When one of the two medics would go outside the church building to find and bring in more wounded, he would check that his white Red Cross arm band was showing and had not become too soaked with blood and dirt to stand out. That’s because they’d noticed that the heavy shooting from both armies would wane, then stop for a few seconds, when they would walk back and forth across the large open square in front of the 11th century church, more often than not carrying or supporting wounded men.
They found out later that the village changed hands several times (German-controlled for an hour or two, then Allied-controlled for an hour or two, then back to German-controlled again.) The fighting and the shelling were heavy. It had gotten light hours before. The two medics did not stop to rest. Two medical doctors previously planned to meet up with them there, but neither M.D. made it. The boys had run out of plasma and many other basic medical supplies. Two American soldiers died, on the pews.
The church filled with more wounded Germans and Allied, the men sitting on the pews, lying and sitting on the stone floor. The two boy medics made and tried HARD to enforce a stern rule – all guns laid outside the church door before anyone entered!
The medics, both humble privates, organized the patients they thought would die soon into an area up behind the altar. Many of the wooden pews filled with blood, the stains in the wood remain until today.
About four o-clock in the afternoon, a mortar hit the church roof and a big chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling, hitting the medic from California on the head. His wound bled profusely, but he bandaged himself, and was okay. Another time, that afternoon, a mortar fell INSIDE the church and fractured the ancient floor, the mark of which is still there. Every pane of the priceless medieval stained glass windows of that sanctuary was broken out by the afternoon of the 7th of June. (Nowadays, those arched window alcoves have stained glass showing figures of two young American paratroopers, with medical boxes, and American flags, and bald eagles, and the staff of Hypocrates!)
Incredibly, at about four-thirty, shelling heavy on the steeple and roof of the building, the inner door to the belfry BURST open and two scared-spitless German soldiers materialized as if by magic INSIDE, yelling and waving their machine guns! They’d emerged from the steeple staircase, had been hiding IN the bell tower of the church since the evening before! The medics said it was a close call, right then – a firefight almost broke out inside the church, since many of the wounded men had small arms concealed under their clothing, and pulled them out at that point, if they were strong and able enough to do so! So much for all arms having been left outside the door!
Our two young medic heroes kept on working to save lives. They treated almost as many Germans as Allied! By some point in the next day the worst of the fighting had started to move on, inland a bit further, and conditions started to quiet down. The medics began getting a little sleep, now and then, taking turns. Help arrived, and the wounded were transported to field hospitals, cautiously, in farm wagons, over the course of several days. One of the medics received orders to move on inland together with some of those wounded, and the other was told to stay there for a few more days, which he did, still finding and treating wounded men. On the sixth day of the fight, June 12, a fourteen-year-old boy stumbled in through the then open doorway of the church, his eyes huge with shock. He was the only survivor of a local farm family of seven siblings, a mom and a dad. The rest of his family had been killed and he had been hiding in the woods. The medic treated him and tried hard to make connections for him to be cared for. The medic had orders in hand to move on, inland, and rejoin his platoon, so, he left the lad in the village square, saying goodbye, and marched on.
That 14-year old survived, healed, stayed in the village and today is one of the elders and select persons of that town. June 6th, every year, the two young American medics are honored in a ceremony, in the church, and a memorial has been built to the two and to others who fought for and healed people, in that place. The old wooden pews, all of which still remain, have been cleaned and varnished, but still bear the bloodstains of the many wounded, from both sides of World War 2, who were saved and helped by two brave American teenagers.
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.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls, finches wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plow;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Yesterday. How will I ever forget? I want to forget, and yet, I don’t. It’s burned on my heart forever, I hope. With my friend, the same one I’ve been writing about here for awhile, we took a walk together through the “neighborhood” and she pointed out the “homes” of our children to me, by name.
The narrow roads were unpaved, just mud and heaps of garbage. The stench of human urine and feces was strong enough to be oppressive. S. explained to me that the dwellings have no plumbing, and no electricity, that the tiny dark rented rooms where our children live are usually so small that not even one little table and chair can fit, and that sometimes up to eleven people live in this windowless cell together. I asked, “What about a kitchen?” “No kitchen”, she replied. “The families don’t prepare their food. When hungry, they walk out and they buy a bottle of soda, or a pack of cheap biscuits, or, look (gesturing down the road), in that spot one can buy a paperful of fried chicken, for only a little bit of money.”
With sadness in her brown eyes she paused a moment, looking into mine. “These children get nothing but junk food.”
She pointed above us, in the intersection of four rutted dirt lanes.
Two pairs of dirty, worn-out canvas shoes hung suspended over the sagging electrical lines.
“You know what that means, right?”
Feeling a little foolish, I replied honestly to my friend, “No. I don’t have any idea. What does that mean?”
