There was a brief moment in my life when I believed in the Godliness of pilgrimage—the idea that experiencing a physical journey with God would bring deeper clarity and meaning to life, so when I was sixteen years old I went on a mission trip.
Every night we fell to restless sleep in an envelope of suffocating Nicaraguan night. Lizards scurried around in the walls—the same lizards you might see in a pile with their throats slit in the market. There were blackouts every day to conserve power, malaria pills, men with machine guns walking the perimeter, and dark-haired little girls with grimy hands and stained dresses.
Despite taking in the same sites, it became evident that the other sixteen-year-olds saw Nicaragua in a completely different way than I did. Their shock was sudden and immediate—a tangible thing like the acrid air that smacked our faces on the way out of the Managua airport.
We stood in a gaggle of matching t-shirts waiting for our bus; the members of my group spotted God’s presence everywhere. He was in the rice and vegetable oil. The extra shovels. The bus driver’s smile. The lack of rain. However, God hid his face from me. There was no shock. The girl sitting next to me on the bus cried over the shanty towns we passed. Whole families housed beneath a garbage bag. All I could think was “Haven’t you seen the pictures in National Geographic?”
Obviously, empathy hadn’t come along in my emotional education. (It came along a few years later in an entirely different manner of story.) But, for the first time, I wanted to be transformed by God and the world and I wasn’t. Instead there was skepticism, cynicism, and the melancholy realization that God is merely what you make of him: Mary in a tortilla, a fairy circle, or a rhinoceros in the clouds.
Molly is a freelance writer living in Richmond, VA where she is an active member of the community. She holds a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance from Ithaca College and in a remarkable plot twist will be commencing a Masters in Journalism at Georgetown University this Fall. In the meantime she writes a blog, volunteers with CreativeMornings RVA, wrote an opera libretto, and substitute teaches at St. Catherine's School.