Instrument of Love In South America

1 Sep 2008

I answered the knock at the door. It was Dr. Steve, my SIM co-worker in the mountain Quechua village of Yawisla. “The infection in Maria’s leg is spreading. She needs surgery in Potosí. Could you go with her?” I could hardly believe it. A few days before, Maria tripped in the courtyard of the school where she was in 8th grade and cut her knee. How could she need surgery? Early next morning, we were on the bus bouncing down the rocky road to the city.

The public hospital turned us away because the doctors were on strike, and it took until evening for a friend to find us a private clinic. We spent the day making small talk as I tried to distract Maria from her worries. The doctor cleaned the infection in her leg and discharged her the next morning without a fever. Our mood was much lighter that day as we attempted Sudoku for the first time, played a new game with dice and talked about the people back in Yawisla. What were her friends saying? How would her grandparents react when they got the news? Would she be able to go back to school right away?

Upon our return to Yawisla, Maria re-entered the clinic for monitoring. The following morning I went to see how she was doing. Dr. Steve’s face was serious as he gave me a case study to read. It described a flesh-eating infection that can lead to amputation and even death. He said that Maria’s symptoms pointed to such a disease. The fiery border of infection that began in her knee was now near her hip. The fluid draining from her surgical wound looked like motor oil and the skin of her thigh looked greyish and was losing sensation. She needed immediate intervention. Dr. Steve called for an air evacuation and soon we were on board a small Cessna 206 bound for Cochabamba. Our Norwegian missionary pilot recommended a surgeon, who was much more aggressive this time, opening Maria’s leg from her hip to her calf to remove all the dead tissue. I was still fearful during Maria’s recovery, but after a couple of days with no complications, I realized the ordeal was over.

The bubbly, inquisitive and talkative Maria was back, whose traits made her so different from the typical shy Quechua teenagers of Yawisla. Her friends called from the one phone in Yawisla to say they were praying for her, they missed her and they couldn’t wait for her return. They told me to come back soon because they missed my chai tea and my pie, not necessarily me! Maria and I laughed and talked of Yawisla, which only recently had begun feeling like home to her. She returned to Yawisla to a hero’s welcome. After all, who in town had had such an adventure? Initially she stayed with me, since she couldn’t walk far yet, and I lived right next to the school. Maria’s teachers helped her to make up missed work, the student body took up a collection for her expenses and classmates helped her carry her books. I cooked meals for her and baked for the guests that came to visit. Our adventure created a bond between us. Although she had been coming to church and had attended a Bible study in my home, I knew very little about her. Over those days and weeks, her story unfolded. Maria grew up in the city of Tarija. Her father was an alcoholic and didn’t provide for the family’s needs. One day he said he was leaving to look for work and never returned. Her mother eked out a living preparing meals for other people. But the day came when the mother also abandoned her children and left to start a new life. Maria and her three siblings managed on their own for a time, but eventually had to split up among relatives.

Maria came to live with her grandparents in Yawisla, mourning the loss of her parents, brother and sisters. Her grandparents gave her food and shelter, but Maria didn’t feel loved. In the midst of this, God called Maria and brought her into our church family. God brought her into my home where I could love her, study God’s Word with her, pray with her and begin to talk through her brokenness and need for love. One morning a year later, Maria’s grandmother came calling. “Do you know where Maria is?” she asked. I had not seen her. I had hardly closed the door when another knock sounded. It was the mother of Juan, Maria’s boyfriend. “Have you seen Juan?” she asked. My heart sank. Hoping against hope, we hurried to the school and inquired but they weren’t there. If they had fled, it could only be because Maria was pregnant. How could they? Juan was also a regular at my home. I knew they liked each other and I had exhorted them to godly living on many occasions. They knew the truth. How could they? I was devastated.

Months later, Maria and Juan returned to Yawisla where she gave birth to a beautiful boy. They are learning about repentance, forgiveness and God’s unconditional love. More than ever, they need the support of a church family that models Christ’s unconditional love. As I reflected on my relationship with Maria, I thought how her brokenness reflects the human condition: the result of people not being in right relationship with God. God’s redemptive work is to bring broken people into a right and eternal relationship with him. God asks his followers to be channels of his love to the hurting people he brings alongside us. I was judgmental of Maria, but I realized that I also make bad decisions, even though I know the truth. I have taken matters into my own hands when it appeared that God was silent. I too can doubt God’s sovereignty in rough times, and question his unconditional love. Even with my short-comings and need for restoration, God let me be a messenger of grace to Maria.

There are many young people throughout South America with similar stories of brokenness. They need to hear of God’s salvation in Jesus and they need people to walk alongside them as they grow in their faith. They need healthy church families. Pioneers South America teams use varied outreaches: evangelism and church planting among unreached groups; children-at-risk ministries; youth discipleship; leadership development; literacy work; radio and teaching. Opportunities abound for those who will live out the Good News in the midst of spiritual hunger and physical need. Is God calling you to be his instrument of love in South America?

By AI – Pioneers Area Leader in South America. AI lived and worked in the rural Quechua community of Yawisla for four years with SIM co-workers

Prayer Requests

  • Pray for additional teams for outreach to many needy indigenous people groups.
  • Pray for more people to disciple and outreach to children and youth.
  • Pray for increased leadership development within the existing local churches.
  • Pray for wisdom to use resources wisely in the face of enormous physical needs.
  • Pray for the Pioneers team members, that in God’s strength they will model godly marriages and family life under the many pressures of living in a different culture.


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