Today started with a seven a.m. birth then on to prenatal open clinic hours, lunch, a visit to a postpartum mom and baby lastly a trip to the market to pick up some fruit before riding a bicycle three miles home.
A pretty typical Wednesday here…… except for a chance encounter I had with Dat. Upon waiting for a friend to finish her shopping, I squatted near the corner of the market where you can buy fresh roasted peanuts and baked goods. My hands ached from holding all my bags of fresh produce. I let them rest on the ground as I watched the people pass me by. The late afternoon sun blazed on my white skin. I glanced over across the way to a market stall where you can buy cell phone credit. A stall I frequent a lot. It looked the same as it always does, except for the woman sitting on the ground in the front of it.
One glance at her and you might turn away. She was maybe in her fifties, unkempt, with clothes that were soiled, hair that was knotted, missing and rotting teeth, and upon closer inspection, a leg that was incomplete with a bag over the knee from where the lower part of the leg had been lost and a bag over one of her hands. She was full of wrinkles and moles and stared out into the sea of people.
One glance at her and I turned away. It was almost too much for my eyes to take in. In my brokenness, I wanted to turn away and not look back. To let someone else see her and do something about it. I wanted to forget I saw her suffering and the challenge it brings to my understanding of justice. I wanted to not look back. I looked to the ground prayed. “Lord, what can I do?” Then the still small voice, that I so crave to hear but often am too human to listen to, spoke. “Go and give her money.” I don't often do this, as I would rather give food ....but I didn’t waste a moment. I hurriedly got out my wallet and grabbed the first bill I could find. Because I am feeble and hard of hearing so many times in my life, when I do hear God, I hurry as fast I can to obey. I walked over to her, knelt down beside her and gave her the money. She took it and assumed I was going to walk away…….but I didn’t. I didn’t want to. All of a sudden, I was drawn to stay with her, to talk to her, to hold her hand and hear her story. Dat is her name. As soon as we exchanged names, we began to connect. She explained how hurt she is when people act as if she doesn’t exist or make fun of her. She told me how she sleeps outside the bakery on a cardboard box. I stared into her brown eyes that were turning a foggy blue from cataracts. They were some of the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen. The more we talked and held hands, the more beautiful she became to me. Suddenly, her hands were not just dirty to me, they were soft and full of life. And full of desperation too.
I asked her if I could pray for her. She asked me what religion I was. I told her I was a Christian and she lit up saying “ I am too….let us pray now” She grabbed both my hands this time and before I could even start she began praying the most beautiful, intimate prayer over us. I was completely broken…..and incredibly aware that I was in the presence of Jesus by being with her. I felt the Lord’s power as she prayed. Jesus of Nazareth was among us and I was face down in tears. In the face and words of this woman (who I thought our chance meeting was only for me to help her) I saw Jesus, I heard Jesus, I was blessed by Jesus.
As we looked up and began to talk some more, I could feel the presence of others around us. I turned to see and there were a dozen children gathered close to us staring at us. Not to mention the adults pretending like they were not staring but obviously staring. Maybe it was because they don’t see many people talking to her? Maybe it was because they don’t see many white people talking to her? Maybe there was something else to it all that I just don’t know. But somehow, I was standing in a thin space between the physical world and the spirtual world and I encountered Jesus being with Dat today.
I was able to buy her some food for dinner and find out where she stays so we can visit her again. I told her about my Asawa and three Lalakes (husband and sons) and how we will come to the market a lot. She smiled. Before I had to leave, she asked me not to forget her…. I told her I want her to meet my family and I will look for her when we come back to the market.
On my way home, as I had a forty minute bike ride back to our house from the clinic, I had a deep realization that I am sure will continue to shape me in the years to come and it was this: I encounter the presence of Jesus when I am among the poor in a way that I do not elsewhere. And in my life, my one desire is to be where Jesus is. So, maybe, just maybe, it is as simple as this: If Jesus is among the poor, then I will be too.
I am developing this bent in my life more and more. And I am deeply humbled and filled with intense thankfulness for a God who offers us the privilege of partnering with Him to be where He is and doing what He is doing. The ultimate cure for meaningless in this life, for sure.