Our family has a very special friend named Dennis. Fifteen years ago, when I lived here in Belize for a year, Dennis was one of my students. Dennis comes from a large family with 9 brothers and sisters. Out of the 10 kids, Dennis is the only one with an intellectual disability. His siblings have all married and started families. Dennis works on the family farm and lives at home with his aging parents. Our family calls Dennis the mayor because he's friendly, chatty, and knows everyone. Over the years when we couldn't visit Belize as much as we'd like, Dennis was our source of village gossip. Dennis would periodically call us and ask us when we were coming back. Now that we live here, he checks in daily to ask when we will stop by. Dennis is an excellent friend.
Another family here has a special place in my heart. Sixteen years ago, they had 6 kids under the age of 10; one of which was born with pretty severe physical disabilities. That summer, the dad fell from a tree at work and was instantly blinded from the impact. I drove him to the hospital and later home. The family's only source of income, who was a manual laborer, was suddenly incapacitated. For weeks I visited the family, prayed with them and played with their children. Two months after the accident, the dad's eyesight returned. What a miracle!
Their youngest daughter, Jenny, is now 18 and the size of a second grader. Her health has improved since she was younger, but she periodically has to return for a stay in the hospital. Since moving back, Jenny has reached out repeatedly for us to visit. After seeing her last week, she asked if she could come stay with our family for a few days.
It hit me the other day. While we have lots of friends in the village, these two have been the most insistent on spending time with us. Both Jenny and Dennis, while having loving families, are hungry for friendship. Belize does not have the kind of supportive programs for special needs adults that we find in North America. Dennis works on the farm, then goes home to his parents. Jenny stays home all day with nothing but her phone to keep her occupied. They are hungry for more than that. They want to be known and appreciated. They want to have fun and feel seen.
John 15:12-13 says, " My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."
This morning, I will be picking up Dennis, Jenny and 4 other kids from the village and bringing them here for the day. We will play games, eat good food, and have fun. Instead of spending the New Year focusing on me, I'll do my best to lay down my priorities and give these friends a day to remember.