I know that many of us are familiar with the parable of the lost sheep told by Jesus. We can find them in both Matthew 18 and Luke 15. Quickly told, there is a shepherd with one hundred sheep. One of them is lost. The shepherd then leaves the ninety-nine other sheep and searches for the one. He rejoices when he finds the single, lost lamb.
The story sums up our mission at UnoMas. We are a very personal enterprise. We, on Christ’s behalf, seek the one disenfranchised person who has been lost by society. Then we look for one more or “uno mas”.
Today, I want to share with you the story of one such person.
This is the story of Magda. She is around twelve years old. She comes from one of the poor barrios here in Granada. She is intelligent, witty, and full of life. She has been in my classes for almost two and one half years. I have developed a fatherly connection with her over the years. Her English has improved tremendously and she could make it in the hospitality world. That is, if she were old enough, if she had a certificate from the school, and if there were hospitality jobs to be had. She is not. She does not. There are not.
In the United States we take for granted that most people try to stay in school at least until it is time to graduate. I have heard many stories of people who did quit school to follow a dream or to escape a particularly horrible situation. But usually those stories involve folks 16, 17, or even 18 years old. Years ago my own grandfather left school at 11 to help the family on the farm. But in recent years, with child labor laws and social pressures, we don’t see as much of this in pre-teen children.
Magda has not been in classes since I returned from my brother’s funeral. So, I went to her neighborhood and asked where her family lived. I was shown and found no one at home. So I returned the next day, saw one of her brother’s and asked about Magda. He wasn’t immediately forthcoming, but finally told me that she was at the market. I did not find it strange, because it is normal for us in Nicaragua to make trips to market on a daily or every other day basis. Unlike North America, we don’t make the weekly supermarket trip. We rather, usually, go past the market often and pick up the few items we need for the next couple of days. I told him that my house was near the market and asked if he would tell Magda that she and her family are welcome to stop by anytime.
Five or six days passed. I was busy and didn’t think much about Magda or her brother. Then I heard from one of her classmates that she was working at the market. Not just going to the market. So I was off to find her. The city market is laid out in a few buildings just south of the center of town. Shops are packed along the streets beside the buildings with food, watches, small household goods, and the lot. Inside the buildings, there are many vendors selling all sorts of items. While you can find there many of the same items to be found outside, it seems as if there are many more clothes and shoes inside as well. There is also the fresh fish market inside the building. The sights, sounds, and smells overtake you as you wander through the aisles of kiosks.
I looked and then looked more for this little girl. On the first day, I had no luck. The second was much of the same. Finally on the third day, I found her. I was shocked. She still looked like the little girl I remembered but her face and hands seemed to have aged 30 years.
She was working in a tortilla booth. If you can call it that. It is a small table where she rolls balls of masa, sticks them between an old wooden press, while her grandmother swats at the gathering flies, mosquitoes, and gnats. Though her face seemed stress-worn and older, her eyes still held the twinkle of youth. When she looked up and saw me, she yelled, “Profe”, an endearing form of professor or teacher. I smiled and greeted her with a big hug. Then she told me her story.
Her mother had died while I was in the States. I didn’t even know she was sick. She was, by our standards, rather young. Twenty-seven or twenty-eight, not an unusual age for a Nicaraguan to be the mother of a twelve year old. Her mother had left Magda with seven brothers and sisters. All of them were younger. All of them were fathered by three different men. None of those men are in the picture now. All that was left was a grandma who was already suffering from the complications of diabetes and looked much older than her fifty-five years.
Magda was now left to care for her family. Twelve years old, scared, and poor, relegated to the roll of mother even though she herself was merely a child. She told with tears the agonizing story of her mother’s illness and death. She told me how she had to seek help from her neighbors to even get her mother out of the hospital and bury her. She apologized that she had not explained her absences from our classes before now.
I, of course, reassured her that I was not angry, but simply worried about her and her family. She said that she could not continue her classes, but she prayed everyday and read her bible when the other children were asleep. I was dumbstruck. I had no words. I could not fathom that kind of responsibility thrust upon me at such a tender age.
I asked what I could do to help. She replied, “nada”.
I wasn’t satisfied with that answer, so I contacted some of the government and charitable organizations to see what could be done. She was eligible for a little help. I also arranged to go to her house for an hour a week so that we might resume classes. In the market, as she told me her story, she continued to cry, and I am sure all the other vendors and passers by were quite intrigued by the scene.
This past week was the first evening that we met at her home. She invited a number of her friends and so we had about nine people in our first class. I gave her a voucher for the weekly feeding and even her stoic grandma smiled and thanked me. This story is not over. We pray that this little child has many years ahead of her to thrive. I will keep you informed as her saga unfolds.
This to me proves the value of seeking the one. Jesus, in his parable, stressed that searching for the one who was lost was far greater than tending to the ninety-nine who were safe. There are all too few who are safe here in terms of security and certainty of their future. But this little one was certainly lost. And by the grace of God, Magda will sleep better tonight.
You are the ones making a difference here in Nicaragua. You are supporting me as we seek for the one. I thank you for your continued encouragement as now we look for uno mas. We had several folks here in country who read last week’s blog and gave to support mosquito repellent. I thank you all for your prayers in this venture. It is still a great need and prayers are still needed.
You make a difference. One person, one life changed, one life committed can do an army’s work with God’s help.
Dios los bendiga.