Yesterday I had a meal with Esther.
Getting to her was a little bit difficult. It took a plane ride and a very rocky bus ride.
We stepped off the van and I heard. Nothing. Like a pin dropped onto a map, our feet hit the dirt. Esther lives in the south of Cochabamba with her grandmother and grandfather, her three sisters and her mother, Inez. Our group huddled into their room and listened as the grandmother shared about their story.
Esther sat there so quiet that, to me, she instantly became the loudest presence in the room. While her sister Genesis roamed around the room and honored us with her smile and giggles (the kind of giggle you want to hear for the rest of your life) – Esther sat there timid almost willing herself to be smaller.
Her grandmother, Eulogio, shared their story with us all. The story of abuse and robbery and the severe lack of daily food. We all took heavy breaths and let Eulogio rest in stuttering sobs.
Eventually she stood up and gathered the family to sing to us. They grabbed their hymn book and sang loud and holy. Because that’s what you do when the darkness starts to suffocate. You sing.
Then the chicken empanadas arrived.
Everyone shuffled around the room a bit, finding new seats as the napkins and cups were being handed out. The spot next to Esther became open and before I really knew what I was going to say or do, I was in that empty seat. She looked away from me immediately. I am not lying about this, I really seemed to be scaring her.
I thought about moving to save this sweet child anymore scarring but then we received the wet napkins to clean our hands.
She took hers and barely brushed the top of one hand before discarding the napkin. My inner mama bear took over and there I was, picking up her napkin and gently lifting her hand to do a more thorough cleaning. Very slowly and very carefully I took each hand and scrubbed. As I washed them she inched closer to me.
Sometimes to feel safe with someone we need them to see our dirt and be gentle with us. We need them to grab a napkin and carefully help us wipe it away. We need someone to show us that the dirt is not permanent. It is not who we are – it is just something we picked up while living our story. Most times it really helps when someone comes along and shows us how removable the dirt can be.
It’s about being kind and helpful. It’s about freeing us all up to walk a little closer to each other.
After we cleaned ourselves up the coke came and was poured into glasses like a shinning communion. We received the chicken empanadas and all fell silent as we broke open the flaky crust with thankful mouths.
Do you know how long it takes to eat an empanada that is smaller than a McDonalds cheeseburger?
It took Esther nearly 40 minutes.
She cradled her soda and took the most grateful sips. Every swallow ended with a smile and that irresistible, “Aah” sound. She finally moved onto the empanada. She ate it slowly and like she needed it to last the whole day.
I watched as the team and family members finished their food and began to shuffle around, moving from the outside and then back inside. But not Esther, she sat there happy mesmerized with her empanada. And I just couldn’t get up and leave while she was thoroughly lavishing her every bite.
I couldn’t have been more honored to share a meal with her.
She chewed on that savory pastry and I chewed hard on her grandmother’s words. About the robbers who, in broad daylight, took their propane and as a result they are unable to use their stove. About how they invited their daughter, Esther’s mom, to move in because her husband had abused and then abandoned her and her four children.
When I asked how the Compassion center and the local church were helping the answers came so quick it was hard to catch them all. First was the food, they received a meal at the center. Then education, how their daughters were going to be able to have a future. The church is also quickly becoming a beacon of safety for this community. As the church grows more people are moving to the area which is making it a much safer place.
Belinda, Esther’s sister, eventually came home from school and showed us a letter from her sponsor. Which the grandmother told us she reads everyday.
I sat with all this hard broken and hope shifting information while gently brushing crumbs from Esther’s lap and lips. She was only about halfway through at this point when I found the secret sauce. Packets of mayonnaise were piled behind the bag that held the empanadas. I opened a packet and she held out her empanada for a squeeze of the sauce. Two packets of mayonnaise and one more glass of coke later she was done. I hugged her and thought about how we had our own little communion right there in that dusty town.
I think she started to warm up to me.
And this is why we’re here, isn’t it? To be like Jesus. To wash hands and feet. To break bread and walk each other Home. I get it confused a lot of times. I get it backwards almost every day. But a life that is not poured out fully and wholly for others can be lonely and empty.
This is the Jesus I know. His love. How He loves. How He would send me and four other unsuspecting hearts into the middle of nowhere to share an empanada and a prayer. How He saves us and then calls us to bind up the broken hearted and proclaim good news to the poor. How He would bring enough sponsors for 1.7 million children – 1.7 million little Esthers – to be fed and loved and encouraged and protected.
We are in this together. We’re all living in this world. Some of us need help and some of us can give help. Some of us have so much more and we’re not called to feel guilty about it or to be ignorant. We’re called to be thankful. To give a cup of water to the thirsty. To share our coat. To help those in need. Maybe right now, for you (and I know for me) that looks a lot like being called to sponsor a child.