It is dark. It is quiet. The cold rain drips through her thatched roof soaking through the thin sheet she wraps around her skeletally frail body. Grace is 80 years old, blind, and all alone. Her HIV has progressed into full blown AIDS making it impossible for her tiny body to fight off any type of infection. The merciless cough caused by tuberculosis racks her body. In despair she cries out to God, a God she has not spoken to in twenty years, believing he had forsaken her when the AIDS virus took her precious husband and all 6 of her children from this earth. She wails to Him and asks if He can hear her. She knows that her life is near the end. She desperately wants to believe in something, anything, before she departs from this world. She begs the Lord that if He can hear her, if He is indeed real, He would send her a friend, a visitor, some kind of sign that someone out there cares. She falls asleep shivering, with a plastic trash bag over her head to keep the rain off her face.
The next day I make the familiar trek through the Masese III village, Patricia strapped to my back, bandaging wounds, testing for malaria, kissing foreheads. A woman from our beading group (go buy a beautifully handmade necklace and feed a child! www.147millionorphans.com) suggests that I go visit a blind old woman that she has heard of who may need some assistance, so I grab my dear friend Tamara and head deep into the village in the direction we have been pointed. I am not prepared for the sight that meets my eyes. Grace is indeed old and blind, but that only scratches the surface of her troubles. I actually spend a few minutes marveling at the fact that she is still alive. Her body is hardly strong enough to sit up, let alone stand or walk. She has not eaten in three days, and she hasn’t seen in 5 years. What gets to me most is the eerie quietness that surrounds her house, in the very back of the village near a trash pile, all the neighbors gone to work, even the wind seems quiet today. I think for a moment that her tiny mud house is exceptionally dark inside, and then I remember that for her, it is already dark anyway. I embrace this sweet woman, patting her back and kissing her cheeks and I tell her that Jesus loves her and I love her. “He does!” She exclaims. “He has sent me visitors as I asked!” Her excitement turns to a whisper, “I had stopped believing. I did not think God cared for me. Lord, I believe in You.” Tears streamed down both of our faces and together we began to pray to our Father who sees and hears and answers even the smallest of our requests.
All this took place about three months ago and was just the beginning of lots and lots of time spent with Grace. I would take her food a few times a week that her neighbors would help her cook every day. We went to many, many doctor’s appointments getting her treatment for her TB, blood transfusions, and lots of vitamins. When I brought the girls to meet her, they instantly fell in love with her sweet heart and immediately adopted her as their Jja Jja (grandmother). Most Sundays the girls and I pack up a picnic lunch and head over to Jja Jja Grace’s house to share a meal with her, read the Bible, sing and dance. The girls love it and Grace loves the house filled with noise and laughter. On Christmas day we ate lunch at her house and God gave all of us the most beautiful Christmas gift (second only to His Son, of course!) Jja Jja Grace, who just months ago had been too weak to stand, began to walk. She walked around the outside of her entire house (about ten square feet), praising the Lord the whole time. As neighbors came to watch and ask, we prayed with them to accept Jesus. Grace’s testimony was changing lives right before our eyes, and how blessed we felt to be a part of it.
Two days ago I went to visit Grace and was surprised to see that the food we had sent her for the week remained uncooked and uneaten. She said the neighbor who had been helping her cook the food had moved away three days ago, and she had not eaten since. I asked her how she had been taking her medicine, and she said that she feels around for each of her five packets of medicine and swallows one pill out of each. This presents a problem as they are all different, some to be taken 3 times a day, some to be taken two at a time, some with food, and some without. This clearly was not going to work. After talking to more of Grace’s neighbors and finding no one that was willing or even able to help, it struck me. We were going to have to move Jja Jja Grace in with us. To say that the idea of this overwhelmed me would be an extreme understatement. The girls helped me cook Grace’s lunch and wash some clothes for her, and we headed home so that I could think and pray about what to do next.
I rolled around in my bed not sleeping that night, “God are you truly asking me to do this?” And God said, “I think you know the answer. You don’t actually wonder if I am truly asking you to do this, you are just afraid of the inconvenience it may be to you to have a blind old woman in your care.” It was true. Somehow, adopting a grandmother seemed a lot more daunting than adopting a child. But it boiled down to this: Do I believe that Jesus was serious? Do I believe what He said was true? And the answer is yes. I believe that he was serious when He said to love my neighbor as myself, and I believe He meant this even when my neighbor was not tiny and cute and cuddly. I believe when He said to love my neighbor as MYSELF. He really meant to care for others as I would care for myself or my family, and I would never let myself or my family live in such conditions. How different it can be to “believe” the word of God and to take it literally.
As I thought of all the different life changes that would need to take place for us to accommodate Jja Jja Grace completely overwhelmed me, but the only reasons I could think of to NOT move her in with us were completely selfish. We have enough room, we have enough food, we have enough love. We have enough. I kept coming back to Matthew 25, a passage etched in my hear that says:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for the least of these brother’s of mine, you did not do for me.’
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
I BELIEVE that when Jesus said, “I tell you the TRUTH,” He meant just that, that His words were true and He wasn’t kidding. YES, I believe that I am saved by faith through GRACE. Grace that is freely given and cannot be earned by anything I do. But I also believe that sometimes we rely so heavily on the Grace of God to cover our sins that we blatantly disobey His word and feel ok about it. “Depart from me you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” THAT is what Jesus will say to those of us who do not care for the least of these. I believe this is true because I believe His word is true, EVERY word is true, plain and simple. That is a heavy, heartbreaking thought. How often have we neglected you, Lord?
“I’m sick,” He said, “will you look after me? Will you invite me in?”
In the morning I sat the girls down for a family meeting, something that is quite routine at our house. I already knew what their response would be when I asked them what they thought about Jja Jja Grace coming to live with us; I knew that they would be more than willing, excited even. They are SO MUCH better than me at giving without holding anything back. The vote was unanimous, they jumped up and down and squealed and told me thank you for having such a good idea. I laughed to myself; this was SO not my idea.
We went back to Masese that day and after women’s meeting went down to Jja Jja Grace’s house to invite her to move into our home. Tears welled in her eyes and a grin crossed her face, “God has given me a family,” she cried. “All these years with no one, and He has given me a new family!” What happened next threw me for a loop though; she said no! I looked up and wondered. All that thinking and processing and not sleeping, and she said no. She said that she was too old to start a new life and would be too much of a burden on us. She said that Jesus would be the one to take care of her and we could just continue to do what we can at her house. The girls begged and pleaded, but she had made up her mind. I will not pretend that my selfish, human heart didn’t feel some relief.
As we left, all feeling encouraged by the love God has sewn into our relationships with Grace, I wondered if He just wanted to grow me. If He just wanted to see if I would say yes. If in some small way, I was like Abraham and He just wanted to make sure I was willing to sacrifice it all for Him, only to tell me that I didn’t really have to. Jja Jja Grace may still move in; she may not. I am leaving that one in God’s hands. I believe however that the act of Grace moving into our home was not really the point; God just wanted to work in my heart. I am so thankful that He loves me enough to teach and mold me on such a personal level. I am thankful for Jja Jja Grace and all she has taught me and my family about Jesus. I am thankful for the opportunity to look into the eyes of the least of these and know that Jesus is staring back at me. I am thankful for the opportunity to simply say, “Yes.”