Friday, May 13, 2016

My Failure to Clothe a Naked Woman

She walked along the side of the boulevard, bare-breasted and naked, stretching a cloth over what was left of her dignity with trembling hands. Uncharacteristic of a Guatemalan woman, her hair was short, like it had been quickly cut off with a knife. She just looked stripped in every way possible. 

I'll never forget the expression of her face, it was somehow both devastated and vacant. She was a stunned and vulnerable victim wandering fully exposed in the street. 

I drove past her in shock as one of hundreds if not thousands of cars that passed her by. I had plenty of good reasons to leave her at the side of the road: I was alone and she was a naked woman, she might be dangerous, she might make an allegation against me, she might act inappropriately in the car, or people might think me involved in some sort of scandal.

I passed her by on the side of the road like the Pharisee passing by the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho who was beaten, stripped, and left naked. I'd heard this story my entire life, always thinking, "I wouldn't have passed him by."

I pictured myself looking Jesus in the eye as I heard him say, "I was naked and you did not clothe me." This woman was the one in need of help, and I had passed by her, more concerned of my own safety than of her well being. 

I was devastated. My heart nearly erupted as I felt like I needed to vomit. The simple truth hit me with a sickening realization: I could not continue to call myself a follower of Christ if I abandoned this women in this situation.

I pulled into the shopping center where I had ordered my new business cards, "Rev Chad P. Shepherd." What a hypocrite. Oh sure... it would be scandalous for me to pick up a naked woman... and yet, I realized that Jesus' love was exactly that, scandalous. He crossed all boundaries: socio-economic, racial, religious, and gender in order to reconcile the hurting.

I reached out to my brothers here in Guatemala via a WhatsApp Group:

So... there is a lady walking up the boulevard near lower Paiz... barefoot and naked. Traffic is slowing but mostly ignoring her. 
Not sure what to do here. 
She looked deeply troubled.

I also sent a quick message to Kellie, my wife, informing her of my dilemma. Surely the advice of many would be, "call the police." But... we are missionaries here in this country. We said that we came here to serve. Suddenly I felt convicted that this moment was one of those do or die moments. I am either authentic in what I profess, or I am a charlatan that doesn't even know my Jesus.

I was revolted, not by her condition, but by the thought that many missionaries and Christians had to be driving past her as the local schools dismissed. We all live behind safe walls, locked doors, and drive by in comfortable vehicles. I could not abide the stench of my own hypocrisy.

One of the guys responded to the WhatsApp chat, saying it was sad. 

I responded: "Ah man... ripped my heart out."
Another of my friends, "Pick her up if you need to."
The first friend, "Do you have a blanket in your car?"
 Me, "She can have my suit coat."

It was decided. The devil be damned, I am sent to this place to be salt and light. I do not want to live with the knowledge that I drove past someone in need because I was concerned for my own safety or reputation. Surely, a loss of my reputation was a price that I would willingly pay to extend the reconciliation to someone who was hurting... after all, Jesus sacrificed His for me. 

I want to live a life, to leave a legacy for my children that tells them that our following of Jesus is worth more than anything and everything else. Reverend? No, just another person in need of God. 

I messaged my friends and I messaged my wife, "I'm going back for her." 

In that moment... I didn't have any answers. I didn't know if she'd be violent, thankful, or maybe even unable to even get in my car. All I knew is that I had to go back for her, because my savior has done it for me. I could take her back to our mission where as missionaries we could clothe, comfort, feed, and show love for her.

While I was threading through traffic, weaving in and out of lanes back down the opposite side of the boulevard, I emptied out my coat pockets. Ironically I had just bought this jacket, and I really liked it... well, this moment must be why I have it. 

I made the returno (u-turn) and searched up the boulevard... the woman was no-where to be seen. 

What happened to her, I don't know. It grips my heart with fear. Was she rescued? Was she taken advantage of? Is she alive? 

I had a moment, a split-decision to do something right, and I allowed the shock of the moment, and my sense of self-preservation to rob me of a chance to reach out like Christ. 

I'm not one to second guess myself, or to beat myself up, but I can tell you that tonight I have to ask forgiveness of my God. It simply isn't enough to think correctly after the fact. I imagine the Pharisee who passed by the man on the road, later in the safety of the Synagogue might have had some regret in the corner of his mind... but that isn't enough.

I don't know where that woman is tonight, whether she found relief in someone who had the courage to show real compassion, or if she was picked up by someone who took advantage of her broken and vulnerable state. Somehow it's just not enough to simply pray for her. 

I ask God forgiveness, I accept His grace: to run towards Him, and to hold her in His arms as well. And I know beyond doubt that should this situation happen again, you'll find this preacher racing down the highway with a naked woman in his car. 

I've learned something today... my ego, my pride, my ambition, my success or failure in the eyes of others, simply is worthless when compared to whether or not I am giving to others the grace, forgiveness, and restoration that my God has extended to me. 

Wherever you go, be Christ. We must be salt and light. If we don't do life differently than those who don't know Him, then what really is the point?

  Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. -Hebrews 13:2

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