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Spring 2004 | Volume 26, Number 6 | My Response
Return to Homeland Brings a New Passion to Help All People Thrive

By Maria Antonia Caldera Hunter ’89 

I WAS BORN IN NICARAGUA, where I was raised in a Roman Catholic family and taught in a private Catholic school. While I was in high school, many Nicaraguans began protesting the longtime Somoza dictatorship (1936–1979) and supporting the Sandinista Revolution (1979–1990). Then the Contras, aided by the U.S. government, began fighting against the Sandinistas’ Marxist government. The situation was very tense.

When I tried to enter the university in Managua in 1982, I took a test intended to measure my political affiliation. Any student who did not advocate for Marxism was not accepted. So I contacted the American host family with whom I had stayed during an exchange program, and they supported my return to Seattle. I ended up attending Seattle Pacific University through the ACE language program.

At Seattle Pacific, I earned my bachelor’s degree in linguistics, communication and sociology, and my master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English to Students of Other Languages). Today, I am married, have two children and work at the University as housekeeping and grounds manager.

My experience at SPU has been a catalyst to discover the richness of being bicultural and the challenge of becoming a world citizen. Seattle Pacific is a place that invites people to be compassionate, to help the poorest of the poor and to leave a footprint of Christianity in action.

In August 2003, I asked Associate Professor of Global and Urban Ministry Delia Nüesch-Olver to teach her course titled “Interpreting the City” in Managua. Together, we introduced 10 students to the contrasting beauty and harshness of my beloved homeland. For two weeks, the students did mission work with children from poor families through the SPRINT (Seattle Pacific Reachout International) program. Then we spent two weeks in Managua meeting with Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños, Vice President José Rizo, former President Violeta Chamorro, priest and revolutionary poet Ernesto Cardenal, former Sandinista Vice President Sergio Ramirez, Managua Mayor Herty Levitis and other prominent officials. The students learned about the history of Nicaragua, the infrastructure of Managua, the birth of the country’s democracy, the role of the Catholic Church in the political framework, and the significance of service in meeting human needs.

On the very first day of class, we had the privilege of visiting the Managua dump, or La Chureca. La Chureca is visited daily by groups of Nicaraguan adults and children for whom this vast area covered with garbage and waste is a means of survival. In fighting off starvation and poverty, they must throw themselves into the mounds of garbage dumped by trucks to salvage items that can be recycled or sold for some meager profit. This means of survival is also shared with cows, crows, flies, rats and any number of other scavengers looking for food.

We were all overwhelmed as we struggled to try to make sense out of such harshness. I had known that places like this existed, but there is a difference between knowing and experiencing. The acrid smell, the scalding heat, the dirt, the animals, the garbage trucks, the clouds of dust rising from the dirt road, the toxic substances, the broken glass, the fires caused by flammable materials and the long metal pitchforks are images I will always carry with me. But it was the people — their humanity, their dignity, their desire to work and the future that lies before them — who moved me most.

The experience of La Chureca caused a permanent change in the way I understand life and the differences among humanity. Spiritually, I felt something I’ve never felt inside a church. Somehow, the presence of Christ became tangible to me in the faces and the touch of the people of La Chureca. The degree of dignity they carried on their shoulders was like a prayer. Their posture of humility confronted my own misplaced pride. The frustration that I experienced in witnessing their poverty soon served as a bridge to an awareness of my own spiritual poverty. The difference between my life and theirs — someone who has everything and those who have nothing — became the definition of injustice for me.

I know that God wants all, not just some, of his people to thrive. My goal is to do something tangible for the poor of Nicaragua. I am asking God to reveal the way in which he wants me, as a representative of Seattle Pacific University, and as his child, to respond to the need. Will you pray with me? Gracias!

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