There is a picture on my fridge of a little girl from the Andes mountains. I don’t know her story. I only know her name. Yolanda. Our lives intersected just once, about 16 years ago. I was in high school. We were living in Peru and had travelled to Huaraz for a little family getaway. Huaraz is small town nestled in the Andes Mountains. When you go there, it feels like you are stepping back in time. The people who live there are the descendants of the Inca Indians, and they speak different dialects of Quechuan. Some of them still dress in colorful Quechuan clothing like their ancestors have worn for generations.
I met Yolanda as we were driving back to Lima. We were winding our way back down through the foothills of the Andes mountains. The foothills look like they are covered with giant patchwork quilts of green. The people living there have small farms all over the sides of the hills and from a distance, all of the different little farms coming together makes it look like a beautiful, colorful quilt. I love those mountains.
Often as we would wind our way down the mountain roads, there would be a handful of people standing by the road, either waiting to catch a ride down, or wanting to sell something to those passing by.
That is how I met Yolanda. She and her little siblings were standing by the road, waiting, as we came around a bend, and my dad pulled over. We all got out of the old blue suburban to stretch and began chatting with them. They were dressed in their Quechuan outfits and were standing there with their little faces burned from the harsh, high altitude sun.
As I stood there talking to this little girl, it hit me that I would be leaving Peru pretty soon. I was going to go start a completely different life on another continent, and I would never see this girl again. And it scared me. It scared me because I was afraid that I might forget. I might get so caught up in this American life, with all of its pursuit of shiny things, and I might forget that on the other side of the world is a girl, standing by the road with her siblings, still waiting.
Before we left that spot, I asked her if I could take her picture. She said that I could. And as we walked away, she asked me not to forget her. “I promise I won’t,” I said.
I cried as we drove away that day and I am crying now as I write this. Not because I loved this little girl or even knew this girl. But the God whose Spirit lives in me loves her with a fervent, earth shattering love. And in those moments when I get a tiny glimpse of how He loves the people He brings across my path, it is staggering.
So I still have her picture on my fridge. I see her little face every day, and I try not to forget. I try not to forget Yolanda, and all of the other “Yolandas” that I encounter. At the grocery store. At the park. In line ahead of me on black friday. At a homeless shelter. Sitting down the row from me at church.
And I still pray that someday, I will spend eternity with Yolanda. And I will tell her that I didn’t forget… that she always reminded me of what matters. And together we will worship the One in whose love no one is ever forgotten.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands…” Isaiah 49:15-16