When all the pieces of the bed paraphernalia and mattresses were plopped down in the open “patio” part of those rooftops, my co-worker and I picked up the first of the two bunks, intact, and tried to move it into the family’s tiny, windowless room.
It would not fit through the doorway! Hmmm. Back it went to the open-t0-the-sky, junk-lined patio area of the rooftop.
Meanwhile, our children’s mom was trucking!. Excited and happy to be “getting” the bunkbeds and mattresses, she acted like a little drill sergeant, directing her three young ones to move the boxes, bags, piles of dirty clothes and other paraphernalia including a rack of fruit and rice, a bottle of oil – there WAS a tiny, old-as-the-hills rickety gas burner for cooking behind the door of this family’s room. All that stuff had to be moved out of the room, temporarily, to make space for the new beds, which would BARELY fit, theoretically, with only five inches between them and the family’s old, original bed. The door to the home would barely open!
I followed the children’s lead, grabbing some bundles and piles, and taking them out of the room. The kids had started placing the stuff carefully in the center of the tiny narrow hallway, that had other rooms lining it on both sides. As I started to set down my load of junk in the center of the hallway, the door on the other side started to open but, since it opened outwards, it couldn’t get more open than a crack, because all our stuff was in the way! A man and a woman stuck their heads out the crack of the door, trying to see what was going on! There I was, standing right THERE in front of them! Their eyes opened WIDE IN WONDER! ( Sometimes, I look different, to people here! Obviously a foreigner.)
Again sending God a quick prayer in my heart, I smiled as widely as I could and said, “Buenas Tardes!” (Good Afternoon!)
I added, “Sorry about all our stuff in the hallway – we’ll have it out of the way in a moment!”
They kind of smiled, nodded, and closed the door again!
Because the bunkbeds wouldn’t fit through the doorway, we had to spend the next two hours taking them both completely APART again, lugging the pieces into the family’s room, then assembling the beds, drawers, ladder and mattresses en situ!
Meanwhile, it got dark outside. The smell of dirty laundry, old food, and unwashed bodies was overpowering. We heard johns and women coming and going through the hallway. The children accidentally dropped, and temporarily lost, one of the long metal principle bolts to hold the bunk beds together. They, and we, searched the property in the dark for it, for about forty minutes. About three-quarters of the way through the process, the children’s mother decided she should serve us something to drink. Thankfully, it was lemon-flavored soda pop, handed to me in an old metal cup. There was absolutely NO way, that I could see, to politely turn it down so, again, I prayed to Jesus to keep me from catching any germs from the cup and from people’s hands, and I gulped down the sickly sweet fizzy drink and said “Thank you”. I felt nauseous and weak for awhile and sat down; there was no where else to sit except very gingerly on the foot of the old bed. I kept praying, in my heart, and averting my eyes, from a HORRIBLE huge poster that was up on the wall above the head of the old bed. Extremely pornographic. When I wasn’t praying, I kept thinking of our four young children, LIVING in that environment, for their whole lives so far. I’m learning that some things in life are almost too sad to contemplate; instead, I quickly give them to Jesus, trusting Him alone.
It took us forever to get those bunkbeds put back together again. None of us were very good at carpentry or mechanics., As we were nearing the end of the gargantuan, tiring task, little R., the seven-year-old brother, walked back into the room from the darkness outside, and took a huge, deep, exaggerated, leisurely breath of air. A huge grin split his little face, and his eyes sparkled.
“What?”, I murmured to him.
“Now, my room smells like WOOD!” he announced happily!
R. was right. The room now smelled like fresh sawdust, and varnish. We all smiled.
The last washer and bolt screwed tightly into place, or at least screwed loosely into place, and checked, we triumphantly together with the three children carried and handed the two light, new foam-with-fiber mattresses onto the bunks. My co-worker looked at little G., the boys’ sister.
“G., which of the two bunks do you choose for yours?”
Quick as a wink, the answer came; no hesitation for her – she KNEW what she wanted.
“The top bunk”
“The top bunk it IS!” we cried, and she climbed up there, happily and proudly, as her brothers moaned and complained, only a very little, that THEY had wanted the top bunk.
We felt we already had enough relationship and accountability with the children and their mom to then speak, primarily with the mom, for several minutes exhorting the children to keep coming to the outreach, the mom to keep coming to help with the food preparation for all the children, and for her to keep making sure she sends her children to school, and that they work hard in school and on their homework each day. They stayed in intense eye contact with us throughout this “lecture”, nodding their heads also. It went really well, that part.
The mother was in the room with us, several other persons were standing in the dark hall outside, looking in, listening. We were there, the three children were there, and other children were in the small doorway, looking and listening in. My co-worker looked at me; I felt that I knew what she was going to say, and started praying that Jesus would give me the words and use powerfully for good,in the lives of these individuals, what was going to happen next.
“We are going to pray. Lady Ninadesusojos, would you be willing to lead us all in the prayer?”
“Yes, I would!”
