I was rocking my little girl to sleep last night in my sister's rocking chair. Prior to the rocking, I attempted to read her a book, but I think she was completely past the book and focused on the lighted Christmas tree that my sister and brother-in-law had put up two days prior. My daughter leaned her head back into her favorite nesting spot on my shoulder and neck and stared the tree down. The various colors of lights beaming from the tree were the only lights on in the room which further enhanced the comforting glow on my daughter's face. The enchanting glow of lights reflected in her eyes as she calmly stared into the pines. I sang quietly some of the old songs of Christmas that I could still hear crooning out of my parent's massive vinyl record player. The mysteriously comforting glow of Christmas tree lights that showered down on my daughter's wandering eyes spun my recollections of Christmas's gone. Her eyes were so intent on the changing colors of lights, ornaments, and the cranberry decorated garland. As a six month old, I'm not sure of all I could share with her about the meaning of Christmas, but she clearly was receiving, with wonder, all of the information that the retinas of her eyes would take in. In that moment, my heart melted with a deep gratitude that she can see all that is around her.
In giving thanks to God for her sight, I was rushed back in my mind to the jungle in Peru. I had traveled some 18 hours from capital city of Lima, through the winded and treacherous roads of the Andes, and into the deep recesses of Leoncio Prado Province, which lies in the department of Tingo Maria, Huanuco. Having been my first trip to the jungle regions, I was quite hesitant in making the trip as the only ex-pat on the bus. Having no Spanish vocabulary to draw from, I felt extremely inadequate to make the journey to provide leadership at a Christian camping program. Forgoing the comfortable zone of living, I threw caution into the dying wind and stepped out of my box of security into the unknown. As I stepped off the bus and into the foliage of green moss and humidity, people came running towards me, shaking my hands, arms, and luggage. The smells were overpowering and quite disturbing as I was ushered into a common room where dinner had been prepared. It was dark, with very little lighting and strange food was shoved in front of my face. Horrified and crippled with uncertainty, I stirred my spoon through the noodle soup and gagged when I saw a chicken foot rising up out of the broth. Hoping for some magical exit out of this country, my hosts led me to the "toilets" to use in the case that I needed them.
Without significant details of jungle toilets, I leave the topic with one being able to deduce that I survived the ordeal. Somehow, I had found myself in the depths of my personal hell outside the comfortable living box of my past and have been thrown into the mercy of the present moment. I had to embrace the experience and hope to return to "civilization' alive and with the least amount of parasitical digestive infections as possible. As the week wore on, my body aged months. My onion of personal pride slowly sliced away to the core of my human existence. I, for one, had never seen a marginalized community prior to this first "jungle" trip and my opinion of my former self was gladly left in the dirt. I saw a joy and a peace in the lives of these people that could have never been filled with any monetary value. There were people, not being able to afford toilet paper, that used their hands after having bowel movements in the toilets. These same people exchanged potatoes, rice, and chickens for their costs of the camp, while I had lugged into camp, my digital camera and 4 pairs of shoes.
The last full evening of the camp program, I was asked to speak to the entire camp participants that had gathered around for worship and prayer. A translator was available and I slowly made my way up to the front of the room. For many people there, it was the first time to see a "white" person ever, let alone speak in a language very different than theirs. Through the use of translation services, I began to tell my story. As the time slipped away underneath the twirling and stifling heat that pulsated through the hall, I sweated all gatorade and electrolytes out of my pores as I shared my personal journey with God. People had settled into comfortable places along the pasty concrete walls while ugly crawling bugs inched along the outer wall, their antennas scraping moisture from the torrential downpour. As I spoke, glistening eyes appeared in the boarded slits that encompassed the window space in the building. People were watching me from outside the meeting hall. Gradually, more and more eyes appeared, peering from the outside world into the crowded gathering. My feelings of inadequacy jumped a few scales up the nervous scale as I continued talking and waiting, talking and waiting, as the translator would speak after every few phrases.
