This was originally going to be titled “A Love Story in Four Acts,” but I realized that would lose my main target audience (males) before I got started. Gentlemen, now that I have your attention, you should read this if:
- You have a daughter.
- You’re married to someone’s daughter.
- You’re dating or have dated someone’s daughter.
- You want to date someone’s daughter.
Ladies, you should read this because the content is still “A Love Story in Four Acts”. Just don’t tell the guys.
I’m not a big chaos person. I have too much of what my friends affectionately call “A-R” to do well in a non-orderly environment. Consequently, my first five minutes in the Manchen orphanage in Antigua, Guatemala was a bit overwhelming. A group of fourteen of us from 121CC had gone to conduct a VBS for the 90 or so teenage girls that are housed there, and as we came into the large courtyard past the entryway of the orphanage, it seemed all of them and then some were coming toward us with outstretched arms and very loud voices.
I embraced the occasional girl who came looking for a hug and wondered what I’d gotten myself into. My thoughts ran the gamut of semi-spiritual (“You’re here for the girls, you can endure the discomfort for a little while”) to self-protection (“I have to get out of this”) to analytical (“There have to be 500 girls here, I thought Bob said there were 90?”).
In the end, self-protection won out. I made my way a few steps out of the main drag and sat down on the porch balcony alongside the main hallway. On the little sitting area beside me was a teenage girl. When I sat down, she looked up and smiled. And everything changed.
Twenty-two years ago, as I was standing in the atrium area of my church, I looked down and saw the most beautiful three-year old girl I’d ever seen. She was mesmerizing, almost breathtaking. I was so impressed by the girl, I adopted her and married her mom (not in that order). This wasn’t quite that kind of moment, but it was close.
“Hola,” she said “Hola,” I replied. I decided to show off my Spanish. “What’s your name?” “Joselin.” “My name is Vince.” “Beence?” Right, Beence, that’s what I said. My middle-aged brain had held onto a couple more phrases. “How old are you?” “Fifteen.” “How long have you been here?” “Four months.”
About that time, an announcement came from one of our interpreters for the girls to form a single line so we could divide them into four groups, each of which would rotate through each of our four stations. Joselin looked up at me and said, mostly with her eyes (how do women do that?), “Your group?” Girl, you took the words right out of my mouth.
The first task of our four groups on Monday was to give each of the girls a Spanish Bible. When I handed Joselin her Bible, she immediately took it, flipped through the pages and pointed to Psalm 4:8. My Spanish was already stretched past the breaking point, so I looked it up in my Bible: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.” I nodded. She quickly turned a few more pages, this time pointing to Psalm 27:1. This one I knew, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?”
As I looked in her eyes, I didn’t see fear, or sadness, just an eagerness to show me verses she knew. Nevertheless, I was struck by the commonality of the verses. We’d been told enough about the orphanage and how and why the girls came there to know that there was likely a reason Joselin chose those particular verses.
The next day, as we came into the courtyard, I immediately searched the crowd for Joselin. As we saw each other, she came running over and gave me a hug. (Chaos, what chaos?) “How are you,” I asked? (My Spanish was brilliant!) Good. How was your day? Good (one word answers – she recognized no entiende español when she saw it). Off we went to group. We gave the girls a little foldover memory verse book one of the ladies lifegroups at 121CC had made for the girls. The lifegroup had included several pre-printed verses in Spanish, a few blank notecards for them to write their own verses, and a picture of the lifegroup, so the girls would be able to put faces with the gift. Between hand-motions and some more of my brilliant Spanish, I told Joselin I wanted her to write her two verses in two of the notecards and bring it back tomorrow. She nodded eagerly.
After we greeted each other, Wednesday, I asked Joselin to show me her book, and she opened it to the two cards she’d written. “Muy bien,” I said, and handed her two more that I’d written out in Spanish Tuesday night. There were two things I wanted Joselin to know: one was in line with the two verses she had shown me, the other was to tell her I wouldn’t soon forget her.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior. Isaiah 43:2
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all. Philippians 1:3–4
As we were getting ready to leave, Joselin asked me if I was going to be back tomorrow. Of course! She looked up at me and said, “Solo mañana?” — Only tomorrow? I inwardly groaned. I was hoping she wouldn’t notice. I was hoping I wouldn’t notice. Si, solo mañana.
Thursday, last day. Each of us spoke to the girls for a couple of minutes, to wrap-up how we’d felt about the week. As my turn came, I had them all look up at me, and I went around the circle and said to each of them, “Tu es importante.” You are important. As I came around to Joselin, I couldn’t resist adding a muy under my breath.
After we finished the group times, we had a pizza party for all the girls. While we were eating, I had Ana, our group’s interpreter come help me ask Joselin why she was there, which confirmed at least one of the reasons why she clung to her two verses. I went on to help clean up, and the girls went back through the line to get a gift bag we had for each of them.
It was almost time to leave, so I went searching for her one more time. She was sitting on a couch going through all of the things in her bag. I sat with her for a couple of minutes, then got up and said, “Adios!” She held up her finger to wait a minute, and flipped through a notebook she had. After a couple of times through, she found what she was looking for. It was a piece of manila paper, folded in half to make a card. She’d traced a figure on the outside, and written a note on the inside. I didn’t get all of it then (I had Ana translate for me at dinner), but I got enough to know leaving just got harder.
It’s interesting what connecting with one girl will do — it helps you connect with the others as well. It makes them all real. There were 27 girls who gave their hearts to the Lord on Thursday — by then we knew all 27. I took pictures of probably forty or more of the girls, with my wife, with me, with both. As I look through them, each of them brings a back a memory of a moment with them. Even so, my thoughts return most often to the one whose card said, in part, “I can imagine you being my dad.”
Gentlemen, if you met the qualifications at the beginning (and you did), then you’re qualified to go to Guatemala. You can’t know less Spanish than me, you can’t be more uncomfortable than me, you can’t even have a busier schedule than me. What you have is something a woman doesn’t — the ability to show these girls the lies they’ve been told about men in general and fathers in particular (usually through the actions of a man in general or a father in particular) are just that: lies. You have the ability to experience what James 1:27 calls true religion: visiting orphans in their distress.
There is a Joselin waiting for each of you. Don’t make her wait too long.