Making Pearls- Part I– 26 October 2013
He hadn’t slept in 48 hours. He had been on planes, in storms, ridden in buses, walked down dirt roads, and had travelled over 5,000 miles to reach his destination. It was 4 o’clock on 14 June 2013. He stared at his phone in disbelief as he finally lay down in bed to close his eyes. At this point, he was unsure if sleep were even an option. Incapable of comprehending what he had just been through, he closed his eyes for the next eight hours and slept. To say he slept does not mean he was at rest. His mind stubbornly refused to stop working. Like a clock, he ticked his way through nightmare after nightmare, just like he always had from the time he was a child, until he awoke to Samba music on the television. It was time for him to get to work. A breakfast of citrus fruits, bread and jelly, and black coffee that he had been craving since his last trip was waiting for him in the lobby of the hotel would have to suffice for the morning rush. Startled from his sleep, he finally perceived what was to be his reality for the next two months. He had made it home. He had made it back to Brasil.
His first day back he spent exploring his new home in Corumbá, Mato Grosso do Sul. Located on the fronteira with Bolívia, he was finally experiencing the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands preserve. Overwhelmed by what it meant to be back in Brasil, to speak and hear Portuguese day in and day out, it was hard for him to realize that this was his life for the summer months. It was during this day of rest that he got to know his fellow travelers, their stories, and get a feel for his new city. The following day, his work began. He was there to work with a team of missionaries at local churches, translating for a medical and dental team there to give care to those who needed it the most. He had already met the nurse with whom he would be working; little did he know that over the next week he would come to be great friends with her. He was nervous, his hands shaky, clammy. Doubtful of his Portuguese, he was unsure of his ability to complete the task at hand. Everything was out of his control. He was out of his comfort zone. He sat at a small wooden dinner table. The nurse brought in her equipment and asked if he was ready to start. Looking out the window, he saw what he perceived to be an endless line of people. As it was winter, they were bundled in coats, scarves, and gloves that were hardly capable of the task of warming their wearer. He gave a slight nod and the first person came in, sat down, and began to explain the medical problem they were having that day. Over the next eight hours, he sat in disbelief as one person after another sat down and trusted him with their every word, their health, their well-being, their future. Mothers concerned for the lives of their children, fathers concerned about losing work, sisters worried about their brothers heart condition. In that tiny, dark room, there were no walls; it was pure emotion, it was vulnerability, it was fear, it was hopelessness, it was terror.
“Fala para ela que eu acho que eu estou morrendo,” he said. “Tell the nurse that I think that I am dying.” “Fala para ela que eu não tenho nada idéia o que vai acontecer. Tenho família, tenho crianças, tenho trabalho. Por favor senhor, me ajude,” he said, tears in his eyes. “Tell her that I have no idea what is going to happen. I have a family, children, work. Please, sir, help me.” The words turned the translator to ice. A man robbed of his pride, dignity, and health had looked him in the eyes and broken down every wall he had ever built up. This is hopelessness, this is terror, he thought to himself. The man was desperate. His hands shook, his voice cracked, tears fell from his eyes. This man came to the church that day not for medicine, but for hope.
Over the next week, he translated over 500 medical and dental requests. He made new friends, learned new sayings in Portuguese, and grew to love the churches with which he worked. Yet, in the back of his mind, he was aware of something that he had never realized before. In the back of his mind this realization stayed until he found in himself the courage to write it all down. It was never about translating. It was never about giving medicine to those who needed it. It was never about simply making it back to Brasil. It was, and always had been, about realizing that he alone was powerless in this situation, in all situations. He found that he, himself, was hopeless. He was just like the man sitting across the table from him, telling him that he was dying; it was as if he had been looking into a mirror as the man spoke to him. It was all about discovering himself, his purpose, and his drive toward becoming a better man. It was his realization that hope came not in medicine, not by the work of any human hand, but by action through faith. He realized that hope could only be found in a savior.
He, the translator, had come from a society where comfort and safety are valued above all things, a culture where one’s comfort zone is a thing to be praised and held intact. Sitting at a wooden table in this small corner of the earth, stripped of all those things that made him comfortable, staring into the eyes of a dying man, he saw himself sitting across the table, he felt the presence of God. In a state of utter hopelessness, he silently gave up all that he had, all that he longed for, and jumped from his place of safety into what would become a summer of discovery of hope and what that meant. He had found his way back Home.
This was my first week back in Brasil for the summer of 2013. The man of whom I speak in this story received Christ that day at the church. He was receiving full care and recovering from his illness by the time that I left Corumbá. He also became active in the church in which we worked for that first week.
Next comes the rest of my stories from this summer.