We were fortunate to know Juan for three years, since we first arrived in Nicaragua. His sister-in-law was our first host mother, his son was our tutor and his family continues to been gracious friends to us. Juan, his wife and their six children have been nothing but generous to us since our arrival. They have been patient with our Spanish, they introduced us to some of our favorite Nicaraguan foods and they were willing to show us around Managua. Juan and his family invited us over for a beautiful Christmas dinner the second month that we were here, each person gave us a thoughtful Christmas gift, including hot sauce for Kevin and a handcrafted hammock for me that we continue to use daily. After we moved into our own home, we have tried to return the favor to them by inviting them over for meals, their favorite being Nica Pizza. We have enjoyed many meals together around the table.
Throughout our friendship, Juan was always kind with us, while keeping his distance. I recall a conversation early on about politics, his commitment to the Sandinista government and his uncertainty (in kind words) for the United States government. Our Spanish level was not at a place where we could have a very intelligent conversation, but I knew that this was a conversation I would like to return to in the future. Our friendship continued, but I always felt like there was some brokenness and hurt between Juan and I, some things that I wanted to talk about with him.
And then this last December, as we were sitting in the rocking chairs in the living room of his home, he asked us, “why are you really here?” I knew that this was the conversation that we needed to have and I began to beg God for the words in Spanish to express what I wanted to say; mostly though I started to cry. I told him that I am here to fall in love with Nicaragua and its people, that I am here to learn about its history and the role that my home country has played here, that I am here to show that there are other kinds of North Americans, that there are Gringos who believe that every human life has worth and importance, that peace is a difficult, but worthy road and that God´s love extends to all. I apologized for our atrocious behavior and asked for forgiveness. Through the tears, I know that I did not share these ideas as eloquently as I would have liked, but something changed in my relationship with Juan that evening.
I believe that I was finally able to show him that I understood what he and his Nicaraguan brothers and sisters went through during the war and revolution, all because the United States was funding an illegal war in Nicaragua, all because we wanted to maintain in control due to our fear of communism.
Friends, we have caused a lot of pain here and most of us are not even aware of it. I was not before I came here. Juan gave his life to struggle for his beloved Nicaragua. He was willing to give his life so that his four sons and two daughters could grow up in a country where they could succeed and live out their dreams – today they are doctors, informational technology workers and lawyers. Juan and the people of Nicaragua struggled and gave their lives for this, and he and his people won.
Since our conversation eight months ago, Juan has continued to charm us with his soft heart and kind friendship. The distance between us had faded as we continued to openly dialogue over many shared meals together. It felt so special to finally have a mutual understanding.
Then in May, we received some very sad news about Juan. He had terminal cancer. This was a surprise and shock to all of his family and friends. We prayed for healing, sought out the best possible medical treatment and spent a lot of time together. One Friday night back in June, Kevin and I brought a couple of pizzas over for dinner. Juan was on a strict diet, but he continued to comment on how delicious the pizza smelled. Finally he decided to eat the crust, and while we found out later that he paid for it, he smiled the whole time. We have continued our Friday night pizza over the past couple of months, each month noting that Juan seemed a bit more weak and frail. He however continued to amaze us with his positive attitude, smile, conversation and love for pizza!
Every time I left his home, my heart was a little fuller. This man was kind to me, always smiled and had encouraging words for us, despite the harm that we had caused him and his country. He was a sweet soul.
On a Tuesday evening, a couple of weeks ago, as the torrential rains poured down over Managua, Juan took his last breath. Just before, Kevin was waiting for a bus when he ran into Juan´s son, Rodolfo. They made plans to have lecheagria together the next day, not knowing that his father was about to leave this world. A half hour later, Rodolfo called to say that his father had passed away.
What grief we have for the loss of Juan, for his family and friends. He was a dedicated and caring man, he was incredibly loyal and he was willing to give second chances. We are so grateful that he gave us a second chance.
Rest in Peace Juan Giusto.