Our lives are often the most profoundly shaped when we least expect it. God uses the most unlikely people to teach the most beautiful lessons of His kingdom. It was Roberta, a beautiful mother of two living in San Salvador, El Salvador, who opened my eyes in one of the most unexpected ways.
I was visiting Roberta and her two young children who were part of Compassion’s Child Sponsorship Program. Their home was a room no larger than my dining room. Sunlight peered through the old crooked plank walls that held the rusted tin roof over their head. It was a home that had housed unfathomable hardship—yet it was filled with unwavering hope.
Throughout our visit, I was determined to touch her life. I listened to her story, celebrated her experience of God’s love through the local church, and prayed over the unique needs of her family. That was when Roberta, in her wisdom, flipped the script on me.
“Do you have children?” she asked suddenly.
I hesitated, taken back by the shift in focus. “Yes, I do,” I responded.
Without missing a beat, she asked, “How old are your children?”
“Well, they are about your children’s age,” I answered.
Roberta stared at me, then gazed at her daughter on her lap. When her eyes returned to me she uttered the words, “What are your dreams for your children?”
I was surprised by her question. Unsure how to respond. But I managed to find the words. Words along the lines of, “Well, I hope and pray they love God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that they humbly love and serve others with all that they have.” I paused, searching for the rest. “I pray that they would have health and safety as they grow in knowledge and wisdom. And that they would have joy in the journey, as they faithfully follow God wherever he calls them.”
Roberta locked eyes with me, and then uttered two simple words: “Me too.”
Those two words changed everything for me. The differences in our lives—our uniqueness—could not have been more evident. We were unique in country and culture. Unique in circumstances and challenges. She was living in extreme poverty, working against the perils of unemployment, disease, and hunger. As a Canadian, I was living in extreme prosperity, working to combat the lies of materialism, consumerism, and individualism.
And on that hot summer afternoon, sitting on upside down buckets on her dirt floor, eyes still locked, we both gave in to tears. The silence spoke louder than words ever could: Two women, one from El Salvador and one from Canada, not just unique, but united.
United as women of faith, in our deep love for Christ and in our desire to serve Him in everything we do. United as mothers, in our love for our children and our desire to protect them from harm.
A woman I had just met, and would likely never meet again, made me recognize that her story was, in many ways, my story. A story of faith. A story of hope. A story with two unique vantage points, one in poverty and the other in prosperity, both experiencing beauty and brokenness while clinging to the cross for healing and hope.
When it came time to leave, Roberta looked at me and told me she would pray for my children. “And I, yours,” I responded. They were no longer just her children, but they were mine. And my children were no longer just my children, but they were hers. Our stories were interwoven for a moment in time, a moment God would use to profoundly shape my life.
He shifted my understanding that the needs of others are really my own. No longer them, but us. Human beings created in God’s image, unique and united, all in desperate need of God and each other.
Frederick Buechner says:
My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of [the] stories of who we are and where we have come from, and the people we have met along the way. Because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularly… that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally.
Let us to step into one another’s story, unique and united, with expectant hearts for how God will reveal more of himself through them. Just as he did with Roberta and I.
By Allison Alley, Compassion Canada. Alley, Compassion Canada’s Advocacy leader, will be speaking at Gather Rise Toronto on October 1st. This is a great opportunity to gather with other women and share your stories!