She asks to speak at the pulpit, to say a few words, her apron still on, her eyes love worn and lined with gentle strokes.
Her name is Ruth. She’s a woman who makes her pots a holy thing (Zech. 14:21), who stirs eternity at the end of her spoon.
The translator serves us Ruth’s first words:
“My mission is the kitchen.”
Many saints have dishpan hands and I eat her words. They preach rich truth to me, that the kitchen with a plate is the place where the strangers at Emmaus and the starved of this earth meet the face of Christ.
That the table can be a holy revelation.
Ruth, she tells us what this means to her, a church-going woman, to now serve in this Compassion project, to minister bowls of grace in the kitchen of her local church, a whole body of volunteers partnering with Compassion to offer a Child Developmental Program on the steep hillsides of Guatemala City, a city that more than two million people call home.
Nearly 195 of those are children who call Ruth home, her table their meeting place.
They call the Compassion project in the middle of this place: “Foragers of Hope.”
From the moment the bus door opens in the gated district of the church, we can hear it ringing off the red clay hillside, these children, Ruth’s children, Compassion’s children, clapping eager in the church sanctuary to welcome the feet of those who bring the good news.
We applaud. They sing. We smile. They sway hallelujah. Confetti falls like manna and we all laugh startled wonder and we feast on hope. I watch little boys gather confetti and stuff their pockets.
I hadn’t expected the colors, the banquet, the way His flame makes the moment fill.
And one child, beaded and braided, she sits at my feet and she never stops shimmering, a candle at the table. I am captivated. We taste each other’s happiness. I think my burning heart might burst.
What do strangers know on the way to Emmaus?
Us foreigners carry out the food with Ruth.
We serve the Compassion children lunch. They pray in Spanish. A toothless boy whispers “Gracias, Gracias.” A pony-tailed girl giggles, slurps down her drink, eyes us shy. Rain falls heavy from the sky. The pastor tells us that because of the partnership of his church with Compassion into this community, 11 new families, all of Compassion kids, now attend this church. I brim with blurring emotion. What is greater than this kind of feast? The sky rumbles low. I shake Ruth’s hand before we board the bus. She is Martha with a Mary heart and they will be telling her story at the end of time.
In my pocket, I carry my own sliver white manna confetti from the feast.
So I will not forget.
The sky’s still splitting when we drive the winding, sloshing streets to find the home of our sponsored child, Xiomara.
Barbed wire lines walls. The top of cement blocks gates deter with spiked razor edges of broken beer bottles, serrated glass. Every window’s barred with iron. Trash lies in the streets.
Where is your table in all of this Xiomara, Xiomara?
The bus slows at a numberless, nameless street. A vendor’s selling t-shirts on the corner. A dog splays in a doorway. From the top of a the telephone wires overhead, a pair of faded yellow running shoes dangle.
I walk slow, uneasy. My cornfields are a whole continent away from the rain drizzling off these rusting tin roofs.
What do strangers know when they reach Emmaus?
And then out of doorway, around a corner, down the street…..
she comes running.
Child of our hearts, child who I have carried, child I have come for, she finds me and the strangers recognize the burning hearts.
Xiomara was the child at my feet at noon!
I was the stranger she glowed for at the church!
Neither knew, but we’d smiled into each other’s eyes at Foragers of Hope…
Xiomara and I, we’ve found our food! Giddiness!
She welcomes me in.
I pass through her kitchen.
Sit next to her table.
I’m the stranger who doesn’t pass by but stays with her here, and I take the bread of this moment, give thanks for it, and I give thanks that we can be broken and we can be given and this is how Christ is recognized in the world.
Why is the world hungry when God’s people have bread? Are bread?
I unfold the map and show Xiomara, her parents, where I’m from, a stranger finding her way. Finding The Way.
I point to their star of Guatemala City. The translator says it in Spanish, how I tell them my prayers will travel all the miles between home and here for them.
