Our boat pulled up to the cement school in the village of Chita. I remember it being extra hot that day, the kind of heat that zips you in like the footie pajamas you used to where as a kid. The Amazon air has a way of clinging to you like no other place on earth.
We arrived with our myriad soccer balls, blowup animals and colorful crafts, all of which the kids couldn’t wait to kick, bend, glue and whatever else kids do while squealing and fluttering around like hummingbirds. At one strategic point in our visit, we gathered all the children and moms together for our official program which consists of a ‘rousing’ puppet show, a few songs led by me in my lousy Portuguese, some words from a team member about how God’s love tangibly collided with his or her life, and a time of prayer led by my Dad. Pretty straightforward stuff if you grew up anywhere near Christendom.
Gloria, our Brazilian spitfire, closed our time by explaining to the 30 or so moms and kids that if anyone needed prayer to come forward where a few of us were ready to pray over the needs. Before she’d completed her sentence, a four year-old boy sprung from his chair, clutched his mother’s arm and determinedly led her to the front. Yanno was so little that I was certain he didn’t understand what was happening. I was thinking faithless thoughts like, maybe he thinks we asked for kids to come forward for candy.
He shyly explained that his family had lost its home and barely had any food. He said his mom Mara was sad, words she confirmed with slight nods and a hopeless gaze. We prayed for their physical needs and committed to helping them however we could. My Dad explained the beauty of the gospel, how forgiveness through Jesus would forever change them. Mara and Yanno welcomed this Savior into their lives that day.
When Jesus makes an entrance in the middle of standard, Christian camp fare, I don’t know why I’m so jaw-dropping shocked. I couldn’t fathom that a boy so young could understand that God was his Answer. How guilty I am of motioning through the mechanics of a program, misplacing my expectation on the process rather than the Person of Jesus who said, “Let the little children come unto me.” Of course a four year-old could get it!
As we made our way toward the boat for the next village, I hated to say goodbye to Yanno. I felt a strong sense that he needed to be blessed, unofficial as anything I could bring him seemed. So I placed my hand on the top of his prickly-haired wigs head and prayed a blessing over him – it was just the two of us. He must have been wondering what this shockingly white woman was doing with her hand on his head and why her speech was so strange and unrecognizable. I asked God to set Yanno apart like King David. I don’t know why that specific plea, though my urgency for him to be blessed has now become clear:
A few days ago I received an email from Gloria entitled, “Yanno, The Boy From Chita.” She relayed to us some tragic news that while Yanno was in his new house with his Mom and baby brother, Mara was struck by lightening in front of him. After vainly trying to shake his mother awake, he picked up the baby and waded through the river until he found a fisherman who could help.
Yanno is seven years-old. Mara would not be revived.
Gloria has since discovered that Mara was baptized weeks before the lightening struck her. She had gotten back with her husband and the family was attending a jungle church in the village. These expressions are powerless in and of themselves, yet when attached to Jesus they are vibrant signs of a heart transformed by Him. Mara knew Jesus and He welcomed her into His presence that day.
I’m not writing to saddle you with despair or sadness, we have enough coming at us from countless streams. I’m writing out of the discovery that comes from a story like Yanno’s that is still being told. I have no idea why if God had the power to lead us to this boy, He wouldn’t use that same power to thwart the lightening that struck his mother. Without a satisfying answer, I believe that the Spirit who led that little boy to the front of the room for prayer three years ago, was the same One who knew what Yanno would one day face. When God whispered in my heart, “Put your hand on that child’s head and pray for him because he’s special” I didn’t know why I was praying, but God knew.
And now I know too.
Yanno and his family will need our support over the coming years. I pray I will be able to see him when I return to the Amazon this June. I pray His experience of Christ and His church will be ever sufficient in the midst of unspeakable tragedy.
Dear Father, thank you for sending us ahead of such loss. And as we now come behind it, may Christ and His church be the filling Yanno and his family desperately need. Amen.
*A few friends snapped family photos backdrops that day in Chita. This is probably the only picture Yanno will possess of his mother and him. A gift Gloria will bring to him on her next visit.