“Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.” — William Hazlitt
“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” — God
“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that, who cares?… He’s a mile away, and you’ve got his shoes!” — Billy Connolly
Why do I find that so funny?
Does God have a sense of humor?
From way out here on the edge of the jungle I’ve been thinking and studying about that. There is pretty good circumstantial evidence. I mean, how else could you explain the Proboscis Monkey (which we don’t have)
or the Howler Monkey, for that matter (of which we have many),
or the Boxfish (which we don’t have),
or the Lionfish (of which, unfortunately, we have too many).
And there is good scriptural evidence and even philosophical evidence that He does indeed have the best sense of humor. But I find, the more I read about it technically, the less I want to read about it, technically. E.B. White was spot on when he said that “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the process.” Humor is something you instantly recognize, but dissecting it doesn’t make you laugh. So, on the question of “Does God have a sense of humor?” I won’t try to repeat any exhausting, exhaustive exegesis. I won’t propose some complicated Hegelian Dialectic that I wouldn’t understand even if I were the one proposing it. I’ll just tell a story. Who knows, it might even turn out funny.
I recently returned to Loma de Luz after a brief trip out of the country and into the modern world. I was again reminded how a good sense of humor, particularly a sense of irony, is just an integral part of the cultural personality of the Honduran poor. More funny stories and humorous situations pass by in the heat of the day and the sharing of life’s small tragedies than I could ever remember, and most of them I could never tell. You see, the problem with communicating most of these stories is that unless one is accustomed to the people and the place where the stories are coming from, the amount of explanation required tends to kill the frog. So the library of the strange and funny stories that the missionary can’t really write about, . . . those volumes generally just have to stay on the shelf, collecting dust, while those more easily delivered seem few and far between.
I mean, the story of “The Hitman Evangelist” takes about 5,000 words to explain and leaves you with the “that’s weird??!” look on your face, and so does the “It Takes a Village To Get a Bad Mother a Tubal” story. The “Photo Shoot at the Hideout” story takes up more than half your allotted time at the lectern, as does its sequel, “Pepe ID’s the Gang,” as does Part III in the series, the “Whoever Comes Out That Door… Shoot ‘em” missionary story. Most of the “Who Had the Gun at the Machete Fight?” stories leave you with that Netflix feeling wondering, “Now who was the good guy, and who was the bad guy?” Only Rosanne has the “Organize a Posse” story in her compendium of “Great Dates Jeff has taken me on.” Ninety three percent of all 243,342 “How I got from the Public Health Hospital to Loma de Luz” stories surveyed so far leave you shaking your head, but not laughing, and nearly all of the stories I learned from Oscar Sanchez are just getting started when the last of the popcorn is gone.
But here is one story that showcases the Honduran sense of humor, yet has no guns or knives, no raining fish or swamp monsters, and not too many cultural anomalies. It is the story I’ll call “The Comeuppance of Doña Altanera.” Altanera means “Haughty,” one thing that most campesinos have a keen nose for, along with a talent for inventive ways of putting the Haughty in their place (down here with the rest of us mortals). Doña Altanera is not the woman’s actual name, of course. I’ll just refer to her as such, as I sometimes change the names to protect the not-necessarily innocent.
Emilio is a local guy, a taxista… a moto-taxi driver actually. Everyone calls Emilio “Sapo” (toad). I guess he was good at jumping as a kid (or, more likely, bad at jumping as a kid). They could just as well have nicknamed Emilio “Conejo” (rabbit) or some other animal good at hopping, but since toads are not as good looking as rabbits, calling him “Conejo,” would not be the Honduran way. I heard the story from Guillermo—whom everyone calls “Guapo” (handsome) with intentional irony, as he is not terribly handsome himself. Guapo calls Sapo “Tio,” since Emillio is Guapo’s Uncle. See how many Spanish words you already know?… and how confusing these stories can get right out of the gate, as every character has multiple names, and everyone goes by a nickname indelibly branded in early childhood, never to be outlived?
So anyway, Sapo is famous as a Bromista… a jokester. He is gregarious, garrulous, and easygoing. Uncle Sapo, as I said, runs a moto-taxi, those little red 7 hp, 7 mph tricycle scooters with a cab-over that serve as our only form of taxi plying the dirt roads beyond the Rio Papaloteca. Sapo’s route starts at Colonia Marguerita, runs past the hospital and to Balfate, then to Jutiapa, picking up passengers along the way; he drops most of them off at Jutiapa, turns around, picks up passengers outward-bound from Jutiapa, to the hospital again, often continuing on out to Rio Esteban and then back to the hospital to turn at last and return to Marguerita. By far, his most common passengers are going to or coming from Hospital Loma de Luz. So his route takes him there at least 3 times a day. And how many passengers does Uncle Sapo’s moto-taxi carry? Well, as is customary with all moto-taxis, the maximum capacity is generally considered to be “just one more.” Eight paying passengers is commonplace, and this does not count small children, small livestock, hardware, or comestibles.
