“When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city”
– Joshua 6:20
I have always told people that if they see me cry something is terribly wrong. Sad movies, happy endings, beautiful strains of a violin, all the things meant to touch a soft soul ricochet off my Kryptonian heart. I was a warrior, a she-wolf, a lioness in high heels. I would survive this harsh world with steel in my soul and a broken glass smile. Ice queens in armor of rock music and leather jackets do not cry.
It became a joke as the mission team boarded a plane bound for New York City. My best friend, who had never seen a single tear in my eyes, made a bet that something would get to me. Some emotional arrow would find a chink in my armor. I laughed and sipped my Americano. By the time we were ordering much needed coffee in Budapest, the whole team was in on the wager. “The mission field changes everyone, all you have to do is lower your walls”, the team leader told me. I gave a groggy half-nod and crawled into the van for the three-hour drive across the Romanian border.
A night in a Romanian hotel and another day spent driving through the Carpathian mountains allowed us to get to know the couple who owned the mission house. We were told at the end of the week we’d be asked to share something we took away from this trip. My friend nudged me in the ribs and I smirked. Learn something? Sure. Get emotional? Never.
Pictures, stories, eyewitness accounts were all woefully inadequate for what awaited us at the river village. Children barely dressed, shelters built from trash, a room the size of a closet housing a family of eight. We brought a hot meal and supplies. We ate, prayed, built, smiled. We left exhausted but proud. We promised to return later in the week.
We worked in the garden of the mission sponsored children’s home. We laughed and played games with the Romani Gypsy children fortunate enough to escape the villages and live there. A little girl sat in my lap for hours, snuggled against me as we watched cartoons. Another thing that made my friend smile. I had always claimed to dislike children. But this little girl climbed into my lap, all dark eyes and gap toothed smile, skinny arms wrapped around me until the day we left. I never stood a chance.
They were considered the lucky ones, a large family living in two rooms made out of a modified shipping container. Lucky because they were out of the villages. Lucky to raise their children in a tiny box. Children that ran to greet us, knowing that the mission house van meant food and care for a few hours. We stepped inside when the mother told us there was a baby. A baby lying on a bed in the blazing heat, tiny hands twitching at the flies that crawled over it. The softest heart in our group scooped him up to hold and I stepped outside.
The older girls were getting their hair braided. The team didn’t have another hair tie. I pulled mine from my own braid and took it to the woman braiding hair. The little girl said something in Romani, grinning up at me. I smiled back and waited for a translation. “She said you have pretty green eyes.” I gave a cracked thank you to this beautiful smiling girl and retreated. I was silent the entire ride back to the mission house, busy attempting repairs on the cracks in my citadel’s walls. Shout The day we left, I dropped my bag by the door. I knelt down and hugged the girl who had been my shadow all week. She smiled and squeezed me tight. I’m not sure if she thought this was a goodbye or a I’ll see you later tonight. My knuckles were white on the straps of my bag as I loaded it into the van. I sat silently in the back as we left the town of Viile Tecii in the rearview mirror. Halfway to Oradea we were asked to share what we were taking away from this trip. I thought about dark eyes staring into green. Gap toothed smiles. Tiny hands and flies. I thought of disciples, of Christ, of “suffer little children.” And the walls came crashing down.