“When I pray, coincidences happen, when I don’t, they don’t,” is what William Temple, an Anglican bishop, wrote years ago. The truth of that statement repeats itself often in my life and it happened again in Guatemala this past week.
Sadly, we were unable to return to the neighborhood where we have previously built homes. Consequently we could not visit with the families we’d made connections with on previous trips. In the mission field, one accepts the constraints of schedules and locations leaving to God the hopes and inclinations one has. So I let go of any idea that we might be able to get back to the “old” neighborhood and pass along greetings from people back home who helped construct the homes in that place.
Friday, our final day, we dedicated all the homes we constructed, walked down the shoulder of the inactive volcano, Aqua, one final time and were waiting in the central plaza of Cuidad Vieja for our bus ride. As usual it was late. We were just hanging out and handing out pencils along with pencil sharpeners to any children who happened to pass by. I watched an older woman with a young child making her way through the plaza heading in our direction. As she came nearer, I encouraged one of the teens to offer the child a pencil. The old woman looked up at me and we froze. I knew her…and she knew me. We recognized each other in an instant. Leonarda was the grandmother whose daughter died months before we arrived two years ago and who took on the task of raising her two orphaned grandchildren. We built her a home and, through us, God provided solace in that family’s grief that touched all of us deeply.
Needless to say, we embraced and laughed and shed tears of joy. She told us that they talk about us so often and that they still sing all the songs we taught them when we were with them. In fact, she said her children recently asked her if we would ever come back and she told them, “Probably not”. “But here you are!” she said beaming at all of us. “I will tell my children!” Then she told me that they were all doing well and perhaps the most telling for me is that she said, “I have planted roses in front of my house, white and pink. It is all beautiful.” The contrast from the last moment we saw one another to this moment this was night and day; hope has been in full bloom in her home. We serenaded her with one of the Bible school songs and she joined right in…every word perfect. Then we prayed together. We prayed for her and she for us. What a precious moment in time for all of us.
In a very concrete way, God answered my unspoken prayers to somehow connect with the families from previous trips as well as answer the queries of some team members about the value of spending so much money on the trip. “Wouldn’t the money be better spent if we just sent it?” was asked of me more that once. Of course money will always be welcome and hopefully put to good use, but who would teach the recipients songs? Who would carry hope in such personal ways that leave the recipients talking about the gift of time, talent and smiles for years to come? Who would transform the hearts of those who see and touch such poverty for the first time in their lives? As the prophet Isaiah said so long ago, “God’s ways are not our ways. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8). In the giving and the receiving God works on everyone involved. It is the personal touch that marks the ways of our God. Reclamation happens one heart at a time in ways that uniquely speak to the needs of that individual.
It was a beautiful gift that God gave to our team and a beautiful gift that God gave to Leonarda that Friday in the plaza. God’s efforts on behalf of his children are never wasted if we only have eyes to see. Coincidences happen all around us when we are attuned to God at work in our midst. I just find such amazing moments more readily available when we are on mission trips. The only explanation is this: We’re looking for God’s activities among us and thus we see his handiwork. When we don’t look for it, strangely we don’t see it. So expect God to be at work in the world around you…for in truth, God is at work and when you expect it, you will see it! Thanks be to the living, active God who loves his children so much.