“Light of the world, You step down into darkness. Opened my eyes let me see. Beauty that made this heart adore you hope of a life spent with you. And here I am to worship, here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God”. David Crowder
I was asked recently to write a blog about sponsors going to visit their child. The request was a simple one; create a to do list of what to do before you visit the child you sponsor. Something like “10 Things To Do Before You Visit the Child You Sponsor”. Another option was “Ideas for Fundraising for a Sponsor Trip”. Nothing wrong with those ideas. People need practicality. We all need lists and ideas to help us get to where we need to be. And try as I might, I could not muster up the creative juices to start.
I have been on multiple tours with Compassion over the past 12 years. I could certainly help to prepare you for international travel and the rigors of living in a foreign environment. I could warn you about not drinking the water or how you may experience “culture shock”. I could list things to pack and even tell you some things to leave at home. I answer questions for sponsors nearly every day of the week. But my soul just wouldn’t get excited about writing out a list or offering tips on how you could raise funds to visit your child. In fact, I’m terrible at fund-raising. Not my favorite thing to do, so maybe someone else will take that one on.
No, I can think of so many other reasons to visit your little girl or boy. I see it on every trip I take. I see the tears, I hear the joy and I sense the change.
I will try and provide you with a list of things to do before you visit your child, but it will have nothing to do with getting your immunizations or securing your malaria pills. I won’t be listing the travel items that are so important to your comfort and wellbeing. No tips about contacting your bank before you leave home or making sure you have the proper electrical adapter.
No, the thing I would tell you to do, first and foremost…
Is to fall on your knees. Fall on your face.
You may be asking what does this have to do with visiting my child? The short answer, everything.
You may be thinking that your visit to your sponsored child will be an enormous blessing to him or her. And you would be right. But those blessings work both ways. I’ve seen it time after time. Sponsors tell me on every trip, and I mean every trip, how they didn’t expect to have their lives impacted in such a powerful way. They assumed that they were coming to bless a child, provide them some encouragement, give them a suitcase full of gifts. Leave the child and his family with rich experiences.
What they aren’t prepared for is the riches that they will be carrying home.
So why should you fall on your knees and fall on your face?
To be prepared. Prepared to have your heart broken, to have it cracked wide open. You need to be prepared for your life to change. Many of the things that are important to you today will mean very little upon your return. You need to have your heart ready to be wrecked.
So here are some things to do to prepare to visit your sponsored child:
Pray. Pray without ceasing. Pray for your child and their family. Pray for the staff at the student centers. Pray for the other members in your group. Pray for yourself. Pray that your heart will be expanded to receive all that God has in store for you.
Pray that you would be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as He leads.
Pray that you will be ready for the tears that will surely come. Pray that you will let them come, unashamedly and without restraint.
Pray that your smile will send a message to your child of what the face of the Lord must look like.
Pray that the message your child hears is not only “Here I Am” but here I am and I bear His image. I bring Him to you and you bring Him to me.
It’s a short to do list but it’s long on meaning. I hope I see you on one of my trips. And if I do, I hope I get to hear you tell me how you prayed and you still weren’t quite ready for how your heart has changed. I hope I get to see your tears.
I promise I will bring plenty of tissue and a soft shoulder to cry on.
“And I need a song to sing to you, that I’ve yet to find.”
“I need you, to be here now, to hear me now”
David Crowder Band – lyrics to “I Need Words”
Have you ever had one of those days when you felt like God was trying to get your attention?
I had a day like that recently. The message was loud and clear, and it came from a variety of sources.
Over and over, like a dripping faucet at times, blunt encouragement at others. Today, the voices were soft but strong; strong because they came from trusted sources. And what I heard them say was… write. Simply write. At times it was a gentle reminder or a question; “when will you be writing again?” At times it was bolder; “You are a writer, you need to write! You have all the material in the world!” And then there was the constant ache within myself, that quiet voice that said; “You have a story to tell.”
And so I pray that you will indulge me as I do my best to tell this story…
It was my second trip to Ecuador in two months. I asked myself more than once, what the purpose was, for me to be on this trip. I knew the basic reasons; I was there in the event of an emergency, I was there as a liaison between the Ecuador staff and the American guests. I was there to promote Compassion International. But there had to be a bigger reason to send me all this way a second time in less than two months.
I found my reason in the face of a little boy named Bryan.
Bryan was one of the overlooked. And I think I noticed him partly because for the first time in a very long time, I was overlooked. As a leader, I had grown accustomed to doing most of the speaking, making most of the decisions. This trip was different. The decisions were being made by the senior Pastor. Pastor Donnie was the one that was being asked to speak. It was him that the team looked to for direction. It was him that the churches wanted to hear from. And that is exactly as it should have been. This was his church, members from his congregation; it was natural for them to look to him for direction. He is their shepherd and I was an outsider to this flock. Don’t get me wrong! What I am trying to explain is a very natural scenario. This is what I expected.
What I didn’t expect, is that sting of feeling overlooked, of feeling unnecessary. I made myself useful in many ways behind the scenes, but I could not shake that sense of not being needed. And that may be exactly what God wanted me to feel.
I connected with Bryan immediately, it was as if I was drawn to him, and he was drawn to me. I leaned down to say hello to him and ask him his name. It was quickly apparent that he could not speak. He had no voice, only a quiet grunt issued forth. A tutor from the Student Center told me that his name was Bryan and that he could not talk but he could understand me. How could we communicate if he could not talk and I couldn’t speak his language? How would he understand?
Bryan couldn’t understand a word I said, and I didn’t say much; but he did understand my smile, my embrace. He understood kindness.
We spent that first day with a handful of children and parents from the area. This first visit was to expose the American guests to Compassion’s Child Survival Program. Moms and babies were there to greet us and show us everything they were learning at the center. Their pride was evident, their enthusiasm was infectious. We loved on the moms, and we loved on the babies, and I loved on little Bryan. It wasn’t much, just a hug now and then and a smile when he would run near me.
The group split up and we visited the homes of some of the moms from the project. We were gone for about an hour and returned to the center for lunch. When we returned, Bryan was there to greet me. I wished I could tell you that he had a smile on his face, but Bryan’s face was disfigured and he couldn’t smile; his expression never changed, frozen into a twisted mass of nerveless muscle. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastic in his greeting. He would dart in to wherever I was sitting, grab a hug and dart away again; maybe to tell the other children in his own way that he had a new friend.
It was during lunch that I think Bryan knew that I accepted him just the way he was. He climbed into my lap as I was finishing my meal and enjoying a cold soda. I took a sip and handed the bottle to Bryan. He took a sip and handed the bottle back to me. This was a moment of decision, and some of you reading this may be shuddering to think what came next. I took the next sip and Bryan seemed satisfied with that.
It may not have been his first taste of cola, but I am fairly certain that it was the first time he had shared a cola from the same bottle with a stranger. I couldn’t see it on his face, but Bryan seemed delighted from that point on. He handed the bottle to me once more to make sure that I had had enough. I took one last sip and Bryan dashed away with the bottle of cold soda in hand. I think he wanted everyone else to see that he had something for the first time that no one else had.
The afternoon passed quickly with presentations from the project staff and conversations with the Pastor. We left late in the afternoon, hot and tired, ready to get back to the hotel. I thought of Bryan some more that evening, hoping I had shown him the heart of Jesus; wondering if I had done enough.
