Every once in awhile, you come across that one person you will never forget for the rest of your life. I have only a handful–and this boy is bound to be one of them.
The day started off with wheelbarrows of rocks, sand, bags of concrete and sweat, lots of sweat. The son bearing down on my newly accomplished farmer’s tan and my mouth filled with the taste of dirt blowing in the fierce winds, there is beauty in the mess. But there is something to be said about the freedom found in filth.
A translator for our trip, a man I had never met, a man who has forever changed my life. I saw a group gathering to set off on a journey. So I grabbed my backpack and ran. This would be the trip where I would meet Delia, and have my first experience with sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ through evangelism.
We later returned to Delia’s with two friends to give her a Bible and encourage her in her faith. And at the crossroads, we decided to continue on…
I walked along the dirt road for another 20 minutes, stirring up dust, kicking rocks, determining the hues of various flora, soaking in every minute of this rural area, breathing in the smallness I felt in this displaced corner of the world, my insignificance and yet God’s willingness to let me be a part of something greater than myself.
We walked. And talked. Of destruction. Of redemption. Of broken families and adoption, incest and God’s sovereignty, of our own personal salvation and others, the way this world is not our home and yet all the work still left to do…
And we rounded a bend in this red dirt road, with chickens strewed across our path. A small opening in a barbed wire gate and three women hastily working on a patio beckoned us to enter. So into the gates we entered and what seemed too horrible to be true from the distance became a shocking reality: The skinniest man I have ever personally laid eyes on. He could not have weighed more than 65 lbs soaking wet. My heart instantly broke in two, and try as I might I couldn’t stop staring. My mind was riddled with diagnosis, seeking the recesses of my mind in which I had stored information from Nutrition and health classes, this picture was off, horribly and terribly skewed and wrong. We sat down and try as I might overflow a smile of joy to these people, my face was grimaced with hurt for this boy, twisted at his discomfort, aching for his pain.
You come across that one person you will never forget for the rest of your life.
Within seconds of meeting him, I felt a connection to this boy. Simply, he is my brother and we are just alike. I can think of no other terms of which to describe the relation we have. After conversing in Spanish with Bill for what seemed like an eternity to me with my head filled of mind-racking questions, we learned that previous to his “accident” the family did not know Christ. One year ago, Joseph Andrew tripped on a rock while carrying two pails of water. The scholastic side of me could not let this go, medically it doesn’t make sense. He’s had many tests done and he only gets worse–his malnutrition daily spiking. And yet after this life-altering event for their family, they sought Jesus. The one who promises to bind up every wound, physical as well as emotional and spiritual.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
Here He was. In the midst of sickness, that forever changed a family-in which their money was completely redirected to medical bills, often waiting 3 weeks for a paycheck only to spend the whole thing on an ultrasound, or other medical test. And they were choosing joy. When at rock bottom, they were choosing to put their hope in God. Church is often hard to attend, as you can imagine, and their life has been drastically altered. As I sat here, interpreting what I could of my Spanglish, I realized this boy was 20. My age. As I greeted him, he looked at me with sunken eyes, and a trembling Spirit.
And I felt an odd sense of conviction. You hear the stories of African babies with Kwashiorkor, Edema, Beriberi, Scurvy, Rickets, Pellagra, and Marasmus (Who clearly I know and love as well…see previous posts). But this? This…man? Whose family are all walking around normally, with food on the table. With that conviction came an urging. And a hasty “No”.
But you don’t say No to God, never. He won’t let you go. He won’t grant you peace if you reject his prompting. He just pushes further, deeper, and makes his desires yours. Until before I knew it, the words coming out of my mouth were not mine, they were foreign. Interrupting Bill, and Joseph Andrew’s mother I asked where the nearest water source was. I followed his sister as flea-stricken puppies, disease-ridden chickens, bed-bug developed blankets and scatter trash welcomed our path to fetch a pail and bring some water up from the innards of the earth, to see the light of day, to infuse light into this boy. Yet again, Here in this mess He was. We sought a basin, a cup, and cleared a spot at his feet.
I knelt lower, low as I possibly could go, because if there is one thing I have learned from this woman, is that the greatest gifts are on the lowest shelves. Down to the dirt I pressed my knees, rocks ingrained on my kneecaps, folded over like a child, like Mary (from Mary and Martha) bent at the feet of Jesus. A thousand “No’s” to the Lord, and then a yes, a prompting of his Spirit and filling with glory. We propped his rocking chair back, and ever so gently I grasped his sole in the palm of my hand, leading it to the basin, directing it to soak. His joints were slow moving as a geriatric patient, stiff as an unbeliever’s soul, everything about him was just locked.
