I’m not really one who appreciates failure very much. I’m pretty used to working very hard for the things that I want and generally reaching some degree of success. It may be luck, it may be hard work, but in the end, I usually feel like I am successful in the things I put my mind to. But this time…it was different. Failure smacked me in the face. I was angry and frustrated and disappointed and sad…and very, very thankful.
Allie and I just got back from Honduras about a week ago. We went with high aspirations of digging a well to bring clean water to a village that currently drinks water from a source contaminated by the dozens of chickens and cows and turkeys that roam the dirt streets where they live. We were pretty proud of ourselves and ready to get “dirty for Jesus”. We started digging and getting muddy on the first day. A little slow, but we were hanging in there. The second day, a little slower. And by the end of the day, the writing was on the wall. We were going home without a new well for the village. The solid bedrock wouldn’t budge; the drill bit broke; the chain on the drill snapped. Failure after failure after failure.
We played with the children who surrounded us with their sticky faces and hugs and kisses that transcend the language barrier. We taught them the Hokey Pokey and Duck Duck Goose…because understanding English is not required to dance like a fool and chase your best friends around. We tried to show them Jesus, and distract ourselves from the failure across the yard…but once we saw that the well was only a distant and unlikely dream…our hopes faded.
Then there was Soledad. The Honduran woman, who along with her husband, Freddie, has stood by this desperate village for years. Cooking them food, bringing them clean socks and t-shirts, cleaning their common grounds and erecting new buildings…and praying for them all. Soledad made our lunch each day; spicy beans and rice, simmered chicken and beef, boiled plantains and bananas; mangos picked straight from the trees in the yard, pineapple sliced fresh that morning. And in the afternoon when were we tired and hot and exhausted…there was Soledad with a stock pot of fresh coffee with the perfect touch of sugar, and a plateful of local pastries. She put food in our bellies and caffeine in our veins…and she fed our souls the entire week we were graced with her presence.
Cooking speaks to my heart. There is something soothing about mindlessly chopping vegetables and stirring a pot of soup, even when I am post-call and haven’t slept for days. The kitchen, and all that it means to me, calms me. It’s where I start my day with coffee and devotions; it’s where I end the day with a glass of wine and cooking dinner. It’s where I dream and hope…
So with the well slipping from our grasp, I tried to find my place to connect with the village, because it won’t be with the legacy of clean water as the drill bit became stuck and the rock refused to yield. I asked Soledad if she would write down the way she makes her delicate rice and the beans that are so tender and very gently spicy. She laughs! She says, through our interpreter, “I can’t write it down, just come cook with me tomorrow!” And so I did.
We don’t need a common language to cook. She handed me an onion and I chopped it. I stirred the beans because I saw they were simmering and they needed a nudge to not boil and stick to the bottom of the pan. She stoked the fire; I cut the plantains. We danced in her open air kitchen. We laughed and hugged and cried. We couldn’t say a common word, but we spoke a common language…beans and rice for our bellies…and prayers for our hearts and all of the people in the village.
On the last day, it was finished. There was no well. We came back to the village to bury the drill bit that was embedded in the rock that stubbornly kept us from the water. Then there was a scream…a sprint down the road…a scared look. Soledad grabbed my eyes with hers and I knew there was tragedy. A village woman had injured herself with a machete while chopping wood. No words needed to be spoken. We knew our hearts were together in this mission…to love deeply for the village, to do anything to show Jesus’ heart. Paula, a fellow mission traveler who was an experienced nurse, and I, dashed to the woman. We rendered aid with the medical supplies we “coincidently” packed on the day we weren’t supposed to be there because the well should have been done the day before…that is, if we hadn’t failed.
But failure is a crazy thing. God has no regard for failure the way we think of it. We failed because we didn’t drill the well. But God won because we found ourselves in that village, where God wanted us most, to feed the souls with Soledad more than the bellies with clean water; God won because Paula and I were there to give aid and a warm hand and prayers and immediate medical attention to a wound that could have been much worse. You see, God doesn’t promise us money and fancy clothes and big houses; in fact, sometimes he lets all those wonderful things be taken away (remember Job??) so that we aren’t too distracted to see that our “failures” are his giant successes. When our success get in the way of truly seeing Jesus show up…they are no successes at all.
I am so thankful that well didn’t get dug. I am so thankful that because we started to lose hope, Soledad captured my soul and taught me how to cook…and how to pray…and how to be desperate for souls, not just water. I am so thankful that God humbled me to remind me that human failure is more than often Kingdom success…that the team will return to bring clean water later…but that water for the souls in the village was poured out when Jesus showed up in the beans and rice that fed the village…and the prayers and presence that were there when we were long since scheduled to be on our way home. Thank you, Jesus, for failure….Disclaimer: My viewpoints are not necessarily reflective of my employer, or any local, regional or national organization that I belong to. As a matter of fact, I pretty much just speak for myself. Please keep that in mind.