On the third Sunday of every month, my (Amanda's) youth group at my home church in Canada, would visit two seniors' homes between the morning and evening services and sing hymns for the residents. When I was eleven years-old I remember being so excited about turning twelve because it meant that I would be in youth group and get to go to the seniors' homes too. My excitement was not borne out of a calling to the geriatric community, nor do I feel I have a musical gifting. The excitement was that the youth got to stay in the church building between services, as there was not a lot of time to go home after singing and then come back for evening service. In reality the singing at the seniors' homes was just something you had to do to be able to hang out with your friends afterwards. I am sure some of the youth might have had stronger feelings towards the singing than I did, but the truth was that I was there for the social aspect, not the ministry one.
Despite my shallower motivations, I have fond memories of those Sunday visits. I can still see some of the residents' faces and how much the visit meant to some of them. And the truth is that I learned some very important life lessons over the years visiting the same two seniors' homes. One important lesson was about pushing myself outside my comfort zone; you see, after the singing we were encouraged to walk around and shake hands with the seniors and try and chat. When I started I was twelve and none of the residents were my own grandparents. I definitely felt awkward trying to talk to strangers; I mean, what does one say to old people? But over time I was able to see what the effort meant to some of the residents, and I learned that, while my comfort zone might be comfortable, it wasn't helping anyone but me. I learned that we are supposed to live outside our comfort zones, which is a lesson that has stood me in good stead on the mission field.
However, I would like to focus on the second lesson I took away from these monthly field trips: true beauty. We visited two seniors' homes; one was a private Christian seniors' home and one was a state-run seniors' home. Firstly, I am not saying the Christian nursing home was full of Christians and the secular one full of atheists, because that's not statistically probable. But I will say that the Christian home had a higher percentage of people who held to the Christian faith as residents. When I started as a twelve-year-old, I probably wasn't able to put my finger on why one home was easier to visit than the other, or why one home had a brighter atmosphere. The two homes were probably filled with residents fighting the same chronic conditions, who grew up in the same city, if not the same neighbourhoods, with very similar cultural experiences, and while a little bit of the difference could be attributed to private vs. public healthcare, the difference wasn't really on the walls or in the medical equipment: it was in the people. I spent years observing the difference and not being able to put my finger on it, until one day I had a conversation with my one of my youth leaders afterwards. I can't repeat the enlightening conversation verbatim, because I don't remember it. I only remember the lesson, but maybe it went something like this:
Youth Leader: Did you have a nice conversation with 'little old lady x'?
Me: Yeah, I did. She's really nice and I like talking to her.
Youth Leader: She's not nice, she's beautiful.
Me (really looking at the elderly lady): Yeah, you're right. She is beautiful.
Youth Leader: It's because you can see Jesus in her. When I'm her age, I want to be beautiful like her too.
Me: [mind blown!]
What teenage girl doesn't struggle with their own appearance and the concept of beauty? What teenage girl is not exposed to society telling them to be thinner, have a smaller nose, larger breasts, wear make-up, etc? Until that moment, beauty was physical for me, and then suddenly it wasn't. Or, better said, until that moment physical beauty was dependent on something we did to our physical bodies, but then I realised that true beauty (all of it... physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) was dependent on how much of Christ people could see shining out. It was like an equation in my mind; as Christ grew and I diminished, I would be more beautiful. And, as we know, this is the act of sanctification in our lives. That is why a seniors' home is a great place to go to see true beauty; there are people there who have spent more years than I can even fathom letting Christ grow and becoming more and more beautiful!
The reason I have written all of this is because of Edwin. If you are supporters of ours, or on our email list, you will have received an email from Craig this week about the passing of Edwin Fernandez, and this post is about him, because he was truly beautiful. I can't think about him without thinking about those seniors' homes and learning the meaning of beauty. And I can't stop crying every time I think about him, because someone who was truly beautiful is just not here any more, and it feels like something is missing.
The truth is, I kind of feel like I don't have the right to have such strong feelings about Edwin because I didn't even know him that well. Edwin was the Bolivian national coordinator for the Langham Preaching programme. He traveled all over Bolivia running the training sessions for the 'escuelitas' and I first met him in 2015 when Craig helped organise the 'escuelita' in Trinidad. I wasn't involved in Langham, I never went to one of the weekend training sessions and I never worked with him. But most times he passed through Trinidad he stayed in our house for a night and I had the privilege of hosting him. He first came before we adopted Sam, and every time he came back after Sam's adoption he got to see how big he had grown.
He was also the first person to challenge me about my struggles. He saw the problem before I recognised there was one. Near the beginning he would ask Craig if I was OK and if everything was alright. He would comment to Craig that I didn't seem like myself and ask if anything was wrong, and once I admitted I had a problem, Craig would share with him what we were struggling with. And one month ago, I was sitting next to him in a restaurant in Santa Cruz and he told me that I seemed so much better, with more life in me and more joy. He was so happy for me and in a way, even before he passed on, I felt he had walked with us through our burnout experience. He was a truly beautiful person. With very limited contact, he impacted my life in an indescribable way, so much so that I am really struggling to process his death.
I bet we could all close our eyes right now and picture that person or those people who are truly beautiful in our lives, because we see Christ shining out of them so clearly that the beauty is blinding. Praise God for these people in our lives, and thank God that we get to witness real beauty.
- We are expecting a visit next week from Joel Likins from Lexington Church of Christ in Ohio. We are looking forward to spending time with him and showing him around Santa Cruz. Please pray that God would bless our time together.
- Last week we were in La Paz for our Latin Link Bolivia Conference for five days. We had a great time, but please pray that we settle back into our life and routine quickly, especially for Sam.
- We lost Small Tiggy. This was Sam's special stuffed animal since he came to live with us. We think Tiggy got left on the plane on the way to La Paz. While Sam is consciously dealing with his loss well, we think he has lost an avenue of comfort and this is affecting his behaviour. Please pray for him in this.
- For our time in the Latin Link Bolivia Conference. We feel blessed to have such great support in-country and enjoyed this time with our 'family' (pictured, above).
- Sam had his English assessment for the English Christian school that we would like him to attend; he cooperated and there was no behavioural meltdown. Praise God.
- For the friendships we are developing and enjoying in Santa Cruz.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig, Amanda & Sam