The whole “Comeuppance of Doña Altanera” story began on a normal workday for Uncle Sapo. Not long after he picked up a covey of passengers outbound from Jutiapa, they began to share where they were heading… most also shared what they planned to do and with whom. It would be difficult not to get well acquainted and share more than your contact information when you are packed in for more than an hour together, cheek by jowl, with 6 or 8 other pilgrims in a jostling, noisy, dusty sardine can with no shocks. And besides, that’s just the Honduran way. Hondurans generally sweep the Gold, Silver, and Bronze medals every year in the Politically-Incorrect, HIPAA-Violation / Privacy-Laws-Be- Damned Olympics. So when the turn came to Mrs. Haughty to say where she was going and all she said was “The Hospital,” it was as Honduran-natural as breathing air for the little widow lady from Guanacaste to chime in, “I hope you’ve got an appointment because I had to get an appointment for my arthritis.” But it was not at all so Honduran-natural for Mrs. Haughty to haughtily shut her down with “Well, I think they will see me.” After an uncomfortable stretch of quiet, Tacho, who works at the llantara (tire repair shop) in Bejucales, offered, “If you don’t have an appointment, and are not real sick, if they’re too busy, they might just give you a cita, an appointment slip, to come back.” Doña Altanera apparently actually harrumphed at that and retorted, “Some people just don’t know how to get their foot in the door.” To this, Uncle Sapo couldn’t help but share, “Well it’s not the door you’ve got to worry about—it’s the gate. And if you get your foot inside that gate, if they close it (and then he made a chopping motion and the sound of a guillotine), they’d have to see you then…to stop the bleeding.” Everyone else in the moto-taxi seemed to know the gate… the big heavy metal gate out front … the one that says HOSPITAL LOMA DE LUZ. DIOS OBRA AQUI on it and runs on metal wheels on a rail… because everyone laughed at that little joke… everybody, that is, except for Doña Altanera. She most decidedly did not like anyone having a laugh at her expense, so she spat out, “I don’t get my medical advice from taxi drivers… So, you just do your job and make sure you drop me off at the right gate.”
It was this “make sure you drop me off at the right gate” that set Sapo to dream up the whole Comeuppance of Doña Altanera plan. You see, there are actually two Hospital Loma de Luz Gates: the “old gate” and “the new gate.” They are both extremely heavy metal gates. With large metal letters, both say HOSPITAL LOMA DE LUZ. DIOS OBRA AQUI (God is at work here). A few years ago, we retired the old gate, well past its prime, and replaced it with a newer (and slightly lighter) one. At about the same time, it was also long past time to retire Don Inez from guarding that gate. Inez’s actual performance as a Gate Guard, which I would describe as “eclectic but enthusiastic,” never quite matched up to his zeal for the job. It was Inez who was famous for this dialog— Me: “Inez, why did you let that guy with a gun go up to the hospital?”…Inez: …blink, blink… “Well, because he had a gun.” For reasons known only to Inez, he would always salute me when I passed through on my motorcycle, instead of wave or nod like everybody else. By the time we really insisted that he retire, Inez’s eyesight and hearing was so bad that he was constantly saluting random motorcycles passing by on the road. Having known Inez and his quirky ways, I was bemused but not surprised when they told me that Inez was refusing to sign the retirement papers unless we agreed to give him the old gate. We didn’t really have anything else in mind for the old girl, other than scrap metal, so we got a bunch of the guys and loaded it up on the truck and hauled that gate over to a spot in front of Inez’s house in Colonia Buenos Aires. It stands there today serving as his front yard fence and gate.
Don Inez & his gate (after removing the hospital letters subsequent to the events of this story)
Well, Sapo’s route passes right by the turn off up into Buenos Aires, just in front of the soccer field at San Luis. And, it just so happened on this leg of the journey on that day, that, after dropping off various and sundry passengers in Lis Lis, Bejucales, and Balfate, only the decidedly unpleasant Doña Altanera remained. It had become clear to Sapo along the way that Doña Altanera must have ridden the bus out from La Ceiba to Jutiapa and had never been to the hospital before. And, as she had been too proud to engage with the others and ask about the hospital, she didn’t really even know where it was or what it looked like. So instead of continuing along the coast road where the hospital is located 3 miles further on, Sapo swung a right up the hill to Buenos Aires with Doña Altanera in the back of the little moto-taxi. He turned a 180º in front of Don Inez’s house, stopped in the middle of the road, and told Doña Altanera “Here is the gate to the Hospital.” Doña Altanera steps out hesitantly and inspects the old gate.
