Several years ago, our church began partnering with other churches in Nicaragua. Admittedly, this didn’t really connect with me. A sister church in a faraway place is neat and all, but it was one of those unfortunate out-of-sight-out-of-mind situations. Until one day they announced that they would have a table in the back full of Compassion sponsorship opportunities. I had always wanted to sponsor a child so this seemed like a neat opportunity.
I walked up to their table and stared down at the packets. I purposefully avoided looking at the faces. Instead, I searched through the birth dates. When I found one that matched Reagan’s within a few days, I picked up the packet. I stared down into the serious face of the most beautiful boy. And there, in the fellowship hall of Faith CRC in Pella, Iowa, I met Angel Isaac.
That was the day Nicaragua knocked on my door.
I’m guessing he hadn’t had many photo shoots before. Someone probably posed him in that alley and stepped back and clicked a good picture of a boy who didn’t know why he should smile for a camera. He was clean and the background was neat. But at his age he was too young to probably understand what a sponsor really was.
We began the normal correspondence. I am embarrassed to admit how hard it was to step outside my comfortable American culture and just relate to him on a human-to-human level. There were times when I would write something down and then delete it, because it felt proud and I worried it would be so foreign to him. With every letter to Angel, I have tried hard to not sound like some bizarrely wealthy and snobbish rich woman.
His letters to me are sweet. I love receiving them. He writes about his life, his family, sports he plays. And I get a glimpse of the boy he is – the boy he is growing up to be.
One of the reasons I signed up all those years ago was the little plug that our church would be sending missions teams down to Nicaragua. This would make it more possible for us to arrange visits or to arrange for gifts to go down to our sponsored children. And just a month or so ago, such an invitation was extended in our newsletter.
I jumped at the chance. I didn’t really have the time to do the shopping, but I somehow managed to get to Walmart. I strolled the aisles and I searched for things that Reagan’s male friends might enjoy. Stickers, crayons, notebooks, legos, and little toys went in my shopping cart. Deodorant, a toothbrush, a comb went in too. I pushed my cart full of gifts for Angel up to the checkout.
“I got to shop for a little boy in Nicaragua,” I said to the clerk. I’m sure she smiled and said something nice but I was suddenly overcome with emotion. With tears in my eyes I watched her scan the packages of crayons and colored pencils absolutely coated in English words that Angel probably wouldn’t understand. Does he even use deodorant? I had no idea. Was he too old for a little hot wheels toy car? Possibly.
But then I heard God remind me, “Does it matter? What do you think Angel will feel when he opens this backpack?”
It’s a small miracle that I made it out to my car.
I went home, carefully packed my little gift, tucked in a few photos of our family, and immediately delivered it to Marlo and Carol – members of our church who would deliver it to Nicaragua. I gave them all the information they would need for the gift to get to Angel. And that was it.
So many times in the last few weeks I have wondered if Angel had gotten his backpack yet. Out of nowhere he would enter my mind and I would imagine his reaction.
But this afternoon I got this email. And it’s full of the face of a smiling boy standing with the contents of my gift spread all around him.
There are our photos right out in front.
There he is on the other side of the world.
And once again, here is Nicaragua knocking on my door.
I don’t know if I will ever actually meet Angel. Travel terrifies me and being a mom to young kids had demands all its own. I would love to go someday. I’m sure he would be horrified because I would be a crying mess – much like the lady I was at Walmart – much like the lady I was when I opened an email to see his sweet smile. I would want to hug him too tightly and for too long. I would have a million questions and so few words in his language. Maybe someday God will open that door.
But for now, He has given us this. He has shown me, and shown Angel too, that love sees no distance.
Love knows no language barriers.
Love looks a lot like a backpack full of school supplies and little toys and tiny tokens of affection.
Love looks like the smiling face of that beautiful boy.
And love is always always always worth it.
Oh Angel, I pray that every time you slip that backpack on, you can imagine my arms giving you a squeeze. I hope as you color and draw your world becomes more beautiful. I pray that those photos find a place on the wall in your home (just as yours is on the wall in ours) and that every time you look at it you will know that you are loved. Yes, loved by me. But more than that – that God loved you so that he brought us together in this one small way. P.S. I love your smile.