This is a post from Carrie Hokanson, written from her time on the World Race, a mission trip to eleven countries in eleven months.
I never anticipated that amidst the shouts and screeches of South Africa the only noise I’d hear was that of a quiet heart.
While waiting to board a bus to Umtata, my squad did our usual travel day thing. Cards, snacks, headphones, books, and pockets of conversation — typical for a group of missionaries after 48 hours of travel through Africa with another 15 to go.
And that’s when we met her. Clothes disheveled and tobacco-stained teeth, Tracey carried all she owned in a small backpack, including a copy of the New Testament. I was thinking “she must know something about Jesus, if she’s got half a Bible.”
She came to us for money, believing no matter how poor we were we must have more than the other station constituents.
I guess I wasn’t the only one assuming things.
Ben, a fellow squad mate, offered her a kind word and prayer instead of money, since we didn’t have much to offer in that realm. Tracey began digging around in her backpack.
“Everyone, this is Tracey. She needs some prayer.” Ben said to those of us who were still awake. We hopped to our feet, eager to hear the story behind those longing eyes.
As Tracey spoke, her hands shook, holding the tattered copy of the New Testament.
“I don’t deserve your prayers,” she said, fighting back tears. “My brother is dead because of me.”
“If only I had done more, just talked to him more, told him it was wrong,” she fumbled over her words, the pain still fresh as the day he died. “I could’ve saved him if I had just done more,” her self-accusations persisted.
Staring at the floor, she pressed the book against her chest. “God can’t love someone like me. Not someone who’s done so much wrong in her life.” Her head shook from side to side.
Tracey’s eyes shifted to the book in her hands. Shame covered her face.
The growing din of the bus station forced us to move in closer. Tracey’s brow furrowed, her eyes unable to keep contact with mine as I tried to offer words of hope.
I never stopped praying.
While I spoke, Tracey shrugged her shoulders. I looked into the face covered in premature wrinkles—
“God loves you, Tracey.”
She loosened her grip on the book, her white knuckles gaining color again.
Tears began to flow from her eyes and she bit her lower lip. My teammate extended her hand, holding a worn Bible full of notes and highlights.
“Here, take this. It’s the whole story.”
Tracey reached out her hands, palms open. A grin spread across her once sorrowful face.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” Tracey repeated. “My bus is leaving now, I’ve got to go,” she slowly turned away looking at us, down to her new Bible and back at us. I watched her thin figure disappear among the swarming crowd.
The rest of us grabbed our packs and headed out the door, the smell of diesel fuel hitting us as we passed through the threshold. At the sound of the driver’s honking we loaded the bus. We were on our way to the next adventure.
We weren’t doing ministry that day. No prayer circles or evangelism fell into our schedule of bus stations and bathroom breaks. But in that brief moment,
—God’s gentle whisper spoke louder than the shouts of everyday life.
How do you interact with the forgotten of society? Have you had a similar experience?
[Photo: pedrosimoes7, Creative Commons]
Carrie Hokanson is a silver-lining realist, both dreamer and doer. A writer from Houston, Texas, she’s been around the world and back again, making jokes and telling stories along the way. She also believes in giving a voice to those who have been silenced. Carrie is the Senior Writer for Adventures in Missions in Gainesville, Georgia. Check out her blog here.