I give her a kaleidoscope, just like the one I had as a little girl, and she does what I did, watch all the floating stars bloom into a fireworks of glory. I smile at my Guatemalan star blooming too, radiance of the God glory. I can’t believe I’m here, that she’s here, a wonder in the dark.
That one is Negro, the black one, her favorite.
She’s named the other one Spotted One — and she’s named her dog the same, Spotted One. We laugh at this.
I ask her, Can you read?
And she reads this whole first page of the Jesus Storybook Bible and the line that reads, “Because God created everything in His world to reflect Him — to show what He is like…”
And my heart keeps exploding, breaking, a kaleidoscope of fracturings.
And I whisper, that if I ever someday learn Spanish, I should write her a letter and tell her. We laugh at this.
Then I tell her of the dress I picked out for her and my concerns that it wouldn’t fit and how I had to call Levi, nine too, and ask him to try it on, and how Malakai laughed to see his brother in pink, but Levi did it for her.
She tries the dress on. She says yes, take a picture, for Levi to see, and she does it for him.
And I think of a son on our far-away farm and this far-away-sponsored-daughter right here, both clothed together in the same fabric of grace and how we all sit around the same table of fellowship and I touch her long black hair.
It’s a perfect fit.
I whisper, “You are beautiful….”
I pray she will long savor this …. soul manna.
And then it is time to go, our too-short meal ended…
I shake her mother’s hand, her father’s, and he tears, “Gracias, Gracias.” I tell him how my husband and I thank he and his wife for the privilege of partnering with them and I squeeze his hand, shake it with fervor and what is there more to be in this life than to reflect Christ — than to show what He is like.
Than to be bread for another man?
Before I go, we bow together and I pray, give thanks for this real food and I say Amen. We all say Amen.
And over Xiomara, over this one bed in one room that sleeps six people, I glance it: The Table where the banquet was laid, The Bread Body that was broken and given, the plate of sacrifice that was passed that sin could be passed over.
And I lean in close to the Last Supper on the wall of a tin house and I nod.
This, all this, all this we ever give, this is in remembrance of Him.
To be bread like Him. Because the Last Supper is the supper that never ends, His Love Body, his people, being broken and offered again and again and this is the testament to the power of resurrection.
I must not forget.
Xiomara waves, enlivened.
And I slip back for one more long embrace. I hold this daughter only once, but forever in the heart.
And at the end of her street, her scent still on me, her hope still blooming in me, the Compassion worker tells me that Xiomara had begged her parents to be allowed into Compassion’s program, that since she was a very little girl, she has been coming to the church on Sunday morning with her sisters, but never her parents.
That once her parents agreed to her entering the Compassion program, she had waited nine whole months for a sponsor — a whole long gestation, and one that I had felt within — and how excited she was to know that someone had finally said yes! And the Compassion worker tells me that now — these past three Sundays now — her mother has been coming to church with her.
I choke it back. When we break our lives as bread, we don’t know how long God will extend the table and how many He’ll be invite to the feast. What could be more to life than being broken bread?
I whisper through the brimming and spilling, “How… how did Xiomara get to church on Sunday before she was in the Compassion program? When she was younger, before her mother started coming too?”
The worker gestures and the translator translates:
“You remember the woman at the church who spoke. The one in the apron? Ruth?”
“Yes,” I nod, feeling that burning again in the chest — “the one with the mission in the kitchen.”
“Yes, her — Ruth brought Xiomara every Sunday since she was little.”
At the table of everyday, Christ is revealed in the lives broken and given and missionaries in kitchens can change the world for eternity.
On the bus taking me far away away from Xiomara, I am no longer a stranger on the road and I see Christ and I am forever beautifully broken and wrecked for the poor and even my life can be given to satisfy emptiness.
So I slip it out of my pocket and into my palm, that confetti manna I gathered up after the singing and I trace its curl, it’s smile.
And I celebrate the supper that never ends.
Might you prayerfully consider being bread for another Guatemalan family?
(Photos: of the visit with Xiomara, taken by the uber-talented Keely Marie Scott)
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