Waiting for a Moment

I had been working for this moment for more than a year – 17 months to be exact. To say a lot was on the line would be an understatement. From past experience I knew I would only get one chance at this, and THIS was the moment. It was make or break. I prayed for the right words, opened my mouth, and let the Spirit move.

The Beginning

17 months ago the flooding in Tipitapa, Nicaragua left more than 7,000 people homeless. In a city of 30-35K more than 20% of the population was affected. It was, in short, devastating.

As we worked to help those that lost their homes I got to know the families and children that had been misplaced and left homeless. As I spent more time with them and in the facility where they had found refuge I began to notice a family of sisters that were always on the outside of everything. No matter what was going on or who was involved the sisters kept their distance. They did not participate; they just watched and absorbed what was going on.

Once I noticed them I began trying to include them, to reach out to them, and to show them that in the midst of all the chaos someone cared. It was slow going. Any time I got close they would either back away or find something else to do. I tried time and time again to involve them in our activities but there seemed to be a wall that I just couldn’t break through.

At first I thought it was just me, but then I began to notice that it was more than that; it was all men. Any time that a man got close they would back away, do something else, or look down at their feet with their head down as though they were afraid and ashamed. Everything became much more clear: they had undoubtedly had a bad experience or were living a bad experience with a man or men in their lives.

I asked the leaders about their story. Nobody knew the specifics and most didn’t even know who the girls were. But one leader spoke about some very harmful and hurtful actions by men in their community towards the girls and their mother. My heart was broken for them. Their pain and hurt was far deeper than poverty. It was deeper than a lack of confidence. It was a product of something much more harmful: despicable acts by broken men and women that left a feeling of isolation, inferiority and invisibility. (You can see it in the picture to the right. Reina’s sister is the only one that wouldn’t put on her mask.)

They had to feel forgotten, overlooked, unloved, and alone.

The anger within me swelled and all I could think was, “THIS IS NOT HOW THINGS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE!! THESE ARE CHILDREN!! ABOVE ALL ELSE THEY SHOULD KNOW THEY ARE LOVED AND NOT ALONE!!”

I left the facility that day more determined than ever to show these precious little girls that Jesus and the gospel were different. That not all men or women are the same. That Jesus was a man that loved, that protected, that was gentle, that did not abuse or take advantage, and that loved them and valued them deeply.

I wanted them to know they were not alone, that Jesus, God and we loved them. I just didn’t know how I was going to get the chance to say it. If there is one thing I have learned in doing development work is that people only believe what they are ready to believe. We can tell someone a million times that feeding a baby coffee is bad for the baby, but if they have been told their entire lives that it is ok, and if they are told every day by those around them that it is ok, and if we – outsiders to the community and culture – are the only ones saying it is not; more times than not we are not taken seriously.

It is often the same when we tell these children we love them. There has to be a significant level of trust developed well before truth can be spoken if we want it be internalized and believed. If we say truth too early it is often ignored, forgotten, or thrown to the ground on par with the “truth” in fairytales.

Relationships must come first.

Therefore I began praying for a relationship with the girls. Little by little they began to look me in the eye, to nod when I nodded, and to participate a little bit when we did activities for the kids. Then, one day, Reina (the oldest), smiled at me. (The picture to the right is of Reina’s youngest sister)

I was on cloud nine.

Then she would shake my hand, smile when I greeted her, and let me stand near her without looking down at the ground. Nothing changed with other men, but we had finally entered into a level of trust where I would not try to make her talk or participate and she would not run.

Then devastation came. I was moving back to the United States. I tried to tell her but it was too many words too soon. She was not comfortable with it. So I waved, smiled, told her I would look for her when I came to visit, and left without ever being able to speak truth as I had hoped.

I was broken hearted.

The Follow Up

In January I made my first return visit to Tipitapa. One of the first things I did was ask about Reina and her sisters. No one knew who I was talking about. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. These were the forgotten ones. These were the invisible ones. These were the unloved.

We walked the community, asking everyone if they knew where they lived. We drove the community twice looking for them on our own. We found nothing. They were gone. They had disappeared.

I was full of regret having never told them the truth I knew they needed to hear. I prayed to God for those little girls. I begged that someone would come into their lives to share with them what I had been unable to share. We had to leave but a large part of my heart remained wherever those little girls were.

The Trip – Day 1

Flash forward to this past week as we arrived at Tipitapa to do the VBS activities with the Aggie group. I had prayed for the girls but had not considered that they would be in the community. I was certain they were gone. So as I walked up to the school I saw a young girl waving at me. I waved back as I always do thinking it was just one of the girls of the community and then I saw her face.

This wasn’t just any girl. This was Reina. She was alive. She was here. Hope was alive.

“GOD HELP US TO SPEAK TRUTH!! GIVE US AN OPPORTUNITY!!” I screamed in my heart! “It doesn’t have to be me God, just let those little girls know they are loved.”

As the day went on I looked for her, and it was the same as before. She would shake my hand, but not hug. She would nod her head to say she was doing ok but would not speak. She would lower her head when other men were around but looked me in the eye. I was so excited to know that we had not lost the previous year’s work.