I dipped the cup in water and watched it flow over the wrinkles of his feet. Wondering when the last time he walked was. Wondering if he too, like my guy friends back home on spring break, would’ve loved to play football in the sand on the beach. Wondering what in the world the cause of this medical anomaly was. His feet, once calloused from walking these roads, were now useless, they lay limp–and then a glimmer of response, small movement in his pinky toe. And I looked at him, and we shared that not all is lost, no not even in this. I scrubbed with my fingernails, wanting each piece of dirt to be gone from him, wishing I could take his pain to, seeing his discolored toenails, a thing my friends and I are often grossed and weirded out by in the States. I massaged his feet, wishing these muscles would once again contract and carry him to places not yet seen, tell the tails of the gospel and bring light to homes just as had entered his home. The water flowed over his olive colored skin, a boy of 20. My age.
And here, we prayed. I gripped his feet in my hands and prayed with fervor. And I wish I could say that with a conclusive Amen, he stood up and began to walk. He didn’t. But something just as miraculous occurred, he smiled at me.
With so few words, He smiled. And tears brimmed my eyes. I am not a nurse. I am not a healer. I am not a professional. I am most certainly not Jesus. But I am a lover, and I am lower.
I struggled with whether or not to share this experience. I recently read that once humility is discussed, it flees. Once light is shed, it returns to an area where it may hide in the shadows. It’s a tricky act. And the more I think about this statement–the more truth it holds in a variety of situations. So plainly I will say it myself, it was not an act of humility. When I expressed my discouragement with the situation a friend she wisely pointed out to me that we came here to be Jesus. To be his hands and feet. And I am so thankful the Lord allowed me to walk that out in this particular way in this circumstance. While listening to the Spanish going on in front of me I pondered how a 20 year old man, unable to speak, must feel about 3 pretty, clean, wealthy, sorority girls coming into his home. And then him, here, in this predicament. Unable to even express his emotions. I know my 20 year old friends back home would feel awkward. Embarrassed. But the connection I felt with him was that he was my brother. And where words don’t speak, actions do. Him, mute from the accident, and I, incapable of communicating in Spanish knew there had to be some way to portray my emotions in spite of this double-edged language barrier.
And the prompting of the Spirit. My no. My one thousand no’s, and His yes. My hands, His heart. The Earth’s water, His Living Water.
Jesus asks ONE great commandment of us, one that fades our selfish desires into a blend of his perfect will.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-38
I wanted Joseph Andrew to know that I love him. That his Maker loves him. I wanted to stoop lower, low into the ground exalting and admiring this boy who so faithfully follows the heart of God. I was so encouraged by this family, chasing after God’s glory. Believers in fellowship.
I went back and read what the Bible says about washing feet, something that had not entered my mind in years, and there are two main instances (the four gospels give several different accounts of these same to instances, and It is often debated if one in Mark is often a third, misconstrued instance–but for simplicity, I looked at two.)
The Sinful Woman
As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. […] Therefore I tell you her sins are forgiven, as her great love has shown. Luke 7: 38 & 47
Jesus & The Disciples
Now that I, your Lord and teacher have washed your feet, so you should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. John 13:14-16
And this, this is what I know Joseph Andrew understood. Not an act of humility, but a stoop of lowness, an act of exalting him that he may be honored, and esteemed, know he is loved, adored, and cherished. A celebration of his life here, and his life to come again.
Painfully, I’m reminded of his bones, piercing his too-thin skin. His skin stretched taught around his joints, and sagging where his muscle would have been. These dry bones, I think to myself.
A flipping of pages, and I’m in Ezekiel.
Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you and you will come to life, and you will know that I am LORD. […] I am going to open up your graves and bring you up from them, I will bring you back to the land of Israel, and you will know that I am LORD. I will put my Spirit in you and you will LIVE. Ezekiel 37:5 & 13
He promises to lift us from our graves, from our sin. He promises Joseph Andrew that these dry bones of his will soon dance on streets of gold. We hold fast to this healing, this awakening, the revival and collection of death that will so easily grow into life. And through this trial, this mess, we will KNOW that He is Lord.
Lord over suffering. Lord over depression. Lord over illness. Lord over addiction. Lord over disbelief. Lord over hatred. Lord over self.