By Louis Johnson
It is late Friday afternoon in Guatemala City and our church's mission group is in a van headed toward the Buckner Girls Transitional Home. Later this evening we will gather all of the teens from the Boys and Girls Transitional Homes for a weekend of Bible study and Christian discipleship training.
When we drive up there is a girl, a resident of the home, outside on the sidewalk. She sees the van, and sees my wife Sherri sitting next to the window. The girl smiles wide and waves with excitement. Sherri and I hustle out of the van and across the street toward her. When we get to the girl, we both hug her tight. We don't want to stop.
“Te queremos,” we tell her. “We love you.”
“Los quiero tambien,” she says. “I love you too.”
It is Maggie.
Sherri and I met Maggie two years ago at the Manchen Girls Home in Antigua, Guatemala. It was my first time inside a Guatemalan orphanage and I admit I was nervous. A young girl, 15 years old or so, came to my rescue. She walked over and introduced herself as Maggie, short for Magdalena.
After several minutes of conversation, Maggie noticed on my right wrist a copper bracelet which I had bought the year before in South Africa. She asked, “What is this for?” As best I could in my halting Spanish, I explained that I had gotten it on another mission trip. “But why do you still wear it?” she asked me. I told her that I wore it to remind me to pray for the people I had met in Africa.
Maggie got quiet and then she looked down at her own wrist. On her skinny arm she had a green plastic bracelet, one of the few personal belongings she had to her name. She took that precious bracelet off her wrist and put it on mine. Maggie’s best friend Sara was sitting next to her, and she took a similar plastic bracelet off her arm and gave it to me as well. Maggie said, “These are so that you will remember us and pray for us, too.”
I told them that I couldn't accept their gifts, and when they asked me why not, I told them it was because I had nothing to give them in return. I happily would have taken the copper bracelet off my own arm and given it to one of them, but then I'd have nothing to give the other girl. But Maggie smiled at me and said, “You don't have to give us anything. We know that you care about us and that's enough.”
Oh, dear God....
I don't mind telling you that I cried that day, and on a lot of days since then, over Maggie. I have wept over that precious girl who was willing to give away some of the little bit she owned, just as her way of saying “thank you” to a guy who dropped into her life for a couple of days to show that she was grateful for the knowledge that someone cared.
Sometime after our 2006 visit, Maggie and her sister Vilma both were moved to Buckner's Transitional Home in Guatemala City. Sherri and I were not able to go with our church group to Guatemala in 2007, but we were overjoyed when our group came home and told us that they had seen Maggie. We were especially happy to learn that the home has a computer and internet access and that we could e-mail Maggie.
Which we have done. Many times. And which she has done in return.
On a Sunday evening last September, Sherri and I made a phone call. It was a long-distance call to Guatemala. And on the other end of the line was our girl Maggie. Pablo, a friend of ours, is fluent in Spanish and he listened in on the extension and helped with translation when needed.
But for the most important things we had to say, we needed no translator.
Te queremos. We love you.
Te extrañamos. We miss you.
Estás en nuestros corazones, y pensamos acerca de ti cada día. You are in our hearts and we think about you every day.
By the way, when a teenage girl giggles, it’s a universal concept and needs no translation. For example, at one point Sherri playfully asked Maggie if she was staying out of trouble and Maggie giggled.
It was about eight different shades of wonderful.
Sherri and I have talked to Maggie by telephone a number of times since then. When we talk or write, she calls us Mamá and Papá. Frequently she uses the more familiar and endearing Papi and Mami. Daddy and Mom.
On our mission trip this year, our group went into the home's living room to meet all the girls and house parents who live there. Then we spread out to take a tour of the home. The house is impressive; Buckner truly has done well for these girls, and for the boys who live a short distance away in the Boys Transitional Home.
A little later, while the rest of our group is still taking the tour, Sherri and I take Maggie and her sister Vilma aside for a private conversation. Alone we give gifts to the sisters and tell them again how much we love them. We sit quietly for several minutes, all holding each others’ hands. Maggie lays her head on my shoulder and strokes the back of my hand with her thumb. We cry softly.
The following day, during a break between our Bible study activities, Sherri and I are talking again with Maggie and Vilma. Vilma speaks quickly and quietly, and my Spanish is not good enough to understand all she is saying. One of our interpreters comes to our aid.
“She says that she loves you both and she wants to call you Mother and Father also.”
Sherri and I hug Vilma, and I gave my new daughter a kiss on top of her head. Vilma sniffled and wiped tears from her eyes.
And now it's my turn to sniffle and wipe tears from my eyes. Our family is growing, and apart from the pain of fast-approaching separation, I couldn't be happier. And I can't help but think that right now, my Lord Jesus also is smiling – and wiping tears from His eyes.
Louis Johnson is pastor of North Park Baptist Church in Abilene, Texas. He has traveled with Buckner on mission trips to Guatemala twice and to Peru once.
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