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Stranded in a far-off land, away from family, feeling sorry for himself—until . . .

The plane rose from behind papaya trees in the distance and sliced through puffy white clouds hovering over the Amazon River. It was a Peruvian military plane returning to Lima to bring more riot troops to this jungle town located at the edge of the Amazon rain forest.

I sat in front of the orphanage that the locals called a wawa wasi (house for children), staring at the black smoke billowing from a six story hotel a mile or so away. The military had cancelled all civilian flights the previous morning, less than two hours before my scheduled flight to Atlanta for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was still disappointed and angry!

I sighed. Why did the people have to riot this week? Thanksgiving was the only time I returned to the United States since I had opened my wawa wasi five years before. I closed my eyes. In my imagination I could picture my sister and other family members sitting down to a table covered with turkey, dressing drowned in gravy, cranberry sauce, black-eyed peas, corn on the cob dripping butter, and the traditional pumpkin pie. After stuffing themselves, they’d retire to the living room to watch football games on television.

With my mind in Atlanta, I mumbled, “Could I have another slice of your pumpkin pie, Sis?”

“What?” came a child’s voice.

I opened my eyes. Standing in front of me was five-year-old Juanita. She’d been brought to the wawa wasi after her parents had abandoned her four years earlier. She was sipping milk from a cup.

Normally, I enjoyed the running conversation I had with this precocious child, but today I wasn’t in the mood. “Don’t you have something to do?” I asked, my voice louder than I had intended.

She set the cup down on the ground. “Nope,” she said, smacking her lips.

Taking in a deep breath, I let it out slowly. “I don’t feel like talking now, Juanita,” I said as calmly as I could.

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I wait.”

A long silence. “You win, Juanita,” I finally said. “What do you want?”

“I’ve got a question.”

I groaned. “What is it?”

“You know Enrique, right?”

Enrique is another five-year-old. He’d been at the wawa wasi for only a month. After his mother died giving birth to a baby girl, his abusive father had abandoned the boy. The tiny local church found a family for the baby girl. Not many families were interested in taking in a five-year-old boy, so the pastor brought him to the wawa wasi.

“Yes, I know Enrique,” I said. “What about him?”

“He hit me.”

I gave her a stern look. “Why did he do that, Juanita?”

“ ’Cause he’s mean.”

Earlier, Mrs. Ramiriz, the middle aged woman who helps me run the wawa wasi, had told me what happened. The two children had angry words after the boy threw Juanita’s doll in the mud. Juanita retaliated by throwing dirt on him. Mrs. Ramiriz took Juanita aside and explained to her Enrique’s background of abuse by his father.

“What did Mrs. Ramiriz say you should do?” I asked.

“She said I should pray for him.”

I gave her a questioning look. “Did you?”

“Did I what?”

Sometimes getting information from this child was like pulling teeth. “Did you pray for Enrique?”

“Not yet.” She glanced over at Mrs. Ramiriz observing us from the front door. “Can you teach me, Señor Leo?”

“Well, I guess the first thing you need to do is close your eyes.”

“I can do that,” she said, shutting her eyes tightly.

“Then you pray.”

“Dear God,” she began in the deepest voice she could muster. “We come to You today.” She stopped. “How am I doing so far, Señor Leo?”

I didn’t like the way this was turning out. “Juanita,” I said, “just talk to God like you’d talk to Mrs. Ramiriz, OK?”

“OK.”

Silence.

I groaned. “What is it this time, Juanita?”

She wrinkled her brow. “Is it OK if I pray for two people this time?”

“Yes. Now get on with it.”

She closed her eyes. “Dear God, I’m sorry I threw dirt on Enrique. Also, would you please help Señor Leo feel better? We . . . I . . . love him so much. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Like most Christians, I make it a point to let God know how much I appreciate His many blessings. Lately, though, I’d been taking the many ways He had blessed me for granted. It took missing a flight to Atlanta to remind me how truly blessed I am. Sure, I’d miss my sister’s pumpkin pie. But I couldn’t think of a better substitute than Mrs. Ramiriz’s fried yucca topped with banana sugar.

Kneeling, I wrapped my arms around this precious child. As I gazed into her brown face, I was truly thankful for the many ways God blesses me every day, one of which is this tiny five-year-old with a mind that never stops.


Leon Jones’s home in America is in Decatur, Georgia.

A Peruvian Thanksgiving

by Leon Jones
  
From the November 2005 Signs  

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