The next day we returned to the same project; physically refreshed and spiritually expectant. I was ready for another day of playing with the kids, interacting with the parents, encouraging the staff. I barely had stepped off the bus when I noticed flailing arms bundled in a red shirt running towards me. It was Bryan. He ran past all the other members of our team and came straight to me. I scooped him up and gave him a hug. The rest of the team declared Bryan as “Bobby’s buddy” the rest of the trip.
And Bryan was my buddy for the rest of the day. He never let me out of his sight and I kept an eye on him too. There were many more children at the Student Center today. This was a regular day for them to attend. They were excited, anticipating this visit for many weeks. We were once again greeted with toy horns, the kind people blow annoyingly at birthday parties or New Year’s Eve festivities. Today the sound was far from annoying; it was music to my ears.
So much excitement from the children and staff that you would have thought it was New Year’s Eve! Kids running and shouting, looking forward to what their guests may have brought with them all the way from America. Bubbles and balloons and stickers made their way out of backpacks and canvas bags. Wooden cars and trucks lovingly carved by a church member were quickly snatched up. Team members were swarmed by eager hands, grabbing for candies and plastic toys.
And I saw Bryan from the corner of my eye, trying to make his way with outstretched hands; reaching for the gifts that the others seemed so excited to receive. He wasn’t as big or as strong as some of the other kids and by the time he made it to the giver, the presents were gone.
I found one of the team members who was frantically trying to stay afloat on this sea of kids, and asked if he had anything else to give away. He was more than happy to offload some of his precious cargo. He handed me a package of balloons, the big ones that are attached to a large rubber band and become a punching ball. Off I went to give them away and immediately was swarmed by children and parents. They weren’t even sure what I was giving away but they knew that they wanted one.
The balloons were gone as fast I could blow them up, tie them off and demonstrate how to use them. Bryan tried valiantly to make his way to me, to tug on my shirt so I would see him. He didn’t know that I had never taken my eye off of him. The last balloon was being fought over, parents trying to get my attention, the word aqui, aqui (here, here) being shouted from every direction. You already know where the last balloon went, it was saved for Bryan.
Bryan ran off with his prize, in sheer delight; at least that is how I imagined him running off. And I felt grateful that I could provide him with this simple pleasure.
A few minutes passed by and I felt a tug on my shirt, it was Bryan again; pointing to a large boy that had taken his balloon. I took Bryan over to the boy and in broken Spanish and clumsy hand gestures; I made him give the balloon back. Now before you start thinking about wanting to give the bully a smack; you need to know that he was Bryan’s older brother. And older brother was looking out for him.
A new round of enthusiasm captured my attention as kids began to shriek with delight, popping bubbles and swarming one of the team members. Round after round of bubbles went into the air with children jumping and swinging their arms to pop them. As I was taking some pictures of these gusts of mirth and glee; I felt a familiar tug on my shirt. There he was again. He couldn’t scream in pleasure like the other kids and he had no other way to get my attention. But he did understand the joy that was being experienced. He did not know that with every tug on my sleeve, was an even bigger tug on my heart!
I reached down to Bryan and lifted him higher than any of the other kids. He towered over them now! His little hands and arms began to swing at every bubble that came his way. I was so busy laughing with all of the children that I didn’t see one of those hands swiping at the bubbles; until I felt a smack right across my face! The bubbles stopped for a moment as the bubble blower and I laughed hysterically. Bryan was laughing too, I know he was; we just couldn’t hear it. I felt it though.
Our day with the children came to a close; we said our goodbyes and gave final hugs. I held Bryan in my arms a few more times, did my best to tell him that I loved him. The words were barely recognizable but I like to think that Bryan understood.
I have thought of Bryan many times since that trip, thought of him on the plane ride home. As I was saying a prayer silently at my seat, a song came over my headset…the melody so sweet and the words so pure…”I need words as wide as sky.”
And I thought about Bryan and how I wanted real words for the boy who can’t say them…heartbreaking…beautiful…soul crushing words. I just wanted to give him words. Bryan was not the loudest, the funniest, the tallest or the strongest boy. But he deserves to be remembered, to be seen, to have dignity brought to him. And as much as I like to think that I was there for Bryan, to make things right for him for a little while, to let him lean on me and put his arm around my neck…I was the one that was profoundly given to on this journey. Every time he ran to me, every time he tugged on my shirt, every sip of my cola…reminded me that I had walked on sacred ground once again. And I saw Bryan as a little flower on this holy, parched piece of dirt. And I saw that God had broken my heart and spilled extravagant love on that ground and on those children, and on Bryan. I pray that those flowers will grow, that ground will stay watered, and the words will endure…
“For, all people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” 1Peter 1:24
“A life without love, is it worth living?”…
“And if a heart can’t share what it was meant to”…
“And if the burdens we bear are never sent to”…
“Our one True Love.”
“Then the love that we share isn’t worthy of giving… at all.”
From a series of poems rescued from little scraps of paper tucked away deep in the heart…
“So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
From the Book of Ruth
I was challenged recently to tell a story, a story that I watched unfold in
Africa, a fewmonths ago. It’s a bit complicated. It’s a bit touchy. These stories always are, when it’s a story of the heart.
I’m not sure I know how to tell any other kind of story. After all, if the story doesn’t penetrate a place in our heart; is it really worth telling? The problem I face is; do I have the ability to tell this story the way it deserves to be told?
You can be the judge of that, I suppose.
Before I get too far, there is something you must know. This story is about someone in particular and it’s about no one in particular. It’s a story that I have seen play out many times. It’s a story of so many hearts, so many lives that are just asking to be noticed, begging to be noticed. I’ve seen it in countless faces, in many places around the world.
I saw it once in the deformed eyes of a little girl in Bali, Indonesia. It took me a while to see it. I had to be taken back for a second look because I was too insensitive the first time to notice.
She was sitting alone, distant from the other children. I saw her from the corner of my eye, quiet and reserved, painfully shy. A group of beautiful girls had gathered around me, smiling coyly at me, attracted to my kindness; I think. Perhaps they were drawn to my teasing nature, the funny faces that I made; the perfectly timed winks.
She may have been drawn to those smiles too; she was just too used to being alone. She was not one of the popular girls, not one of the girls invited to join in the laughter and the secret language of young girls. So she sat at a distance and pretended that this tall stranger from a distant land didn’t matter to her. She pretended that it didn’t bother her to be left out, to be ignored.
I wanted so desperately to draw her in. She would have nothing to do with any coaxing on my part. She would ignore the group of girls that were having so much fun with this amusing foreigner; this man that made silly faces and made the girls shriek in delight when he bent over to kiss them on the cheeks.
That is when I noticed her, really saw her for the first time. I hadn’t seen it before, a deformity; a growth around one of her eyes that made her appearance a little scary. The disfigurement had caused her to be shunned, to be set aside and this caused her not to smile. Laughter was a very foreign language to her and her face looked angry, bitter. Maybe this was why the other girls never invited her in, she looked upset and mean. Why would these happy girls invite someone to play with them that seemed so…so unhappy?
Time was running out on our visit and people were gathering their backpacks and heading to the bus. I gave a last round of winks, and hugs, and kisses to the little gathering of cuteness that had decided to call me their own for the day. I glanced towards the girl with the deformity but she didn’t look up. I left and didn’t give it another thought.