Then my heart really started to sing. She took to one of the Aggies named Sarah. They bonded and Reina stuck to her like glue. She even let Sarah hug her. She talked to Sarah and let her in. It was beautiful to watch. But I wasn’t satisfied. I still felt the Lord’s burden to tell her myself how God loved her. So I waited and watched for a chance.

During the day I tried to befriend her. It was the same each time until the very end. We were telling the kids goodbye and that we would be returning the next day. I was busy hugging each child that walked up to me and was lost in the moment. I straightened up for a second and realized Reina was next to me, just looking at me expectantly.

I wasn’t sure what to do but remembered the lesson from that morning – “Don’t be afraid; just believe” – and I stuck out my arm to hug her. It lingered for a second and I thought she would deny me again, but she didn’t. Instead she leaned in. She let me hug her. It was the first time we had ever hugged and she just melted into my arm.

Relationship established. “Thank you, Jesus.” I thought.

The next thing I knew I was hugging other kids while trying to get all the Aggies in the van. Reina had disappeared, but I knew I would see her tomorrow so I focused on getting the doors of the van closed. As I walked around to the driver side of the van Reina was standing by my door. She wanted another hug!!

This time she hugged me with both arms. I told her, “We love you. Will we see you tomorrow?” She nodded yes. I hugged her again and got into the van. She waved and smiled at the girls in the front seat with me as we drove off. I prayed about the next day and asked for the chance to share more with her.


The Trip – Day 2

The next thing I knew we were back. Reina was smiling more, was ok with my hugs, and even spoke to me when I asked simple questions. It was amazing. As the day passed she opened up more as Sarah continued to invest in Reina and just give her love away. The effect was literally tangible.

At the end of the day I had been able to connect with Reina more. With our relationship established our trust had grown and I could see in her eyes it was time to share truth. She would believe me. I just needed the moment.

And then the moment came. We were telling the kids goodbye and she was next to me again. I began to hug her and looked her directly in the eye.

It was time for words.

The Moment

“Did you know we love you very much?” I asked. She looked down at the ground.

“It’s true! We love you so much! You are very intelligent too! And beautiful!” She kept her head down but raised her eyes to meet mine and in that moment I could see her asking if this was true, if what I was saying was just words OR if I really believed what I was saying, if SHE could believe what I was saying.

This was what I had been praying for, waiting for, hoping for. 17 months of work and we had finally arrived. I knew I believed it was true. Now I just need to make sure she did.

I felt God’s peace come over my heart as it can only do when we are in his path, and said, “I am so proud of you for going to school and for being such a good sister. I love you very much.” Her head began to rise and her eyes softened. The doubt was fading. Belief was entering and taking hold.

“And you know what? God loves you so much. And He always will. You are very special to Him and He cares about you so much. And we love you so much too.” She was standing straighter, taller. I hugged her and she hugged me back, squeezing tightly. I kept hugging her for at least 20 seconds. I didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to leave her in this broken world. I didn’t want there to be even a single moment where she doubted this truth. I didn’t want for her to be left without our team to fight for her.

I thanked the Lord for the chance to speak truth to her. I thanked Him for putting Sarah in Reina’s path and all the amazing things He had accomplished through her. And I prayed desperately that He would guard her heart.

Then the hug ended. We were in the van and driving out of the community. She was waving. I was fighting back tears, anger, happiness, sadness, hope, and a million other emotions.

God had not forgotten her. My prayers had been answered. Now He was telling my heart, “I have been faithful. Trust me my child. I want the best for her too. I love her deeply, more deeply than you will ever understand, and she is my daughter. Trust in me. She is in my hands.”

The Future

And so I trust. I trust He will provide. I trust she will believe the truth that was spoken. I trust that WE, as the body of Christ, will remember her and will pray for her. And I trust that He, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, is there with her now, reminding her she is loved and forever will be.

Thank you for making this trip and our work possible. Thank you for helping us speak for those that cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31: 8-9) and for helping us bring hope to the hopeless.

Even if all we accomplished over the past three years was helping this one child know she is loved I would consider it worth all it cost.

More stories to come.

6 Comments

  1. Jill H. says:

    What an awesome story! God always is intentional with His words to us. I’m reminded of verses about patience and perseverance. You and the team are fulfilling God’s will by being His hands and feet in Tipitapa as well as showing his love to those who desperately need it. Way to go Chris and team! We are so proud of you and praying for you always.

  2. chris says:

    Thank you so much Jill! Your encouragement and involvement in our work means so much!

  3. Gretchen says:

    This is beautiful, Chris. Thanks so much for sharing such a powerful story of redemption and for letting the Lord use your heart to love on these kids.

  4. Victoria says:

    What strikes me deeply about this whole story is that it is a perfect representation of how we ALL relate to others and God deep down, although this is obviously a more extreme case. There is nothing sweeter than the King of Kings laser focusing on a hurting person. What a loving and gentle Father. To God be the glory!

  5. [...] the story of a little girl named Reina. Here is the latest blog entry about her and her sisters: Click here to read. I encourage you to take the time to read it before continuing as I believe it will shed light as [...]

  6. [...] with an unmatched zeal to shine light into the darkness and begin to redeem that which was broken (click here to read more of her [...]

Leave a Reply