I blame it all on my colleague Kim.
As the minutes ticked slowly towards midnight ... 11:54 ... 11:56 ... 11:58 ... I couldn't help thinking but for her I would be ensconced in bed and blissfully sleeping. By way of an earlier Whatsapp message, I knew her to already be there (in her bed) and (I imagined) beautifically dreaming.
At least until her alarm woke her at midnight. Because thanks to Kim, we were both pledged to this late-night "predicament!"
It began, as many memorable moments do, as a dilemma. It was nighttime and Kim, my daughter Isabel and I had just completed our monthly meeting at FLORECE. Although the downtown street was lighted we knew that wisdom dictated a brisk walk to the car with the less time spent on a dim city sidewalk, the better. However, just before reaching the vehicle we saw an older man several strides behind us lose the contents of his plastic grocery bag when it suddenly split open. Our heads swiveled towards, away, and back again to the scene. Was this a neighbor needing assistance on his way home from the grocery store? Or one of Iquique's many unfortunate homeless, likely under the influence of a substance which rendered questionable the prudence of approaching him?
Of course, Kim reacted first and headed in his direction. I thrust the car keys into my daughter's hand, trusting her to scramble in safely while I joined my colleague at the man's side. "Can I help you?" she offered, and he barely looked up before gesturing that she deposit the contents of the intact bag on the curb so that he could reuse it for half a marraqueta and other indistinguishable items on the ground. We glanced indecisively at each other and I quickly suggested that I might get a couple more bags up the street at FLORECE. Without commentary, the man motioned me in that direction. Hurriedly I returned and handed one bag to Kim. By now the man was more conversant, having clued in to the fact that she spoke English and ordering her in accented tones to "Open! Open!" the bag for him.
He began scooping what appeared to be handfuls of dirt into the plastic grocery bag. With each scoop his animated conversation increased. He told us his job was to "snookel ... you understand? ... snookel" and when I asked if he meant "snorkel" he sniffed and corrected me in his accented English, "You Americans say it that way. I speak British English. You understand? British English! In British English it is snookel." And that was that, as far as he was concerned. His name was Giorgio, he told us with flair, "Giorgio Cohe - o Jorge en español y George en ingles pero Giorgio en Italiano!" and he had traveled the world. He spoke Spanish and English, Italian and Portuguese, and even Hebrew - as he proudly showed us the Star of David dangling on a shiny gold chain around his neck.
It was late, and getting later, so we sought to extricate ourselves graciously from the conversation by explaining that we needed to get home to our families. This didn't sit well with Giorgio who suddenly became incensed and waved his arms about. "Go!" he commanded. "A mi no me gustan las justificaciones!" ("I don't like justifications!") But he pointed aggrievedly at the forgotten bags on the ground. "I didn't ask for help! You said you were going to help!"
Jarred by the sudden change in temperament, we meekly said our apologies and slowly backed away. I don't remember how the topic of prayer even came up, but with a fabulous blend of haughtiness and temper he told us that, "I pray to my friend, Jesus! The thin man! And my prayers go up! But your prayers ..." - and here he bent down to sweep his palms over the dust of the ground - "... they just may go this far! Down here!"
It was almost tempting to chuckle. But as suddenly as his temper flared, it went away (later he told us that an evil wind overtook him sometimes) and he begged our pardon. Extending one hand to each of us, he urged us to make a circle and pray. It was late, it was dark, it was a city street with the occasional car passing by and a few pedestrians coming and going. Yet we acquiesced and stood with our hands in his. Then he fell to his knees for a heartfelt soliloquy. "Oh Jesus of Nazareth ..." he began, as we silently listened. Words flowed from his mouth and it was impossible to not feel pity and wonder at the plight of a man whose appearance and enunciation indicated he once had education, a family, a home. What had brought him to this place in life? Hints of possibilities lay in the statement he repeated several times during the night's long conversation. "So maybe I had one drink," he admitted. "But that doesn't make me a bad person! Even the priests drink wine, and I am better than them."
"You're not Catholic, are you?" he asked at one point. Upon hearing that our families were missionary church planters, he urged us to pray for a large building. "Ask and you will receive!" he firmly recited. "At midnight, I will pray for you," he pledged. "And you will pray for me. Yes? You promise?"
In response, Kim said the fateful words. "I will pray for you. At midnight. I promise!" With that statement lingering in the air, we finally said our goodbyes. We climbed into the van and she remarked, "I guess I will be setting my clock tonight!"
And while my selfish heart groaned, it also admired the fact that this is just who she is. By the grace of God, a very good and very kind and very honest person. Proverbs 27:17 states: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." Thanks to Kim, I got sharpened the night we met Giorgio. And thanks to Kim, Giorgio got prayed for in two separate homes by two separate women at the stroke of midnight. Who knows what answers to prayer might come for him?
If so, he can blame it all on my colleague Kim!