I’d almost forgotten about the sweet little lady who visited our services during the summer of 2014. I’ll call her “Maria”. Her home was in Mexico and her mother tongue (definitely her only tongue) was Spanish. She was in Huntsville for a few weeks visiting her daughter. She knew about our congregation through a recently converted bilingual Hispanic sister. Hoping to reach into the hearts of her local family, I picked Maria up for services a few times that summer. Yes, it was a bit awkward (and silent) in my car, since I don’t know Spanish, but I said “Hola”, “Bien”, “Gracias” and “Como esta?” …a lot. It was a very sweet little friendship that summer. I baked her bread and she gave me a little keepsake bracelet, but our relationship was, of necessity, pretty superficial. We didn’t have very much in common and, whatever we did have in common, we could not discuss. She could get very little out of those few visits to the worship assemblies or Bible classes, but I could tell she loved being there and that she wanted very badly for her children, who do speak English, to find the Lord. She had not exactly found him herself, but she liked what she saw among God’s people and she especially loved it when she was able to bring her young grandsons with her. She loved seeing them get excited about their Family Bible Week classes. But, alas, the summer ended and Maria had to return back home to Mexico. Through a rare translator’s work, she begged me to keep praying for her children, who live near our building, to come to know the Lord. I promised. I felt a pang of guilt as I realized I could have…should have…worked harder that summer to find a way…a translator…a time to study…so that Maria could know the gospel. “After all, I may be the only Christian she ever really knows and I have done a poor job of redeeming this short time with this soul….If I ever get to see her again, I will tell her the most important news she will ever hear.” It made me sad–even ashamed–to think I’d shared the bread that cannot sustain, but failed to share the bread of life.
Fast forward to the summer of 2015. Maria’s daughter, who lives locally and does speak broken English (let’s call her “Rosa”), and I had became Facebook friends. I, along with a couple of other sisters, often encouraged her to come to worship and she sometimes visited during the year that followed. Sometimes she brought her husband and children. Once, she brought her brother and his family. Several sisters were praying for Rosa and helping with her children when she would visit. Rosa got a job at the hospital here in town and became very busy. The year flew by and, a few weeks ago, Rosa told me her mom was applying for a visa to come back and visit again this summer. Immediately, I remembered the promise I’d made to myself a year ago. “If she does get that visa, then this time I will be sure she knows the gospel.”
And so she did come and the studies began. Maria was an eager student. This time my sister Emily was helping with the studies, too, and we relied heavily on a sister from another congregation to translate. Maria was excited to come to worship. She would often be ready with kids in tow long before I’d arrive to pick her up. We never knew who was going to be coming with her, but we’d always find other family members a good class or have them study along with us. Our elders encouraged us to study with Maria during the Wednesday Bible class hour. We’d sometimes study after worship. Once or twice, we studied till pretty late at night. Once, Emily played with, fed, changed and just generally tried to entertain Maria’s infant grandson for a couple of hours so Maria could concentrate on the scriptures. Another time, during worship, I went in the cry room, listened to the sermon on the live stream with earphones and repeated what was being preached in English so that Bonny, who was translating, could then repeat it in Spanish. This way we could have the message (at least most of it) translated without speaking out in the worship service. Bonny was a great translator and Maria was soaking up truth. She would often ask questions and they were deep and thoughtful ones. We could tell Maria had been in the book because she could find passages quickly. But she made it very clear that, for all she knew about the Bible, she’d been unable to find the church described in the New Testament. She wanted to find that church and she wanted to find its members in her hometown in Mexico. Emily, Bonny and I were praying fervently that our short summer time with Maria would be enough.
And then there was this day in early August…