That is until later in the day. We had reached the end of another busy, hectic, activity-filled day; time to head back to the hotel for some rest and dinner. That’s when I heard the conversation with our trip leader and the in-country host.
“We don’t have time to make another stop. I’m sorry. Everyone is tired.”
“Please, it won’t take long, just a few minutes. I promise.”
“We really need to get back. It’s already been such a long day.”
“I know this is not on our schedule today, but the kids will be so excited if you show up.” “They have been practicing for weeks and I think the sponsors will love to see their presentation.”
Reluctantly, we agreed to stop at the auditorium where we were told that several projects had come together for an annual time of worship. I will admit that part of me had secretly hoped the leader wouldn’t have caved; I was exhausted. If it had not been for the persistence of our host I would have missed out at a glimpse of my own soul.
I had been asking God earlier in the day if there was something wrong with my heart. It was day five or day six of a ten day trip. I had witnessed some of the most horrendous living conditions that I had ever seen. And I was not moved. I was not shaken. I had not shed a tear the entire week. I was slightly alarmed at the callousness of my heart. Had I grown insensitive to the conditions? Was this becoming a job to me, something I did for a living and nothing else? These were the questions that I was taking to Jesus that day.
So we entered the auditorium packed with enthusiastic children, and banners, and music. We listened to the children make a joyful noise to the Lord and we watched them as they danced with delight before Him. We made our appearance, said a few quick words of encouragement and were headed out the door. I saw the group of girls I had met earlier in the day. They actually saw me first and got my attention. I walked over and gave them something else to shriek about, a few winks and silly smiles. I leaned over and kissed them again.
And I walked away, ready to get back on the bus and be on our way. I was ready for a shower and dinner. As I strolled through a walkway that led to the parking lot, I was stopped in my tracks. Literally and figuratively, stopped in my tracks!I stood in the walkway for a few seconds and asked God what it was? What was He trying to say to me? What did He need me to do? I heard a still small voice simply say “You are not done.”
I turned around and looked at the girls I had left behind a moment ago. They were still smiling and giggling. What was not done?
And then I saw her; the girl with the deformity, the girl without a smile. She was sitting directly in front of the girls that I had just said goodbye to. And she was sitting alone.
I walked back to the very spot I had been only a few moments before. The girls saw me coming and they waved happily to me as I approached. But I wasn’t coming for them. I walked up to the little girl without a smile and I leaned down, took her face in my hands and looked her right in the eyes. I hugged her tight andI kissed her gently on the cheek.
I walked away as quickly as I had walked to her. I’m not completely certain, but I think I glimpsed the tiniest of smiles shine through that face. I’m sure I saw a glimmer of her beauty. And her look told me everything…her look said “thank you for seeing me.”
And I heard something else just then…I heard the voice of God say, “Thank you for seeing her.”
I wasn’t sure then, and I’m not sure now, who needed that moment more; me or the little girl. All I know is at that point, the only thing I could manage is to quietly walk to the back of the bus and weep.
We need to flash forward a few years to the present, to the back of another bus, on a dusty road on another continent. This time the girl was American, the country was Uganda. She will remain unnamed because I’m not sure she would want the world to see her just now.
There was nothing particularly unusual or remarkable about this girl, at least not at this point. If I had to describe her to you the way I first saw her, I would ask you to imagine a librarian in her early thirties. Picture a girl with her hair tied in a knot at the top of her head, wearing a colorful scarf to cover most of her hair. She’s wearing glasses and very little makeup, if any. She has a good complexion and a nice smile. She’s obviously seen an orthodontist at some point in her life. She is tall, but not overly so. She is not a petite girl, but not a large girl either.
We sat next to each other on the back of the bus, along with several others and shared stories. Most of the stories were mine. Everyone at the back of the bus wanted to hear more about my experiences, my travels, my adventures. I tried not to dominate the conversation and asked the others to share about their lives.
The stories went on for hours. I’m not even sure what day of the trip or what hour it was when I noticed her, really saw her. I can only describe it as a veil being lifted. It could have been the stories that drew me in. I knew right away that there were things we held in common, mutual interests. Of course there was our relationship with Jesus. So many stories about Jesus and what He meant to our lives. It could be that a veil was lifted from around her heart, for it was here that I began to see her…
We were several days in to our trip and we were spending the day at a Compassion project in a remote area somewhere in western Uganda. We had left Kampala and we were traveling to Fort Portal, and this was one of the stops on our itinerary. I had several child packets in my backpack and realized that some of them were for children from this very student center. I found one of our hosts and asked if they could locate either of the girls from my packets.
They managed to contact them and within a few hours, both girls had arrived. I immediately introduced myself to them and explained what I needed. I was hopeful that we could find a sponsor for both of them. My intention was to simply take a photo with the girls as they held their packets. I would take the photos home and see if I could generate interest for these girls to get a sponsor.
Both of the girls seemed a bit nervous and unsure of what was happening. They certainly had to be confused by all the commotion being created by this large group of mzungu’s (white people).
I saw the bewilderment in both girls but my attention was drawn to the taller of the two. I’m not sure what I saw at that moment, only that she had captured my attention. Maybe it was the sadness I saw in her eyes. A sense of hopelessness, a quiet despair. I only remember feeling a sorrow for her, deep down. I remember thinking, “I should sponsor this teenage girl, I could make a difference this very minute”. But God had other plans.
As all of this was taking place, there were others in the group that had no idea what was happening just a few steps away. It wasn’t insensitivity or a disregard on their part, they were just preoccupied with whatever conversations were happening around them.
But the unmindful and the unobservant, suddenly became aware; understanding coming to them in a flash. Another moment or two and the opportunity would have vanished for them.
That was the moment the girl on the back of the bus, the one with the inconspicuous profile, and the self-effacing exterior; moved to the front. She understood what was happening. She appreciated the gravity of the situation. She could not hesitate for one moresecond, a life was hanging in the balance. She moved closer to me and quietly said, “I want to sponsor Deborah.”
I knew at that moment that God was up to something in the lives of these two girls. First for the girl from the back of the bus, the one who had learned to keep herself in the background; and secondly for the teenage girl from Uganda, another girl that had learned the same lessons, taught to be reserved and reticent. There were timid smiles from the Ugandan girl and humility expressed from the church worker from Texas. There wasn’t a lot of time to get to know one another. A few hugs and a few words of encouragement, some promises that letters would be written and prayers would be spoken. It was time to leave, we were on a schedule. And they said their farewells, the young girl from Texas wishing she had more time, wondering if she had really heard from God; and the teenager from Africa, wondering what it meant to have a sponsor, wondering if she could believe that someone would be praying for her, writing to her.
The one thing that Deborah began to ponder, from this very moment; was being noticed. “Why have you shown such kindness to me?”, must have been the question on her heart. She may have asked the very question that Ruth asked the redeemer Boaz – “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
Several days passed and we were quickly approaching the end of our trip. The culmination of our journey was almost here, the day the sponsors were waiting for, the reason they had come at all; the day to visit their sponsored children. And on this special day, our country hosts managed a very special surprise for Deborah and the young woman from the back of the bus. Arrangements had been made for Deborah to join us for the entire day. This may have been the first time that Deborah had ever left her village, it may have been her first time to see Kampala, her first time to ride in a bus. I’m not certain of any of that; what I am certain of, it was the first time in her life that she had been seen. It was the first time that she had really been noticed.
