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Surprised by Mercy

It’s a Friday afternoon and I’ve just finished 3 weeks of teaching at 3 mission bases in 3 countries. We didn’t get away from the base as soon as we were hoping, so it was several hours after class when I finally gulped a big breath of clean, outdoor air. It’s a perfect spring day ~ cloudless, blue sky, a little breeze and the sense of peaceful confidence in what God did for all of us through the teaching. A gap in traffic paved the way for me to walk across to the street and toward the car. I rounded the corner, and that’s when I saw her.

Black pants, white socks, pink jacket, shoulder-length black hair falling over her face, black shoes on the sidewalk next to her purse. She was on her hands and knees, head hanging low. I walked toward her, wondering what to do in this country where I don’t know the language. “You OK?” She looked up. “OK …” Blurry eyes, missing teeth, thick blood dripping from the corner of her mouth and smeared on her hands. Really drunk. She had obviously tripped while stepping from the street to the sidewalk, landing directly on her face. This picture is all too common in this part of the world.

Locals began walking by – staring, ignoring, avoiding, crossing to the other side of the street; I found myself in Luke chapter 10. I kept glancing back to see if my friend was coming; she would know what to do. Until then, though, this woman needed care. I slowly walked closer as she continued to mutter words I could not understand. She wasn’t able to stand, and for whatever reason, she wouldn’t sit on the blood-splattered sidewalk. I could see that the inside of her mouth was like hamburger and still bleeding, yet she seemed unaware. Her nose was beginning to turn blue; on and on she rambled. Soon my friend arrived, and taking one look at this destitute woman, turned white as a sheet. I didn’t know that she weakened at the sight of blood, and so I was there with two women sitting on the sidewalk for very, very different reasons!

As my friend phoned the ambulance to request service, the woman attempted to stand. Stumbling to her feet, another tooth fell from her mouth. She didn’t notice. I stood in front of her, trying to keep her from leaving before the ambulance arrived. My conversation with our compassionate Father never stopped. Soon I began to speak aloud everything I was thinking, in hopes of keeping the woman from wandering off. I took a couple of tissues from my backpack and began carefully wiping the flowing blood from her mouth; she smarted as I touched the underside of her chin. She had fallen so hard. I motioned for her to put on her shoes knowing that it would take several minutes, buying some time. Where was the ambulance? It had been at least 10 minutes since they said they would be right there. The blood had dried on her hands, in her hair, on her clothing, and still, she rambled on. My typically unmerciful heart was softening by the minute.

When the ambulance finally arrived, I was surprised to see the woman willingly step inside for assistance. The faces of the medics expressed hardness ~ perhaps because they had seen this same scenario countless times before. My friend began to show some signs of color once more, and as we walked toward the base to wash our hands, reality began to sink in. I trembled and felt nauseous; I felt the compassion of Jesus … and the hopelessness of humanity without Him. I knew it wouldn’t be long before that woman would find herself once again in the same situation – her and thousands more like her – and I prayed that those of us who call ourselves by God’s Name will find a place in our hearts for them. I’m grateful to see new places of tenderness in myself. I have been the recipient of God’s mercy so many, many times; I know that His mercy, indeed, triumphs over my judgment.

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