I closed with some reflectional thoughts and headed toward my corner where I had been standing prior to the evening sharing. As I neared my spot, people started waving their hands and arms in my face and people were pointing and attempting to get my attention. I turned around and the translator was beckoning for my return to the front of the room. Not knowing where I was going to replace my loss of liquids, anxiety and fear flooded my soul as I headed back toward the front. Through the use of translation I gathered that the group was heading into a time of prayer and I was to pray for people as they came forward. Feeling extremely uncomfortable, I merged around to face the group. Nearly 200 people were smashed into the hall and surely the eyes outside were moving toward the entryway. Either I was going to die from a major squashing experience or dehydration, nonetheless, I knew it wasn't going to be a spectacular death. My only fleeting thought was for my body to be shipped back to the US so that my family could see the incredible bug bites I had gotten from some jungle creature that had gotten angry in my sleeping bag three nights prior.
As people formed a line to receive prayer, I got focused on the reality that I was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, which frequently occurs with those who step outside the comfort box to engage insane living experiences in distant lands. Through the next hour, I listened to people's heartaches, physical pains, and emotional despair. I prayed. I watched. I cried. It was a powerful and riveting experience to hear the hearts of people that I had never met who suffered just to survive. I looked at the hands of 80 year old men who had spent 60 years digging, planting, and harvesting potatoes high in the Andes mountains. I watched the quivering lips of old ladies who wept for their children and grandchildren and wiped their eyes on saturated rags of cloth. They wept for the loss of their families who had been brutally murdered by the Shining Path. It was an experience that my eyes fully received.
Toward the end of the prayer time, a young father with his young son approached me. The father's eyes flickered wildly across the room. Outwardly, he looked scared to be in the room and I could hear the whispers of others observing. The little boy staggered behind his father, his little hand thrust forward in his father's grip. The little boy, I was told by translation, couldn't speak, hear and was blind in one eye. They said that he used to speak but had stopped when his mother was murdered by terrorists in her home. His father started sobbing and his body shook with pain over the grief of loss. The boy stared at me, his eye latched onto mine. The father asked me to pray for his son to receive healing in his eye and so that he would begin to speak and hear as well. I could see the climate in the room shift into curiosity as people's voices wavered and died off. Through the corner of my eye, I could see people slowly shuffling forward to see the small boy. The boy's vision in his right eye, according to his father, was gone. The little boy's face was cracked with caked dirt clogs and his lips cracked from the exposure of the sun. I asked him to tell me his name and yielded no response. The sinking sensation washed over me that the people staring at us were waiting for a miracle and I knew that I was only going to ask Jesus for the answer.
It got a bit confusing when the father started crying and wailing, and wasn't sure for myself whether I was to pray for the boy or the father. I asked Jesus for help to understand the situation and began to seek the face of God. The little boy moved toward my side as I bent down to pray. I remember my prayers of asking Jesus to heal the boy's eye and to help him to speak.
People say that the eyes are the window to the soul and I clearly understand what that expression means. I saw a sense of distant hope in the window of this boy's heart and I leaned forward and asked the translator to assist.
"I know you can hear me," I whispered. He continued to stare me down, probably noticing the fire hydrant force of sweat that was gushing from my forehead. I cannot remember exactly how the conversation continued, but I do recall the clear sense that this boy could hear and could speak, but chose not too. I remember the end of the conversation when I shook his hand and said, "I will never forget you for I have seen the hope in your life. You may never see with your physical eye, but your spirit has seen the face of God," I cried as I watched him stagger back out of the room. As he took the hand of his father, his lips formed a twitch of a smile and he, along with his father, faded into the darkness of the thickened forest.
I will never forget that moment of hope in the eye of his face.
Last night, I saw something special in the eyes of my daughter. I don't know what it was, but a sense of joy or hope or pure fascination. Its the depth of our core that cries out to know the living God, the Christ, our life and hope. As she raised her intricately formed hand to my ear, I praise God that she could see the Christmas lights.
Last night, I prayed again for that little boy, that he, now can see the Christ and the light of Hope in a dark world of night.
Thank you Jesus for giving my daughter eyes to see and I pray that she will learn to look for You in all she does. I pray for those out in a dark world of night that Your Light, O Christ, will reach their eyes this Christmas season, the time of year when hope was born.