I know this because of the transformation that I witnessed from the reserved, shy girl to the one that stood before me now. I know this because of the way that Deborah smiled at me every time our eyes made contact. I know this because of the way she hugged me on that day. It was a look and it was a hug that said thank you for seeing me, thank you for pulling me out of the rubbish and brushing me off. Thank you for seeing something in me that no one had ever seen before.
And my heart was full from the smiles of a teenage girl from a small village in Africa, a girl that was dressed in love that day.
But there is still more to this story. We cannot forget the girl from the back of the bus,for she too, was dressed in love; her heart being stretched in unimaginable ways. Her heart was given to a teenage girl that day, of that there is no doubt, but something else was happening in the center of her being.
I only know this because I was told a story many weeks after this trip had ended. I think it is best told by her…
“It’s a story that took place on a bus somewhere in Uganda. It took place during hours and hours of driving through the countryside…
And on this particular day, so many things were happening on the inside of a then thirty year old girl…many things she was trying to process and reconcile and make sense of.
She was silent on this day because there weren’t words to really say what her heart was feeling.
And then, the bus had to stop for gas and the kind man with the tender eyes said to her, “I know why you’re still single…” and the girl’s heart dropped…
She had heard statements like these before – she was too this or not enough that, she needed to work on this, would never find a man if she didn’t do that…
So she braced herself for what he would say, but she wasn’t prepared for the words that came next…
“You’re too beautiful…”
And she could not tell the kind man with the tender eyes what those words meant to her on that day because she had never heard anything like them before. And at that moment she knew it was God’s way of acknowledging her and loving her as she rode the dusty roads of Uganda. And she traveled many more miles on that bus that day, and even more miles were journeyed in her heart, talking to Him. I know she will go the distance with Him.
The young woman from west Texas was seen, and the teenager from the heart of Uganda was seen, and the little girl without a smile and a damaged eye was seen.
As a matter of fact, so was I.
And all of us will ask – “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me?”
“A rose could never lie, about the love it brings.
And I could never promise to be any of those things.
If I was not so weak.
If I was not so cold.
If I was not so scared of being broken,
I would be…”
Lyrics from Jars of Clay – Frail
I didn’t meet Roberto in the usual way. I didn’t pick up his child packet at an event or see his picture on line. It wasn’t in the comfort of my home. It really wasn’t comfortable at all. There was nothing comfortable about how I came to know this little boy.
I had recently traveled to El Salvador for my job, which if you don’t know by now; is to take sponsors all over the world to meet their sponsored children. El Salvador was on my schedule four times in the year I met Roberto. At the time I was a little curious at the number of trips scheduled for this beautiful country tucked away in the heart of Central America. Looking back, I see the reason perfectly.
It was on my second trip to El Salvador when I met him. Not really met him, introduced to him would be more accurate. El Salvador had come to be a destination that I loved to visit, for no other reason than the people.
I had come to love the people that I worked with on every trip. From Fernando’s smile and warm heart, and how we laughed so easily together about nearly everything; to Gaby and Karla, the twins that loved to keep me guessing about which one I was talking to. And I have to mention Juan, the clown at heart; that loves the children so beautifully. And Steve and Pam and Fabio and Rocio… The staff here had become my family away from home, loved ones, sisters and brothers, friends…
As with most friends, there comes that time when you are familiar with each other, when teasing one another is as natural as breathing. And this trip was no different. The questions were deliberate and my responses were too. They asked me, “if El Salvador is your favorite country then why don’t you sponsor a child here?”
Good question. Why didn’t I sponsor a child in El Salvador?After all, I came here, more than any other country we worked in. And I may have been guilty of saying that El Salvador was my favorite. I get asked that question on every trip. At the risk of telling on myself, my response is the same when confronted with that question. My favorite country is always where I am currently. It’s not a copout! I really do try and stay in the present, and wherever I am at the moment is usually my favorite place to be.
So the question was asked, the gauntlet was dropped and I began to seriously consider if another child was going to be sponsored in my household. My wife had told me on multiple occasions that if I ever met a child that I wanted to sponsor on a trip, to go ahead; I didn’t need her permission. That could become a very expensive proposition! I meet kids on every trip that I would love to sponsor. And I have only traveled to half of the countries that Compassion works in!
So the seed was planted. The thought began to form. I leaned into lots of kids on that trip. Most of them had sponsors already. Occasionally I would meet one that I knew needed a sponsor and they would get scooped up into someone else’s loving arms. So I left El Salvador unscathed, no child had stolen my heart (well some did, they just didn’t need me to sponsor them) and just thought there would be another time to sponsor a child in El Salvador.
You may be asking, what about Roberto? Didn’t he steal your heart? Wasn’t he the point of this story? Yes he did steal my heart and yes he is the point. Only I didn’t realize it yet.
One of the days that we were in El Salvador, we visited the Compassion offices. It was here that the sponsors get a closer look at how all of the programs work, how everything fits together. And on this particular trip, the Country Director, Guillermo; showed a video that he was very proud of.It was a video clip of a little boy at one of the projects. Guillermo gave us the backstory, how this little boy was on his wayfor treatment at the local clinic. How he had lashed out at the tutor that was escorting him to town, angry and gruff and probably very afraid at that moment. He took his anger and fear and confusion to the next level by biting the very hand that was trying to feed him. The tutor was bleeding badly and I’m sure she was a little angry and afraid and confused at this point too.
She drove this little boy back to the church they had just left a few short moments before. I tried to picture the scene in my mind, put myself in her shoes. So glad that her reaction was not like mine might have been. I might have scared this little boy with an angry glare or harsh words. Having your finger bit to the point of drawing blood does not sound like something I would handle well.
But she did.
She took him to the office of the church and asked for some help. She may have still been angry, I don’t know. I’m certain that she was in pain. The pain that she was feeling at this very moment had less to do with her finger and so much more to do with her heart. I’m fairly certain of that, because this is where the video picks up.
It’s grainy and it’s gritty. It’s just raw footage of a little boy in tears. It’s the type of tears that I remembered shedding when I was his age. They were tears of anger mostly. The crying of a little boy that knew he was in trouble and that was upset that he had to endure the face of authority again.
And then the tears changed. This little boy was shifting in his seat and something was shifting in his heart. A question came his way – “Do you think God could come into your heart and change you?” “Do you think this is possible?”
“I do think God can come and change hearts” was his reply.
“I just don’t think he is able to change mine”.
“Do you believe that God can transform lives?”
“Yes, but maybe not mine.”
And then the pastor of this little church in a little rural community in a little country in Central America, prayed a great big prayer. She first read to him from a letter that she wrote when she was his age and had accepted Jesus.
And that moment came for Roberto. The moment when he walked into the arms of Jesus and stepped into eternity.The moment he said “I do” to Jesus’ proposal.And then to say that he wanted to say something to the tutor he had bit, to give her a heartfelt apology. And then to witness their embrace and the forgiveness and joy on the tutor’s face. Well needless to say, tears filled my eyes as I watched this transformation.
I left El Salvador at the end of the week, the tears having dried up long before and my heart returning to normal – whatever normal is. I wasn’t home more than a few days when I received a message in my in box with a link to a video. “I heard the El Salvador staff giving you a hard time about not sponsoring a child in El Salvador. You do know that Roberto is available to be sponsored?”
