Nachos for Nell
"Jesus in Disguise"
For the last four years every Belize mission team from Bethel has been touched by Leonel Martinez, known to everyone as “Nell.” I’m convinced that Jesus often appears in disguise, and in Nell he has picked out a truly precious one.
Nell probably has the mental age of a 7-8 year old, although he surprises you with how attuned he is to the world around him. This year we were astonished to learn that he is actually 36.
His mother and father died several years ago and, in many ways, he has been raised by the village of San Narciso ever since. Nell technically lives with his older sister and her two children in one of the worst homes of the area. He walks his village of about 3,000 every day pushing a beat-up baby carriage in which he places things mothers buy at local grocery stores and takes them home for them. He drops in daily on most people unannounced to give them hugs, and the villagers feed him whenever he is hungry. He attends everyone’s family celebrations, including birthdays, weddings, and funerals. He’s most active in the Roman Catholic Church, but often is seen in every other village congregation. During political campaigns, you can find Nell at the center of every rally regardless of party affiliation.
He has a way of sensing whenever our mission team is on site, usually starting the day with us at our breakfast table and our morning worship. He moves from one person to the next giving hugs, laughing, and jabbering away in his broken Spanish.
Last year he put a long stick between his legs with a piece of rope at the end and “rode his pony” all over the village, tying up at each stop he made.
There’s an innocence and purity about Nell that draws everyone in. There’s no pretense at all about him, just a joyful love and tenderness that catches people off guard. He almost leaps out of his chair to be one of the first in line to receive communion and knows to focus himself during times of prayer.
We can’t imagine how he and his family make it when it rains. They must live in mud, for there are roof holes everywhere and their outdoor kitchen, shower and outhouse are completely uncovered. We know there are as many as 30 hurricanes that come close each year. Yet, Nell is full of life, ever exuding God’s love.
On Sunday, May 5, which happens to be Cinco de Mayo, we will have a “Nachos for Nell” event after church to raise money to have a hurricane-proof concrete house built for him and his family. Watch for the details as they unfold. There will be a mattress sale, a silent auction, Belizean-style food, maybe a youth talent show, lots of music, perhaps even a preview of our summer’s Sonshine Production music drama. All for a young man in whom everyone sees glimpses of Christ.
As we do it to one of the least of these (Matt 25:40),