One of the perks of being a media professional is that I get to travel around with different teams every day, and most of these people I have never met.
I often describe people like this: Each person is their own galaxy of information, personality, quirks, desires, dreams, talents, skills, and history. There is so much to know about any one person it would fill a library with volumes upon volumes. This is why I love meeting new people so much – it’s like looking at the stars. Every night, you see something different and there is always more to discover.
Today, I was surrounded by estrellas.*
A majority of our teams are grouped according to their churches, especially in our hotel in Managua. However, Squad 4, the squad I had the honor of being with today, was made up of several different churches from across the world. We visited 4 different ministry sites, and I was astounded by the unity shown to me through this team. It was as if they had known one another forever, tracing the constellations in one anothers lives effortlessly as they partnered to share the gospel and pray over the Nicaraguans at every stop. The translators, the team members, the squad leaders. Every one of them had so much to give, so much joy, and truly showed a willingness to step up to the plate whenever they were needed.
I also got to glimpse the beauty and complexity of the Nicaraguan people. Every stop had new encounters that have bound me to this country forever.
I met three girls today that took my heart, and I will never forget them.
First was Chalo, a 10 year old energetic ball of stardust that spoke better English than most adults I know, and squealed with joy any time I said anything in her language. She had dreams wild and crazy, asking me millions of questions and translating for her best friend, Ashely. They sat together the whole time the team performed and Chalo participated in the Brilla skit (more on that later). Her dream was to be a singer “just like Anna.” Cue melting heart.
During ministry time, Ashley and I made eye contact and I knew the Lord had something for her. I called her over, tears already in her eyes from the dramas we performed and the message that we shared. I asked her what was going on in her heart, and with tears streaming down her face she tells me of the brokenness in her home and the struggle she sees her uncle go through as his wife takes the kids and leaves. Ashley can hardly bear the weight of these adult issues, her huge heart wanting to help her uncle through this suffering. I shared my story with her, and prayed over her. After prayer, her hug was tight, yet free. She looked as if a giant rock had been lifted from her, and she looked at me with intent eyes as I encouraged her to hold on to faith, keep loving, and stay in prayer.
I figured I was done interacting for the day and would focus on photos.
And then God laughed.
The second site had an impact that has changed my life, and I will never see the world the same.
After the dramas and the message, we went into ministry time. I went to take photos of one of our team members, Alex, and this little girl, Paola. I waved “hola!” and Alex asked her if he could pray. Without any more words, this 6 year old little girl burst into tears and wrapped her arms around his neck. I forgot about taking photos.
Her mother was in Spain, working and sending money back to her two children here in Nicaragua while they stayed with their school teacher. Paola missed her mom. That was it. She missed her mom a lot, and couldn’t stop crying while we prayed for her and comforted her. We brought her brother over and as soon as we mentioned his mom he also started crying. We hugged them, prayed for them, hugged them some more, and they finally stopped crying enough to play some games and read one of our children’s booklets we were handing out. I don’t know how long Paola and I sat there, reading together and teaching one another bits and pieces of the other’s language, but it felt like hours. All too soon it was time to leave. I think we exchanged at least 20 hugs before I finally boarded the bus to leave, my heart aching and leaving a piece behind. Her face was bright with joy, a smile glued to her face and her demeanor much more upbeat. Paola swore to look for me at the event on Saturday, and I gave her one last hug, praying comfort over her as I left.
Then it was my turn to lose my composure and sob in the rickety bus on the way to the next location. I couldn’t understand why my heart hurt so much, until I remembered why I hate short term missions. I felt like I was abandoning her all over again, and prayed to God that she would not attach herself to the idea of all those she loves leaving her. I expressed this to a team member who saw my tears, and in all his wisdom, Eric reminded me of the power of prayer, the light inside us that we carry, and the hope of unconditional love. “You were the mother to her for a few moments that she hasn’t had in months. That’s a tremendous blessing.” God is a good God, and each site afterward was filled with dancing, joy, and memorable encounters that lifted my heart from the deep.
Paola’s light shone so brightly I couldn’t help but ache when it left. But I will always remember her, and remember her smile, her love, and her laugh. We get one chance to impact just about everyone we meet. Some of them will re-enter our lives, some will spend weeks, months, years, and even decades by our side, and some we may never see again. But if we always fear their or our own sorrow, we will never touch anyone.
In our Brilla skit, we ask a child to come up and tell us what makes them shine. A talent, a skill, a dream. And they must fight off several obstacles, including insecurity and fear to reach their dream. Our team prefaced the skit by saying, “Nicaragua shines because of each person who bears light in it. Nicaragua shines because you shine. What is your light?”
We all have light inside of us – billions of stars worth of it. God created each of us with something that only we can do. We are the only one who can fulfill our calling. There is space in this vast universe only we can fill. There are people only we can encourage, pray for, love, and lead to Jesus. In order to find our light, to fulfill that calling, we must be open to whatever Jesus asks us to do. Practically speaking, for my life, that means seeing God’s will and desire for every single day that I exist. I don’t want to miss a thing that He has for me, because I don’t know who I am called to impact that day. I can’t be afraid of the pain, the risks, the failures, or the judgement. The only thing I should fear is not giving all of myself to this thing called life.
The world can’t wait for me to get my act together, or yours. It needs hope NOW. It needs love NOW.
My heart is in Nicaragua; I may never get it back, and that’s okay with me. The people here have a light strong enough to draw me back to it whenever I need it.