That was all it took. I did not know that Roberto needed a sponsor, it was never mentioned. I made a phone call to see if I could get linked to this little boy that had stolen my heart briefly in El Salvador.
Bad news! He is allocated to Canada and is out to an event. He may already be sponsored.
I could have stopped there. Someone was actively seeking a sponsor for him. Isn’t that enough? No, it’s not enough! Somehow I knew that this little boy and I were supposed to be linked, so I marched down the hall and asked for a favor. “Could you see if we could get this little boy back from our Canadian partners?”
Ten minutes later, I walked into Roberto’s story.
I was scheduled to return to El Salvador the following month to join a church team. Here was an opportunity to meet Roberto face to face, an opportunity that was orchestrated by God a long time ago.
A few weeks went by and we received a message that Roberto’s mom had passed away from cancer of the uterus. This was devastating news! Here was a little boy that was fighting for his own life, struggling to stay alive as he battled Type I diabetes. Having to give himself insulin injections every day, when he could even get them. Here was a boy that had been asked to be the man of the house because his father wouldn’t be.
An alcoholic father that was gone most of the time, and now a mother that was gone forever.A young boy that needed help but had no one.No one but the tutors at the project and now a stranger a thousand miles away.
What was I going to say to this little boy? What could I possibly bring that might ease the hurt, relieve the pain?
And so I prayed. I prayed long and hard to my Father. “What can I say, what can I do?” “How do I show Roberto that he is loved?” “How do I express your love to this little boy that has so recently said yes to your promises?” “What must he be thinking? I say yes to Almighty God and I lose the only person that ever loved me.”
My answer came from God a few days before I was to meet Roberto. I was in Guatemala on another sponsor tour. Roberto was weighing heavily on my heart the entire trip. My heart was not prepared to meet a little boy for the first time that was carrying so much grief, so much weight on his tiny frame.
I found God and his answer in a tiny hut. It was on a hillside of a farming community in the mountains of Guatemala. It was a gorgeous day, bright and sunny; the walk to the house was a mile or so away. The surroundings were pleasant, serene. Tall pine trees lined the path and the scent of evergreen was everywhere. We stopped several times to take in the scenery. Vistas of green farmland were in view as far as we could see. The people here were poor and had very little material wealth, but they lived in an area that told me that God had not forgotten them.
There were six of us on this home visit, eight with our translator and accompanying staff. The home was small but very neat. We commented to the mother on how clean everything was and how her pride in the home was so obvious. There were three boys and a girl. No father was evident in the home. He had been ordered to stay away by local authorities because of his abusive nature.
We made small talk for a few minutes, asking her about her chores and how the children enjoyed the project. Someone handed one of the younger boys a Gatorade, and I will never forget how he made sure that all of his siblings got a drink. I couldn’t help but think how different that might have played out in so many homes in the US.
I remember that I had switched groups for this visit. This was the first time I had done a home visit with this group of people. The switch wasn’t intentional or done with any thought. It was just a change that happened at the last moment. I also remember being slightly disengaged, almost uninterested in what was going on around me. I didn’t like feeling this way so I leaned in to the conversation. I took a mental note of how the younger brother shared his drink with baby sister and baby brother. How he offered some to his older brother and then shrugged his shoulders when big brother said no thanks.
That’s when I noticed the older brother. I wish I could tell you his name, it is escaping me at the moment. I think it was Reynaldo or something like that. I am ashamed that I forgot his name but no one else seems to recall it now either. And perhaps Reynaldo’s name is not what is important for this story. Reynaldo’s story is important to this story.
After a fair amount of questions and answers, our attention turned to Reynaldo and Mark, one of the members of our group. Mark spoke fluent Spanish and asked Reynaldo a question. None of us understood what was being said but we realized that something powerful was happening. Mark listened to Reynaldo’s answer and could not speak. Through tears, and choking on every word, Mark tried to tell us what he had asked Reynaldo. After a few attempts we finally understood the question – “I asked him what he wanted to do with his life when he gets older.”
More tears, more choked words…”He said that all he wants to do is to catch the train that will take him to the United States.”
And through choked whispers, Mark said “he just wants to come to the United States so he can provide for his mom and sister and brothers.”
We were all in tears now, all of us fully leaning in to this “little man” of thirteen years, desperately trying to understand a desire like this.All of us knowing full well, the dangers of hitching a ride on “The Beast”.The last hope of so many young people, the train that would carry them across Central America and into Mexico, and finally with any luck to the United States. To bring them to a land that held so much promise, a land that would provide for every need. But deep down, we knew that promise was so fleeting. We knew that thousands of men and women, boys and girls had been cheated by this promise. We knew that thousands of lives were lost to the train simply known as “The Beast”. Lives were literally and figuratively crushed by the train called “The Beast”; and the enemy of our souls called “The Beast”.
And my heart broke for Reynaldo. It broke because it wasn’t fair that a thirteen year old boy had to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. It broke because he should be playing soccer or teasing pretty girls at school, not trying to figure out how he could get on a train and leave his family forever.
And I leaned in to Reynaldo and I leaned in to God, and I heard that still small voice once again. And words came out of my mouth, and I so longed to be able to speak them directly to him. So I looked him in the eye and told him how proud I was of him, hoping that nothing would get lost in the translation. I told him that if I was his father I could not be prouder of him.
Through tears I told him that he was good young man.
Through tears I told him that God was very proud of him and loved him very much.
And through tears I hugged him long and hard.
And it was through tears that we took the long walk back that day. I pray for that little boy at times, that he never left his family and hitched a ride on “The Beast”. I pray that his family is intact and that dad would change and that Reynaldo will grow up to see the plans that God has for him. And on that long walk back that day I realized that God and Reynaldo had given me a gift.
My heart was stretched again that sunny afternoon in a tin shack on the hillside of a little mountain community in Guatemala. I realized that my heart might have a response for a little thirteen year old boy that was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders too. Only this little boy was not named Reynaldo, his name is Roberto.
A few days went by before I met Roberto. I left Guatemala City and flew directly to San Salvador to meet the next group. I was emotionally spent, physically tired and mentally exhausted. I had to muster what I could for another little boy that needed me. I wasn’t sure what he needed from me, I just knew that he needed me.
I will never forget meeting Roberto the first time, he was so frail and so fragile. I was afraid to hug him too tightly because he seemed like he would break. His eyes looked so sad, so old. His smile was as weak as his body was.
I was looking at the face of a child that had seen so much devastation, a heart that had been broken over and over again. We had a few bites of pizza and had some small talk. I met his caregiver, Miguel, a staff worker from Roberto’s project. I thanked Miguel for taking care of Roberto. I wanted to give Miguel a sack of money to help with all of the needs.
I watched silently as Roberto placed a syringe on his slender little arm, and gave himself an injection of insulin.
I told Roberto how sorry I was that he lost his mother.
His reply still torments me, “These things are a part of life, there is nothing that can be done”, he said in a whisper.
And then he said something that I will always cherish, “I knew when I first saw you, that I would love you.” And I hugged him tight and I held him for as long as I thought a little thirteen year old boy could bear it.
