I was seventeen. She was at least seventy-five.
I was a Nazarene pastor’s kid. She was a devout catholic.
I had an easy life. Her scars sang of a life of toil and pain.
She knew Jesus. I had never really met him.
Growing up in the Nazarene church (much like other churches, I assume) spring break mission trips were the norm. Raise some money, take a week, fly somewhere impoverished, and make people’s live better by building something, painting something, or putting on some sort of church program.
These things are all fine and good. I think exposing teenagers to other cultures and a life of simplicity, rather than their life of excess and opulence, is a healthy thing. It does a lot of good for a lot of people.
I went because it was spring break, it was Mexico, a few friends were going, and I was the pastor’s kid. Seemed like a no brainer.
We built church classrooms, hung out with kids, poured concrete, you name it. It was great, hard, sweaty work. We felt accomplished though, like we had done something incredible for the Kingdom. And honestly, I still believe that we did, we just didn’t understand it at the time.
As cliche as it sounds, that trip changed my life. Just not in the way I had expected.
Towards the end of the trip, we had an off day. Some of the local pastors had decided to take us to see one of the more “touristy” attractions in Oaxaca, La Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman, known to the locals as “the church of gold.”
This former monastery and catholic church had been fully restored, and the interior consists of over sixty-thousand sheets of gold.
I remember when we were there, the sun was pouring in through the oversized windows, causing the interior of the church to glow, literally.
We walked around, snapped a couple photos, bought a postcard, and were ready to go, congregating in the courtyard of the church
Then I saw her.
At first, I didn’t know what she was doing. Begging maybe? Asking for money, maybe food?
She was draped in a thin, almost see-through, dress, if you could even call it that. Rags, really. She was on her hands and knees, clutching something, and her knees were bloody, leaving little stains on the cobblestone courtyard.
Then it hit me.
She was crawling towards the church, clutching her rosary beads in her frail fists, mumbling to herself. Little prayers, audible only to her, offered up in reverence.
I asked one of the pastors with us about her, and what he said will be with me for the rest of my life.
“She lives on the outskirts of town, and once a week she comes. She crawls here on her hands and knees, clutching those beads, to pray, and to confess.”
I have never to this day, known or seen devotion to anything, like that little frail old lady showed me.
I complain if I have to park too far away from church. I complain if the coffee isn’t brewed the right way. I complain when the music isn’t right, or a visiting pastor is teaching on something I don’t like or don’t agree with.
She crawled on her hands and knees across filthy streets, across God-knows-what, and up the cobblestone courtyard, to offer her prayers to her creator. She was frail, old, weathered, and absolutely beat up. Her knees were bloody scabs, probably just healing by the time she left the following week for the church.
I learned more about Jesus in that moment than I ever had before, or ever have since. I learned what devotion looks like. I learned what sacrifice looks like. I learned just how fickle and feeble my faith is.
I don’t know her name. I don’t know anything about her. But I know she loved her God.
Maybe some day I’ll love my God like that.