kaela’s probably freaked.

I’ve experienced God’s supernatural protection at sudden dangerous moments a number of times in my life—too many to claim small sample size or chalk up to  luck. I’ve proven God faithful. Even so, I’m continually challenged to trust Him for our financial future. It’s the longer road into the unknown that scares me. How are Nutie and I going to make it when we leave the mission field?

It is a little embarrassing for me to admit, but I have no 401K (What, no Keogh Plan?), never owned a home in the United States or even driven a car that wasn’t at least eight years old. I spent almost all my productive years in Honduras. I worked hard and was faithful to God. I did acquire some properties there—lands, some houses, a work boat—but they are all gone now. Nevertheless, throughout my journey I’ve felt like I did on my recent flight off the back end of the ATV. God has always been there, ready to help.

Amazingly—considering my life in Central America—I have some Social Security money coming to me. I don’t need it right now; I’ll take it when I’m seventy. That money, coupled with whatever Nutie stands to get and some investments I’ve married into, we profile above the poverty line—if the system holds up.

Between taking God for granted and obsessing over economic security, there is a narrow road and a small gate leading to a large place. Don’t our hearts burn within us as He talks with us on the road and explains the Scriptures to us?

The System Comes to the Jungle

Sandino stands guard at the gates to the city of Waspam

Danilo Cunningham called me the other day in distress. The Labor Ministry official assigned to our region, was back on a follow-up visit.

“She’s pressuring me really bad,” he said. “Can we come over your house and have a meeting on your porch?”

“Of course,” I replied. We hung up. I tidied up the living room and prepared a French press with the last of our good Dipilto coffee.

Saida Brooks, the “traditionally built” daughter of a Creole father and a Miskito mother, sipped café con leche on the couch and exchanged pleasantries with us in the same three languages Danilo and I also spoke. When it came time to lay down the hammer, however, she chose to do it in Spanish—the language of the State.

“You are in violation of five blocks in the labor code,” she said. “You have done nothing to comply since my last visit. I asked Danilo here and you know what he said? He said, ‘We’re praying.’ That’s not enough. This is serious. Do you know how much I can fine you? Five-hundred thousand cordobas!”

I smiled and withdrew my Nicaraguan residency card from my wallet. Indicating the words in the lower right-hand corner, I handed it to her. “What’s that say?”

“It says, ‘NO TRABAJAR’.”

I pointed out the window at the hammock on the front porch. “I’m not with Seek the Lamb,” I said. The law says I’m not supposed to work, and I obey the law!”

Perhaps my utterance caused Saida to gag on the teflon gringo’s coffee or gave Dani the uncomfortable feeling that I was about to bail on him, but it allowed me to press the reset button on the conversation and present myself in my true capacity—an independent emissary from God who is able to communicate differing points of view and build bridges across cultures.

Saida laid out the State’s demands in detail:

  • Raise the salary of the teachers to at least minimum wage.
  • Written contract for all Seek the Lamb workers.
  • Inscribe employees with INSBI, the Nicaraguan social security system.
  • Keep and post a log of laborers’ hours in adherence to the labor laws.
  • Provide and execute a vacation schedule for all workers.

Saida reiterated that she was empowered to act on behalf of Nicaraguan citizens for the protection of their labor rights and declared the Government’s intention to aggressively extend these rights to the indigenous people.

Reality Between the Lines

     

I said, “Vacation time and work hours for public school teachers are set by the government. Seek the Lamb is in compliance with them already.”

“What about the watchmen?” Saida raised an eyebrow. “How many do you have?”

“Four,” Dani said.

“And they’re working straight through without any vacation?”

“Abel is on permanent vacation,” I said.

“Who is Abel?”

“He lives here on the property. He’s on duty during the day, but he’s a carpenter, so Dani sends him to work on his or Mirna’s house. Abel’s wife and older kids watch the grounds while he’s working. That way Abel’s family works together and earns more.”

Danilo looked panic stricken. Saida, alarmed, said, “Is that FAIR?”

“More than fair,” I asserted.

“How’s that?”

“You’re Miskito. You know how Miskito culture works.”

“Miskito style is complete chaos. It’s time to effectuate the LAW in our Indigenous region.” Saida mocked indignation.

 

Abel's family at the front gate, sharing the daytime security job 

 

I wasn’t going to hash over what Saida already knew, and for Danilo’s sake I certainly wasn’t going to reveal what she didn’t—that in addition to moonlighting during his day job, Abel worked as a night watchman at Danilo’s mother’s house. The informal arrangement worked out well for both Danilo and Abel, who are cousins and best friends. Danilo got Abel’s multifaceted services at a discounted rate, and Abel got to move his family from the village to urban Waspam and earn $380-400 a month while on permanent informal vacation from his official employer.

If Saida brings the law to protect Abel’s labor rights, he will have to render his services exclusively to Seek the Lamb during work hours, cease his moonlighting, and figure out another way to make it because he will only earn $178 a month. Like I said, Miskito way is more than fair for Abel.

I could argue that Seek the Lamb gets the short end of the stick, but since we haven’t lost anything due to theft or vandalism during Abel’s tenure, we who live on the grounds accept the Miskito way. Don’t fix what’s not broken. What we don’t want to do is hire a thieving watchman—we’ve been through that before.

More Between the Lines

Mass protests in Managua, 2018

 

The events that initiated the Venezuela-like economic decline in Nicaragua were connected to the Social Security system. On April 19, 2018, President Ortega issued a decree stating that pensions would suffer a 5% cutback, while workers’ payments into the system would increase by 2%. Everyone knew that those measures were taken because INSBI was broke. After protests and a violent crackdown, many people lost their jobs or fled the country, which meant less people paying into the system. Now, the Government has gone out to scour the remote corners of Nicaragua looking for ways to pick up some cash. Hence our recent visits from Saida Brooks of the Department of Labor.

To say that the Nicaraguan Social Security system is insecure is an understatement. Complicity with the law will bring in some money for the Government, but given the way things are going, there’s no guarantee our employees will ever see any returns.

 

 

God says, “Everyone must Submit to Governing Authorities.” (Romans 13:1)

Teachers hear the news in Sawa

 

Seek the Lamb began as a refugee relief mission in Honduras. After the repatriation, its founders continued to view the teachers as beneficiaries and mission partners who worked for the Lord and waited faithfully to receive whatever funds He brought in. To their credit, the entire Seek the Lamb team has shown the patience of Job for years. Now they are getting older and talk about the absence of retirement benefits. To them, Saida’s appearance is from God.

In order to raise salaries to the legal minimum and insert all employees into the Social Security system, Seek the Lamb must raise $3,132.81 each month over and above the current budget, beginning now, in order to avoid a fine of over fifteen thousand dollars and the possible closure of the project. At stake is access to primary education for 1,700 children in remote villages.

It feels like the entire school project is doing somersaults in mid air, waiting to see whether it’ll land on its feet. It could easily be lights out. I must remind the teachers of the words of Psalm 146:3—Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. The government has been arbitrarily increasing the quota of worker contributions to the system while decreasing pension benefits as it adjusts to the downward spiral of the economy. There’s no telling where it will end up.

Dear friends, if God calls you to help Seek the Lamb reach its goal in this crisis, please do not hesitate to give online on this site: 

https://www.seekthelamb.com/products/teachers-salary-gift

 

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