Life on San Pedro
Two weeks ago I had the inspiration to write about San Pedro, the place I have called home for the last three months. The culture here is much different but oddly similar to the culture in my small town, and God has been teaching me a lot through this sandy island. But I haven’t been sure how to write about San Pedro. I’ll begin and get stuck, and instead of thinking and praying deeper I’ll abandon all and head to the reef on a kayak. But a while ago I had a seemingly insignificant encounter in which God gave me just the words that I need to share my heart on San Pedro.
The first time that I got the tug on my heart to write about San Pedro came on a trip home from town. This was early on in my life here, and I was just beginning to see the heavy influence that alcohol has on this community. I remember in one of my first days here, I heard Israel, a staff member who grew up on the island talk about how much of a problem alcohol addiction is here, and how it causes such brokenness in the culture. His words stuck with me, and I began observing that culture each time we would go into town. San Pedro is widely known as a party island. There are clubs on every street, the most popular bragging signs that glorify casual sex and drunken nights that can’t be remembered. I hear tourists brag about those nights, watching girls my age skipping into those clubs like it’s a playground. But this aspect of the culture here didn’t really break my heart until I was coming home from town, preparing to cross the toll bridge that divides the city of San Pedro with Ambergris Caye. We were on one side of the street and I looked to the left of me and there was a cart full of tourists laughing over bottles of Belikin, “the beer of Belize”. I didn’t think much of anything at that. It was a normal sight to see. But I looked to my left to see a boy who couldn’t be much older than I stumbling over himself with a bottle of Belikin; and I saw in that instant the two sides of San Pedro. One side was a beautiful island for tourists to visit and enjoy a week away from their probably overburdened lives drinking cheap beers on the beach, which isn’t inherently bad. But what the tourists don’t care to see is the reality of many lives in San Pedro. The reality that alcohol isn’t just a fun time; it’s a deep struggle. And since that moment, I haven’t seen San Pedro the same.
I think that it is such a blessing that I was able to come to the island and live from an outside perspective. I do not have the perspective of tourists coming for a week or two to just hangout. But I haven’t’ grown up here either, so the normalcy of so much alcohol isn’t something I understand. I don’t see it as something I’ve grown up with, and I am here looking upon this island from God’s eyes, so I see it as what it is: deceit from the enemy.
But as I’ve gotten more involved with the community here through Sagebrush, the satellite church that some of the students and I attend each Sunday, I am falling more and more in love with this island. Because the Lord has called me here, I am always aware of His will for this island, and I know His will is one of love, so I choose to love this place. Each Saturday three other students and I visit the jail on the island and pray with the officers at the front desk and the prisoners that are in the holding cells. A few weeks ago I got the chance to go back myself and pray for the prisoners. But to be honest with you, I was very nervous. I had no idea what to say to these men, as I had never been in their position before. So before I went back I asked one of my friends what he says to the prisoners. His response was simple, yet profound. He explained to me how he loved them and wanted them to know that someone cared. I thought that was so great. That’s it. He just loves them. And that’s God’s will for this island. So that’s been my focus. I just want to love this place while I’m here. I want to love this place by being sensitive to what breaks the culture, I want to be respectful of all of the locals who work so hard to make the stay nice for tourists, I want to be respectful to the coral under the beautiful blue sea, and I want to love this island by throwing my trash in a bin rather than on the side of the street.
I wanted to proclaim my love for this little island that God has called me to for three months. But I wasn’t sure how. I wasn’t sure how to tie it all together. And the other day I had just read a chapter in a new book on prayer, and as I was walking home from the dock where I was reading, I all of a sudden heard a shout that startled me out of my focus and I look up at the resort I was in front of and saw a man spilling a dark liquid out of a red plastic cup. He and his friends were playing a game of beer pong in front of the pool at their resort and for a split second I saw myself. I remembered the time in my life when I lived outside the love of Christ. I attended parties, I played that same game those young guys were playing, and I made decisions that now haunt me. But today I am so different. Christ has wrecked my heart so much that I can’t possibly even look the same. Christ has taken my sin and given me His righteousness, and because of that I live new. But when I saw this man, he looked at me and I saw how different we were. I was walking down the beach praying over a book I had just read, on my way to my little casita to get ready for a community dinner. He was getting drunk before dinner. Our lives were so different. But I didn’t look upon him with judgment; I looked upon Him with love. Because in the moment that our eyes met, God said “I love Him too”. And my heart broke. God loves this man just as much as he loves me. And he loves this man NOW just as much as he loved me when I was living a life away from Him. And I pray that when that man’s eyes saw mine He saw the face of Christ. I’ll never see him again, and if I do I’m sure I won’t recognize his face. But I’ll see many like him. And Christ has asked me to love, and it is such a blessing to love this wonderful little island and all the people that inhabit it.
But recently I’ve realized the inconsistency of being so intentional here but not being able to act with the same intentionality at home. I come from a small town where everyone knows everyone’s business and everyone’s family has a permanent and undistinguishable reputation. I am so used to the culture of my town that I don’t think twice about most things that I see. One time I was at a McDonalds with my friends and two men were doing drugs right there in front of us. But my heart didn’t break. I judged them. I went and gossiped about the situation saying, “yeah I come from a crap town”. How dare I… Do I think Christ loves me more because I don’t sin in the way they do? Not. At. All. God loves those men too. And I think that if I would’ve grown up on San Pedro I wouldn’t think so deeply about the addiction their culture has to alcohol. But nonetheless, I don’t think “growing up somewhere” is a good excuse for not praying for our communities, and not being intentional about how we’re acting in them. It is a learning opportunity, and something to grow into definitely. It is understandable that we act differently in our own communities compared to another, but not an excuse to pretend we aren’t always representing Christ in some way. No, I wouldn’t have just instantly fixed the flaws in my culture if I simply prayed and acted intentionally. But I would’ve made a difference for the kingdom and that’s all that God asks. All he wants us to do is take one step for Him. He has all the power; we just need to be willing to be used. And that goes for at all times and at all places. Because San Pedro isn’t my real home, it is easier for me to love it. I am uncomfortable here, so it is easier to keep my eyes as God’s eyes. But honestly, “Indiana” isn’t my home either. Heaven is. I should be uncomfortable in Indiana because it is not heaven. We should all be uncomfortable in the geographical regions we are most comfortable in because they are not our homes. We should be intentional in how we act in those places because we are always representing Christ in some way. We should pray for them, because we are vessels of God’s mercy and his blessings. We can’t change our communities. But God can. And He will do such a thing if we’ll only lay them down before him. Every place is broken and needs God’s love to overflow.
So I pray that when home, I won’t see my little community as just “home”, the place where I can do what I want and focus only on myself and my goals because it’s home. I’ll go on mission’s trips somewhere else. I’ll pray at church. I’ll smile and shake hands at church but not at the grocery store. No that’s not what Christ wants. His will for every town is for it to be filled with His love. We should be more than delighted to spread His love everywhere; especially in the place we know the best. What a blessing that some of us have homes that we feel so comfortable we can go to town in our pajamas. Now use that blessing for Christ’s glory.
I will be saying goodbye to San Pedro in just a short time. My team will be leaving for Brazil, and my heart aches at leaving almost as much as it rejoices for going elsewhere. But I never want to forget the word of my heart for this beautiful place. I encourage you to come for vacation or a mission’s trip. But even more than that, I encourage you to love all places, and respect the strengths and weaknesses in cultures that are not ours.