Our three kids bowed their heads; their mother copied them. Several adults in the hallway took off their hats and bowed their heads! The children clustered in the doorway, copying everybody else, bowed their heads.
I prayed. I felt the Presence of Christ there with me, with us. A tremendous happiness filled my heart!
We said “goodbye”, shaking hands all around. The children and their mom said “thank you” over and over again. The children hugged us, over and over again, and accompanied us out of the property and half-way down the street, waving, and waving and waving goodbye.
We walked home.
We labored the various heavy wooden bunk bed parts off the roof rack of the taxi, the two new twin mattresses, the wooden drawers and ladder. Children- LOTS of children, most of whom we DIDN’T know (our ministry is constantly getting requests from moms and grandmas to take more kids – sadly we don’t have human and material resources to take more than we already have – around fifty. Our number fluctuates, as often our children as young as six are removed by their parent in order to make that child work full-time and, as many of our kids get into their adolescent years they don’t stay, with us, either. We are keenly cognizant of the value of that window of opportunity and presence, that is given us as a gift, with each child. Sometimes that window is short.) were milling about excitedly calling and trying to help. Various women, curious as to what was going on, approached. One older woman, hair dyed platinum, stood by the doorway, watching like a hawk and calling the other women and kids, a bit bossily, by their first names and in a familiar manner.
That’s why I thought she might be G., M. and R.’s grandmother – when we first arrived and were doing greetings, I’d shaken her hand and a few seconds later, because of the way she was interacting with persons there, I asked her if she was the children’s grandmother. VERY taken aback, she looked at me and said, “NO! Oh NO! I’m the LANDLADY!”
“Oh, so very nice to meet you!”, I responded. My friend, carrying a headboard in front of me, was laughing quietly, her shoulders shaking as I followed along behind her carrying the other heavy wooden headboard. “Psst, NinadesusOjos,” she whispered to me, she’s the “madam” of this establishment!”
(shows how much I know…….not…) How embarrassing. At least she didn’t get too mad when I called her the gramma.)
Excerpts from “Candles in the Dark” by Amy Carmichael:
(from the Introduction:) “Her power to help those in need came from HER TIMES OF LISTENING TO HER LORD. ‘Sometimes,’ she wrote, ‘it is as if another Hand were turning over the pages of my Bible and finding the places for me.’
“God needs those who are ready to lay down their very lives to lead others into true soldiership and a true following of the Crucified.”
“The best training is to learn to accept everything as it comes, as from Him whom our soul loves. The tests are always unexpected things, not great things that can be written up, but the common little rubs of life, silly little nothings, things you are ashamed of minding one scrap. Yet they can knock a strong man over and lay him very low.
It is a very good thing to learn to take things by the right handle. An inward grouse is a devastating thing. I expect you know this, we all do, but it is extraordinary how the Devil tries to ‘get’ us on the ordinary road of life. But all is well, if only we are in Him, deep in Him, and He in us our daily strength and joy and song.” – from p. 2, excerpt from a personal letter to someone.
We went to visit family in Guatemala, and during our time with them we went to this place where people had made these by hand in a tiny room with very simple tools and ingredients. We watched women and men and teenagers making these and I noticed how absorbed, peaceful and joyful each craftsperson seemed to be as they worked to create these items of beauty and usefulness for their fellow human beings.
I think there’s something healthy, satisfying and joy-producing about each of us MAKING things with our hands, hearts, brains. The things we make will be completely different one from another. Never compare yourself to others in this and never believe the LIE that YOU can’t make something beautiful and useful for God.
I think God made us each differently one from another, so that there are many different ways of “making something” beautiful and useful to our fellow human beings. Often we think of artists and craftspersons and maybe envy their abilities to create and restore objects of beauty and use. There are many other ways to “make something beautiful for your God”! One of the most noble and challenging is parenting. If you are in the health professions and doing it for God you are helping to make HEALING for people. If you are in a teaching profession and doing it for God you are “making” young people or older people stronger, fitter and happier through offering them priceless knowledge and helping them to apply it in their lives. If you are in finance , business or some other profession or occupation that contributes to society, and doing it genuinely for God and if you’re giving to other aspects of God’s work from the money you make then you also are “making something beautiful for God”. I think one of the greatest things about post-modern life is the way people of all ages and backgrounds can, if they want to badly enough, change their occupations and professions, receive further education or training, self-educate or train throughout every day they live, or add occupations and professions onto the ones they already have.
It was a long school vacation time. Our next-door-neighbor family was going away to the seashore for two weeks of yearly holiday. The mom came up to me and asked me if I would like to earn a little pocket money daily feeding and also daily walking, on the end of his chain, their pet “baby” gorilla.
I happily said “yes” and received my instructions for my new responsibilities with conscientious attention. The particular “baby” gorilla in question was much loved by all the kids and teenagers, lived in a large chicken-wire cage/home in the neighbor family’s back yard, and had a general reputation for being tame. I was a fanatical animal lover, had several pets of my own, though none as exotic as a gorilla, and I thought I already had a great relationship with this tame gorilla.
