Following Moses through Belize

 

“You may pack one Nalgene, a camera, a change of underwear, and your passport—nothing more, nothing less.” We do this.

We are driven to the bus station. We wait outside while the bald man who told us what to bring disappears into the building. He returns and we are handed an envelope and a couple bus tickets. The bald man grunts and gestures toward one of the gargling buses.

We ask no questions. We’re too excited to not take this seriously. We climb up the stairs like kids pretending to search for buried treasure.

Except that the buried treasure is God. And we aren’t pretending. 96 ounces left.

I’m 19 years old. I believe in wearing white t-shirts with the same pair of blue jeans every day. I am sustained by books about spirituality and those orange Ramen packets. I have been living on a catamaran off the coast of Belize with a ragtag crew of a dozen young adults. I am learning to be a disciple, but wrestling with whether or not I believe in God. We are part of a program called Youth With A Mission.

And now, I’m on a bus with Corbin and Becky. Corbin is a high school dropout of few words. He was ordered by a court in the Midwest to either come to this program or go to jail. He has long hair, white teeth, and loves drinking Coke. Becky is an awkward and skinny girl with a voice like a smoke alarm from the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

We open the envelope.

“For the next three days, you will trust God to provide for you. You will talk with strangers, pray for the sick, and find strength in service.”

Through the window of the bus, we watch the bald man shrink. We are on our own. Becky tries to sort out a plan: where we should go, how we should get food. I shut my eyes. Corbin shuts his ears.

After two hours the bus stops. I’ve been praying—God, if you’re real… Corbin’s been sleeping. Becky’s made several lists. The town is called Orange Walk.

We leave the containment of the bus and wander to the nearest bench. We sit down with our packs and that complex feeling that all travellers experience—a freedom heavy from the weight of having nothing particular to do.

People don’t speak English here. We’re observing the locals observe us. We’re the only white people, and between the three of us we’ve had a year of high-school Spanish. 64 ounces left.

We knew how to look for God in churches, but how does one find God in the unknown?

A man wearing a purple shirt and overalls who’s got fewer teeth than a hockey player stumbles up to us. He says he’ll show us the town for some food in return. We don’t offer him food or even our change of underwear. We have nothing to give.

He leads us, nevertheless. He explains in Spanish with the occasional English—beautiful, camera, river, USA, photo—about Orange Walk. The place is gorgeous and grimy. Tattered clothing clings onto the rusted railing of a gazebo. The city’s park has become a tangle of weeds patched over by puddles of muck. Piles of trash rot by a winding river. But places were never meant to be sold on postcards.

Our purple Moses says goodbye to us by the river. He pulls brown bananas from a pocket in his overalls. We tell him no; he shoves them into our hands. We eat his sweet and slimy fruit and share our water with him. We feel gratitude and guilt. We’ve never had to take from others like this. 32 ounces left.

For the next two days, we are taken care of—not by God, but by human beings. We are treated to meals with strangers. Corbin gets a glass bottle of Coke. We do handstands with kids in the park. We say yes to everything. Our favorite phrase becomes thank you. We trust the people who have smiles that don’t go away. We learn to be brave because we have no other choice.

We discover how to be full of life while powerless and poor. We give what we can. Becky finds a woman who is sad and just wants someone to talk to. I pray with a man for his broken leg to be healed. Corbin catches us a ride to the bus station in the back of a garbage truck.

For two hours, we soar amidst bags of trash flailing in the wind, with the understanding that if we are willing to accept adventure, either by choice or by lack thereof, then the adventure will provide all that is required.

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