Pink called out to pink. The bright, rosy hue of the stately lady across the meeting room mirrored my own, drawing me into conversation. Helene (and, as she told me effortlessly, her twin in California) just celebrated her eightieth birthday. Spunky as anything, she fielded my questions and gave me her own.
She was taking Perspectives on the World Christian Movement because her respected and well-spoken pastor had invited her. Ten weeks into a fifteen-week class session, she had learned tremendously. Beyond her expectations, someone had even given her an idea of how she could participate in Christian missions. She “couldn’t get around like she used to,” and her kids “wouldn’t let her on a plane,” but perhaps she could experience cross-cultural friendship and share her faith over the phone, as one young lady had suggested.
At one point Helene asked me how I thought was the best way to show love to someone, and I offered vaguely that I believe it needs to be specific to the person and situation. Our conversation faded as a speaker began to talk about, within the context of Christian missions, what it means to build a bridge of love with someone–to show genuine interest in them and choose to commit to friendship regardless of the outcome. He suggested that it is out of these real relationships that trust is established, and the best kind of news–what Christians call “the gospel”–flows freely.
As he was talking, I became overcome with a desire to draw Helene. At the class break, I told her, “I love to draw, and that’s how I show love. Can I draw you?” Wanting to take her portrait home, she gave me a piece of notebook paper while I pulled out my markers.
As I translated her face into a drawn image, I remembered how Helene had shared with me how she had played the organ for over fifty years in all sorts of churches–Catholic and Protestant. I realized that just as some of my images live in places that I have never been to, my friend’s music, if recorded, could go places that her body couldn’t. Her praise to Jesus could benefit peoples that do not yet know him, I told her.
Helene’s big, warm eyes got bigger tonight each time she realized that mission was for her. It did not matter that she is eighty and needs help to get around. The only disability that precludes a follower of Christ from acting on his instruction to “go and make disciples of all nations” is the church’s failure to imagine a world in which every one of its members engage their whole selves in this purpose. This kind of commitment makes a good world better. In this kind of world, strangers part with the words,
“I love you.”