“The really great people are the ones who know how to make the little people feel great.” – Ashley Brilliant
I saw her as soon as I stepped out of the car.
I think it was the color of her skin. It was sunny out and her face, a rich creamy brown, was glowing. It reminded me of the café con leíte I’d had for breakfast earlier that morning. Combined with intense, chocolate eyes and shiny, dark hair that tumbled gently onto her shoulders, she was adorable. I fell in love with her the moment our eyes met. The feeling must have been mutual because she skipped and bounced her way across the churchyard and shyly introduced herself as Fernanda while slipping her small, needy hand into mine. From that moment, we were best friends.
Fernanda and most of the other children I met that week at Bible School lived in Cidade de Deus (City of God), one of the most notorious slums in Rio de Janeiro. I’d never been there but had often heard tales of the violence that took place in that maze of alleys and shanties when I previously lived in Brazil. All the slums were dangerous, but City of God was where most children learned to handle guns before learning to write their names.
Every morning, Fernanda arrived at the church freshly scrubbed and smelling sweetly of soap, her curls still damp. Somehow her loveliness resisted the scorching Rio summer that melted me into a puddle of smelly sweat.
While the kids were having snack time on one particularly sweltering day, I slipped out and went into the church auditorium to catch a quick nap on one of the hard, wooden pews. The thermometer on the wall read 114 degrees. Sweating profusely, I lay prone on the bench, my eyelids so heavy I could barely keep them open. I felt a large drop of sweat fall from my head onto my arm. Turning my head, I watched it travel, leaving a trail of white as it raced downward through the dirt and grime on my skin. It’s the last thing I remembered before falling asleep.
When I opened my eyes, Fernanda’s face was in close proximity to my own, and I looked straight into her voluminous eyes. She smiled her adoration for me and I quickly reciprocated. Then a strange, wonderful thing happened. For a moment, time seemed to be suspended. And then I felt like I was no longer seeing things through my own eyes. Instead, I was looking through God’s eyes and seeing things from his perspective. I was overwhelmed by the intense love and tenderness he felt for Fernanda as I stared into her eyes. It was the deepest compassion I have ever known.
The moment passed. But it left me with a deep sense of urgency to make very sure Fernanda and the other children understood how much they were loved and valued before I left that place.
For the next few days, we laughed and played. I told stories and planted seeds that I trusted God to water. All too soon, our little Bible School was over, and the children gathered their drawings to take home to crude shacks where there were no refrigerators, and the walls were made of cardboard with bullet holes pierced by drug lords during drunken rampages.
Fernanda asked me to sign my name on a scrap of paper she kept from a craft project earlier in the day. I spelled my name out in large block letters, and we pronounced the unfamiliar sounds together, laughing at her unsuccessful efforts at the American version of my name. “I will keep it forever,” she exclaimed, hugging the paper to her chest. Then she pulled an envelope from her pocket and handed it to me with great ceremony. Wrinkled from living in her pocket all day, it smelled of soap and Fernanda sweetness.
Saying goodbye proved to be a difficult task. Hearts are often betrothed in shorter time than the days we spent together, and my pockets were filled with cheap plastic trinkets, symbolic of hearts surrendered in love. Fernanda stayed so close to me, her shadow merged with mine and only one was cast upon the concrete walk.
“God, I wish you could promise me that Fernanda will grow up to be a healthy young woman who lives in a safe and beautiful part of the city. Is that so much to ask?” I silently demanded. There was no answer, so I pulled her tightly to my chest and showered the top of her head with kisses.
Climbing into the car, I pressed Fernanda’s envelope to my lips and waved madly until I could no longer see her standing in the churchyard.
I opened the envelope. “All my life, I have dreamed of meeting an American,” she wrote in her shaky schoolgirl lettering. “Now, my dream has come true. I will never forget you.” I tucked the letter inside my bag and carried it home with me.
Smoothing out the creases on the thin, crumpled sheet, I wrote the date and these words at the bottom of the page under Fernanda’s signature: “God sees each one of us through eyes of love.” Then, I tucked it into the drawer where I keep all my treasures. Sometimes I pull it out to remind me that God looks at me, like Fernanda, through eyes of love.
Fernanda felt invisible and insignificant, but I saw her. When I feel invisible, God still sees me. When I feel insignificant, I am still loved and valued by God.
Making someone’s dreams come true is no small thing.
Life Note: Every day we pass by people who feel invisible and insignificant. Life’s too short not to see them through God’s eyes.
“The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.” (Matt. 25:40 CEV)