We must choose faith…

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If only our eyes saw souls…

If only our eyes saw souls...

The Least of These

You grab the bread from my hands like a starving animal. Your nails are broken, your hands are filthy. Your hair hangs long and unwashed around your face. Your eyes are vacant.
I look away.
Some days, I don’t like this job. I don’t like seeing the things I see. Sometimes I wish we had been called to work with others. People who were clean and educated and came for something besides the food.
But I do it anyway.
Because behind the mud, the lice, and the scars? There’s a soul.
And so there has to be hope, too.
I’m surrounded by poverty and brokenness. I don’t get a chance to forget it.
Every day that I force myself to look in your face… I see less of the dirt and grime. More of a heart that’s broken and vulnerable. More of a soul that needs to be saved.
I look in your face, and know that I want to see it again.
Not here, but in a Place where you won’t need to cry.
In a Place where you won’t have to run.
In a Place that you’ll call Home.
There’s a King there, in that Place.
He told me about you.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ -Matthew 25:40
And the King said for me to come.
To right here, where we’re standing.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? -Romans 10:14
The King said to me,
tell them, I love you.”

 The Least of These

A river, a sermon, a lollipop, and chicha

Bella Vista

Madeline. You’re getting your shoes all wet!” chides an accented voice from the front of the canoe.

Cecelia,” I grumble. “How am I supposed to get out of the canoe and onto the beach without getting my shoes wet?” I throw my hands in the air.

Like this maybe, she seems to say, jumping from the boat to the shore of the river, almost floating over the water. Like Pocahantas, like it isn’t hard at all to jump that far without face planting in the dirt.

I am… the opposite. I’m sloshing water everywhere, trying to balance on the slippery rocks at the bottom of the river. I can’t see where I’m stepping, I’m slipping, then I’m shrieking, and a nearby Kichwa tries to steady me by grabbing my arm with his iron-like grip. He says something in Kichwa, then tells me “be careful,” in Spanish. Maybe “learn how to swim” should have accompanied that piece of advice. It’s a big river and a catfish would probably eat me anyhow.

 

Okay! Follow me!” orders Ramiro from the shore. And there we are. Staring into the jungle. I don’t see any path leading in, but, apparently, the indigenous people do. It’s a ten-minute trek through vines, thorns, spiders, and lots of mud. Lots of mud.

We are here!” announces Cecelia. But… where are we? A wooden house on stilts, a couple of chickens, a giant fire pit, and a wall-less shelter with a palm frond roof.

Setting up under the palm fronds, we wonder if anyone is going to show up. Then Saul, the elder of the Alfa y Omega church, starts imitating bird calls and monkey noises, letting the village know we’re here. I can’t believe it. But they’re coming.

People of all ages walk (and run) down the paths though the woods – grandmothers, parents, teenagers, babies. There have to be thirty people, already!

 

We sit down on the wooden benches and start out with some games for the children. Then games for everyone. Then a rapid sermon in Spanish and Kichwa I do not understand much of. I think the basic idea is that you can’t make it to heaven on your own.

After that, some of the women start passing out bowls of broth and meat. I take a sip – there aren’t any spoons – and pass it down the line of people.

 

Then comes the other bowl, the bowl of chicha.

Chicha is just about the worst thing I’ve put into my mouth in every community I’ve visited. It’s murky, yellow, and chunky, with fermented fruit and yucca bits floating around. It smells like yogurt that went bad, like, three months ago!

It’s just nasty, and there’s no way to refuse it.

(I have the feeling that maybe missionaries who won’t drink it get blow-darted or something.) I had that old familiar feeling from http://soallmayknow.org/guinea-pig/. The feeling I had when I had to eat a guinea pig.

I hold my breath as the bowl comes towards me… and I continue to hold my breath as I lift it towards my mouth. It’s not like people are watching you, I tell myself, except, they are!

I sip it, gag, and pass it to my mother. Then I try to smile.

 

A few minutes later, Cecelia announces “Lollipops for the children!” and I keep myself from running to her with the others. I am not supposed to be a child. I am supposed to be a missionary. But what I am is hungry.

Still, Cecelia walks over and hands me a lollipop, with that funny little smile I haven’t figured out yet.

I thank her and stick it in my mouth.

