I looked out the plane window as we ducked under Cancun’s clouds and saw the ocean meeting a dense green sea of jungle, like two competing stories going head to head. It seemed fitting. When my wife and I first moved here to join Back2Back staff, I believed Cancun was caught between two competing stories. Thankfully, God has shown me something better.
As Emily and I began acclimating to life in Cancun, we learned more about whom Back2Back serves. We serve many people throughout the area– two widows’ families, one children’s home, and five communities — with one unifying goal, “Through holistic care we seek to protect and restore vulnerable children, and strengthen at-risk families.” Sharing this statement with others, not familiar with Back2Back, creates an interesting look or two. ‘Holistic care’ can sound irrelevant when ‘all-inclusive’ is the only story you know. No doubt, Cancun is beautiful. White beaches, clear blue oceans, and some of the best food make it easy to understand why it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations. But it’s not Cancun’s only story.
Overshadowed by images of rest and relaxation, many of Cancun’s communities exist under complex, overlooked, and harsh burdens. It’s an overwhelming tension. Walking on the beach in the morning and then a neighborhood’s forgotten dirt road that afternoon is difficult. Like the ocean and jungle, I saw these two stories of promoted beauty and untold brokenness in competition. I wanted to be honest about Cancun, but didn’t know how to reconcile what felt irreconcilable. Recently, God has taught me I don’t need to pit these stories against each other. I need to point to another story, one that does more than compete – it completes.
God’s story is unlike any other. It turns the world’s competing narratives into subplots, enveloping irreconcilable themes into the reconciling plot of the Father’s grace. We read how enemies become friends, orphans are fathered, the widowed are loved, the sick are healed, the thief is freed, the poor are blessed, and the broken are beautiful. This means Cancun isn’t gridlocked between beauty and brokenness, though, both are real. It means it’s in a bigger world spring-loaded with beauty to be discovered, stewarded, and shared. This frees me. I’m free to know beauty can be obvious, but it’s also latent, eagerly waiting beneath the unexpected. I’m free to thank Him for a beautiful beach, and to follow Him as He enters Cancun’s broken communities, systems, and lives to unearth the beauty hidden underneath.
We’ve seen it with Oti, a single mom of eight, who wanted more for her family, but her kids had educational needs. Today, with the help of sponsors and a tutor, her children are making great strides in their education. It’s in BonFil, a community marked by gang violence, where Back2Back partners with Rossy, a neighborhood advocate who’s been welcoming 50 kids into her Bible class for over 20 years. We see it in Tres Reyes, one of Cancun’s poorest neighborhoods, as kids sprint to the soccer field to run and lay in the turf, or learn to use their words to help, not harm, at a weekly Bible class. We see it as we build trust with the families, wanting them to know God sees them and their communities.
As we enter further into Cancun’s competing stories, I think about those competing forces of the ocean meeting the coast, and remember they’re part of a bigger world. In the same way, I’m reminded God isn’t competing with white beaches and dirt roads; His story completes them.