We met them just miles from a turquoise sea, but everything was the same shade of muted brown here. A million tiny houses surrounded by grass-less yards and high stone walls; the only ocean we see is one of sand. Still, a smile makes its way to her eyes as she leads us behind the house and points one finger at her garden.
It’s takes up the few feet of outdoor space they call their own and we gasp to see it there. It’s beautiful and surprising, because to us– nothing else seems to grow here except trepidation.
Still, here in the middle of it all, there is headstrong green sprigging up from black dirt. Who knows where that rich soil even came from? Maybe they scrimped and saved for it. Maybe it was given as a gift. But it’s here and it’s dark, holding fast to tender roots. They’ve created an irrigation system out of emptied two-liters. Fanta and Coke- Light bottles water the green and block the fiery wind.
Lettuce, green peppers, tomatoes, and something else I don’t recognize. They’re all springing up amidst the dare that they won’t flourish.
It’s just that way here.
Culture has pushed them out beyond the boundaries. Just far enough from the ocean and its compassionate breeze. One of them tells me, “I was born here. I will die here. I’ll never leave because this is all there is.”
I might struggle to find the beauty in a dry and dusty land; a place where no one can go out after dark, where the gates are all iron and the evil often still seeps in. I strain to truly see and my eyes ache from the hardness of that life– so different from my own. So unlike my world of crisp sheets and safety and a really good immune system. Everything that comes easily for me is harder won for them.
Nevertheless the beauty is here. Once I know what I’m looking for, I see it more clearly. It is in their community. In the way they care for one another and mother together. It is their kinship that cloaks those truly related and those thrown together in a fight to thrive.
It is in their stubbornness to plant and water and see growth springing up amidst recalcitrant concrete. It is in a life that is hard but lovely in the same guttural sigh.
It is the secret delight of noticing God dot the landscape of their community with His people– strengthening them to share.
It is the reflection of hope in the eyes of one who knows the Bringer of the rains. And they celebrate the drizzle as though it were a deluge. It’s barely enough for rain boots, yet they can’t stop talking about the sprinkles of His favor falling on their cheeks.
It is here that I find my perspective as I see theirs. Gratefulness doesn’t even begin to plumb the depths of what I’m feeling as I look into countless pairs of brown eyes. I listen to their stories of hurt and heartache and loss and aloneness, and it’s all an incredible weight to hold in my soft american hands.
But we must try anyway.
We must listen twice as much as we struggle to bring anything helpful. Because all we have is hope to give. We are not the rescuers, we are the fellow rescued. And that makes a big difference, friends.
We cannot always answer why their lives are so much harder than our own. But we can tell them just how in the very image of God they have been made. We can touch them with our bare hands and share the mysteries of His love. We can extend the gospel with eyes that reflect of knowing that same luminous hope within our needy souls.
We can go and help and bless and give– and we should. We absolutely should. But at the end of the day, at the end of the trip, when we sit in an airport terminal with sore feet and weary hearts, we need the comfort that comes from knowing that God was already there, long before we came. He was there before we felt that pull, and He will be there once we’ve gone.
Until we go again.