 

So All May Know,

Madeline Studebaker

I Am Not Brown

Can I go play outside?” Elijah asks.
No, but maybe later, because the sun’s too strong right now. You’d get burned.” Mom explains.
Well I want to be brown.” He says stubbornly.
You’d get red, not brown,” I mumble, rolling my eyes but still getting his point. He’s like me: he can’t tan, but he sure does freckle. But I know what he’s really thinking.
Brown goes better with everything.” Elijah tells us, drawing out the word everything. “Blue, black, red, yellow, green, orange, pink-” He makes a face and giggles. “-Expect pink is for girls… It’s just… better.” He says confidently.
Everyone here is brown!
This is how a five-year-old boy tells you everything you’ve been thinking for the past two and a half years. Except he says it in just four or five sentences. And he breaks your heart.
My brother wants to fit in. Like I want to fit it.
He wants to be like everyone else. I want to be like the others too.
And nearly everyone else just happens to be brown.
I’ve been dealing with it too. Language, for me at least, is the big one, but we still have the same problem.
It’s that we are different.
It’s become an ugly word inside my own head – different.
Because the truth is? Different isn’t always fun.
Different means that, sometimes, I don’t understand them. I don’t always get the language, culture, etiquette, or what I’m supposed to do. It is hard.
Different means they have plenty of chances to laugh at us. At what we say, what we do, and what we try to say and do. It is hard.
Different means they stare. Different means they always stare. And that is hard.
Brown wouldn’t be so bad. Being able to fit in – any way at all – would be… nice.
But, even though it’s hard, I’m not here to worry about that.
I’m not here to mope around because I look different, sound different, and act different from everyone else. I do all that, but the truth is… I kinda need to get over it.
Because I am here to spread Jesus, I am here to love, and I am here to be a light.
And I have to take deep breaths. Lots and lots and lots of deep breaths. And accept it.
I am not brown. I am not brown! Waking up to another day – every day – of being an outsider can be hard. And it is hard.
It has taken two years to be accepted into this village’s community. Accepted, that is, for who I am. Which… still doesn’t make me one of them. Because I am a foreigner.
I do not speak fluent Spanish, I do not always “beautifully mesh” with this culture, and I will always be different.
Yes. It is hard.
But you know what?
Hard isn’t going to stop me.
And hard definitely isn’t going to stop God.
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Maybe Even Jesus…

Nobody knows where I am. Nobody really cares either- it’s still daylight. How far away could I get anyway, elementary school age caregiver to my cousin, not even a year old? As long as I stay in town, everything is fine. But I want to get out of the house. Fourteen people are living there, with barely any food, no clean water, and a mother who can’t take care of us anymore. She’s been sick for over a year now. And whatever it is that she’s got, I don’t think you can fix it.

I wander around the neighborhood until I get to the place where the missionaries live. The girls, a few years older than me, come outside and greet me- along with their little brother. Their Spanish is garbled and slow, but I can usually understand what they’re trying to say. Their short, simple sentences have improved since I first met them. Before, they pointed and used their hands to talk more than they used their mouths.

They ask “how are you” and I shrug. I tell them I’m okay. My cousin wiggles around in my arms. “He still isn’t named yet?” they ask, probably hoping that they can call him something besides “baby” soon. I tell them no, but that we’re thinking of something to call him. Truly, it’s just easier to wait for naming until they’re a little older. Then it’s usually safe to stop worrying about if something is going to happen to them or not. The younger sister, the one with the thick, wavy hair, goes and gets the baby an orange to suck on. They never ask if we’re hungry. They just seem to know, and they feed us.

I reach out and touch the older girl’s hair. Much longer than mine, and a much lighter color, I just can’t help myself. She smiles. I wonder briefly if she would tell me to stop, if she thought I would understand. But I don’t think so. I tell her how pretty it is. She tries to tell me how she loves my straight black hair. I laugh. I say “everyone who lives here has black hair.” She says she knows, but that light hair makes her different. She seems sad now, and I don’t understand. There are worse things to think about than whether or not you like your hair. Lots of things are worse than that.

As we finish drinking lemonade on their porch, the air is empty, but the younger girl fills it with excitement quickly, like always. “Let’s go play soccer,” she says. “And the baby?” I hear the other ask in English. At least, I think that’s what she says, because they stay sitting down. Of course I have to watch him, but sometimes they forget. They only have one brother, after all, no cousins or extended family living with them.

They are different, but still good. Sometimes all they do is talk about Jesus. I used to think it was because they thought I didn’t know about him. I know Christmas and Easter, and that’s all there is to know. But now I realize they talk about Jesus even between each other. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

They take my cousin just inside the doorway and let him play with some blocks. I hear my name. I look up. I was lost in thought for a minute. “Oh,” I say. “Sorry. I forgot I have to go into the village and buy something for my mom.” They nod, so they must understand. I get up and pick up my cousin. Their mother comes outside and asks how my family is, specifically my own mom. “She’s not doing so great. She’s not getting any better.” I take a deep breath. “She will though.” I try to smile.

A baby in my arms and a quarter in my pocket, I walk down the road, still thinking about what makes them different. White skin, light eyes, and maybe even Jesus.

