Previous installations of Desde el Monte...
There is so much that I could write about the time I spent with my fellow missionaries out amongst the citizens of Montevideo. This first story from the streets was very powerful for me. I doubt I can convey in words how much I felt the presence of Jesus that day, but I am going to give it a try. What happened really set the tone for how I approached the people Uruguay on the rest of that journey.
One of the main tasks that had been asked of our mission group was to publicize a Gospel Meeting that would happen at the church towards the end of our stay. "Publicizing" in Montevideo often means walking the streets and handing out flyers. The sidewalks on the main streets of that city are wide and full of pedestrians and street vendors. People there walk much more than in any city in Texas, but I imagine it is similar to places like New York City. Handing out flyers is a very typical means of getting a message out, and it seems as the citizens at least glance at the flyers to see if they are interested before carpeting the sidewalk with papers. The people who are handing out flyers will trade the flyers with each other. All in all, its a LOT of flyers.
I cannot remember if it was our first or second day there, but we went out with handfuls of flyers and started walking. We were supposed to be in pairs on both sides of the street. This was for safety but also because there was a chance that between two of us we might know enough Spanish to accomplish any discourse that might be needed. I had prepared myself with four Spanish phrases for this activity. I learned how to say "would you like one?" (meaning a flyer), "please come" (to the Gospel Meeting) and "there will be coffee" (free coffee can evidently motivate Uruguayans to go places they might not otherwise set foot in). I cannot remember the fourth phrase I learned for my flyer distributing, but I did also know one other phrase - "where is the bathroom? (I think it is "donde esta el bano?) Never underestimate the importance of that question.
We ended up with uneven numbers, so one of our host missionaries, Ronnie, asked if I would feel comfortable walking by myself. He said that he and Karen (another lady from our group) would stay even with me on the other side of the street and keep an eye on me. Please remember, these were wide city streets where Ronnie might not have been able to hear me if I called out, so he really was serious about needing to know if I could/would do it. Truth is, I was scared out of my mind, but I was determined to do everything the members of this tiny church asked me to do to the best of my ability, so I agreed.
This is the front and back of the flyer we were handing out. That picture on the left is supposed to represent to fort on the mount across the bay from the city.
Before I crossed the street on my own, I started praying. My prayer was for people to see Jesus in me when they looked in my eyes. I think I even started singing to myself that song "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me". I tried very hard to get everyone that I approached to look me in the eye. To a group of people who were used to just accepting a flyer and walking on, this was different. But I was not there to be like so many hundreds of other people handing out shiny pieces of paper. I was there to bring Jesus to the lost. So getting people to look at me and see Him was an important goal. I was very intent on what I was doing, so I did not pay much attention to Ronnie and Karen as they walked on the other side of the street. That made what came next a bit of surprise to me.
A gentleman who looked to be in his mid- to late fifties was walking towards me. He was wearing a blazer and a wool golf cap. He had a graying mustache and beard and his eyes showed curiosity and intelligence. We ended up meeting on a corner. I asked him if he would like a flyer and he took it and stopped, so I stayed put while he looked at it, in case he had any questions he wanted to ask me in a language that I did not speak. It seems a little silly now - waiting for him to talk to me in Spanish so I could respond in English - but I really believed that if he had questions, I needed to be there to sputter along.
He had questions.
I don't remember what he asked (because I did not really understand him anyway) but I remember pointing to the flyer and saying, "Iglesia de Jesus Cristo" (the Church of Christ). I also told him "El Chana" (the name of the building the church met in). He nodded and seemed to understand that I really wanted him to come to church even though I could not tell him how much that meant to me. We stood there and tried to communicate for several minutes, then he nodded politely, said "thank you" (in Italian, which is another story for later), and wandered off while still reading the flyer I had handed him. It seemed like a fairly successful interaction on my first day out on the streets.
I had barely turned back around when Ronnie ran over from the other side of the street. He seemed anxious and asked what the man had said to me. The manner in which he asked confused me at first. I wondered if we were going to have to give a report of all our conversations to the church leaders. That actually had nothing to do with it. After I explained to Ronnie about the lovely conversation I had just had with the gentleman in the golf cap, Ronnie said that he and Karen had already talked to the man. Evidently, while I was singing to myself and telling people to come get free coffee at the Gospel Meeting, there had been an interesting little interaction on the other side of the street. It seems that Karen had offered the golf-cap-wearing man a flyer and he had briefly looked at it and thrown it back at her, saying, "this is rubbish". He then crossed the street to where he and I ended up meeting.
Ronnie seemed confused that the man had been so pleasant and seemed so interested when I was talking to him after he had been so rude to my peers. I felt a little timid, but I offered Ronnie the only explanation that I had. I told him that I had been begging Jesus to show Himself in me when these people looked at me. Sadly, that is not something I do often enough. That was probably the first time. But I could feel the difference and I really felt like the Spirit was moving in what I was doing. I don't think that Ronnie or Karen were any less sincere in their motivations than I was, but they weren't praying the same prayer. They had not been begging for Jesus to be the only thing people saw when they looked at a frightened, saved sinner like me. It seems audacious now that I would have said this to a man who had been working in the mission field for years, but I remember saying something to the effect of, "you should give it a try". Ronnie still looked bewildered, but he said we should continue and he crossed the street back to where Karen was waiting.
I have no idea what happened to the man in the golf cap. I never saw him again. I do believe that he responded to me the way he did because I looked him in they eye and he saw the face of my Savior in me. We had been told not to expect quick responses to Jesus and the Gospel, so I prayed a little prayer for him and moved on to the next person whose gaze I tried to catch with mine.
I was tickled pink by the whole event. Jesus had given a definite "yes" in response to my plea that people see Him in me. Truly, if the only time God had shown up to tell me that I was on the right track with this trip was back when I got on the "joy bus", I would have been content. But evidently God intended to communicate with me throughout the trip. I don't have adequate words to describe the feeling. The closest I can come is this: I had gone to Uruguay to serve, yet on my first day out on the street, God made me feel like He and I were having a special father-daughter date. That is not what I had thought would happen on a mission trip. It seems my expectations are always too low when it comes to having personal interactions with the Creator.
Loved. Cherished. Adored. There is nothing better in this world than knowing that the Almighty Father is sweet on you. I think He tells me how He feels about me much more often than I listen, but that day, out on a sidewalk that was thousands of miles from home, I heard. I heard the Lord telling me how much He desired to be in relationship with me, Ronnie, Karen, the man in the golf cap, and the other people we had come to reach out to.
Tune in again next Sunday for another installment of Desde el Monte... (from the mountain).