Last week I traveled with a group from Northstar Vineyard to Monterrey, Mexico for a week-long mission trip with Back2Back. It was my first time there and it was nothing short of incredible.
On Sunday, our first day in Monterrey, we served at Casa Hogar Douglas (CHD), a local orphanage. Some of us started working on leveling uneven terrain to prepare for the concrete that would be poured there starting on Monday. It was hard physical labor but there is something therapeutic and satisfying about a project that a team can sink its teeth into and see results. When I stopped for a water break, I noticed a young lady sitting on the cement floor of the palapa, or outdoor shelter area. She was tired and unable to stay awake. It was apparent that she had some type of disability. I filled up my water bottle and headed back to my digging. We made great progress with our project. As we wrapped up for the day, I was looking forward to the concrete work on Monday and seeing the area transformed.
Each evening, there is a time of worship and debriefing about the day. On Sunday night a Back2Back staff member, challenged us to get out of our comfort zone and try something different on Monday. She said, “If you naturally gravitate toward working on the concrete project, maybe you should paint or spend time with the children.” That hit me. I knew that was for me. I love working with children, but I have to admit I was feeling anxious about the language barrier. I wanted to see the concrete project completed and I felt like being with the kids all day would be more challenging. But God had something else in mind.
Monday morning we returned to CHD. I decided to step-out of my comfort zone and join the team that was playing with the children. As I headed to the palapa, where some of the children were congregating, I noticed the same young lady from Sunday. I took her hand and together we walked to a picnic bench and sat down. I learned that her name was Lola. As we began to interact I couldn’t tell if she could hear me or see me. I said a few words in Spanish and English but she didn’t react. Someone gave her a lollipop and she held it a couple of inches from her face to see what it was. Lola then handed it to me to open. I glance to my left and notice a line of wheelbarrows at the work site and question if I should really be playing with the children, rather than helping with the concrete.
Just then, the Lord quieted my heart and in that moment, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. Although I didn’t know if Lola could hear or see me I talked to her. We patted hands a lot and every once in a while she smiled. She only had a few teeth but nonetheless her smile was beautiful. It hits me that I should start praying for her. Once I started praying blessing and protection over her, I just couldn’t stop. The words kept flowing and before I knew it I had been praying for twenty minutes. Then, my prayer turned into song and I began singing praises. Simply put, it was “a God thing”. I had never done that before; it’s all I can do to stay focused in prayer for five minutes.
One of the other older kids from the home came over to take her somewhere. Maybe she was trying to rescue me or perhaps she was jealous of all the time and attention someone else was receiving. But Lola wouldn’t budge. She held my hand, refusing to stand up. I tried to communicate to the other girl that it was okay for Lola to stay with me, but I couldn’t tell if she understood. We continued spending time together, her face beaming as she started to pat my face, first gently and then more aggressively until she was almost smacking my cheeks. It hurt, but she was enjoying it so I smiled all the more. By that point, Lola and I had spent over an hour together. It was a sweet time in His presence. I had seen her as God saw her and I couldn’t get over her true beauty.
Then, it was time for lunch and that did get her attention. After she left to eat, I talked with a Back2Back staff member, who explained to me that Lola has severe Down’s Syndrome and is actually 38 years old! After lunch, Lola and some of the other children took a rest. I didn’t see her for the remainder of the day.
That night I couldn’t stop thinking about her or talking about my time with her. I shared with the team that although I didn’t think Lola could see or hear me, the hour we spent together was truly wonderful.
On Tuesday morning, a group of men from our team had the privilege of serving breakfast to the kids at CHD. The kids had no idea we were coming. Not only do they treasure extra time with the visiting teams, but most of the homes can’t afford to serve the children breakfast, so the meal itself is a special treat.
The kids were still asleep as we prepared breakfast. When we finished, we rang a bell to wake them. All twenty of us created a receiving line. As sleepy little ones with eyes half open headed our way, we cheered to greet them. Their excitement was visible. I saw Lola coming toward us. I was excited, but at the same time I didn’t know what to expect. She walked straight to me and grabbed my hand. I escorted her in to breakfast and served her. And what an honor it was! The guys decided to sing and dance for the children. Lola watched, smiling her near toothless smile. It was the most beautiful thing I saw the entire trip.