Yesterday afternoon, I sat on my front porch with my best pal, Cait, eating a freshly ripe mango from the tree in our backyard and greeting villagers as they walked down the mud road past our house. One of my favorite pastimes. As I waved and acknowledged one young woman from afar, I watched her change her course and head in the direction of our compound. Intrigued, I met her at the gait and got a good look at the lady I'd seen at a distance. She was covered in mud, it was caked on her face, arms, and clothes. She looked to have around eighteen years, emaciated, was crippled at the right arm, walked with a limp and carried a large stick to assist her in walking. She wore a ripped and tattered piece of cloth tied into a dress and was drooling out of the right side of her mouth. Amidst the distressing facade, she was beautiful, overwhelmingly and undeniably beautiful. I was captivated by her; sensing immediately that I was encountering an angel on earth, one of God's most beloved ones.
We exchanged simple pleasantries; she didn't respond to anything I said in English, so our communication was limited. She talked in a soft, calming voice, with a pitch of intrinsic sweetness. Her name was Nazenty, and she reported to be doing fine and headed home. It was evident that the handicaps that plagued her externally were not at all mental. As the brief conversation came to a close and I anticipated her departure, she then stopped, looked into my eyes and shared, "Mi na kaza." I am sick, she said. And with that, she lifted the hem of her skirt to reveal the largest, most distressing wound I've yet to see here in Africa. One was there on the back of the right leg, from calf to ankle, and the other on the outside of the left thigh. The looked surely to be burns, though I didn't know how to ask in Zande language. She told me they'd been pestering there for seven days without care, covered in dirt and swarming with flies. My heart wanted to cry for her.
The next couple of minutes were some of the most tender moments I've experienced in my life, that encounter that leaves you with goosebumps and a replaying memory that wont shake. Words were no longer necessary. I gathered supplies from my room, then washed, medicated, dressed, and prayed over her frail, wounded, paining extremities. Meanwhile, Cait went to her room and collected a fresh cloth, dampened with cool water, and helped her to remove the dirt from her face and hands. I was marveling at Mother Teresa's call to serve the poorest of the poor, and the Scripture verse was replaying in the my mind:
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." Mt 25:40
God is profoundly present in those lowly ones he has called to himself, the poor, the sick, the orphaned, the abandoned, the lonely, the unwanted. Of those whom the world rejects, Jesus assures his constant presence. Their reward will not be in this life, but it will be assured in the life to come. It is through them that we glimpse heaven and are drawn nearer to it ourselves.