Well! From the very first morning, the gorilla, who had been quietly growing from babyhood, and now was eight months old, (I wonder how old that would equivocate in people years?) demonstrated a HUGE mind of his own and, instead of walking pleasantly around the grassy yards on the end of his long metal chain, would PLANT himself in the grass and start getting mad at me, working himself up into a rage, then CHARGING me down the length of the chain, wrapping himself around my bony bare shins, and biting on my legs!
Maybe he was missing his family? Probably. Not that used to me, I guess. A few mornings of that and, I’m afraid poor Baby Gorilla didn’t get taken out each day for the rest of the two weeks! He got fed super well though.
We have these wonderful food containers in Bolivia that have a long rich history of their own. Since the food culture of the country isn’t particularly “cold light luncheon” or “sandwich” oriented – a hot meal is thought to be the “real food” of the day – these traditional food containers are designed, in part, for hot soups, stews, cooked meat, and warm sides, though they also contain enough separate compartments for dessert and cool salad!
Environmentally, they’re wonderful! You re-use them for a lifetime, every day, and you even pass them down to your grandchildren! What a concept!
One goes to a noon-time dinner place (a “pension” and, as one sits at the table waiting for one’s three to four-course hot meal to arrive – all for the equivalent, in pricing, of maybe three or four dollars!) one sees at least 5 to 6 people, often children, step into the pension, hand over to the clerk one of these multi-compartment food containers, and wait placidly for ten minutes, while the container gets filled for them, in the back kitchen, out of sight. The clerk comes back, carefully hands it over, now heavy with fragrant, steaming, home-cooked food, the child pays (or gets the meal written down on the running ticket and off goes the kid, this in hand. And, it’s a family thing, not individual. The food compartments are big enough to hold dinner for a family of six. Family dinner together (but over the noon hour, as it used to be in our grandparents’ heyday) is still a huge value in Bolivia.
I’ve always preferred using paper and pens, glue and tape, scissors. I know that sounds archaic, now. There’s something satisfying about the tactile nature of these simple tools, something that seems to provide a clearer and more direct, intuitive conduit from brain to fingertips.
In Bolivia my family’s, my team’s, and my generous use of paper – meeting notes, personal journals, lists, rough drafts, Christmas gift wrappings, reports, paper involved in birthday celebrations, old greeting cards, minutes of all kinds,old language-learning index cards, retreat take-home resources, etcetera, almost got us in trouble a number of times.
Because, after you use it, you have to throw it out. And, in Bolivia, we learned, when you throw something out, you can’t just forget about it afterward. You can know – you MUST know – that anything you throw out is going to be picked up and perused and (probably!) put to another use by at least three different sets of additional people. It’s a human recycling system that, usually, goes on and on and on.
The ten years in Chuquisaca when our kids were little, Christmas morning, after the excitement in the house calmed down and the happy, tired children were absorbed in their new LEGO set or dressing the baby doll, I had to sneak the crumpled wrapping paper and gift envelopes – that of it which WE, ourselves, had not carefully, skimmed up and folded and put away for next year – out of the house, quietly over to the garbage burning pit in the corner of the Quechua Bible Institute property, dump it on the sun-drenched alkaline earth, take out matches I’d stuck in my pocket, and burn it. I had to stand over the fire the whole time, watching, until every shred was consumed in flickering red and orange flame. We didn’t want our close friends and colleagues there – all of whom were Quechua and subsisted, at that time, in that place, on a fraction of the income our family had, to see how many and how big Christmas presents we had exchanged within our immediate family circle! Also, we knew that if we didn’t burn every shred of the crumpled wrapping paper, we would soon see it, someplace on the community property, providing cover for a family’s school copybooks or pressed into service as a homemade adornment on a parlor wall. We would have felt shamed! It did happen, a few times!
Later, in Cochabamba, we received a duffel bag filled with Stateside goodies, from our mother in the U.S., hand-carried home to us with Paul from a ministry trip he’d gone on. Oh how my family loved and looked forward to those duffel bags – FULL! A new outfit each! Tapioca and chocolate chips, English-language story books! Homeschool materials! Wriggley’s spearmint chewing gum! Of course, when packing a duffel bag, one has to pad the more breakable items and our mother had carefully done so using old U.S. grocery bags. These were heaped and scattered around the floor and, without thinking, I gathered them up and placed them in our trashcan. Then, our part-time housekeeper, a Quechua woman named Margarita, came to me that afternoon and hesitantly asked me if she could HAVE them! Of course I said yes; I felt bad afterward, for having thrown out something, wastefully, that to a fellow person whom I cared about, was not trash at all, but something of value! Yes, I had already given Margarita a small gift, for herself, out of the bounty of our duffel bag, but I had been insensitive in not seeing all that abundance in the same light that she saw it in. Why in the world would one throw AWAY a nice plastic or paper bag from the glorious, fabled, unreachable-except-in-dreams United States of America?