Her skin looked and felt like dark leather. Her eyes became lost in her wide, toothless grin as she watched me work on her foot.
Portina told us, through our interpreter, that she didn’t know how old she was but that she always just said she was 75. She had come to our clinic because she had stepped on a nail the day before. Her dirt-caked foot was wrapped in a soiled cloth and tucked into a flimsy flip-flop when she walked up to our makeshift medical facility.
I was cleaning her foot, and Portina was obviously loving every second of the attention.
For the three days prior in Porta Cabezas, probably the most impoverished area in Nicaragua, I had become fairly discouraged as our group provided medical care in several small villages. My bright and easy smile had become much more forced and had faded as tears had nearly surfaced many times.
As we saw more and more people with so much need, I became more and more troubled.
Why had I even bothered to come? The parasites would eventually return after the precious children took the medicine we had given them. After 60 days of anti-hypertensives, the high blood pressure would again wrack the bodies of the older folks. The fevers would come back. Even the shoes that we gave out would eventually fall apart, and the bare feet would once again pound the fine, reddish-brown dirt.
Had I missed what God was saying? I had thought I was being obedient when he said, “Go.” I had thought I was being the example of a Christian leader to my family and friends when I had boarded that plane for Central America, determined to make a difference in the world.
If that were so, then why had I become so distraught with how futile our efforts seemed?
But the day before, the same day that Portina had stepped on the nail, I had been talking to one of the doctors on our trip, voicing my discouragement. He began to tell me that the voices in my head saying, “just don’t come next time — you’re not really doing any good,” were not from God. He also told me something that I so needed to hear.
When Jesus fed the multitudes with the bread and fish he knew they would be hungry again. It was a temporary fix for their hunger, but he was serving them and, in the process, was showing God’s love to them through his actions.
Jesus humbled himself to meet the needs of others, providing an example for his disciples and us how we are to serve one another, showing us true servant leadership.
For this moment on this day, Portina’s needs were met, and I was given some reminders of what is truly meant by Christ-like, servant leadership. Yes, God showed up for Portina, and he showed up for me in Nicaragua.
And I can hardly wait to go back.
Susan Kelley, one of The Star’s 13 Faith Walk writers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.