I spent the entire next day with Roberto, swimming and laughing and helping him the best way I knew how; to feel like a kid. He made me smile as I watched him play. There was something so natural and pure about watching a boy play.Maybe for the first time in his young life. I couldn’t get him to come out of the pool. We were both shriveled and pruny and a little sunburned. I didn’t mind a bit. Seeing Roberto laugh and play made me feel like a kid again. And for just a moment I no longer saw him as frail and vulnerable, a condition that could cause him to be exploited and broken. He was still frail for sure, but now I saw that he could be nurtured and cherished.
Oh, before I forget, I need to brag a little on Roberto. Guillermo, the Country Director in El Salvador shared another story with me about him. The office staff had “adopted” Roberto and had taken up a collection to buy him birthday gifts. Some of the folks in the office heard about it after the gifts had been purchased, and insisted that they be allowed to give something. So a small amount of cash became part of Roberto’s birthday present.
The first thing Roberto wanted to know was how much was the tithe on this gift. He wanted to give back to God. And now Roberto is giving to me. I can’t thank him enough for stretching my heart and loving me the way he does.
His little body may be frail, but his heart is the farthest thing from it!
“If I was not so scared of being broken, growing old.I would be… frail.”
If you would like to see the video that was the catalyst for this story click on this link:
Her day started like any other day had started in the past thirty years or so. It was time to start her chores, gather some firewood for cooking, head down to the local well and bring a few buckets of cold water to the house.
And it was time to get ready for her long walk to the Compassion Student Center that had been her real home for all of these years…
Naomi lives in the Highlands of Otavalo, a mountain community in Ecuador. A remote area of lush farmland, with small patches of crops scattered on every hillside, resembling a magnificent quilt of every shade of green. She lives with her older siblings and her nieces and nephews. She has children of her own now, a boy and a girl. The family is close, they always have been. I suspect they always will be.
Today as Naomi prepared to walk the three miles to the Student Center, there was a slight spring in her step, a little excitement. She had made this walk nearly every day for over thirty years now. She remembered feeling this way a few times before on her way to the church that was her second home.
Today was like any other day in the past thirty years, yet something was different. There was an “anticipation” in her spirit, something she couldn’t explain. It was as if she knew that something special was waiting for her. It could just be because she knew there were special guests coming today. So she hurried her steps just a bit and she tried to think of a time when she felt this same way before. She let memories flood back in as she walked the dirt road that overlooked the green valleys and the fields of potatoes and barley…
She remembered how her little brother would come home and tell her about all of the wonderful things they experienced at the Student Center. How the older women taught them about Jesus and how they loved all of the kids. How there were fried plantains and sweets some days, and always rice and beans and every now and then a piece of chicken or a hunk of beef. And games that seemed to last all day, but best of all, once every so often they would load up onto buses and go to the big city far away.
In those early days, the children at the project would travel to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Her brother would come home and tell her of the wonderful things he saw and experienced. She could not imagine such a place. As hard as she tried, she could not picture in her mind the tall buildings and the cathedrals, the cars and buses and the bustling people. She longed to see these things for herself. Her greatest desire in the world now was to become a sponsored child.
The desire was so strong that she would walk with her brother every day that the Student Center was open. Even though she was not officially registered, Naomi became a fixture there. The tutors would invite her to come in and join the other children. She would receive a snack or a hot meal on most days. She would have the opportunity to be with her little brother and play with other children from the community.
But the reason that Naomi really came, was to hear about Jesus. She wanted to know more about this man that loved the world so much. She wanted to know more about God and how these teachers could love her the way they did. It was the one place in her entire world where she experienced true love.
She knew her parents and siblings loved her, but her parents were seldom home. They worked the fields and the greenhouses from dawn until dusk to provide for the family.
Things were very different at the Student Center. There were adults here throughout the day, teaching and caring for the children. She was not required to clean and cook and care for her younger siblings. She was simply allowed to be a little girl. She also didn’t feel peculiar around the other children. No one ridiculed her because she couldn’t run or walk very fast. No one seemed to notice her limp here. They just accepted her.
As the weeks turned into months and the months turned into years, Naomi began to wish for only one thing, that she could join the program at the Compassion Student Center. She began to pray to Jesus that she could really belong there. That she could be registered and that she could have a sponsor.
Her little brother belonged to the project but they did not have room for her.
And now her little sister was a part of the program and still there was not room for her.
She often wondered to herself why she could not belong. She assumed it was because she was not physically well enough. So she tried harder to fit in and to keep up with the other kids. She ignored the searing pain in her legs in order to fit in. She knew that she could do all the things that the other kids could do. And if she could ignore the pain long enough maybe they would let her be a part of this wonderful place, maybe she could have a sponsor of her very own.
The tutors at the Compassion Project loved Naomi. They made her a “special guest” of the church. If the project could not accept her as a sponsored child because of rules and restrictions and lack of quotas, then the church would allow her to come as often as she desired. They saw something special in Naomi, how hard she worked and how much she loved being there. They also saw that she had a limp and that she was covering up the pain in her legs.
Naomi’s wish to see the big city was finally being realized. She was filled with excitement to see for the first time the things her brother had tried to describe to her so long ago.She was amazed at the sounds, and the sight of so many people. She was thrilled to ride in a truck for the first time.
She was also filled with a sense of dread. Naomi was being taken to Quito to see a doctor. She was diagnosed with a bone disease. Her legs would never be as strong as they needed to be. She would never be able to keepup with the other children. Treatment was necessary, therapy sessions were needed. But medical care was not in the cards for this little girl from a rural mountain community. How could her family afford this?
The disease in her bones continued to attack her until she was no longer able to go to school. Naomi dropped out of secondary school, any thoughts of getting an education; to learn simple arithmetic, or to read and writehad now become a distant dream.
The one dream that she still clung to was to become a Compassion child and to have a sponsor one day. And the reality that she held onto,was knowing this –“that as long as one child could eat, the others could eat as well.” And so she continued to visit the project as often as possible. She continued to make the long walk on legs with brittle bones. This was all she had now. The project had become her second home, school was not an option.
So Naomi came every chance she had and soon she was learning mathematics at the project. She was learning simple math and she was learning how to read and to write. And she came week after week, always praying to really belong and to have a sponsor of her own.
And then that day arrived. She became registered at the center and not long after that happy day she received a sponsor. A wonderful couple from the United Kingdom named Roger and Helen. Not just any sponsors, but sponsors that wrote to her every month. Sponsors that encouraged her and asked her about the weather. Naomi had no concept of Spring or Fall, her only experience being rain and cold or warm and sunny. She only knew two seasons, the rainy one and the dry one.
Roger and Helen sent her postcards of the places they had traveled. She began to understand the seasons and snow and what beaches were. And those postcards and letters caused her to dream, to imagine other places. To think beyond her remote mountain community and to realize there was a great big world out there for her to discover.
Roger even visited Quito on business and she felt the world get just a little smaller for her. Her sponsor was in Ecuador, he was in Quito and she could imagine where he was. He could imagine where she was. She longed to see him but was content in the knowledge that they had been to the same place.
Nine years the letters and postcards came to her, one letter every month. Naomi kept every letter, for every letter told her to keep joy in her heart, to be happy. Every letter told her how she could do more, be more. And she believed this beautiful couple from another place, a place so far away from her that it might as well have been in another universe. Only this universe held two dear people that loved her very much. And Naomi kept believing in herself, she kept learning whatever she could from the tutors.
