“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV)
The valley was ablaze with light on a recent morning drive from Eagle Mountain. It reminded me of another drive, more than 50 years ago, when I served in the Student Mission Corp in Bolivia for the Church of the Nazarene. The exact date, I’ve long forgotten, but what occurred that day I will never forget.
Tom Spalding, a missionary who could do anything and everything, was navigating his Jeep truck over mountain roads (which may be a loose description here) from the mission station on Lake Titicaca to the village of Huarina on the Bolivian Altiplano, where we had planned a mobile clinic. Linda Spalding, a missionary nurse and Tom’s spouse, was already waiting there with several college volunteers for medical supplies that we would deliver.
The villagers and people from the entire area expected the clinic to open around noon. While some had returned to their homesteads after the deadline passed, many continued to wait patiently for one of the only opportunities for medical support they would receive for months.
We were late because engine problems had forced a stop in the middle of the road (again, not much of a road, more like a trail). Tom pulled out his toolbox and worked to repair the Jeep. Several hours later, he cranked it up, and we were on our way; no service station, no tow truck, no AAA – just Tom and his toolbox. I was totally useless, but Tom loved to talk while he worked, so I benefitted from his narrative on the gospel and years of service in the mission field.
We finally arrived about 7 p.m., and it was already dark. Patients had built a fire outside of what I remember to be a church and were cooking a llama on a rotisserie spit. Tom assured me that llama was a lot like lamb, but the thought wasn’t very comforting. I had learned that, when in the field and meat is served, it is best to claim vegetarian status. However, cultural sensitivity and my better judgment soon outweighed my wariness of Tom’s “llama tastes like lamb” explanation, and I joined the feast.
The fire grew larger, and as we unloaded supplies, Linda and the other volunteers started the clinic. Tom and I rested in the church to eat our meal, and it was there I discovered another survival skill of fieldwork – there were no utensils. So we ate with our hands and used our socks as napkins, a strategy I have practiced many times since while in the field, on a sailboat, and hiking.
Tom and I went outside after dinner and warmed ourselves by the fire. I saw what looked like individual flickers of flame approaching our camp on the horizon. Apparently, people in the valley had seen our fire and, under torchlight, followed its glow to the clinic. As they arrived, the travelers would toss their torch into the fire. As the flames grew, more people could see our beacon on the horizon and made their way to the medical camp. There seemed to be hundreds of torches in the valley slowly moving our way.
The torchlights reflected both danger and opportunity: People had to travel in the dark across barren terrain to seek help for their families. Yet, they were greeted with compassion and medical skill, and we remained open until the last torch found its way to the fire. It was midnight before sleep found us in the church, only to resume the clinic in the morning.
My early morning trip, with lights sparkling on the horizon in the wintry cold of dawn, reminded me that seekers are the torchlight that feeds the flame – illuminating and healing “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” while spreading peace and joy. People in my life, like the Spaldings, build the fire that draws the seekers to our holiday festival of hope.
My friends, this New Year, build the fire and be the light others seek.
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