I moved to Belize two years ago today, with a big suitcase, a carry-on suitcase, a 40-liter backpack and my MacBook Air.
I had been to many places in the world, including far-flung parts of Russia (and Siberia) and China and places in Mexico from the resorts at Baja and Cancun down to the poor and dangerous areas of Juarez and Chiapas, sometimes on newspaper assignments, sometimes on church mission trips, and sometimes just to travel off the beaten paths in the world.
But I had never set foot in Belize–and did not know a single person in Belize–except for some acquaintances I’d made online in researching what Belize is really like to live in–until two years ago today, when I moved here.
An American clergy friend on Facebook asked me the other day why I came here. I told her there were many reasons, some simple and some complicated, but almost all boiling down to spiritual and theological reasons.
I wanted to strip down and simplify my life, get closer to God through the calming influence of God’s green earth–through nature, that is–and Belize is certainly a dream for an eco-conscious nature lover and spiritual adventurist.
As eccentric or crazy as this may sound to some people–even to many Christians in America’s unique, heavily sanitized Christian culture–I wanted to live in the midst of poor people, to know and observe material and spiritual poverty as a way of knowing God better.
Belize is by no means the poorest country in the world. There are far, far worst places. But it is nonetheless a “developing” country. Its 50 percent unemployment rate doesn’t even begin to give an accurate hint of the hardships in life for so many people living in substandard housing alone.
It’s also part of Central America, which, as you may have heard in the news lately, has its share of poverty. I’m within walking distance of Guatemala’s border town of Melchor. It’s a very, very nice town, especially as the world’s border towns go.
After 10 p.m.–even as early as 9 some nights–you can sit in Benque, Belize, right across the river from Melchor–and hear gunshots.
“Home before dark” takes on new meaning when I’m in Melchor, as much as I like the place.
Living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road in life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)
I’ve had an affinity for the poor all my life. It’s just how I’m made. And when I say I moved to Central America because I wanted to know God better by knowing the poor better, what I mean by that is answered in Jeremiah 22: 16.
You could look it up.
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I moved to Belize partly because I could. My children are grown and on their own and prospering. I had nobody to support in this world except me. I had precious little money and life savings or retirement benefits, but I had (and have) zero debt.
I had nothing to constrain my free spirit, which always yearned to be freer and then some.
Having zero debt, and keeping zero debt, makes you feel far richer and freer than many prosperous people feel, regardless of how much money or savings they have.
Besides, the cost of living in BZ is such that one can live comfortably and conveniently on $1,500 a month. Some places, you can live like a king or queen on $2,000.
Me, I ain’t rich but Lord I’m free. (Hat Tip: George Strait.)
* * * *
I wasn’t the least bit afraid of moving with precious little income to a third world country where I’d never been because I figured out years ago in my spiritual and theological discernment that throughout all the times when I was broke in my life–and I can say I’ve been “dead broke,” Hillary darling, more times than I care to remember–God provided for me a thousand times when I least expected to be provided for.
I stepped out and landed in Belize largely on faith that God’s gonna take care of me in the end, no matter what jam I get in or how low my bank account gets when I return from an occasional spontaneous, “what the hell you only live once” trip to the beach.
I subsist mostly on faith still, not being anxious for tomorrow as to what I shall eat or what I shall put on. “Consider the lilies of the field, how their neither toil nor spin.”
That’s from Matthew 6.
You could dust off your Bible and look it up.
* * * *
As I told my new Facebook buddy, I was driven to move to Belize in no small measure because I’m an adventurist and a traveler, not a tourist. I wanted to live like an adventurist and traveler rather than a tourist passing through life on the guided tour–look to your right and you might want to take a picture of that–without really experiencing or feeling and knowing life.
Opportunities for adventure in Belize and the rest of Central America are endless. You can take buses or even hitchhike in most parts of these countries without feeling the least bit threatened. But then, there are those certain areas in Central America where you are living at your own risk just by being in them, especially after dark.
It’s a lot like America in that regard.
Chicago is a wonderful, beautiful great city–one of my favorites in America–but certain parts of Chicago are as dangerous as certain parts of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador or neighboring Mexico, or as dangerous as parts of even Belize City or touristy San Pedro island after a certain hour.
The news gives a terribly distorted view of cities and countries identified as the “world’s most dangerous” sometimes.
I know Belizeans who have it in their heads that America must be a dangerous, scary place. They get American news here too.
* * * *
As I told my FB friend, in my career in hospital and hospice ministry to people laid low by illness, injury or impending death, I heard people almost every day speak of their regrets, regretting that they had worked so hard, that they hadn’t done this, that did never quite mustered up the courage to do that or to go here or there and see this or try that or break out of the humdrum, 8 to 5, terribly unsatisfying life that seemed so secure, with security guaranteed.
I heard so many people facing death or disability say they regretted that they didn’t quite really live life to the fullest. They lived too much in fear of the unknown to take any calculated risk at doing what would have made them genuinely happy and fulfilled.
I sold everything I had and left behind a well-paying job with great benefits in a great American and Texas city to sort of freelance ministry with people who, in their struggles to survive–many of them–live with more joy and gusto and the bold courage it takes them just to be happy than those breaking their necks to keep up with the mortgage, the bills and the Joneses back home.
A radical change in life of the sort that I took ain’t for everybody and, in a real sense, I personally felt called by God to be where I am.
But living life in fear, anxiety, stressed to the hilt with a false sense of security on some kind of work treadmill that you hate being stuck on–living for the weekend–that’s the stuff of regrets down the road of life. (That said, if you’re happy and content with your 8 to 5-ness, good for you! But according to recent studies, you’re in the minority in America now.)
I have to say, by the way, that I didn’t just pick up and come down to exotic Belize. I researched and planned a move here for the better part of two years, taking full vestment in a retirement account into account after that two-year mark was reached.
The “Holstee Manifesto” meme at the top of this posting says that if you don’t like your job, quit. Anybody who does that without another job or a really thoughtful plan for supporting himself or herself is on a fool’s run.
But by and large, the manifesto contains a pretty good code to live by, or one that’s worked for me anyway.
So I’ve been in two years in Belize and I’ve heeded a call from on high and managed to have my much-needed fun and taste adventure and live with risks and fulfilled my own unique need simply to see where the trails off the beaten paths lead.
I calculated the risks, did my homework on Central America, stepped out on faith and embarked on this life adventure at 62.
Now I’m 64 and younger than I was two years ago.