After completing our mission in El Zapatillo, we spent a day on the Rio Dulce and traveled to Livingston by boat. It was a grand trip. We had lunch in Livingston and then spent some time perusing the shops. As we were making our way back down the hill to the boat, I was walking ahead of the group and I came up on this woman.
She was very dark skinned and walked with a bit of a hunch and a limp. A number of her teeth were missing and she was dressed haphazardly, even disheveled. As she walked toward me she recognized me as an American and began to ask for money. Although I didn’t quite understand her words, I knew what she wanted.
In American we have this happen all the time. People stand on the side of the highway with signs asking for work or food. Most of the time when you offer them something they only want money. It’s a big business to be a beggar on a busy street corner.
As I turned back toward my group she began speaking louder. “Help Me! Help Me, Please!” she said over and again. I will never forget that voice. There have only been a few times in my life where I’ve heard that cry from a person. She was helpless and desperate.
As I looked at this lady, I recalled what I knew in America, but I’m not in America. This is Guatemala and things are VERY different here. So I looked to some of my mission team coming down the hill.
Rudy, our resident missionary was out in front, passed me and reached in his pocket as he walked by. He gave the lady a couple of coins. What he’d given her didn’t seem enough to meet her need. Plus, I wasn’t sure if he had just given her something to keep her from making a scene or if this was a real need. How would I know? I turned back and looked at Sully, Rudy’s wife. She knew exactly what my glance meant and nodded an affirmative. So I pulled out a few dollars and handed it to her.
It’s so sad that I even had to stop for a moment and think about this, but in a way I believe it was the right thing to do. It’s one thing to just give, but money is not always what’s needed. If we don’t stop for a minute and assess the situation, listen, and open our hearts, then we might miss filling the real need in someone’s life.
As I reflected back on this situation later in the day, I wish I’d done something else . A few dollars wasn’t enough. How was the hope that I have in Jesus communicated? I only gave her a couple meals and maybe that’s all she needed today, but what about tomorrow and the next day? What about her children if she even had children? What about where she would sleep tonight?
One of the hardest things about going on a mission trip is seeing this kind of need pop up and knowing that we’re only there for a few days. The relationships we form are short lived and in situations like this we might have one single interaction to make a difference in a person’s life. But there’s always more to the story.
The story for that person doesn’t end when we leave and just because we’re gone, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t continue to work in that person’s life. He may have sent us there just for that day for that woman, but he will send someone else tomorrow and another the next day.
I may not be in El Zapatillo today, but God is and he’s working on other people’s hearts to go and to provide for the children even as he has me doing other work here where I live.
Maybe God’s calling you to be a part of this mission or maybe he’s asking you to step forward and sponsor one of the children in El Zaptillo. Whatever it is, take that step forward and follow him. We can’t always make a difference by what we do, but when God directs our steps, he will.