I headed out to work this evening, doing a little missionary-ing.
I left the apartment and ventured down to Avenida 10 de Agosto, walking the quarter of a mile to the nearest trolley stop. It was not yet exceptionally crowded, so I only had to wait for the third trolley before I was able to board. The attendant shoe-horned me into the last available spot just barely inside the vehicle, making sure the doors didn’t pinch me as they closed. I’m about 6’ tall, not exactly gargantuan, but most Ecuadorians are far shorter, somewhere around 5’ 5”. For me, a bus or trolley ride is usually an experience in trying not to elbow anyone in the head as I hold onto the strap.
The historical district through which we pass is a nice area, but they are tearing up the pavement right now. Northbound trolleys must share a single lane with southbound ones. Traffic stacks up on the north side of the district, three or four trolleys in a row, waiting for several trolleys heading the other direction to clear the way. I wasn’t in the mood to inhale strands of hair off the ladies in front of me, so I disembarked in front of Banco Central and passed through the stone buildings and cobblestone sidewalks on foot.
Passed the leather shop where you can buy great sheets of leather for a pretty reasonable price. Checked out the plantains being grilled and sold by little Quichua ladies. Crossed the main plaza where an impromptu crowd gathered to watch a play. I walk through the area once a week, so the prostitutes on the corner of Ave. Esmeraldas know I’m not interested by now. There was a new one, a transvestite (cross-dresser? transgendered?) looking dour and uncomfortable.
I needed a new blender, so I stopped just past the theater and purchased one, an Oster model. I paused with the Ecuadorians and watched the heavy machine removing the old asphalt, all of us sheltering our mouths and noses from the exhaust-filled air. On the far side of the historical area, I took advantage of everyone’s fascination with an argument between two street ladies to re-board the trolley without having to wait in line.
My pay-off for 90 minutes of travel? Washing 250 pounds of potatoes.
I’ve been trying for 4 years to get through to a particular Deaf man. Luis was grabbed off the streets 40 years ago, at the age of 8, and abused horribly. His abuser likely knew that a Deaf child would hardly be considered a reliable witness. Luis has spent the last four decades dealing with the fallout. If I had to describe him in a single word, it would be “agonizing.”
In four years, he hasn’t ever really had a conversation with me. We have so little in common. He’s gay, I’m not. He’s poor, I’m not. He drinks heavily, I don’t. He’s Ecuadorian, I’m American. He’s alone in the world, I’ve got a wife and three kids. He doesn’t know God’s love, I do.
This conversationless state certainly doesn’t exist for lack of trying, though. I’ve visited the home he shares with his extended family, but he leaves the room and the conversation. He’s been in my home once, but barely said more than hello. We even paired up to play two-man volleyball, but he just pointed to where he needed me to stand.
All of this changed when we returned to Ecuador following a 12-month stateside assignment, a period of time in which Luis was very nearly at the forefront of my prayers; at least, prayers that focused on our work in Ecuador. I showed up last week at the Deaf association to find a very talkative Luis. He told me about his sister. About his plans for the coming week. About his role in the upcoming anniversary celebration for the association.
“Hey Jeremy, we need some help prepping the food. Maybe you could come?”
So now I’m in a 60-degree kitchen with several others, hand-scrubbing 250 pounds of potatoes in 50-degree water. Seven others are peeling the potatoes (with knives!) that I am washing, so I really don’t have much time to chat. Luis stands next to me, cutting up cheap meat with a cheaper knife. He spends most of his time frowning.
I finish the washing. He and I season the beef, discussing whether we need more salt. I scrub the counter while he cleans the knife. We laugh about something insignificant. We leave.
To this point in his life, all Luis has really known about Christianity is that it hates him. I think that was the reason for his silence; at least, at first. Later, I suspect he just didn’t know what to do with Stacy and I, Christians who tried to care for him yet lacked any sort of common view through which to connect. In the end, though, I think what contributed to our distance was his pain.
Did I tell him of God’s love tonight? Not with words, of course; I don’t think he’s ready to hear that from me. I told him the only way I knew how, one potato at a time.
Did he pick up on the message? I hope so; no, I pray so.
For me, this is missions.
What is missions for you?