Sophie is a high school junior in the STEM Academy at Madison College. Stepping out…
Will is in his second year pursuing a degree in Political Science.
On our first day in Nicaragua, Kelden and I had a conversation with one of the Nicaraguans we met. During our conversation, he told us about how one of his daughters had been studying journalism but had left the program. When we asked why he explained that it was because there had been concerns she might be arrested. Journalists in Nicaragua, he told us, could be arrested or even killed. This was not new information to us—there are plenty of resources online that will tell you how the Nicaraguan government punishes journalists and limits the freedom of the press. But it was different because of the intimacy of the situation. Often when we read about anti-democratic behavior in the news, it can seem like it’s just something happening to someone in some far-off place. Now, it seemed like it was happening here, to a real person who we might reasonably know.
Throughout the rest of the week, we heard many more stories like this. One of our visits to an organization was canceled because they were afraid that the mere presence of a group of Americans at their facility would result in them being stripped of their non-profit status as punishment from the government. We visited a museum where the U.S.-backed dictatorship tortured Nicaraguans during the Nicaraguan Revolution, and shortly after one of the Nicaraguans we met explained how he had seen the police shoot his neighbor during protests against the government in 2018, and how he had feared for his sister’s life. There was a common theme among our conversations in Nicaragua: the government was not friendly, and the government was watching for signs of dissent.
Despite this, people in Nicaragua time and time again took great personal risk to tell us about what it was like to live in the country. They told us about how they felt about the government, what their daily life was like, and what they hoped their country might one day look like, even if it wasn’t like that today. Another common theme emerged: these people loved their people and their country, and even amidst the desolate political landscape that we saw they were still thinking about and hoping about the future.
At Pres House, it is not uncommon to find ourselves talking about the intersection between faith and politics. It is also, in my opinion, not uncommon for this to be a touchy subject. We live in a secular democracy, and as good-faith members of that democracy we want to be mindful of not imposing our religious beliefs onto others. We should consider what role faith plays (if any) in our political life and decisions, and how we can be people of action instead of just people of thinking. These are the common conversations that one might expect to hear about faith and politics at Pres House.
Things were quite different in Nicaragua—there was little talk about voting faithfully, or how faith should be involved in politics, or any of these things. The Catholic Church, one of the most outspoken critics of the Nicaraguan government, has in recent years found itself being regulated and scrutinized by the government, and even has seen several of its clergy expelled from the country and stripped of their citizenship. Despite these things, Nicaragua is still a profoundly Catholic country, and people continued to tell us how they felt about the government. The politics of faith look quite different there, but fundamentally they are united in the same idea: to do the best that we can all do in the world we are living in.
I don’t have some grand takeaway from this experience, or some message to give you about what we experienced while we were in Nicaragua. Truthfully, I am left with a feeling of profound confusion. I have no idea what I should do with everything we learned about the political situation while we were there. As Americans, we have an enormous amount of privilege in this world. The United States dominates the international political order and exercises broad power, even beyond its own borders. We (Pres House members) were never in any real danger in Nicaragua, and could speak relatively freely about the government, even though the Nicaraguan people couldn’t. But if we are to draw anything away from this experience, I think it is that we must continue to push through that feeling of confusion and focus on finding something—anything—that we can do. Just as people in Nicaragua are still having these conversations, so must we keep searching for what God is calling us to do in our collective search for a better tomorrow.
Read the rest of the BWAP Nicaragua 2024 reflections:
Rev. Mark Elsdon ~ Why Nicaragua?
Jack Wilharm ~ The Power of Microfinancing
Mei Hippe ~ Perfect Solutions?
Nathan Tan ~ Politics and Faith
Aurora Kuelbs ~ Opportunity
Allyson Mills ~ Grace and Power Under Dictatorship
Kyle Digman ~ Murals in Nicaragua
Sophie Elsdon ~ Nicaraguan Pride