It was dark in the downtown streets of San Jose the night we found her . Yellow circles illuminated avenues lined with brothels, shadows, and ambulance lights. She was walking along a curve, waving her hands like kites above her head when our van pulled up.
I had traveled to Costa Rica on mission that fall. I went to teach a writing program to survivors of human trafficking and exploitation. This particular night, we had set out to locate a student missing from class and bring snacks to others along the way. We had coffee and cookies–a local favorite. , an unknown woman happened to be along our way .
“Should we stop for her?” Carlos* called from the front of the van.
A unanimous mumble of yes echoed from the ministry workers. The van pulled parallel to the curbside, and as for far ahead as I could see, the sidewalks scattered with women – young and old.
“Does anyone know her?” he questioned again.
“No”, Silva* said. “But I feel like we need to stop for her”.
Two of the women from our group walked out to greet her and quickly received a yes to a warm cup of coffee. Often during rainy season the nights can be temperate, long and drawn–though a purple reflection of sunset and store lights shines over the city every night as an ache of hope calling out to deep.
I shuffled through the leather bag of sugars, cream and wafer cookies as I decoded in Spanish that her name was Pris* and she likes three sugars. With a warm cup of coffee we paused under the brothel- illuminated curbside. She told us about her love for warm coffee and the length of the night, wishing it would soon end. Looking out the open van door, I could see her arms begin to fall to her sides and her eyes transition from scanning the passing taxis to scanning us. She’d looked jaded when the van first approached, but Pris now stood soft and seemingly fragile from a lack of food or exhaustion. The lines on her face softened and it was clear that she was much younger than I had first imagined.
“Many people have stopped on this street corner before,” Pris started to say. “Some want to help. They have Bibles and food. But not like you.” She pulled the warm cup of coffee to her mouth again, and let out a deep sigh that made the steam dance. Her eyes began to pool with tears.
“They see me living this bad life—confused about who I am and hungry—and they want to change me. But you—you listened to me.” Pris tilted her chin upward towards one of the streetlights overhead, tipping the tears back so they would stay in place.
“You came here and asked me how I feel. You just came here and loved me.” She turned her face to look into Silva’s own.
“Nobody comes to this corner just to care for me. Nobody but you. So even though I may not know who I am tonight,” Pris said, “I know who you are.”
The longest recorded conversation Jesus ever had was beside a well with a Samaritan woman who had been rejected by her society. She was, according the what the eyes could see, the last person Jesus should have stopped to talk to. She was Samaritan—one of the pronounced enemy people of the Gentiles and Jews. They would not pass through one another’s towns, much less share a drink. Yet Jesus did. She was a woman, a gender uncounted in census and thought in her day. Yet Jesus counted her important. She was dismissed by many husbands for reasons unknown though scholars suggest she may have been widowed or suffering the aching pain of being barren. Yet Jesus did not dismiss her.
Jesus pursued her and counted her worth His time. He sat beside her, sharing water, and meeting her in the humanity of thirst. He listened to her, He saw her, and He ministered to her in the way that she could receive. Jesus saw the outcast that others would have walked by, and He stopped for her. He saw her with the lens of the Father, the lens of love.
Numerous times throughout his life Jesus modeled this love. He regularly sought out one amidst pressing crowds and multitudes, and almost always they were the least of these. Christ seeks the lost. This is His heart, and if we desire for our hearts to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, His heart must become ours.
While we find comfort surrounded by those we feel are like us, our great commission is not to create a Christian sub-culture. We are not to become of this world, but we are to go into the world with all the love we can carry. Each of us, having been first called to Christ, are then called to go and tell—a command that requires us to move beyond the walls of our comfort even if where He calls us in this season is in within the walls of our own home. God chooses the places He calls us to and the people He puts in our path. We chose if we will obey.
With immense clarity, Christ shows us the lens of love time and time again in His word. So then, what keeps us from seeing those Christ has placed along our path?
In Latin, the word clarity was defined as something that was clear, easy to see or hear. As the root carried over into Middle English, it became defined as glory or divine splendor. In His meeting with the woman at the well and all throughout His ministry, Jesus embodied this clear, divine love that led people to see the glory of God. As carriers of His love now, it is our high calling to share the gospel as Christ first did—through a lens of love that sees the unseen and stays beside them faithfully until they can also see.
Mother Teresa once said that her greatest desire was that others would not see her, but that through her they would see the face of Christ. On the brothel-lit streets of San Jose, this is the way that Pris came to see the face of Christ. Not by coffee or cookies, but through the lens of God’s love and grace extended to us so that we could also see.
Most days my schedule runs full from the glow of sunrise to well past the steady settling of sunset. My days are full of laundry, dishes, cooking, and bathing children and floors. Full of work. Holy work, as it may be, can quickly become our distraction from loving well. Service without love is a resounding gong, but with the lens of love, service has the power to shift eyes and lives to God.
Perhaps the person Christ has called you to pursue is right in your own home. The harvest is growing from the dining room table you set. If so, continue the good work with which you have been entrusted, remembering that the way in which you tend the smallest acts of service is the way those watching in your own four walls will grow to see the Gospel.
Perhaps the one Christ has called you to is beyond your walls, a step past where you imagined and a step farther than you feel you know. Perhaps your harvest is during mid-day heat with a woman whose circumstances you’ve prejudged as unrelatable to your own. Then, sister, remember that Christ made much of the least of us. In all His splendor, He sought out the most broken and He shared in the humanity of their thirst.
Perhaps each of us is called to both. We live in a broken world, amongst broken people whom God made the most of in. Let us never make less of what God has made much of, and let us earnestly seek to find the one He has called us to minister to with the lens of His perfect love within which there is no fear. So, who is waiting at the well for you to see?
Love is not ours for selection. When we seek to understand whom the Lord loves, we find whispered all throughout His word the answer: all. Those who are like-minded to us. Those who are different. Those who are found in Him and in our homes. Those who are lost, wandering on corners, hungry for food, love, and a Savior. When our heart prayer is to be more like our Savior, He teaches our hearts how to love all people through His eyes.
It is hard and often inconvenient to love as Christ did. After a full day of work, tired and thirsty, He regularly saw the person along His way who needed the love of God, and He responded.
My prayer for us as daughters of the one true King is that we will come to respond as we have been taught by the Word of God. I pray that we would become so radically changed by the love that Jesus showed us and freely given us and that it would transform our very eyes, as Paul’s were. Regardless and in spite of our own opinions, schedules, and presumptions, I pray that we would see the one in the crowd, at the market, at the corner, at the table, and that we would be moved to love them with the relentless pursuit of a loving God who gave all for them.
On our own, we will fall short, but God’s love and lens is eternal and beyond our limitations. Let us, then, be His vessels. Let us not miss them in the business of even our God-honoring tasks. Let us remember that loving and seeing the least of these is the greatest task of our lives. It is through our love that they will first come to see a reflection of God, and then through God’s love that they will be given the chance to become who they were made to be – just as we once were. Just as Pris was.
*All names have been changed for the protection of the individuals involved.
Published in Daughter’s of Promise Magazine, Issue 29: Clarity