Public Speaking… Barefoot

I love church. I really do. I just hate speaking in public.

So. Just picture me biting my nails off in despair, frustration, and, ultimately, fear. And looking so scared that I might throw up. And sliding my feet in and out and in and out of my highly uncomfortable, even painful, “church shoes.”

 

Madeline?”

Panic sets in. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I just can’t do it.

Madeline,”

No! I can’t!

Madeline.”

Deep breath. And somehow, it just happens. I’m getting up, and I’m walking towards the stage. Up the dreaded carpeted stairs. And now I’m standing behind the wooden podium. I’m handed the microphone. Which almost slips out of my sweaty palms. And then I open my mouth.

Um…” I look down. Uh-oh.

No! No, no, no, no! I can’t be! My shoes! Where are they? Am I really standing in front of everyone in my stockings?! This is not how I die! Is it? Is it?!

Um,” I look back up. Bzillions and bzillions of people are staring right at me. Really. I’m not exaggerating. The last thing I would ever do is exaggerate. Especially when I’m nervous.

Um!” And that’s it. That’s when it happens. I look straight up, take a deep breath, picture myself screaming, “I volunteer for tribute!” and say,

 

Well, like they said: we have Girls’ Bible Study every Tuesday night at 6:00. We have anywhere from four to twelve kids show up, but a total of fifteen girls have come to the program. Two of the girls are Christian, three of them are Catholic, and the rest of them claim no religion at all. We look at an English lesson, learn the words to some contemporary Christian music, and Abigail makes snacks and stuff for us to eat. Then we read out of the Bible, talk about what the passage means, and sometimes even act it out. It’s definitely been a great way to get to know the girls and for them to get to know God.”

 

And then I breathe again.

And then I go find my shoes.

 

So All May Know,

Madeline Studebaker

“He Shot Me in the Butt…”

Elijah’s face is red, so red,” Abigail shrieked. “Look at this!”

I looked.

Suddenly I didn’t care about the time limit on the history test I was taking. Suddenly there wasn’t anything else that mattered.

Jumping up from my desk, looking at my baby brother, I realized it was something serious. This was not a mosquito bite, or a plant sap he’d rubbed on himself. And I had no idea what it was.

I tuned Abigail out, lifting up Elijah’s shirt. His neck, shoulders and arms were covered in red blotches, and it was travelling down the front of his chest.

And look at his arm- it’s all blotchy and…” The panic in her voice was only rising.

Mom!” I called. “Momma!”

She is asleep,” Elijah told me. “Do not wake her up.” He seemed to feel fine. Talking nonstop and building with Legos. But looking at him…

Abigail grabbed him and carried him to our parents’ room. “Hey, you guys need to look at this,” I said, shaking them, trying to keep my voice steady. But I’ll be honest– it wasn’t steady at all.

Passports, cash, Benedryl, and everything else was packed into a backpack. We yanked on Elijah’s shoes.

His eyes,” whispered Dad. They were absolutely bloodshot.

Dialing the number of a local taxi, I only prayed he would be available. Please, please…

Mr. William… puedes venir… recogernos… estamos en la casa… llevarnos a Tena…”

It only took three or four minutes. But it felt like a lifetime. Because Elijah was getting worse.

Translating shakily. Adding in where I could. Smiling at Elijah, who now had a fever.

Día de los Niños Holiday. Chupetes. Colada. Pescado.

Pescado! Fish! We ate that weird fish at Diego’s Restaurant!

He’s having a reaction… allergic?” we explained in our broken Spanish.

Allergic. Was it food he ate?” the taxi driver asked.

We think so. His eyes are really red.”

I did not like how fast he started driving.

Elijah had stopped talking. He stopped answering. He stopped everything.

I was praying. And praying and praying. But I still wanted more than anything to get to the hospital with my baby brother.

William– más rápido,” Mom ordered, aware of the traffic. We turned quickly onto a side road.

Finally in Clínica Galenus, we rushed past everyone into the emergency room. My heart had stopped inside of me.

Allergic reaction,” said the doctor in English. The rest was in Spanish.

When he said, “I’ve got to give him a shot.” Elijah climbed into Mom’s arms and we had to pry him off.

It won’t hurt,” I told him. “I remember shots. I used to have them when I was little, too. They’re all good,” I told him. He nodded.

Little by little, the red botches from his legs to his arms disappeared. The solid red coloring of his face and neck lessened. I started to relax.

Hey, you sure took that shot well!” I said, holding him up, looking into his eyes. They had quickly cleared from the blurry red they had been only minutes ago.

He shot me in the butt,” Elijah informed me, disdainfully.

Yeah, I know. You feelin’ better though?” I asked.

