It had rained hard every day. Thank goodness the rains didn’t begin each day until about four in the afternoon. While the mountainous roads were too steep for there to be any standing water, the mud never seemed to dry. We had been in Honduras only three days, yet we had seen enough poverty to last three lifetimes.
This was my second mission trip to this beautiful yet impoverished nation. Our mission was simple: to show people the love of Christ with the free gift of the most basic of physical needs — shelter and food. We had come to build two cinder block houses and to deliver bags of food and soap to those who had nothing. Each twenty-pound bag of food contained rice, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and beans. Yet, incredibly, it could feed a family of four for two weeks. We in America are so wasteful.
Already, over 400 bags had been distributed. Each time we delivered a bag of food to a household, we made sure that they knew that the food and soap were gifts from God, not from us. Because they were. Like the fish and the loaves from the young boy’s catch, Jesus would bless and multiply these meager portions to feed His flock.
Each time we asked if the head of the household, usually an unmarried woman, was a Christian. Most of the time the response we got was the same as we would expect in the American South, “yeah, sure.” Even though the response was in Spanish, which I did not understand, the noncommittal tone was unmistakable.
Each time after delivering the food and soap we asked if it would be okay if we prayed with them. They always said yes. I don’t know if they thought it was a condition of the gift, but they never took any chances. Before praying we asked if there was anything special they needed us to pray for. It was a ridiculous question. Their needs were obvious. Nonetheless, on occasion, they would relate some need that was not so obvious, like cancer, or diabetes, or a crippled, deformed, or blind child who was hiding in the shadows.
Each time we prayed, we would make it a point to thank God for the food that feeds the body and compare it to the Word of God which feeds the soul. Then we would thank God for the soap which cleans the body and draw the analogy to the blood of Christ which cleanses us of our sins.
The village we were in was the hometown of my interpreter. His name was Ricardo. The village was, as we are fond of saying here in the States, “dirt poor.” Even though in America we are quick to use that expression, we don’t have a clue what it means. It was coined by our ancestors. They knew what “dirt poor” was. It was when your floor consisted of dirt. Not wood; not carpet; not tile; not even concrete. No plumbing; no electricity. Dirt. Yet Ricardo was very proud of his village. It dawned on me that he knew no difference. Every house here had a dirt floor. Everyone was dirt poor.
We were going to a house chosen by Ricardo that obviously needed the gifts. It was on the outskirts of the village. It was the home of a poor widow who had no other means of income. Her husband had died years ago. She had no means of financial aid. When you are dirt poor, you don’t have a savings account. You don’t have any account at all. This country had no Social Security. No one sells life insurance to these peasants. Even if they did, no one could afford it. Thus, there is no safety net. She was dependent upon the mercy of her neighbors. Fortunately, one of her neighbors was Ricardo.
On the way, we passed by a house that looked relatively prosperous, if you could possibly use such a word to describe poverty.
Ricardo told us that three unmarried women lived in this house with their illegitimate children. He also told us that they were looked down upon by the village for the loose women that they were. Ricardo asked if we would like to leave one of the bags with them. I said, “well let’s see how things go, and maybe we’ll have some leftover on the way back.”
I walked by the house without giving it a second thought. After all, the need all around us was far more than we could ever meet. These women seemed more prosperous than the rest of the community; and why not? They enjoyed the fruits of a business with a proven history of prosperity.
When we arrived at the designated house on the outskirts of the village, the elderly widow that met us was truly a joy to behold. We shared the gift of food and soap with her and enjoyed the camaraderie between her and Ricardo. As we prepared to leave, a remarkable thing happened: she prayed for us. Imagine that — she prayed for us. We felt good about ourselves.
On our way back, we had an extra bag leftover. As we passed back by “that” house, Ricardo once again asked, almost as an afterthought, if we should leave the extra bag of food with them. Ricardo was much less judgmental than I. Though reluctant, I relented, mostly because I was the one carrying the bag, and saw an easy way to lessen my load.
As with every house, I let the interpreter call out to the inhabitants within. It was the Honduran equivalent of a doorbell. A young woman answered the door carrying an infant son on her hip. I estimated her to be about 25 years old. She stood about five foot two; average height for this part of the world.
I couldn’t help it, but I immediately noticed that the woman had flour on her hands. She’d been making bread. Suddenly, I felt God’s grip. Perhaps it was the remembrance of Christ’s words, at the last supper, as He took the bread and broke it, saying, “Take, eat, for this is my body which is given for you.” Or perhaps it was Christ’s words to Satan that, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” But most likely, it was just God who grabbed me, ‘cause I was there.
Regardless of the reason, I immediately felt God’s power fill me. No longer was it my words being spoken; they were His. I don’t even remember what I said. I don’t think it mattered. The words were not that important. Ya see God’s Spirit was moving. Nothing could stop it. Not even me, in my sinful, self-centered, self, could hinder the message of Christ. As the Apostle Paul once said, “If I don’t speak, the stones themselves will cry out.”
As I told her of God’s uncompromising, yet nonjudgmental love for her, and heard Ricardo translate my words from English to Spanish, I watched as the tears began to stream down her face.
God had just granted me an unbelievable privilege. Unbeknownst to me, He had arranged a divine appointment, and regardless of my best efforts to avoid it, through my prejudice, callousness, and laziness, and especially through my reluctant, half-ass attitude, He had been gracious enough to overlook all my shortcomings, and allow me to participate in, and witness, the birth of a new Christian.
You see, He didn’t need me to do this. This was a gift. Just as He had given the free gift of abundant and eternal life to this young woman, He had also given me a special gift. He had given me the gift of being a witness to one of His greatest miracles – raising one who was dead in her sins, to life in Christ.
I had always thought the only meaning of the phrase, “witnessing for Christ,” meant that I must tell others about Jesus, and about my conversion to Christianity. God, my Daddy, my Brother, my Friend, in His graciousness, taught me a deeper meaning of the phrase. He taught me the honor of simply walking beside Him and being a witness to what He can do.