Several weeks ago after a busied trip into the city to do those errands that never end, on my way back home I turned off the main highway and took the drive into one of those dangerous neighborhoods where they say you have to pass with your windows down so that the gang lords can identify who comes and goes.
In this particular neighborhood we’ve come and gone dozens of times visiting different people, so I rolled my windows down without a second thought and began making my way carefully over the neglected pavement eaten up by so many potholes.
I turned down one side road and then another, pulling to a stop in front of a small collection of homes, although I couldn’t remember which one it was. I hopped out – I believe it was raining on that particular day – and knocked on the door of a blue-colored house. I thought that was the right house, anyway. Blue.
A woman opened the door with wide eyes, unsure who I was and what my business was. I immediately realized I had knocked on the wrong door. I quickly apologized and asked if she knew which home belonged to the woman I was looking for. She knew. Two houses down, she told me.
I jumped over puddles, my bright blue rain-jacket shielding my blouse from the falling raindrops. Two houses down, also a blue house. At least I got the blue part right.
I stooped on the tiny porch, taking the hood of my rain-jacket down under the cover of the roof above. All the windows were closed and there was no sound coming from inside. It looked like no one was home, especially in this culture where people who are home have their doors and windows open, several people lounging on the porch or washing clothes in the front yard and occasionally high-volume music blasting from some stereo.
I knocked once and waited, then again and waited. As I was about to turn and leave, the door opened, ever so slowly, and a woman’s gaze met mine. At first she looked like she suspected trouble – frightened and ready to close the door immediately – but as she recognized me her countenance immediately changed and a genuine smile, albeit a surprised one, overtook her tired face.
We embraced one another as we have on so many other occasions and she quickly let me pass the threshold.
“And the kids?” Her face brightened even more as she glanced behind me, waiting to see her special-needs son and teenage daughter.
I apologized for not having brought them with me (alas, they are always with us!) and told her that the purpose of my surprise visit was not a once-per-month visit between our foster children and their biological family members but rather a visit between two adult women, between she and I.
This definitely caught her off guard, as we’ve never done such a thing in our three years of knowing one another, but she quickly accepted and showed me where to sit in the completely quiet, still home with all of its windows firmly shut. As I sat on the only couch in the living room, rather than sitting across the small room in one of the arm chairs she commented on how she preferred to be closer and sat not two feet from me on that couch. It felt right and natural.
What ensued was a free-flowing conversation that lasted over an hour between Josue and Jackeline’s mom and myself.
For months – years perhaps – the idea of becoming more involved with this woman has been floating around our hearts and minds, swelling up and speaking out at different times. More than once we’ve considered aloud between my husband and I providing this down-and-out shut-in a part-time job with us and a new start. When her two precious children first moved in with us back in January 2015 their stay in our home was meant to be a temporary solution until she could find a steady job and place to live. Three to four months they had told us. Well, a few months has turned into a few years, and she’s been unable to find any kind of stable work or place to stay. The news has always been the same, and her situation – as much economic as emotional and spiritual – has been stagnant if not declining, and up until now we really didn’t know what move to make, if any.
Employ an emotionally unstable woman who probably desperately needs a counselor in our home working with at-risk kids? Is that really a good idea? But have not many people – not only children and teens but adults as well – come to know the Lord alongside of us, and could us being more involved in her life and showing her God’s love on a more regular basis not possibly lead to her salvation and renewal? If her kids’ lives are worth the risk and investment, is not hers as well?
So that idea (without any concrete answers) had been floating around our consciousness for quite some time when our 14-year-old foster daughter Jackeline (who is this woman’s biological daughter) came to me out of the blue – as she oftentimes does – and informed me with great conviction that Darwin and I should give her mom a job. She and her mother have never gotten along well and still have a pretty tumultuous relationship, but she informed me through tears, “I just want my mom to know Jesus.”
So that was all it took. I talked with Darwin, and we sensed that it was finally time to act. I would go to her house unannounced (because her cellphone no longer worked so we had no way to call) and I would propose the idea to her: a healthy way out of unemployment, more physical closeness with her children, being included perhaps for the first time in her life in a loving, vibrant Christian community and hopefully a drawing near to Christ as well.
One of those very familiar questions began to show itself in my mind: Do we have the finances to provide a job for her—? before it was quickly dismissed. After all, God has called us to do many crazy things over these last few years, and He’s always provided a way to make it happen.
Well, the details of our in-depth conversation have since been lost on me, but I do know one thing: the Lord did send me there that day, and He did use me to listen to a very broken woman who desperately needs loving companionship and a new start in life. I said little; she spoke much. Several times throughout our conversation I reached across the little couch to pat her shoulder as she shared with me her struggles. Several times she mentioned her belief that only God could help her; that she had been flirting with Satan too long and that it was time to make a change and give her life over to God. I continued to listen, hope swelling in my chest.