Sapo immediately left in the moto-taxi, but only went down the hill to the next yard, parked it, and went back to some bushes where he couldn’t be seen to watch what transpired. Sapo swears that after staring at the gate for a long minute, Doña Altanera walked up to Inez’s front door and knocked. Presently Inez appeared at the door. Here is the conversation that transpired (which Sapo acts out when he tells the story):
Inez: Blink Blink…Si, Buenos Dias.
Altanera: Buen Dia, I need to be seen by the doctor
Inez: Well, the doctor is not here.
Altanera: Then when will he return?
Inez: Oh, the doctor hasn’t been here for a long time.
Altanera: And you call yourself a hospital?!
Inez: I don’t call myself a hospital.
Altanera: Then what are you doing with this sign?
Inez: Oh, that is my sign. They gifted that to me when I retired.
Altanera: apparently doesn’t know what to say and just stands there with her mouth open.
At this point, Sapo could not stop from laughing out loud. He comes out from behind the bushes and says, “Well, you said you wanted to be dropped off at the right gate…. And I was waiting for you to get your foot in the door….” While Sapo is wiping tears from his eyes, Altanera, mad as a wet hen, says something along the lines of “Well… I never….so insulted… “etc. Sapo says, “Come on, I’ll give you a ride to the new gate… at the hospital.” Altanera, realizing she has little choice but to get back into the taxi, …climbs back in …and might have even cracked a little smile at herself. Sapo took her on to the hospital, with its new gate, left her there, and tooled off down the road toward Limeras… still chuckling and looking for somebody to tell the story to. And Doña Altanera?… I think she was seen at the hospital that day. But she surely did not tell anyone of her visit to Inez’s house, and I think she rode the bus back home. And Inez? He was last seen still standing at his front door, blinking and wondering what that woman had been so mad about.
Now, the moral of this story is anyone’s guess. I’m not sure they’re all supposed to have one. Sometimes they are just supposed to give us the chance to share a laugh. This one sure made us all laugh out here at the end of another long, hot, stressful day in the hospital. It seemed to me that the whole room shared something healthy for the soul. And I sensed the Lord’s presence and that He was laughing too. For the humor here taps into those things that we share which make us human. And, unlike all other religions, unlike all other gods, we have a God who “…became flesh and made his dwelling among us…” and is “not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are.…” It cost Him so dearly to rescue us from ourselves. Don’t you think He’d take the time to share a laugh with us? May He share a laugh with you today.
In Christ Jesus,
Jefferson McKenney, M.D.
News and Needs:
News: The expansion of the Hospital is in mid-stride, with work on the new sterilizing room, the laundry room expansion, the surgery pre-op and recovery rooms, dressing/locker room, instrument washing & sorting room, rolling equipment parking, new triage area, and the new ICU all now completed. Work is well underway on the dining, kitchen, and central supply expansion and remodeling, and on the new labor and delivery room. We will be down to one working operating room and a greatly reduced schedule for a period following the 19th of October because next will be the Operating Rooms’ expansion to close out the year on this intricately-timed, ongoing construction in the midst of busy workspaces monster job. Please pray for the timing and the construction to go well.
For News of the Casa Santuario, follow this link.
For News of the Escuela Bilingue El Camino, follow this link.
- People: As the work continues to grow, we need more of the right people: Administrators, Teachers, Medical Professionals, an Auto Mechanic
- Prayer: We greatly value your prayers for this work and would ask that you specifically pray for these things:
Pray that those people called to fill these positions of need will sense God’s calling and answer it.
Pray that the School would finally receive formal and final licensing. This has been a 10-year-long, ongoing battle with indifferent, obstructionist, entrenched bureaucrats (one in particular) in the Ministry of Education in the capital city in a system built upon impossible, moving-target requirements, universally circumvented by some combination of mendacity and bribery (not that we have developed strong feelings about this or anything). But we see your prayer as the only likely solution.
Prayer for renewal: The Lord’s promise in the prophecy in Joel is “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.” The years on the mission field take their toll…We would appreciate your prayers for that renewal.
Finally, pray for Laughter. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” There seems to be no serious shortage of the weeping and mourning times in this fallen world. But we’d be grateful for another helping of the dancing and the laughing times… at Loma de Luz, and in your home.
–Sally Mahoney for Cornerstone
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