[the man in guantualo]
We had woken up early that morning to leave for Guantualo, a tiny village located two hours up a dirt road through the Andes mountains that stretch across South America like a backbone. A farming community that has recently struggled with a severe lack of rain water, I can best describe Guantualo as the land that time stood still. Excluding the few cars that dotted the dirt roads, the windswept land and weathered cement homes appeared as if they could have been unchanged for hundreds of years.
We spent the day visiting family members of our friend Javier who is from Guantualo – his sister and her children, his ninety-seven year old grandfather, and his aunt and uncle who we were staying with. After trying unsuccessfully to catch a fresh fish from a nearby pond to cook for dinner, we headed back up to the main village to instead buy some tuna, never imagining that we would be there long past sunset, on the cusp of a night that I will never forget.
As we approached the ‘store’, which consisted of nothing more than a little room stacked with bags of rice and other little necessities, we spotted an elderly man lying outside the door, bent on his side with his hand on his face. “Un borracho,” Javier said – a drunk. He had told us earlier in the day that the area was renowned for its borrachos, men and women alike drinking to the point of complete inebriation, especially on Mondays after the weekly market in the village. We didn’t think much of the man as we walked past him into the store, until after a second glance we realized that he was badly wounded, lying in a pool of his own blood that was coming from his head.
Javier and I rushed towards him and turned him over on his back, revealing a gaping wound on his forehead that had undoubtedly been caused by a fall on one of the sharp rocks in the dirt road. I remember in that moment losing my breath for a few seconds, unable to speak at the sight of this man who had been left here to die on the side of the road. Sydney and our house dad Alex rushed to find a towel and alcohol to clean the wound with, as Javier and I sat with the man in the road and tried to keep him from touching his head and exacerbating the wound.
The next half hour was a blur. I sat with the man’s head in my lap, handing toilet paper and some kind of apple-flavored alcohol to Javier as he cleaned the wound. Brushing the blood-soaked hair out of the man’s face, I held back tears as a I realized the utter disparity of the situation that we had found ourselves in. Sydney and Alex ran around the village trying to find gauze or anything that we could use to wrap the man’s head with, but most people seemed either too busy or uninterested in the plight of a man whom they had no connection with. Finally we were able to clean the wound and wrap it with a scarf that the man had been wearing, and managed to sit him up on the stoop outside of the store. By this hour it was dark, windy, and cold.
Unable to identify the man or anyone who he might have known in the village, we had a neighbor call an ambulance to take him to the hospital. However, Guantalo is hours away from anything resembling a hospital or medical clinic – finding gauze in the town was a miracle in itself. We sat with the man outside the store for two hours waiting for the ambulance to arrive, holding his blood stained hands down so he wouldn’t touch his face. We prayed and cried over him as we waited, asking the Lord to redeem this life that had nearly been lost that night. We watched on the stoop as so many others in village, both young and old, drank until they couldn’t stand. We looked on as a woman with a baby strapped to her back stumbled down the street, as an entire family carried their drunk father home. My heart broke inside of me.
I will never know what became of the man – as we finally saw him into the ambulance that evening, I prayed a silent prayer for his life, and for the lives of so many others who I knew may not ever get a second chance. I thanked God that we couldn’t catch a fish in the pond that day, and that He brought us back to the village to buy a can of tuna. I thanked God for Javier and Sydney and Alex and our house mom Eve – for the way that He knit us together for those few hours to care for the man who had been left to die in the road.
During the month that I have been living here in Ecuador, I have been asking God to break and mold my heart – to break me of what I think I know to be true and to fill me with His own breath and wisdom. That night as we sat with the man, I reveled in what I knew to be truer than anything I have ever felt – that we are all that man lying in the road to die. We are all broken, bleeding, and dying, desperately in need of a Savior – whether we are willing to admit it or not. I will never forget that man’s face as I held it in my hands that night – the deepest depths of the human spirit revealed in his eyes. As I write these words a few days later, I find myself reassured of my purpose here in Ecuador: to love my neighbor as the Good Samaritan did in Luke 10, to not turn a blind eye when I see a soul in need, and to never forget that we are all broken people in a broken world. I am reminded of the perfect, divine timing of our God, that He knew we needed to return to the village that night to care for that man in the road. With each day that passes here, I am continually reminded of Isaiah 58.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’