Then one day she received the news that Helen had passed away. It was devastating news to Naomi. Fortunately, Roger continued to write to her. Like clockwork, the letters continued to come, month after month. Still asking her about the weather and had she ever been to the beach. Still telling her to be happy and to have joy in her life. And Naomi loved her sponsor more than ever, she longed to meet him one day, to hug his neck.
Finally Roger’s last letter made it to her. A photo was attached of Roger sitting in a wheelchair, this once vibrant world traveler bound to a chair in a hospital room. He had to tell Naomi goodbye, this would be the last time he would be able to write. He was very sick and could no longer sponsor her.
Naomi was seventeen years old when that letter arrived. Roger ended that letter the same way he had ended so many of the ones before it – “please be happy Naomi, please always have joy in your heart.”
I don’t know what happened in the hearts of the sponsors that day when they heard this story. Some cried, some may have hurt a little, some may not have noticed Naomi at all. I can only tell you what happened in my heart that day.
We asked Naomi if she ever got to meet Roger. That meeting never happened. Someone asked her if she could have met Roger what she would have said. “I would not be able to say anything at first. I would cry before I could say anything.”
An audible sigh filled the room at that point and I saw tissues dabbing eyes throughout the group.
Naomi continued – “I would tell him that I am happy. That I have joy in my heart.”
“And then I would thank him and tell him that I have kept all of his pictures in a special place.”
“I would tell him that I kept all of his words to me in a special place too, in my heart.”
More tears. More tissues.
Naomi is now a woman of 37 with a family of her own. She completed the Compassion program 18 years ago. She has never left the place that she called home. The only reason we met her was because she came upstairs to the classroom where we were having lunch so she could say hello to the sponsors that had come from so far away.
We invited her to sit down and enjoy the wonderful meal we were having. She seemed so pleased when we told her how good the food was. It was her hands that had so lovingly prepared the meal for us. It was her hands that had given back to the little church that loved her so long ago. She had been preparing meals for the children at this center for the past 18 years. Giving back to the people that had given so much to her.
The past thirty years she has been a part of this church, as a child with so many needs and so many unfulfilled dreams. And now as an adult, giving and loving and serving.
Naomi finished High School two years ago. This is where the story should end. This is where it ended for everyone else that day. A round of cheers went up from the group to celebrate her achievement and sponsors got up to give her words of encouragement, and hugs and kisses. And then everyone began to leave the room for the next thing on our agenda.
But I didn’t leave just then, I couldn’t leave just then. The storyteller in me needed more. I had some questions for Naomi, needed a few more details. As everyone else kept moving, I had to stay behind to find the meaning in the story.
I grabbed Nico, one of our translators and asked if he could translate for me. I told Naomi that her story was powerful and asked her if I could have permission to write it. She said yes. I then asked about Roger and whether he had passed away. She said he had.
What happened next was simply from God.
I crouched down beside Naomi and asked Nico to tell her that I felt like I was supposed to give her a hug. Would she be ok with that? She said she would. As I hugged her, strong emotion welled up from some deep place in my soul. I recognized that emotion. It is something that doesn’t happen often but when it does I’m absolutely certain of its origin.
I told Nico to tell Naomi that God wanted to give her a hug. And we embraced for a few moments. And then I heard God say that this hug was from Roger and from Him.
I asked Nico to tell her that this hug was from Roger too and I was barely able to get the words out. Nico spoke the words to her as he held back tears of his own.
The embrace was strong, the tears streamed to my neck and the sobbing came from deep within. Her tears mingled with mine. Or maybe her tears mingled with Rogers. I’m certain they mingled with Gods.
I don’t even know how many seconds or how many minutes went by as we simply hugged each other and cried. The embrace was vigorous and firm.
When I had the courage to finally let go of her she said something to me in Spanish that I will never forget. Nico translated as well as he could as he choked on the words.
Her words pierced my heart and I don’t think I will ever be the same – “I have waited for that hug for a long time. I have never received a hug such as this my entire life.” “Today my prayers were answered.”
At that moment, I knew that both of us had slipped right into the arms of Christ.
These few short moments in a week-long trip completely undid me. And I stand grateful that I could be the vessel that heard God say; to give someone unknown to me, a simple hug that changed both of us forever.
For the past few months I have been a little perplexed. Perplexed may be too strong of a word for it. Maybe puzzled is more like it. Uncertain for sure. Even a little troubled.
Since the beginning of the year I have sensed God’s presence in a more tangible way. It could be because I have made some choices in my life to move towards him. Some deliberate choices. Nothing grand. Simple steps really.
I have heard it said that if you feel distant from God it’s not because of Him. He hasn’t changed, He hasn’t moved. It’s very likely we have moved away from him. So I began to ask myself why there was a gap. How had I drifted, how far away had I actually been blown off course?
Thankfully, not terribly far, but just a degree or two can take us very far from the destination He has in mind for us.
I evaluated how I was spending my time, what I was “feeding” on. What was I allowing to come before my eyes? And the word of the Lord would come to remind me once again.
“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.” “Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.” Book of Psalms
The disgrace I dread…the worthless things…
And my heart would desire to lean into Him once again. My longing would return for His word. Thankfully I began to move back on course.
The men I meet with every Thursday night (when I’m not traveling) were asking themselves some of these same questions. All of us knowing that if certain behaviors didn’t change, we would be shipwrecked.Some of us admitting that we weren’t reading the bible. Our prayer lives were next to non-existent. Fortunately someone suggested listening to the word. We began doing that.
I listened to the word being read fresh every day. And little by little, day by day my heart began to come alive. It began to thaw from its deep freeze. Much like the frozen ground of winter begins to thaw in the spring.
My prayer life changed. My habits changed too. I hungered for His word, hungered for His presence in my life. I didn’t really sense the change as it was happening. Like a ship that has set sail, the wind began to fill me and I headed out where it would take me. Confident that the course was corrected.Knowing that He was guiding the journey.
The journey in the New Year took me to Africa where my companions and I,“walked through slums that turned into holy ground.” “Where the veil was pulled back and we witnessed a little piece of eternity.” “Where we were introduced to the forgotten and they became chosen.” These are not my words but the words of a dear friend that had her life transformed by doing something that mattered.
And what we did for those few days did matter. We found hope in the ruins of shattered lives. Hope began to tell us her name. And there are many.
So let me return to what has perplexed me since I have returned from walking on holy ground and meeting the forgotten.
At first I thought it merely a coincidence. So many of the people that I met at the beginning of the year had names that started with an M.Maurie, Mariah, Mandy, Matt and Meagan.All travelers with me to Uganda.Nothing particularly unusual about this.
Then I met the “girl in the red dress” – Mariela. I wrote about her.
Then I started thinking about that letter. And realized how many people I love have M. names – Mia, Madison, Makenzie, Mark, Melissa and Mercy. All immediate family.
Again, just a coincidence. But I couldn’t stop thinking about M’s and the girl in the red dress.
Now I’m in India, again walking through slums and sensing the ground was sacred, witnessing little pieces of eternity and meeting the forgotten.
And here I meet Mahime – the girl whose name means praise, also wearing a red dress. I wrote of her too.
There were other M’s and other red dresses. Just coincidence? Now I’m not so sure. Now I have to ask God what He might be up to in all of this. What am I supposed to be seeing, what am I missing?
And today I think he answered.
