God's faithfulness is so evident!
Our last two days of the wheelchair distribution were very long and difficult. When the plans were made for our time in Santa Anna it was decided that we would stay in San Salvador and commute the 45 minutes each way rather than relocating; a very doable plan...until the main road was closed during the day for construction. That meant that we had to detour around the construction making it a 2 hour trip. We had breakfast at 6:00 each morning and were on the road by 6:30, returning in the evening quite late at night. On Thursday we returned at 10:30 on to find out that we had to relocate our rooms the next morning before we left, doubling up to 4 or 5 people in each room due to an apparent mistake and the facility being overbooked. By the time we packed, took showers and got into bed it was well past midnight and we had to be up at 5:00 the next morning. My prayer on Friday was that God would give me and our whole team strength to get through the next day and be able to work in His Spirit as we ministered to the people we would serve throughout the day. Our over riding goal is to be able to share the love of Christ in word and deed and I knew this was not possible in my own strength, as tired as we all were. God did not disappoint. The team continued to work as a well oiled machine, in unity and grace throughout the day. We ended up seating 42 people this last day and we were done before 5:00 PM. An amazing day for sure!
There are so many stories to tell. There was a mother who brought back an empty wheelchair her son had been given last year. He passed away just a month ago. She wanted us to have the chair back so we could use it to bless another family as we had blessed hers. This day she brought her brother who needed a wheelchair and has the same disease that claimed her son's life. It was a bittersweet reunion to be sure. We cried together, mourning the loss of her son before moving forward to get just the right chair for her brother.
There is little Maria, who is 21/2 years old who received her first wheelchair during this trip. She is a very precious child of God. Then there is a little girl whose mother died when she was born. She has cerebral palsy, from complications during her birth. Her grandmother is raising her and her three older brothers alone. Her grandmother was so thankful for the gift of this wheelchair which will make it much easier for her to care for her granddaughter. She left praising God for the gift she was given today; and a young man with a spinal cord injury who was too weak last year to sit up and be able to push himself, but this year he received a chair he could push himself. When I asked him how he liked his new wheelchair, he immediately gave me a "thumbs up". You'll be able to recognize him in his photo as well.
The highlight of the whole trip for me though, was a reunion with a beautiful young woman named Maritza. Some of you have heard me speak of Maritza from last year, or read my posting of last year. This is the same woman I have asked countless people to pray for. For those of you who don't know the story, I will share it again. For those of you who know her story, skip to the bottom of this post to catch the best "ending" ever.
Last year Maritza greeted us when we arrived in the small town of Cara Sucia which in English means "dirty face". Wouldn't you love to come from a town named "dirty face"? When we arrived Maritza was crawling on her hands an knees about the distribution site, doing all she could to welcome us and make us feel at home. She crawled on her hands and knees with sandals on her hands to protect them. She would pull chairs around and offer them to us, and bring us drinking water. We arrived to set up the site for the distribution that was to occur the next day. One of our folks who spoke a little Spanish asked her if she was excited to be getting a wheel chair the next day but she told them that she did not need a wheelchair. Not wanting to offend, she was not questioned further that night. When we arrived the following morning for the distribution there was Maritza again, serving the people who had come to receive new wheelchairs. She was serving them as she had us the night before, with a gentle and patient spirit.
Part way through the day, our photographer who is fluent in Spanish again asked Maritza if she was sure she didn't want a wheelchair too. Maritza shared with her that she did indeed, want a wheelchair, but she wanted to be sure everyone else who had come for a chair got one first. If one was left, she would gratefully receive it. She said that at least she could crawl along, but many people couldn't even do that. At the end of the day, there were no wheelchairs left and many of us just couldn't leave knowing that Maritza would not get a wheelchair. We made arrangements for her to come to the next location where we were going to be the next day and we would do all we could to find just the right chair for her. Transportation for her was found and she agreed to meet us there.
A side note to this story is that last year our 3rd container of wheelchairs and parts had been delayed in getting to us and had finally made it to San Salvador just the morning of our distribution in Cara Sucia. By mid day we had decided to send one of our team on the 4 hour trip back to San Salvador to pick out wheelchairs and other needed supplies and bring them back to help us have enough to meet the needs of the people who where coming for our final 2 days of the distribution. On the list of needed things was to look for the best chair for Maritza. When she agreed to come to Santa Anna, I took her measurements and we gave them to our team member to look for her chair. We were not disappointed and God was definitely at work. The chair found for Maritza was a small sports chair just her size, one that would allow her maximum mobility and function. The amazing thing about the chair is that it was the only sports chair in the shipment and in addition to that, it was not listed on the manifest. (The manifest is the document that lists in detail all the contents of the container, chair by chair and part by part.) It was like God had placed that wheelchair right there for Maritza.
The next day Maritza arrived at the distribution shortly after we did and one of our mechanics was already adjusting the chair for her measurements. I took her over to see the chair and her eyes filled with tears as she whispered "for me?” We soon had Maritza move into her wheelchair for the first time and it fit her like a glove. She was able to move around with ease for the first time in her life. After watching her for a bit and giving her instructions on the use and care of the chair, we invited her to visit with one of our pastors and she accepted this invitation. After the gospel message was shared with her, she received a Bible. Although she did not accept Christ as Lord and Savior that day, she did tell the pastor that she planned to read this Bible because she wanted to learn more about this Jesus we were talking about; the one who had sent us to help her people. Since that day I have asked so many of you and others to pray that Maritza would come to know Jesus for herself, and now for the rest of the story.
On Friday, our last day of the distribution this year, a bus load of people needing wheelchairs arrived in Santa Ana from Cara Sucia, Maritza's home town, and she was with them. When I saw her across the room we started toward each other and immediately greeted each other with hugs and tears. I have wondered all year just how she was doing and here she was right before my eyes. She told me she was doing well. I told her I had a very important question to ask her if she was willing to answer it. She told me to go ahead. I asked her how it was with her soul. In her quiet way she cocked her head just a bit sideways and told me that she believed it was pretty good. I asked if she now had Jesus in her heart and she told me yes with a big smile on her face. It was an amazing experience and a perfect end to our nearly 2 weeks of work distributing and fitting wheelchairs.
Those of us who go about trying to do what God has called us to do are in the seed planting business. We often plant but don't get to experience the joy of seeing the harvest. On Friday, I was able to see the harvest of this one soul for God's Kingdom. I don't think there is a better feeling in the world than this sure knowing. Thank you to each and every one of you who have prayed for us, supported us financially, missioned with us, and been faithful in so many ways for your part in bringing Maritza into the family of God. Know that your efforts have not been in vain. I am humbled and blessed to be in ministry with you.