I was the van lady.
The ridiculous-looking blonde careening down the highway in a 15-passenger van like a bullet. Then twisting, turning, double-backing through the confusing streets of a city where every ramshackle house looks like the next and a panhandler for every corner.
Each day, every day, I picked up my precious cargo:
The refugees. Thirteen of them.
Endless booster seats. Buckling and unbuckling. Four different languages spoken at breakneck speed at the highest pitch known to man.
This is heaven.
I’m convinced of it, convinced it’s heaven, though it doesn’t look it-
I suppose it depends on where you look.
I’ll admit, the first few days felt more like hell. The endless gray. Broken furniture and mattresses full of bedbugs slung out to the curb of every other house. Lines spilling out of the can depository. A rail-thin woman with sunken, dead eyes needs fifty cents, she says. Two prostitutes tumble down the middle of the street on heels not made for potholes.
People of every nationality speckle the streets with a rainbow of color. The deepest midnight skin of three Sudanese teenagers. Latino. African-American. White. A Buddhist monk. The family of Muslims always crossing the street at the same time for prayers.
Thirty minutes away from my safe suburban home lies another world.
This world is one in which the lake we pass twice a day is pronounced a “swimming poo!” fifty times over, and the sight of evening gowns in dress shop windows take on the excitement of Christmas morning. A world where the “safety” of drug infested streets is accepted with gladness over the bloody streets from where they’ve come, and broken windows and sagging gutters are still a blessing.
And I’m humbled.
This is heaven.
Heaven is thankfulness for used mattresses, years old, spotted with stains but lacking in bugs. Heaven is a discarded plastic bag filled with broken and mismatched toys that finds new life in eager little hands. Heaven is the trust of parents, who after attempting niceties with me over a language barrier like a brick wall, put their children in my hands, never truly knowing from whence we go, only tickled that their kids get the chance to- to leave, to dream.
Heaven is the smiles that greet me as I pull up to their houses, the shouts of “Miss! Miss! She took off her seat belt again!” or “Miss! Miss! She stole my snack!” (for the eleventh time).
I look at them, these children, and think,
I’m not worthy.
I know now more deeply what Jesus meant when he said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).
These little ones, they’re the Heaven-holders.
Clear as day I see the kingdom of God in Senjana’s quiet eyes and Srijana’s boisterous cries. It’s in Olivie’s soft and searching heart and the way Pragya’s hugs me tight around the waist though only moments before I’ve scolded her for stealing someone’s snack once again. I find it in Tibborah’s, Sister’s, and Nu-Nu’s sweet songs that rise from the back seat straight to God.
I watch as my own children interact with these kingdom-keepers and I thank Him for giving us this opportunity. The opportunity to pray for the quiet Ruth and Onole, that they would find friendship in You. The opportunity to ask that Flower would blossom into all that You would have her be; that the beautiful Prena would find her worth in You; that Arthur’s rascally yet charming way would be used mightily.
I thank Him for the opportunity, the privilege, to give thanks for Thank You.
Most people think that Heaven’s all pearly gates and angel song.
I can tell you it’s not.
Heaven is thirteen kids in a church van.
And trust me…
you won’t want to miss it.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelgoodin/6116078143/”>michaelgoodin</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>