Absence makes the heart grow fonder

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” I think that’s true. Not only did 5 weeks in America let us reconnect with family and some churches, it also gave us perspective on the work in Portugal and a renewed love for the people to whom we minister. David and I rested, prayed, made plans, and went back recharged. Within 24 hours of getting home, we had unpacked, called our contacts, and were hosting the Bible study in our living room. Laura played happily as we busily worked. It was good to be home.

A few nights later, I had so much back pain and vomiting that we went to the ER, and I was admitted with a kidney infection. Screeeeech. Stop. Our 100 mph plans took God’s detour. As David took Laura home and I headed to my room, God was working. You see, our Bible study has been a sweet group that meets regularly, but suddenly they started acting like a body. Ring ring. “Hello, David, can we baby-sit Laura for you so you can have a couple hours to study? Can we bring you a meal? How can we help?” “Sarah, we are praying for you. Call me if you need anything.” People stepped up.

Back at the hospital, I was in a room with an 85-year-old named Maria José (Mary Joseph. How is that for a Biblical name?) Her breathing mask and cries of pain woke me in the night, but in her hardest moments, she cried out to God and quoted bits of verses. During the day, she made me laugh when she said the cleaning lady accidentally threw away her dentures! Then it hit me. I was talking through a curtain to a woman with no teeth, and I understood her. . . and all the Portuguese channels on her TV! Do you know how hard listening exercises were for me in language school? But I was understanding this –all of this — even the colorful medical parts I could have lived happily never knowing! I read Scripture to this sweet lady and asked her about her hope of heaven. She LOVES God and Jesus, and, from what I could tell, I think she is saved. I’ll enjoy seeing Mrs. Mary Joseph (and Jesus) in heaven someday.

For lunch, they sent me to a separate eating area where I met Maria Conceição (Mary of the Conception. Do you see a pattern here?) The kidney pain felt as though I were having mild contractions, and I paused my eating to take slow, deep breaths to get through the pain. I hoped to just eat and go lie down, but Mary looked at me and said, “I’m an atheist.” Seeing a conversation about to start, I sent a silent SOS prayer for strength and joined in. Mary had asked her Catholic school teacher a question and had never gotten an answer. Since she had been waiting more than 40 years, I was glad to give her one from the Bible. God let me explain the plan of salvation to her as well — in between breathing breaks. By then, I was drained and went back to bed. (After all, this is a hospital. I hear I’m supposed to get rest.) Despite everything, she said she didn’t believe God would punish her, but that the Bible is on her top-5 list of books to read someday. I hope she gets busy reading.

By Thursday night, I was painfully but happily back home. The pain increased, and I had a mild fever, but we pushed through to Sunday. We needed to be there to interpret, or else the deaf teenager who comes wouldn’t understand anything. We made it through the sermon, then went straight back to the hospital. Sure enough, my kidney now has an abscess, and they admitted me once again. So, with the help of the body of Christ, David is taking care of the homefront and the ministry. I’m talking to my new roommate, asking God how to reach her. We are trusting the God who makes no mistakes that He planned this “detour” for His glory. We’ll let you know where it leads.