Francisca stands no more than four and half feet, maybe two inches taller if she could stand up straight. Her skin is translucent, her face weathered by seven decades of life and many changes in her country. She lives across the narrow alley from where we are building a new home for another family who, like Francisca, were original squatters on this land fifteen years ago when it became available. By “land” I mean a layer of dirt covering many meters of the city’s trash. This community is built on landfill.
I am squatting to lower my six foot frame to meet her eyes and hear her story. She tells me that she sells a few plantains and onions from her door each day, a meager income. Francisca is a widow; she lives alone. “My son ‘left me’ a few years ago,” she says, which is her way of eventually telling me that he was murdered. In all my years of ministry around the garbage dump in Guatemala City, I have never encountered a single elderly lady living alone. Several generations usually share about 150 sq. ft., the elderly cared for by children and grandchildren. Her countenance wears the pain of losing her son, of living alone. And yet her defiantly tidy home and open heart speak of hope. This is a woman “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair . . . struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). She is my teacher.
I ask to pray with her. As I pray in Spanish I hear sounds of agreement rise up within her, inarticulate groans of longing for Jesus and his kingdom. We cry out together as a prayer duet of harmonizing speech and sound. And the Spirit joins in “interceding for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
When I come home, Francisca will come with me in my intercessions and as a sister in Jesus who reminds me of His heart for the widow and orphan, the last and the least. She will also help me to remember the transforming gift of solidarity, of mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice, of allowing myself to feel what others feel, and through this, to tap into the heart of God.”
That no one would stand alone,