She mentioned her kids many times – which strangely enough are also my kids now. It was surreal listening to this mother who desperately loves these same kids whom I have grown to dearly love. Toward the end of our conversation I walked over to a coffee table in the small house – her sister’s house where she’s been living in a spare room for several months – and saw an 8’ x 10’ photo of now-14-year-old Jackeline when she was a toddler. This woman holds the memories of the kids when they were little, and the memories from these last three years have largely been made with us. Between us there was no sense of competition or anger but rather of gratitude and deep respect from both parties. Surely God had orchestrated this whole thing.
So I left, and she said she would call me in the next few weeks once a family situation was resolved to see if she could come serve alongside of us two days per week. Serve in what capacity, I had no idea, but Darwin and I were ready to step out into the unknown as God was in the process of preparing just one more miracle of life and redemption.
Our initial conversation was several weeks ago. Yesterday was Momma Ingrid’s first day of work. We can say that it was lacking in any drama and full of spiritual blessing. She arrived on time, quite timid but ready to participate. Many years ago she was a secretary in a bank (a prestigious job in this society where many people are illiterate and do hard labor for a living) before falling on hard times and bad decisions, so we decided to make her our official secretary at the Living Waters Ranch (a job that never before existed). Darwin worked with her a couple hours in the office that all of our staff share in order to show her the ropes, and she joyfully went about with general office tasks for the rest of the day. She saw her kids throughout the day, participated in Bible study and prayer group in the morning, and smiled more than she normally does. Several times throughout the day she told Darwin and I that she doesn’t need to get paid; she’s just happy to help and see her kids. We listened, thanked her for her thoughtfulness and willingness to serve but assured her that we will be paying her.
She’ll be coming back again on Wednesday.
And so, yesterday at 3:00pm as I left our home with all of our teachers and Momma Ingrid piled in our old pickup truck to go drop everyone off after a long day’s work, Momma Ingrid didn’t go home to her sister’s vacant house.
Geraldina, a woman in her early 30s (just like Momma Ingrid) who was in a similar position as her not two years ago – her teenage daughter Sandra had come to live with us until her mom could get back on her feet – will be voluntarily hosting Momma Ingrid (who she just met yesterday for the first time) in her home as an act of radical Christian hospitality to the downtrodden for love of God.
Yes, an illiterate single mom of four who has suffered hunger, abuse and rejection who now works with us full-time and is learning to read and write for the first time – who went against all cultural norms and left behind her abusive husband in order to get her daughter back and even build her own wooden home! – will be extending an arm of charity and love to a woman not so different from herself.
Is it not the rich who help the poor, the powerful who help the weak?
Not this time.
So yesterday in our pickup truck after dropping all our teachers off and Momma Ingrid at Geraldina’s home, I turned to 17-year-old Sandra (Geraldina’s daughter) who sat in the passenger’s seat right next to me. She lived in our home for almost a year and continues being like a daughter to Darwin and I, and we get to see her everyday now that our community homeschool program started its 2018 classes a couple weeks ago. I patted her leg and asked sincerely, “What do you think about having Momma Ingrid live in your house?”
I was expecting her to hesitate or to comment that she was nervous about having an emotionally broken woman in her personal space, but she piped up, “It was my idea!”
My jaw must have dropped down to the floorboard as I sputtered – “Wha–?” I was definitely not expecting her to say that.
“Yeah. When Jackeline mentioned to us that Momma Ingrid would be working at the Ranch and had nowhere to stay, I told my mom that we should receive her in our home. Last year in Bible study you encouraged all of us to receive the homeless and broken in our homes as a way of ministering to Christ and, well, we’re gonna start with her.”
Goosebumps ran through my body even as they do now as I remember yesterday’s events and type this all down. Are not the poor – are not Sandra and her mom, Geraldina, people themselves who have known deep poverty their whole lives — to wallow in self-pity or look for some scheme to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’? But – to forsake their own poverty (the thousands of legitimate excuses they could have to explain why they couldn’t possibly take Momma Ingrid in, especially as no one was asking them to do so!) and to extend a hand of loving hope – even receiving her in their own humble home! – yes, that is God’s work among us.
So, Momma Ingrid spent her fist night in Sandra and Geraldina’s home last night in our rural neighborhood, and we’ll be seeing her again tomorrow as she comes up for her second day of work. Please give thanks to God with us for Sandra and Geraldina’s walk of faith and obedience as they are receiving a woman they have no relation to into their home, and pray with us blessings of harmony, service and humble love among them as they figure out how to live together. God bless you.