Vince Smith, November, 2006
While Nataly has become the de-facto poster child for OSA, these reflections are really about her mom and my new friend, Cristina. I remember Nataly’s visit to the OSA clinic in 2005. Even though I didn’t meet Nataly’s mother at that time, I knew she must have had a faith not unlike the four men who brought the paralyzed man to Jesus (Mark 2: 1-12). Cristina also believed that a miracle could happen for her 4-year old daughter who was destined to live her life without walking. She brought her to see the “médicos americanos” from OSA. We’re all familiar with the sequence of “coincidental” events after that visit. Nataly’s successful surgery and her ability to walk all began with the hope and courage of her mother, Cristina.
I first met Cristina in March, 2006 during a trip to Lima with Ruth, Luis, and their granddaughter, Hannah. At that time, Cristina, Willy, Nataly, and baby sister Nicole lived on “Nataly’s Mountain” (Hannah’s name for Collique) in a makeshift room with a dirt floor at the back of a relative’s house. Given the stark living conditions and the fact that Nataly still had casts on both legs, one might have expected Cristina’s face to reflect despair and anxiety. Instead, Cristina glowed with appreciation and reflected her confidence that her daughter would soon walk with the other kids.
Subsequently, the back-room at the relative’s house that served as “home” for this family, had to be torn down. Cristina, Willy, and the “girls” moved into the OSA House where they assumed the role of caretakers. This year, the OSA dental clinic was housed on the 2nd floor of the OSA house next to the bedroom where Cristina and Willy live. Since my role on the mission trip was “dental assistant,” I had the opportunity to become better acquainted with Cristina. During the first day, it seemed that Cristina’s main role was sweeping the dust that settled on the floor of the dental clinic and other “housekeeping” chores. It was soon obvious that she needed and wanted a bigger job than that. She was eager to fill the role of dental assistant and was soon assembling and distributing the tooth brush gift bags, assisting the dental hygienists with instruments, comforting dental patients, AND sweeping dust that settled on the floor of the dental clinic. All of this was done with an infectious smile.
Dentists and dental hygienists use a LOT of small plastic cups. On Thursday or Friday Cristina and her friend Claudia realized that the dental team was running out of these plastics cups. These two women went to a local house/store and bought additional cups. Cristina and Claudia insisted that we not repay them. We were reminded of the Bible story where Jesus tells the disciples “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.” Cristina wanted to express her gratitude and appreciation through sacrificial giving.
As we were preparing to leave on Friday afternoon, several of the women from the OSA mission team gave their shoes to Collique women who had helped with the OSA mission effort. Visualize a six year old child on Christmas day in the USA. That is the picture of surprise, and continued gratitude that radiated from Cristina that day.
Later in the evening, I saw Cristina for the last time during this year’s OSA campaign. She and a few others from Collique joined us for the chifa dinner. I suspect that Cristina may have never seen such a feast in her entire life. Cristina was full of smiles and hugs and seemed very pleased to be wearing “Patti’s” tennis shoes. I told Steve that I was glad that several of our friends from Collique could join us for this dinner. However, I’m left with a haunting thought. There’s a chance that this experience, while well intended, may only serve to enhance their awareness of the very deep and wide chasm between the “haves” and “have-nots” in this world. We can only pray that people like Cristina realize that what they have and share – faith, gratitude, grace, courage, and love are eternal gifts more precious than silver and gold.