“It’s the current signal, meaning that in this place, drugs are sold.”
“Oh. What kind of drugs?”
“Cocaine and yellow glue.”
In my less sanguine moments, in all my moments, really, I don’t believe I have what it takes to be involved in this kind of ministry. Last night I could not sleep. Now, I need to tighten up my spiritual armour, raise high my SHIELD of faith, tighten my HELMET of God’s salvation! I KNOW God has the strength to help me and my sisters and brothers who are working with and on behalf of these 57 children. I KNOW that even though I personally have NO SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL RESOURCES to confront this kind of evil, oppression of women and children, and powerful systemized corruption, this kind of a spiritual BATTLE, God does.
And, we have prayer, together, in the Body of Christ.
We sped along the narrow, flat, straight highway at 14,000 feet altitude. P. and I sat, luxuriating, in the back seat of the s.u.v., dozing off at times, while our friend drove and his wife navigated, in the two front seats of the jeep-style vehicle.
I sensed our vehicle slowing, gradually, and veering a bit to the right of the fast narrow roadway until it stopped completely. As I pushed myself more upright on the back passenger seat and peered out the front and side right windows to see why we had stopped, our friend’s wife (also our friend!) rolled down her front right window and lifted out, in her hands, a big plastic bag full of broken, old “paneton” (traditional Bolivian Christmas bread), which we had all been eating of over the course of the previous three days on our long journey and adventure, but which was now getting to be in pretty poor shape, and each time we passed it around among ourselves THAT day, it had been politely declined.
A girl child, maybe about 11, dressed all in traditional Bolivian indigenous homespun, with a rounded black felt hat on her long black braids, was right THERE at the window, and TOOK that bag of stale paneton with both hands and a thankful bend of her neck, calling out in a loud voice, “GRACIAS!!” I glimpsed huge excitement and happiness in her eyes, and heard it in her voice.
As we pulled out and gradually began to gain speed again, I glimpsed the girl’s mother, a thin young woman, bundled in highland indigenous garb and with her rounded felt hat pulled low against the altitude sun over her brow, long black braids falling down her back, shepherd’s staff clutched in one hand out in front to help her down the rocks, and smiling, smiling, smiling.
A week ago today a carefully planned and MUCH prayed about and sacrificed for short-term outreach team, made up of individuals from all over Canada and U.S.A. arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Each individual was SENT, representing at least one whole congregation full of team members “holding the ropes”, back home.
Interspersed among the regular luggage and the hand luggage of each individual were 800 small fixed-frequency, solar-powered red radio units representing a financial value of about 20 dollars U.S., each. These had been donated for the rural Quechua People of the highlands of Bolivia, so that more than 800 families in remote areas of the Andes Mountains could HEAR, some for the very first time, the GOOD NEWS of JESUS.
The group’s feet hit Bolivia’s soil and, everything went wrong! All 800 little red radio units got confiscated by customs officials, together with every single suitcase and piece of hand luggage as well!
The group had to catch their connecting flight up to the mountains, leaving behind (still dealing with the customs officials and trying to get the red units released) one of their Spanish-speaking members and the Christian brother from Bolivia, director of the “mother” Quechua-language Christian radio station, in the mountains.
Later in the day, those two Christians brothers missed their connecting flight up to the mountains, because they were still working so hard to try to get the little red radios released. No go.
The two brothers had to board a slow bus, instead, and travel through the night for 14 hours to reach the mountains and rejoin the rest of the team.
When P. and I heard about the events and drove to meet the group where they were going to be staying the night, we walked in and found them singing, having an impromtu prayer meeting, and praising God!
They had no suitcases OR hand luggage, thereby no toothbrushes, nightclothes, chocolate bars, or anything else! But they were rejoicing anyways, and they were trusting GOD! (I was so impressed by that! I never once heard a complaint out of a one of them. P. and I were able to get them some shampoo, cookies, soaps, toothbrushes – stuff like that, that evening.)
The little red radios still have not been released by customs, so that’s a big prayer request. But, in the morning the bus arrived with the two Christian brothers, who had apparently spent the long hours of the bus ride figuring out a PLAN B. (The whole REASON for the trip, had been to distribute the little red solar-powered radios, for evangelism and discipleship!) A survey-research trip, huge plannings, announcements, sign-ups – all KINDS of major preparations by Christian sisters and brothers of Bolivia, in team effort with our sisters and brothers from up north, had already taken place in previous weeks! We felt aghast at this setback.)
God was not aghast. The team headed for the Quechua hinterlands that very morning, without any red radios but with the Jesus Film, in the Quechua language, to show, and other Quechua literature gospel sharing tools as well. The three day trip went very well – God used it greatly in the lives of many rural Quechua families in the extremely remote and isolated, numerous communities to which the team went and ministered, for three days.