On a raw November afternoon in 2002, amid the throng of weary passengers disembarking from the plane, strode M., a seemingly confident and stunning 16-year-old Honduran girl who spoke no English. Only a half-smile betrayed her apprehension with us, her circumstances, her life. With welcoming hugs, we embraced our new foster daughter into our family.
The ensuing couple of weeks were filled with a busy agenda of doctor appointments, introductions, and learning exchanges. My limited Spanish was passable for basic communication, but hardly proficient enough to meet M.’s apparent desire for more meaningful in-depth dialogue. After a few days together, she began to tell me about her life, with a torrent of tears and gestures, assuming that I understood. The heartbreaking reality was that I didn’t have a clue as to what she was trying to communicate. I would nod, inwardly beg for wisdom, then seek out friends fluent in Spanish to try to discern what was fomenting beneath the surface. To my dismay, M. would suddenly clam up whenever one of these friends would attempt to connect.
The sponsoring medical organization stipulated that a fluent interpreter must accompany us to all medical appointments. Friends in my community could help locally. For the day of surgery, however, I would need someone to commit to spend a longer period of time at the hospital pre- and post-op. I sent out a plea to the greater community of Quakers from Newberg to Portland. Why was I surprised when a perfect response came from a loving God? A woman – a stranger to me at the time – contacted us and kindly offered to help. She was not only fluent in Spanish, but had a background in counseling and theology.
This Friend met us at the hospital on the day of M.’s open heart surgery. She spoke with me, the doctors, but mostly with M., in a comforting and peaceful manner. In order to be at M.’s side when she came out of anesthesia our Friend stayed through the night. As M. awoke from a successful surgery, she once again revealed her traumatic history. This time, her words were understood and processed by our interpreter Friend.
Armed with a new respect, compassion and more than a bit of trepidation about the situation, I increased my vigilance in the weeks of convalescence that followed to maintain a healthy environment mentally, emotionally and physically. M. returned to Honduras with a healthy heart and, we believe, a healthier mind.
I now wholeheartedly believe that this angel from God may have saved M.’s life by listening with an open heart and mind, empathizing with her emotional pain, and wisely responding to M. with unconditional love and attention. She served as a catalyst to the greater community of people, who then continued to pray for M. and care for her, and to provide the sheltering pocket of Light that M. so desperately needed at the time.
This Friend continues to encourage and inspire me with her life, even now, as we worship in the same small Friends meeting.