Stranger at the Door
It was Saturday evening; the air was warm and heavy following the afternoon showers. The day was finished, and my family and staff were preparing for a time of worship together. The door bell rang as it does many times each day. On the other side of the steel door is often a poor mother with a sick child, or a desperate father who needs work to feed his hungry children.
We answer the door many times when the caller is simply a shrewd local, who has fabricated a story to somehow trick us into financial assistance. Lately it has been a steady stream of amputees. We are compiling a list and library of photos for two technicians in the United States. They will make artificial limbs for those who have lost them.
The stories are fascinating and tragic all at the same time. Cancer has claimed feet and legs. A passing bus ripped off the arm of a 14 year old girl; infections that would have been treated easily in the States turned to gangrene and ultimately win the battle.
So, who would it be this time? Our watchman, Vicente, came to get me. "There is a man outside who would like to see you because he needs your help." I knew that it was not another interesting amputee. If it had been, Vicente would have made a cutting motion on the appropriate limb. This had to be something else and likely less interesting.
It is easy to get frustrated with all the interruptions of the day. This culture does not put much emphasis on personal space, privacy or what we would call social protocol. During the writing of the above paragraphs, I have been interrupted no less than eight times, even though my office door is closed.
What I really wanted to do is have a meaningful worship time with my family. Now, someone else would interrupt my plans.
He was different than the typical Peruvian. A bit taller but less than six feet; thin but with a strong hand shake. His eyes were intense and bright and made direct contact as he spoke. He wore a well trimmed beard, which is unusual in this hot, humid climate. He would partially bow as he spoke, almost Asian in his mannerisms.
I was intrigued within moments. This man was different than the others who come on a daily basis. I felt an immediate closeness that I rarely feel with a stranger. His shirt was a pale color. Perhaps it had been yellow or tan at one time, but now it was worn thin, threadbare around the collar but neatly tucked into his tattered brown slacks that were bunched-up under his belt line. It looked as though he had been heavier at one time, as the buckle of his belt had been moved successively to the next smallest hole.
He wanted to work. This is not an unusual request. We have started a large construction project at our crisis/foster care facility and the word spreads rapidly. We have turned away dozens of skilled, able-bodied workers looking for work to support their families.
This request was different. Our visitor was in Iquitos from the jungle. He was sick and had been for quite some time. Actually, he had been bleeding internally and passing blood for 28 days. He speculated that it was from intestinal parasites or some type of bacterial infection. He had waited as long as he could. His condition had only grown worse ,and the amount of blood he was losing was cause for alarm.
He wanted to know if it was possible for him to do some work as he needed to earn money for food. He put his hand on his thin waist line while he talked.
His stay in Iquitos, going back and forth to the hospital, would be a to much walking. If he could just earn enough for his passage, his medical expense would be covered by the government insurance from his years in the Peruvian Navy.
It was almost dark, and my family was waiting inside, so I asked him to come into the courtyard and have a seat. Susana had come to see who this stranger was and I asked her if we had food for our guest.
Within minutes she emerged from the kitchen with a plate piled high with Chinese rice, oriental chicken smothered in ginger sauce, fresh rolls from the bakery across the street and several slices of Peruvian Christmas bread, heavy with butter. The Chinese restaurant down the street always gives us portions too large for our family to finish, but this time a hungry stranger stared wide-eyed as Susana handed him the plate of food.
By now the family and staff that had assembled for worship were scattered. Gathering them all into one place is equivalent to herding cats and by the time we reconvened, our new friend was finished eating and sat quietly talking with Susana, waiting to work for his meal.
I asked Susana to join us for worship and to invite this stranger along if he cared to join us. They both found seats in the living room, and we began by reading a section of scripture and asking some questions. We were discussing the crippled man lying by the pool of Bethesda. Who for 38 years had hoped to be the first one in after the “healing angel” stirred the water.
During the discussion that followed, our visitor was quite insightful and contributed thoughts on a level that surprised all of us. He seemed to have an understanding of English as he would sometimes respond to my question or comment before Leovina could translate for the Spanish speaking group.
At the end of our time together we had some requests for special prayer and at that point our guest asked if we could remember him also. His medical condition was serious and it was then that he told us of his five-year-old son who was being cared for by friends in his jungle village. His wife died when the baby was only months old and their lives began to change.
This devastated father could not bring himself to return to the Navy after the death of his wife. Instead he began to wander the streets of the city looking for work ,and the slow down-hill spiral into poverty overtook him. This day he survived by working for food and sleeping in doorways.
“Would you please pray for me,” he asked. “My son will need me and the way I am I can not be a father to him.” So we all bowed our heads and I asked God, in His mercy, to remember this humble man who needed health and strength and blessings in his life. We asked God to let him carry out the responsibilities of fatherhood ,and if it be the sovereign will of the greatest Healer of all time, to restore this man to health. That was Saturday night.
Today is Thursday. Our friend came by this afternoon to say good-bye. He was on his way to his village 18 hours upriver to retrieve his son.
We invited him in ,and he shared with us the details and struggles of his last five years. The pressure of daily poverty, the loss of his wife, and the guilt of being away from his son had taken its toll.
I asked him about his bleeding and he just smiled. It had stopped sometime Saturday night. Not a drop of blood since he left our house. He told me that he knew God had smiled favorably on him, and that this marked a new beginning for him and his son.
He told us how embarrassed he is to dress badly. The other day he went into a bakery and the owner ran him out before he saw that he had coins for bread. Before he left he said he didn’t realize there were people in this world that would give a stranger food….real food….good food, and he didn’t know there were people who would treat him as a friend.
It was time for him to leave. The riverboat was leaving in an hour. He shook hands with everyone in the room several times. He bowed low and started to leave. I told him I feared that I would not see him again and how happy I was that he came back to tell us the good news.
He smiled again and said that he had been here…the other night, sleeping outside our door. I asked him why and he said that this was a place he felt safe. As we shook hands one last time, he bowed low and touched my hand to his forehead then walked away.
There is a good reminder in Hebrews 13:2 that says, “Don’t forget to entertain strangers: for by doing so some have entertained angels and didn’t even know it.”
Godspeed my friend~