In the village of Siguatepeque, Honduras, lives a man named Augustin. Before the government gave free vaccinations to the children of the country, polio struck Augustin. For most of his 70 plus years, Augustin has lived in a wheelchair. He managed to learn a trade, however, and became a shoemaker. Augustin might have gone unnoticed by the villagers in Siguatepeque, another among the number of handicapped persons often overlooked by the more able bodied residents of the town as they went about their business – but for one thing:
In his spare time, Augustin built a helicopter.
This film is about ten minutes long. You can watch it, or skip to the narrative I’ve written below – or both! I find the implications of this story deeply compelling.
If you visited Augustin’s residence, you’d know it wasn’t a real helicopter – but you can see that it’s a least a rough model of one, made from parts Augustin collected from the dump, or along the road. You’d be amazed that many of those parts move! A chain drive turns shafts which make the blades rotate. It has the bubble cockpit of an early chopper like they used for M.A.S.H units during the Korean War, and it has a tail fin that angles back and forth. You’d recognize what it approximates, though you’d know immediately that it wasn’t airworthy.
Now, if you’re like the local priest, an Anglo missionary from the United States, you’d smirk, shrug your shoulders and say dismissively, “[Whenever we try to help him] he characteristically says, ‘I just want you to give me money so I can work on my helicopter. Which it’s not even a helicopter. God knows what it is.”
You might be surprised, though, to learn that none of the villagers who live in Augustin’s community seem to share the contempt of the priest. Rather, the people who’ve lived with him, who speak his native language, who’ve known him their whole lives, are much more accepting of him and his “helicopter.” One villager recounted how once he had no shoes and Augustin gave him a pair that were well made. That villager said that, no, Augustin isn’t crazy. On the contrary, he has a fine mind and lots of patience. Another says that her mother used to be crazy about Augustin. Yet another says that he thinks the helicopter WILL fly some day. Perhaps the villagers see a reality the outsider cannot, see a redemption the outsider only sees as futility, sense of genius the outsider only understands as foolishness.
As for Augustin himself, he recounts how his own brother became an alcoholic and that before he died “for no reason,” he’d walk around in the streets shouting, “I’m not the crazy one! I’m a drunk. My brother – he’s the crazy one!” But Augustin goes on unfazed. He points at the contraption sitting in the living room and says, “You can see that it’s a caricature of a real helicopter, but the problem is that everything is incredible – and people don’t accept it.”
“Everything is incredible.” Could it be that we all have projects that appear senseless to people who don’t know us? Could it be that we all have our “helicopters” that won’t “fly?” Could it be that we all need to have folks who’ve known us, who know something of our histories, and accept us just the same?
If I can trust the gist of this film, it doesn’t seem to me that this “crazy guy” suffers from social isolation. I can imagine that he’s experienced loneliness, but to judge from the way so many people in his village can recount his history and even sympathize with and admire his project, it seems he’s even been supported in his efforts. He’s been able to persevere with his project because his community has supported him. They’ve shared his “craziness,” some even evincing a trace of pride that they know this man.
This story serves as an object lesson as to why our support team project is so important. I don’t think our support team vision is like the helicopter caricature, but when we fashion ourselves into intentionally supportive communities for people, we make it possible for them to pursue their life-giving projects. We participate in weaving the kind of fabric of life that will allow all of us to build our crazy dreams. That makes it possible for all of us to see that “everything is incredible.”
In that sense, Augustin’s “helicopter” has already flown.