I felt fine! I told you all I was fine and you didn’t believe me!”

It’s good to have the old Elijah back.

 

-Madeline Studebaker

The Shaman of Muyuna

At breakfast this morning, Elijah asks me, “Madeline, was that man a witch doctor?”

Yes,” I answer, chugging some milk from the bottom of my cereal bowl.

Elijah’s eyes go big. “You mean, a real witch doctor? You mean a real one?”

Yes. He was a shaman.” I tell him.

And I went into his house?!” Elijah shrieks. “I went into his house?”

No,” I say. “That was just the place where he does his spells and curses and stuff.”

Elijah shakes his head. “That is too scary.”

Oh, it is,” I assure him. I’ve heard enough shaman-stories to authenticate that one.

Is he a bad person?” Elijah suddenly demands from across the table. “He must be a very bad person.”

Uh, see Elijah,” Abigail says, “He does some pretty bad stuff. But God says we’re to love him anyway. We have to love everybody.”

I can’t believe you let me go in his house.” Elijah repeats, ignoring everything we just told him.

You snuck in yourself when we weren’t watching,” I mutter. And of course he sticks his tongue out.

Would I be able to believe it, if I were Elijah?

 

How do I believe it myself, even?

When I’m standing in front of this man with corks in his ears, and parrot feathers strung around him, and red and black bead necklaces for protection against the spirits?

His black eyes watching our every move, with him listening to us speak with his people?

Oh, I believe it.

With both feet on the ground of Muyuna, in the Amazon rainforest, surrounded by the Kichwa of the jungle, it’s hard not to believe it.

But I also believe in a stronger power– I believe in the Strongest Power– and He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

He is with me.

And I am not afraid.

 

So All May Know.

Madeline Studebaker

 

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come,

nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

-Romans 8:37-39

Personal Space at the Bank

High heels

 

Tiene usted un… esfero?” I squeak. Please, I pray. Don’t let my breath be as bad as I know it is. Everyone in this room– all 150 of them– seem to be five inches from my face.

Not to say that some of them actually aren’t. I continue in my head. We’re packed in here like sardines. And there are more than I can even guesstimate waiting outside.

No tengo.” barks a business woman in heels like a whole foot tall.

Huh?” I’m lost in the effort of counting heads.

No tengo!” She repeats, hoop earrings swinging around. Oh, I wanted a pen! I remember. Still I’m trembling. I am much more accustomed to the Kichwas.

I am not trying that again,” I declare in my mother’s direction. “And why didn’t we bring our own pen?” I add, aggravated.

Like I could even reach a pen if I had one,” Mom answers.

She’s right. We are too close to our stranger neighbors to shift our weight without knocking someone over.

I can see it now: “American girl gives the domino affect to hundreds at the Pinchincha bank in Tena” on the headlines. I shake the thought out of my head.

Still, this is the worst, the most unhygienic, the most terrifying experience of my life. Save a few other incidents.

But this is a bank! I scream inwardly. It’s supposed to be nice!

This is uncomfortable.” I announce.

Sh,” Mom warns. An booming voice comes through the crowd. Dad would have answered it by yelling “Brah ca ca ca!”, but he was saving time by shopping at Tia while Mom and I finished the transfer. This horrible, life-altering transfer. And screaming brah, ca, ca! was not going to fix this.

I think he’s saying we all have to get an extra slip from that table over there,” Mom told me, referring to the guard in the front. “Madeline, sweetheart, would you mind–”

No way!” I interrupt. “Do you want me to get kidnapped?”

The table is ten feet away.”

And there are like two people per square foot in here,” I remind her.

Okay then, I’ll go get it. But you stay here and keep our spot.”

Sure.” I say. People crowd around me, and I start to doubt if Mom will be able to locate me.

Feet shuffle. I gasp with disbelief. Someone cuts in line. In front of me.

This is normal. It’s happened about 70 times today. But not to me.

I glare at the sneak-ster. How dare you… my blood boils. Take my spot… This is getting dangerous. I worked hard to get here! You can’t image how hard–

I’m back!” Mom says, squeezing her way back through to me.

Another announcement. Everyone huffs and starts towards the doors to leave.

The system’s down.” says a guard to our left.

We hear: “oh wait– it’s back up!” and we are crushed and trampled as everyone makes their way to the back of the bank. All the way to the front. Where they weren’t yet.

Claustrophobia had its ugly jaws locked until…

After close to 5 or 6 hours (I have a watch, I’m not joking about the time) we finally stepped up to the teller.

ah-me… stuh-deh-bah-ker.” she says slowly.

Amy,” Mom corrects her. “Amy Studebaker.”

Finally.

 

-Madeline Studebaker