Of course with another M word. One I had not heard before or did not remember hearing. Maundy. Yes, maundy. Oh? Maybe you haven’t heard of it either.
We all know that this is Easter week. We’ve heard of the Passover. We know of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. He died for our sins! The stone was rolled away! And I don’t take this lightly. His sacrifice was a debt we can never repay.
What I want to talk about today is maundy. Today is Maundy Thursday. What I want to dwell on for a moment is what might have been going on in Jesus’ mind the hours and days before His greatest gift was to be given.
Go back with me to the days just before the Passover, to the Passover meal. Picture him washing the feet of his disciples. Don’t move too quickly from the scene. Wait, let’s go back a few more days. Go back to the scene of Mary pouring expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus. Don’t move away from the scene just yet.
Linger there for a moment. Imagine yourself there.
You can smell the scent of sweet perfume. It’s overwhelming. The air is thick with it. It almost makes you choke. You look in disbelief at the waste. What is this woman doing? You nod your head in agreement when Judas objects to the extravagance. This could have surely helped the poor.
Stay here a little longer. Can you see Mary? The perfume is surely mixed with her tears by now. Her hair is soaked from the mixture of heavily scented perfume and fragrant tears. She quietly sobs and tenderly washes the feet of the man that was larger than life. Something heavenly was at work.
He knew what was happening at this very moment as only he could. He was being prepared for burial. What must that thought have been doing to his soul? Had the crushing begun? Was his heart breaking as he watched Mary caress his feet? Did his heart break from the lack of understanding from the very men he had loved so intimately?
Let’s move on a few days to the Passover dinner, that fateful Thursday when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples.
Don’t pass by this scene too quickly either. Imagine the emotion that Mary displayed for a second. Is there any reason for any of us to believe that Jesus was just going through the motions of another foot washing ritual?
Any reason to think that he possessed less emotion than Mary did?
No, I think not. I think that Jesus shed tears of his own. Tears that fell into that washbasin and mingled with the water.
Tears that created their very own fragrance.
A perfume that filled the house.
A sweet scent that rose to heaven.
Tears that mingled with the tears of the Father himself as He watched the scene displayed before Him.
This was an indescribable display of humility! Our very Lord, our very God washing the feet of mortal men. Of men that misunderstood him, men that would betray him, men that would deny him. And I imagine that his touch was gentle and his prayers were soft.
So as we celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday, let us not lose sight of Maundy Thursday. For it was on this day that he gave the command to all of us to do the same for each other. This was His mandate to us. His “maundy”, which in Latin is madatum, which means “command”.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34
Now we need to follow the thread of red. I suppose the obvious answer is red is the color of his shed blood. But I think the answer goes beyond that. Red is a color of boldness, of strength. It says notice me! Just like the girls in Uganda and India. They begged, no; they demanded to be noticed.
As my friend reminded me, red is threaded throughout Scripture, remember Rahab and the scarlet cord? And she reminded me that at times we get these threads and we don’t really know where they lead, but when we keep following them, we find a tapestry of truth. A tapestry so much larger, so much richer than we could have ever imagined. And the truth is so intricately woven.
So to be reminded on this day, to remember in this week that Jesus was preparing Himself to be poured out for us, that is indeed holy.
“Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8
A special shout out to Alex Crain and his article about Maundy Thursday on crosswalk.com. Otherwise I may not have ever solved the mystery of M’s.
And a special shout out to all the M’s in my life, especially the one that I quoted today – thank you Maurie.
“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth”. 1 John 3:18
Seven years worth of letters. Seven years of writing to her child, telling her about her life and mentioning so many things of little consequence. Asking her about her likes, her favorite subjects in school, her favorite sport or her favorite foods.
Getting letters back in return, asking her what her favorite color was, what her home was like, did she plant corn or did she plant anything.
The letters went back and forth for seven years. Some years there were more letters than others. Some years the communication was tangible. The letters made sense, there seemed to be a lot to talk about.
Some years not so much. At times they seemed distant to one another. As if they really didn’t know one another. The questions seemed so generic. How many times are you going to ask me the same question? How many times do I have to ask the same question before I get an answer?
And yet she still wrote to her girl, little Dhanya. And Dhanya faithfully wrote back. For seven years.
As time went on the letters took on a deeper significance. They were impactful. They were meaningful. She realized that somehow as time moved on, her letters were making a difference in Dhanya’s life. Somehow this little girl was gaining sight of what she was intended to be. There was purpose, there was an end in sight that looked hopeful.
So the letters continued. Another year gone by. Now the letters were words of encouragement. Tell me of your dreams. Tell me what you hope to become someday.
And Dhanya’s letters gave her hope too. Dhanya wanted her sponsor to know how important she was to her. How much she loved her. How she was excited to receive her letters. How she saved them all in a special place in her home.
How one year the rains came and threatened to sweep everything away. How the water rushed in to her tiny home and destroyed everything they owned. How she risked her very life to get back into the house and retrieve the only thing that mattered to her, her letters. The letters that made her smile when she had nothing to smile about. The letters that brought her hope when all was hopeless. The letters that she would read again and again, especially now that the rains had taken everything. Almost everything. The rains could not take away her hope, her joy.
She had to save them. They had saved her.
And so many times this sponsor had thought she might have to quit writing, she might have to quit sponsoring. In those seven years she had grown too. She was no longer a young schoolgirl with bright dreams of her own. She was now a mother of two with rent to pay and work to be done. So much work.
Diapers to change, and baths to be given. Get dinner on the table, her husband would be home soon. Pay the bills, did she forget to pay the utility bill? Oh no, is the electricity about to be shut off? The kids need new shoes and the doctor bills are mounting. There just isn’t enough money at the end of the month.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider this long distance relationship. What difference am I really making? How much difference could I really make to a little girl in a faraway place like India? She asked these questions almost every night as she tucked her own little girls into bed.
And when everyone would go to sleep and the distractions of the day would turn in for the night too; she would pray. God am I really making a difference in Dhanya’s life? Does the $38 I send every month really help to supply some of her needs? And as she talked to God in her quiet time she would feel compelled to write Dhanya another letter. She would go to the box that she stored all of Dhanya’s letters in. She would pull them out and begin to read them again.
Some of them felt like it was the first time she had read them. As if they had just come in the mail that day. Some of them felt like old friends. So comforting and so familiar.
And the thing she held onto as she read each letter was just how beloved she knew she was by Dhanya.
She saw the words that she had seen a hundred times. The words that Dhanya always used in every letter.
She saw that Dhanya had become her beloved too.
Every letter for seven years had always ended – To my beloved, “with a thousand kisses”. Love Dhanya.
And she realized that she had started every letter to this little girl – My beloved Dhanya.
How could she even think to stop? How could she leave her beloved? And so she held on to those words… with a thousand kisses. They became a promise. They became a beacon.
And now she knew what she must do. Whatever it took, she would save and she would work harder. She knew that she would have to visit Dhanya. She had to see with her own eyes what her love had produced. She already knew what Dhanya’s love had produced in her.
So she made sacrifices. She took on ways to earn a little extra money. She made a commitment in her heart to see and hold Dhanya.
And that dream came true for her and the little Indian girl named Dhanya. And I suppose if anyone was actually counting, there were more than a thousand kisses given to each other on that day.
Maybe a thousand and one.
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” from Song of Solomon