By Jenny Willis and Jeff Goins
She was sitting in front of the Banamex, wrapped in a dirty rag of a dress with another rag covering her mouth. She looked up at us as we passed, but it didnt seemto register in her mind. We were just more faces in an endless sea of passersby that…well, pass her by.
We stopped at a coffee shop a couple blocks away and talked about the hardships of life we faced, like depression and indecision. There were four of us, and we could be classified as fairly typical Americans. Talia, Ryan, Jenny, and Jeff. We had gone out with good intentions for the day. We wanted to meet with a crippled beggar named Andrs.
Somewhat relieved to not find him, we passed a couple people in need, upset that God had not given us an opportunity to minister that day. In self-pity, we sat down, tired from all of our hard evangelistic efforts that had ended in failure. At least, we could treat ourselves to a cup of coffee.
For maybe forty minutes, we discussed our own issueshow life was tough on this small group of middle-class Americans who didnt know what they were going to do with their lives. After finishing our caf lecheros, we paid the bill and left a tip, making sure the waiters knew we gringos weren’t about to jip them. We left the Caf de Yara and headed towards home.
We came across a couple gentlemen we knew who reminded us that the Kingdom of God is advanced by advancing it, and that it was our choice whether we take hold of that or sit in a caf, waiting for something to happen.
Convicted, we remembered the woman in front of the bank. We grabbed our things and started praying. “Lord Jesus, give us your heart for this woman. Show us how to love her, and teach us how to listen.” Introducing ourselves and receiving her permission, we sat down next to her. We asked her name.
Blind in one eye, she looked around wildly, giggled a little, and then said, “No recuerdo mi nombre” (I don’t remember my name). Her hair was filled with a dry, mint-colored paste that balled up near her forehead. Her odor was like a badge, certifying her time on the street. The ragged dress she wore had holes everywhere, and she clutched it to her body the best she could. She covered her mouth with a colorful, yet dirty rag saying that she had much pain there.
She would say something very profound and lucid one moment, and then the next, she would get lost in incoherent ramblings. Some things made sense. Pain in her mouth. She sits on this street and another. No one cares for her. Then, she would switch to talking about a strange man’s mustache. She told us that she had many incurable diseases. We bought her bread and water and offered our ears, our attention, and our notice as the world walked by, staring not at the broken woman, but at the strange American tourists.
We offered to pray for her, and she obliged. Interestingly, despite all this womans rants and raves, she stopped for a moment to hear our prayer. In the end, we prayed for healing: for her eye, her mind, her diseases, and more people to come into her life who would care for her. We all need to be healed like that.
She thanked us and said that she felt peace. It was hard, because we walked away from this nameless woman, realizing that she was not immediately delivered or healed. In America, especially the churches, we are taught to justify moments like that and give some clich about how a seed was planted.
But on the streets of Palenque one sunny afternoon, that just didnt seem right. No cute phrase of self-justification can un-break a heart. The ministry of Jesus was opened up to this woman; when we become a part of that, there is a breaking inside of usas we are torn from the lies of a culture that lauds self-sufficiency. The truth is that we were helpless to do anything for this woman. We walked away in faith, knowing One who is able in all the ways that we are not. We felt a heaviness that told us that the image of the nameless womans face would not quickly fade like so many others in the past.
Talia, heavily burdened, burst out into tears, overwhelmed by the despair of the situation. It was a broken-heartedness that she dared call good.
So often, we want to forget our pain, our inner anguish that gives us compassion for other humans; so often, we want to take away the thing in other people that teaches us mercy.