May 10, 2021

Until We Meet Again

The old Peruvian man stepped out of the cab. He took a few steps down the dirt road, then turned to address the young American who was still standing next to the car. “Bendiciones” (blessings), he said with a smile and a slight bow of his head. The old man heard the young American respond—“y a usted” (and to you too)—and saw him smile back. What he didn’t see were the tears forming in the young man’s eyes as he slipped into the cab and was whisked away through the small Peruvian town for the last time. The Peruvian man didn’t known him at all, but he had wished him blessings—and that’s what impressed the American.

Passing through town during his cab ride, he took in the familiar sights of fruit markets, motor taxis, and children selling candy. He passed the tiny restaurant in which, almost a year ago, he had first ordered a meal in broken Spanish. The thought of leaving it all behind brought more tears.

2011 1509 page31The young man was leaving those first graders who always would swamp him with such giant group hugs that they would knock him over. He was leaving all those patients who had come to the medical clinic—thousands of people who had received penicillin shots and parasite medications, and a few who had let him operate on them. If only they had known he was just a kid. But so were the other 18 student missionaries working by his side in teaching, preaching, and running highly effective medical clinics. The missionaries were leaving, each to their respective worlds. The team was now gone. But what remained were incredible bonds that can be formed only by working together for 11 months in such a place.

What pained the young man most, however, was leaving those he probably would never see again. There were the families that had received Bible studies. Some had studied all the lessons, only to back out of baptism at the last minute. But there were others who had given their lives to Christ and were baptized. They might never meet again in this world, but they all had promised to meet each other in heaven. Now he had to be sure to be there himself to keep his end of the deal.

He asked God to watch over those new believers because he couldn’t anymore, and then he thanked God for all the things he had learned. The richest experiences in life, he now knew, come when you step outside your comfort zone, or, in his case, fly out of it. But most important, he had learned that no matter how inadequate and unqualified one may feel, if you step up to the task in faith God equips you to do His work. In the process, He leads you, not necessarily down the easiest road, but down the most adventuresome road. He prayed he would never forget the experiences, the people, and these lessons.

The taxi continued to whisk him away on the first leg of his journey home. As he rode farther and farther from that beautiful place where strangers wish you blessings, the blazing Peruvian sun sank out of the sky and the coconut palms began to sway, as if to wave goodbye to the young man being taken away into the night.

Matthew Hartman (above, center) is a senior at Southern Adventist University studying chemistry and premedicine. He and 20 other college students served in Pucallpa, Peru, for 11 months, providing medical care and holding evangelistic campaigns as part of an Ambassadors’ Medical Outreach and Relief (AMOR) project. This article was published March 24, 2011.