The city where I serve is an incredible place. Working with the MCs and falling in love with the place and the people that stole a great saint’s heart has been a blissfully surreal experience. We got to volunteer with her sisters in the homes that she founded, literally walking in her footsteps.
One morning in particular, we had just traveled by train and walked (for what seemed like forever) when we finally got to the Leper Colony. As we were walking along, getting a tour of the lepers’ homes, I was determined to make a difference. I was determined to smile and laugh with as many people as humanly possible. My attempts at speaking the language with the residents usually got some pretty hearty laughs out of these suffering, peaceful people. I would say, “How are you?” They would laugh at my accent and reply, “I’m good!”
I then tried out the newest phrase I knew: “Jesus loves you.” That usually brought a shocked smile to their faces – I think a combination of my accent and their surprise at my ability to memorize such a long sentence, coupled with the truth of His love was the real cause of their joy. And so my time passed, trying to say hello and trying to look each person in the eye – my attempts to have a real encounter. I toured through the men’s ward, the women’s ward, and even the physiotherapy room, but I really felt like the Lord was drawing me back into the women’s ward. So I did what any normal person traveling in Asia who feels a prompting of the Holy Spirit would do. I went back.
“I tried out the newest phrase I knew: ‘Jesus loves you.’”
I passed by the same women, but as I walked through the door, I looked directly to my left and felt the Lord say, “That one.” So I stood there for a minute, looking at her in the eyes, speaking what little of her language I knew. I asked for her name, which I immediately forgot, asked “How are you?”, and then just tried to wait and listen for what the Lord wanted me to do next.
As I waited, I remembered that I still had one Hindi phrase left that I hadn’t tried on my new friend yet: “Jesus loves you.” She looked me right in the eye and shook her head. I thought, well surely I said it wrong. So I tried again: “Jesus loves you.” She shook her head now even more. “No he doesn’t,” she said (all in her native tongue of course). “Have you seen me? I have no fingers and no legs. I have this debilitating condition that has changed the way I look, has caused me immense pain, and has ruined my life. He probably loves you. Look at you! You are tall, can walk, and have all that you need. He loves you. He doesn’t love me.”
I was speechless. In that moment, I could not have been more grateful that I didn’t really speak her language because it gave me a moment to catch my breath. In that moment, I was completely and totally embarrassed. Who on earth did I think I was that I could waltz into this woman’s home, tell her that Jesus loves her, and expect everything to be better? How dare I come into this place of suffering and pretend to know how she felt? If the Lord in all His majesty really loves His children, then why does suffering exist? My first instinct was to be embarrassed of my faith, embarrassed of the Lord, and embarrassed at my silly, thoughtless attempts to make a difference. What was I supposed to say?!
However, unlike in times of doubt before, I knew that the Lord was with me in this moment. I immediately prayed, “Jesus, what on earth am I supposed to say to this lady? I know how tenderly you love her, but how on earth can I explain it to her?” I looked around the room, wanting to just run away and hide, but instead I saw a picture of Jesus across the way. It was a picture of Jesus with His Sacred Heart and was placed on the highest point in the room. As I prayed, His words came through me.
I looked His precious daughter in the eye, and as I pointed and motioned in an attempt to communicate I said, “You know Jesus? He came to this earth. He suffered and He died for you. He died on a cross, after unimaginable torture, because He knew that in this moment you would be suffering, and He didn’t want you to suffer alone.”
As these words came out of my mouth, it all made sense to me. Our God is a good, good Father, who always desires the best for His children. He doesn’t promise a life of ease and comfort, but He does promise that when faced with pain and suffering, He will be there to comfort us. He came to give hope to the hopeless, to comfort the afflicted, to cure the blind, and to teach sinners His way of hope and peace.
“He knew that in this moment you would be suffering, and He didn’t want you to suffer alone.”
As I placed my arms in the position that Jesus took on the cross, I said once again, “Jesus loves you.” And my new friend nodded with tears in her eyes. I have no idea how she understood the words that came out of my mouth, but I know that she did. It’s incredible how humans can communicate with their actions and eyes, even when they don’t speak the same language. My friends beckoned me to come as we were making our return journey back to the comfort of our apartment. My new friend kissed my hand (I have no idea why), but I of course grabbed both of her hands and smothered them with kisses. It was just a moment of pure joy as I shared with this suffering, precious daughter the intensity of her Father’s love for her. I got to be there for her moment of encounter, maybe one of many, or maybe one of the first encounters with the God who loves her, who created her, and who refuses to let her suffer alone.
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