I touched you when you were dirty
by John Whitener
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When one becomes a missionary a new process begins where God has to strip away much of our former values. Ways of thinking, ordinary pleasures and our very self esteem are brutally attacked by the One preparing us for His great and noble purpose. It’s no pleasure cruise and sometimes the lessons are just down right rude! I remember one such time. It was one of those moments that God etches into your memory for ever. I will never forget it for as long as I live and the lesson I learned has been with me ever since.
Judy and I had been in Costa Rica for a few months struggling in language school. (Well, I was the one struggling, she aced it!) We were still fresh on the field with all the values of a North American yuppie couple. Our hearts were right, at least I think they were, but little did we know what adventures lie ahead.
One Sunday we had been invited to a church in the poor section of San Jose Costa Rica. It was a muggy day but that would not prevent me from dressing in my three piece suit, polishing my shoes and splashing on my favorite cologne. After about thirty minutes on a very crowded bus we arrived at the church. We got there on time but walking in we saw only two people there. Let me try to describe the building. It was a fairly good size building with one wall made of bamboo and the other was a dirt hill. The roof was tin and the floor was dirt. There were no chairs, no carpet, no air conditioning just dirt! There were rows of rough benches with no backs for the people to sit on. We walked towards the front and took a seat on about the forth row. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. Finally we heard a noise and turning around we saw a small army of children in a single row begin to march to the front and fill the benches. They filled the first one then the second the third and then they began to fill ours. Judy and I scooted down to the end of the bench but when I saw the little boy in front coming towards us I urged Judy to move a little more. He got closer and closer and I almost panicked. You see, this kid was dirty! I mean REAL DIRTY! He had caked mud on his arms, matted hair, was barefooted, wore filthy clothes and smelled like he had slept with chickens. Even his nose ran. Now there I was all dressed up in my nice suit, smelling like Aramis and I really didn’t want to get too close to this child. I had come to church to worship God and I couldn’t even bear to touch him. When we began to sing every once in a while I would look down at him and his big eyes would look up at mine. I tried to ignore him but that was impossible. We touched and I winced. Here I was a missionary called of God trying to worship Him under some extremely difficult circumstances and then it happened. The lesson was clear and very, very powerful.
As I sat there in my smug detachment, the Lord spoke to me and said, “Why won’t you touch that little boy? I touched you when you were dirty.” Suddenly the absurdity of the moment exploded before me. Here I was with my precious wife, dressed nicely in my suit, my shoes polished, and every bit an insensitive, blind Pharisee. I was about to have a “moment.” You know, one of those moments that change everything.
By now I was completely oblivious of the activity around me and I looked down upon that little boy with his big round eyes gazing up at me. My heart melted. Not knowing Spanish, I motioned to my lap asking him if he wanted to sit on it. He smiled and with an eager bounce landed squarely on my lap, caked mud, chicken smell and all. Tears ran down my eyes and I embraced this little child. The foul odors of poverty mixed with my cologne and there we sat.
I don’t remember what was preached that day but I remember what I learned, and it wasn’t taught by a pastor but rather by a six year old boy. I think I cried the whole service.
Finally it was over and the child scampered off. I watched him leave laughing and playing with the other children, free and happy. I left too with my suit stained but my heart free.
I never saw this little boy again. He is probably about thirty years old now and I trust that God is using him mightily in the kingdom. But there is one thing for sure, I was his student for about an hour and he taught me something that will be with me the rest of my life. What is that?
It won’t hurt you to touch the dirty!
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Amen brother, and who is it that can truly define 'dirty'? I truly believe that the only part God cares about, really cares about, is the heart. Very nice writing and message. Thank you.God Bless. Elizabeth.