“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:45, NIV).
By Carina Goncalves
Something happened while on the way to the airport that changed my life.
I was returning to my ESL teaching role in Japan after a visit back home in Australia. The person driving me to the airport stopped at a set of traffic lights. As I sat in the backseat of the car, I noticed some people on the side of the road. Their clothes looked dirty and torn. They appeared poor and homeless. From across the road I saw a woman holding a baby. Our eyes met, but I quickly looked away and continued my conversation with the driver. A few seconds later I looked to the side, and there was the woman and her baby right by my window. The woman held the baby up against the window. She asked for money, and gestured that it was to feed the baby. I couldn’t see the mother’s face clearly, but I saw the baby’s. He looked poor and sad, and his eyes told me he needed love.
Many thoughts ran through my mind. The driver quickly locked all four doors and said, “She is using the baby.” My heart wanted to help her, but my immediate reaction was No, I don’t want to give this woman money. I’m not sure where this money will go. It could be for drugs or alcohol. Another thought came to mind, But what if she is really in need? I quickly put those thoughts behind me and ignored the woman and her baby. I looked straight ahead to the driver as we talked about the problems of poverty in the world. It seemed that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The woman and her baby disappeared from my window. I felt relieved that she was gone; but then another thought came to mind: Whatever you do to any of these, you have done unto Me. They were Jesus’ words.
Then I remembered that in my bag next to me were some dried apricots that I carried with me as a travel snack. I could have given this woman these dried apricots, and the baby would have eaten something for breakfast. If I were willing to give, I would have thought of it.
Jesus visited me in that woman. But I rejected her. I ignored her. And in ignoring and rejecting someone in need, I had rejected and ignored Jesus. I will never forget how bad I felt that day. All I could think about was that baby looking back at me through that car window. I cried as I prayed with all my heart for that mother and her baby. That day in the airplane, I prayed that God would give me another chance; that He would visit me again.
25 Days Later
While waiting at Hamamatsu station for my Japanese Brazilian friend Thaty to pick me up, a man came up to me and asked in Portuguese: “Are you Brazilian?” He looked clean, although he was in desperate need of a shave, and his teeth looked gray and rotten. I answered him. And then he began asking me for money. He said he wanted to have a shower at a place that charged 500 yen. He was also asking me for money to buy food. My first immediate reaction was No, I don’t want to give him money. I’m not sure where this money will go. It could be for drugs or alcohol. Then my mind took me back to the baby’s face in the window.
I also had my travel snack with me, so I gave them to him. As we talked I found out that he had been living there at Hamamatsu station for two months now, and he was looking for a job. I told him I was a missionary and an English teacher for a Christian church. He then asked me if I had a Bible I could give him. I was shocked to hear this question. But my first immediate reaction was “No.” I had my Portuguese Bible with me, but I didn’t want to give it to him. It was my only Portuguese Bible, and I had bought it the last time I was with the Brazilian church. It was special and dear to me.
I offered to buy him some food to eat. I was a little scared, but I put my fears behind me because I knew God was with me. The man took me to a bakery. He walked into the bakery and was just about to pick up a bread bun with his hands when I stopped him and showed him the tray and the tongs. (At a bakery in Japan, the bread buns are arranged on the display shelves. The customer selects their purchase and places it on the tray before presenting it at the register.) He got one bread bun, looked at me, and said, “Thank you.” I then said, “It’s OK; you can get more.” He got another one, two, three, four, five, six, and seven! After I bought him the bread I gave him the change, about 300 yen—enough for a shower. He asked me for more money so he could clean himself up. I said, “OK, I’ll give it to you.” I told him I would pray for him. He said, “Thank you. Will you pray for me now?” I was shocked to hear this from him. And at this point I thought to myself, OK, Carina, now it’s time to stop being selfish and give him your Bible. He needs it more than you do.
I reached down into my bag and took out my Portuguese Bible. I handed it to him, and he thanked me. As I handed him the Bible, he asked me, “I have heard that God can change people’s lives. Can He change my life?” I was so surprised to hear this that I didn’t answer him right away. He said it again. “I have heard that God can change people’s lives. Can He change my life?” He continued, saying, “I have been through a lot, and I am tired of this life.” I assured him that God can change his life. All he needs to do is ask. We ask God by praying to him. And God talks to us as we read the Bible. Again he asked me to pray with Him. So right there in front of the bakery at Hamamatsu station we prayed. I prayed, and then he prayed for the first time. He thanked God and asked God to change his life.
After our prayer Leo looked at me in the eyes for the first time, smiled as he shook my hand, and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you very much.”
That day Jesus visited me again. But this time I did not ignore or reject Him. God gave me another opportunity to share His love with someone in need, and this time I did not let the opportunity pass.
Carina Goncalves served at the Adventist English Language School in Yokohama, Japan, from May 2003 until August 2004.
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