The Story of Carolina in Nicaragua and Paul of Tarsus
I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:18-19)
Carolina is Nicaraguan. She is an intelligent young woman and a highly efficient housemaid. My friend Lucila is a professor in Costa Rica; Carolina used to work at her house. She had left two children back in Nicaragua with her own mother: a 4-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. It hadn’t been Carolina’s choice to migrate to Costa Rica, but her situation forced her to do so in order to find a better job and support her children. She worked Monday through Friday at my friend’s house, and on Saturdays she had other jobs. Every Friday she sent money to her mother for her children. She used to see them every December on her annual two-week trip to Nicaragua. Upon Carolina’s return to Costa Rica, Lucila would notice the suffering of a mother who longed to be with her children, in her country, but could not because she had to make a living elsewhere for all of them.
Carolina’s situation is like that of thousands of women in Costa Rica and throughout the rest of the world. They have to endure not only separation from their kids but also a daily dose of contempt from native citizens who discriminate against immigrants, considering them to be inferior, culprits and, above all, people who come to steal jobs from them. Carolina considered herself dignified and was proud of both her nationality and her professionalism in her work as a housemaid. I believe that was what helped her persevere despite the discrimination she experienced as a foreigner.
Once, when her children were 10 and 8 years old, Carolina returned to Costa Rica from a visit to Nicaragua very worried and sad. She wept for days. I suspected it was because she had to live without her children in a country where she felt despised. My friend asked her about her situation. “I’m losing them, Mrs. Lucy.” “Who?” my friend asked. “My children,” said Carolina. “I no longer recognize them; I’ve missed their childhoods, and they don’t obey me as their mother.” She then started to cry. Lucila hugged her and told her that everything would work out. A new challenge was being presented to Lucila; she had to do something not only for humanitarian reasons, but also because Carolina had been her right hand when she needed her most.
My friend and I both knew Carolina had great potential for studying but hadn’t been able to do so because she was very poor and had married so young. Lucila told me later that day: “I must help Carolina study. She has so much potential. She has finished high school and could get into university. She should be in her own country, with her kids, building a future that would allow her to live with dignity.”
I witnessed the help Lucila gave Carolina for more than five years. Carolina returned to her country, and Lucila sent her $100 each month. And it was worth it. Carolina was accepted to college and followed through with her studies. The behavior of her children improved, and according to her messages, they’re doing well both at home and school. Recently, Lucila happily shared the news that Carolina will be graduating this year from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua with a bachelor’s degree in literature and Spanish.
Lucila stood in solidarity with Carolina, was constant with the help she gave her and had confidence in her. Lucila shared her own resources with a sister in need and, in doing so, established a relationship of greater mutuality. This relationship between the two women could be a step that enables both of them to take on the larger questions of why Carolina had to leave her home and her children—the aftermath of externally financed war and an economy that does not create adequate jobs because of a high concentration of wealth and the large role of foreign interests, among other factors. When we begin by reaching out in solidarity, by listening and learning, by sharing what we have, we are all transformed.
Paul In Jail
Paul, a Jew who was a resident in Tarsus, was a permanent emigrant and migrant. When he wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was in an Ephesian jail, chained to one or two soldiers. He was an innocent prisoner, unjustly jailed, seen as seditious, suspected of speaking against the empire. He was a prisoner who lived at the mercy of the assistance received from family and friends. Carolina’s case was not as grave as Paul’s, but what is similar is the sense that she was obliged to remain outside her country, a prisoner of her economic needs, with the dream of having the freedom to be with her children. She was the target of xenophobic and sexist jokes and humiliation.
Paul suffered the stigma of being a Jew and a prisoner in a strange place. That is why he views the material support that Epaphroditus brought him from the Philippians—a community that included strong women leaders like Lydia, Syntyche and Euodia—as an offering that was pleasing to God. It was very likely the women of the community who had organized this collection to help with Paul’s needs. Like my friend Lucila, these women felt the pain of another as if it were their own, and their ethical conscience urged them to respond with gratitude. Lucila told me that she had received a letter of thanks from Carolina very similar to the one that Paul sent to his friends in Philippi.
Dear God, thank you for coming to live with us on this earth through your son, Jesus. Thank you also for being a migrant like so many others and showing compassion for those who suffer discrimination. Thank you for throwing a party in heaven when your children show solidarity with women, as Lucila did with Carolina. Amen.
Querido Dios, gracias por venir a vivir en esta tierra con nosotros/as a través de tu Hijo Jesús. Gracias por ser migrante también como muchos, y por compadecerte de aquellos que sufren discriminación. Gracias por hacer fiesta en el cielo cuando tus creaturas son solidarias con las mujeres, como Lucila lo fue con Carolina. Amén.
Elsa Tamez holds a doctorate in theology. She is professor emeritus of biblical studies at the Latin American Biblical University in San José, Costa Rica. She is a member of the Methodist Church.