"Mother Teresa, whose sisters in Calcutta run both a hospice and a clinic for leprosy patients, once said, 'We have drugs for people with diseases like leprosy. But these drugs do not treat the main problem, the disease of being unwanted. That's what my sisters hope to provide.' The sick and the poor, she said, suffer more from rejection than material want. 'An alcoholic in Australia told me that when he is walking along the street he hears the footsteps of everyone coming toward him or passing him becoming faster. Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.'
One need not be a doctor or miracle worker to meet that need."
--Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew
Our missionary host, at the end of the week, told us, "I don't really think construction was your thing."
True statement, for real. The job we did could probably have been done quicker and better by two Honduran men.
Looking at the work we did with VBS, I have to be honest and say that it could have been a lot better. We weren't as organized or well-prepared as we could have been. The project staff could have done it all much better.
In other words, our team was not a team of professionals. We all have our gifts of course, but even our gifts were hard to share because of the language barrier. But as Philip Yancey so eloquently said, there are some things that do not require you to be a professional. I would venture to say that there are also things that don't require a spoken language.
You might say that our money in traveling to Honduras would have been better spent if we had just sent it to the church. For sure, the airfare alone could have put a new roof on the church--something that is desperately needed. Why, when our money could have such an impact, do we go to places like Honduras?
There is something that we can offer, some need that we can meet--and I believe it to be a need that is far more deep and desperate than anything money can buy.
It is a need for hope.
Let's be honest...if anyone knows hope, it is Americans. We are born believing that we can do anything and be anything that we want. We are nursed on the great American dream. We are taught to make a way, to pull ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps. We are fed on stories of the settlers, the pioneers, the founding fathers. We are educated to know that the world is big, bright, and full of possibilities. We see and hear wonders of technology, we search out depths of emotion through music, literature and art, we marvel at medical breakthroughs. Our imagination and ingenuity know no limits. We put man on the moon! I can share a little of this hope. I was born and raised to believe in hope--and my relationship with Jesus Christ has taught me a true, real, lasting hope.
There are places where such ideas are as foreign as I am. Places where you are born knowing that you are nothing...taught that you have no value, no place, and no purpose...nursed on the rusty tin can of despair, taught to submit to the yoke of poverty. You are fed on stories of disease, oppression, and injustice. Education, physical health, and possibilities are for the elite. You eat from the trash, dress from the trash, and die in the trash. It is horrible, but it is true. In some places, life does not have value. We put man on the moon, while they put men in the grave--children in the grave. And the hope of Christ falls on ears deaf to the sound of it.
We met a little girl in Honduras. When I first saw her, she was playing on the seesaw. I thought she was a boy. Yes, she had on a pink shirt, but she also wore a black knit ski hat.
She had the demeanor of a kicked puppy--quiet, always shying away. She did her crafts carefully, as though she were afraid of making a mistake...no confidence.
I asked about her. Yessi, our translator, reported back to our group at dinner that night. This little girl, we discovered, is named Maria Bernarda. She lives with her mother and her stepfather. Her Compassion child profile will tell you her birthday...that she likes to jump rope and play with dolls. And you will see this photo of a sweet little princess.
But what the profile can't show you is the little girl, shaved bald during one of her stepfather's fits of rage, stripes across her neck and back. The black ski cap can cover the short hair, and her shirt can cover the stripes...but it can't cover her shame. In her world, short hair is a shame for a girl...it is not trendy or cute. There is a distinct stigma against short hair in the Honduran culture. Her attitude, her behavior screamed shame.
No doctor can fix that.
The next morning, we decided to make a trip to the market. The ugly boy's hat burned in my memory. We visited booth after booth, trying to find what we wanted between the tables stacked high with rotting vegetables, ridiculous pageant dresses hanging overhead. It was a bizarre cross of a craft market, a Wal-Mart, a food court, and a day old veggie stand--half indoors and half out.
We finally came across what we wanted...a cardboard box/beauty supply store. We dug through piles of circa-1989 hair styling items...black plastic showing through the gold painted barrettes...and before long we had amassed a pile of items.
A pale grey ski-cap that said "No Fear" (not exactly what I wanted). A handful of pretty barrettes, bows, flowers, and butterflies to clip onto the hats. And the jewel--a frilly, polka-dotted, bedazzled hat. Eventually, the pile grew to include one of the pageant-style dresses, a ring, and some plastic jewelry.
Do you believe that hope can be carried in a black plastic sack? When we arrived at the center that afternoon, I called Maria to the side. By to the side, I ultimately mean I was followed by about thirty of her new "closest friends." Nothing is done alone at the center.
Out on the stone steps, I pulled Maria close, and I told her that in America, short hair is very stylish. I told her that she was beautiful, special, important. I told her lots of things like that...and I gave her the bag. As she opened it, the distinct, lingering odor of market wafted out. She politely looked at all the gifts. I clipped a flower on her black hat and asked her if she would like to try on the new hat...
But no. She didn't want to. I got her up in my lap and hugged the life out of her. We took some photos. She scampered away.
But the next time I saw her, she looked different. She was wearing the new hat...and a smile. Notice a difference?
For the next few days, every time I saw her, I smiled. In art class, she struggled to make a paper chain. I showed her how. I always made sure she had snack and was a part of the game. And under my gaze she seemed to blossom. Hope bloomed in her heart.
She will still go home to hurt. I can't change that, as much as I would like to. But she will take something home with her, something that can change everything. She takes home hope. The staff at the Compassion center, who has already investigated her situation and spoken on her behalf, will champion her cause. And every day, when she gets to choose which hat and which bow to wear, she will remember that somebody, somewhere, thinks she is special.
And it didn't take a professional to give her that...the lesson learned in a brave and free society that values human life and champions the cause of little ones. America is still great, but the Gospel is greater. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the God-man who walked on this earth, who died on this earth to give dignity, hope, and value to His people. He was rejected, we are accepted. Ultimately, only Jesus, the healer of the soul, can heal the diseases of loneliness, rejection, and hopelessness.
All of this to say that everyone can offer something valuable. I am not trying to get you to look at what I did. It isn't about me at all. He put an opportunity there and moved me to take it. God has called all of us to be disciples--servants--to go to the least, wherever they may be, to lavish His hope, love, and worth on the hurting heart.
I will always remember Maria as she was on the last day of our visit...a beautiful princess in a white dress and a smile.