Now, under overcast skies, in the first still, intentional moment of the day, the air unusually damp and cool in this lavishly landscaped courtyard in Colonial Santo Domingo, I wonder for a split second if the tears welling up in my eyes are related to the weather.
But I know better. The words welling up from somewhere deep inside speak truth, and the tears can't help but follow.
The park bench is hard.
Marcel, my translator-friend, waits for my words.
"You have changed my life, Jeffry, and I am thankful for that...So thankful."
And as I squeeze the life out of this handsome, charming, mischievous young man, I wonder if he can possibly understand what I mean.
How can he possibly understand that God has used his young life to radically change the direction of another life--my life--a world away? My life is the lavish courtyard, this upscale children's museum, old city Santo Domingo, with its touristy-chic boutique hotels, parasoled drinks, souvenir shops...his world is over the walls, a world of stark concrete, vacant lot baseball, abandonment, too many with too little, and 15-peso grape soda.
And yet, somehow, I find my life and his crashing together. It has been an 8-year long collision, like a crazy, slow motion train wreck. A lot of times it seemed like this love-wreck could never happen...there are a lot of swerves and detours in the picture. 8 years ago, Jeffry was a photo in a slick plastic slip-cover, destined for refrigerator fame and Sunday School bonus points.
But he came alive, so alive, when I stepped out of my snazzy, mint-on-your-pillow, towel-animal hotel one morning 18 months ago and met Jeffry face to face. And at that point, all that I thought I understood about life lurched violently in my stomach. I wanted to be rid of it, rid of the lies I had swallowed about entitlement and wealth. Jeffry did nothing but smile, nothing but hug me like only an 11 year old boy can, nothing but try on the baseball glove I brought him with the joy of Christmas in his eyes. He had nothing and was content. I had everything and wished I could swap my pleasures and plenty for that kind of peace.
That encounter rocked my world, rocked my family, rocked my priorities. And as I, in the present, sat on the hard park bench wishing there were a way to make a moment last a lifetime, I realized that knowing Jeffry had changed a lot more than just my life.
Just across the path, a tiny slip of a girl sat with a book half-buried in the tulle of her princess dress, one brown hand clasping the soft, white one of my daughter, their smiles like the sunshine.
My tiny Enrique, 12 years old, whose face had to hurt from his all-day smile, whose eyes had never taken in much more than the mud and squalor of a sugar cane slum, whose belly had probably never known a cheeseburger and a chocolate ice cream before today...he is too shy to open his bag of gifts in front of me. He grips the bag and smiles, not really sure what gifts are yet, not really sure how to accept them.
And the others, having their own train-wreck moments all over the courtyard...
7 mission team members.
It all hits me when I am speaking those words to Jeffry..."You have changed my life."
Every person in the courtyard that day came because of Jeffry.
Came because God saw fit to put us together, saw fit to change my stubborn heart, saw fit to infect others with the same virus of change.
I can feel the heart of the Father. In those moments back home when I had let Him shine through, let His heart for the poor bleed out from the cracks developing in my own hardened heart, fruit had been born. I had never really thought I would stand in that place, stand with 4 sponsored kids of my own, stand and look out at all those other people in the courtyard who had answered the Lord's call delivered by my feeble voice...I guess one person really can make a difference.
It is like the verse in 2 Corinthians 4...
"...as God's kindness overflows in the lives of many people, it will produce even more thanksgiving to the glory of God..." (v. 15)
It is a blessed moment when you get to stand and look at the overflow of God's kindness in your life.
God's kindness is going to keep on flowing.
My arms won't seem to let go when the taxi comes to take my boys to Barahona, when the bus doors open and my princess goes in. As they drive away, I find myself thirsty.
Not for pricey parasoled drink.
A 15-peso grape soda should hit the spot.
Nothing tastes better than the evidence of the transformational work of Christ.