but not nearly as dark as what was ahead.
We sat in silence, heading up the winding road to one of the poorest parts of Lima. The silence was broken by Jim's explanation. "He has had a rough go at things. His daughter passed away awhile back, leaving him and his wife with the responsibility to take care of the children. Who knows where the father could be. She wasn't married." This could have summed up any number of families living in the hills. The mother with the children, just trying to scrape by. "How did she die?" I hesitantly asked. One never knows the answer they will receive. Jim squinted at the brightness of oncoming traffic, "She was hit by a car. She was a street sweeper and the car didn't see her. She had just had a baby." The job alone was a pity. A Lima street sweeper works six to seven 10 hour days. They may make up to $200 a month, if they are lucky. "We are just thankful that one of the ladies from our church was able to visit her in the hospital before she died. She made a profession of salvation, and for that we praise God." That was the reason we were headed to Manchay. Jim continued as we pulled off the tar onto the bumpy dirt road, "Things got worse just a few months ago while he was at work. A boulder fell on his leg as he was digging a trench. The little medical attention he has received has not done any good, and he still cannot walk." Jim put the car in park and we stepped out into the cold night. The darkness was oppressive. The few street lamps to be seen were dimmed by the blowing mist. The night seemed to soak into every bone.
The chill in the air was just a foreshadow of what would envelope my heart. We worked our way through the misplaced houses, along trash strewn streets. I had to wonder how many times these piles of garbage had been sorted through. A person picking through another's trash is a common sight. Everything can be used for something else. The sound of muted radios came from different shacks along the way, helping to drown out the barking of stray dogs fighting over whatever they considered important. We began to climb a rocky foothill and our shivers from moments ago turned to sweat as we worked our way higher. Arriving at the bottom of a seemingly misplaced staircase, I looked up into the blackness. "They live up there?" I muttered. Jim affirmed my fear, "Yep, I am pretty sure I heard something about two hundred stairs." We ascended higher and higher into the darkness, and the scattered lights below grew more and more soft. As we came over a rise the small shack came into view. Perched on the edge of a sharp ledge, the unlit landscape only added more sadness to the pathetic sight. Built of scrap wood, cardboard and plastic, if looked as if it offered little to no protection from the elements.
We worked our way along the edge of the ridge and knocked. Not much knocking was needed as it was only one room. The hunched grandmother greeted us and led us inside. The small, lone light-bulb hung over the dim room, giving just enough light to see the the heartbreaking surroundings. Four beds filled a majority of the room, leaving a small area for a fifth on the floor. Along one wall several make shift shelves provided space to store old clothing, and older looking tools.
There, laying in the bed closest to us was a kindly looking old man smiling up at us. His broken smile could not have come from a heart held by this world's goods. It must have been from something deeper. By his appearance I judged him to be between sixty and seventy years old, and every one of those years were hard. We shook hands and took a seat on the nearby bed.
"We came to see how your were doing." Jim said. The commotion in the room woke the young baby sleeping under a thin blanket, and he began to cry. The older man spoke up, "I am doing well! I have been reading the Bible you gave me. I especially like the Psalms. Since I haven't been able to work, I have had plenty of time." "Have you been to the doctor's lately?" Jim asked. "I am supposed to go back in awhile. Last time we went there weren't enough beds, so we had to come back home."
They continued to talk, and my eyes drifted to my surroundings. The weak light illuminated two small figures laying on the beds. The crying baby who was awakened during our entrance was being comforted by the soft spoken grandma. She had assumed motherly duties once again as her deceased daughter had left her in charge of her young children. Another small figure slept under old covers in the nearby bed. A young boy who must have been five or six years old slept soundly despite the conversation of his grandfather. What would his life be like? Where would he end up? Would he even remember his mother?
The fuzzy black and white TV pulled my attention away from the child. In the corner of the room the small box flickered blurred images of a life completely different than where we were. This is real life. It is hard.
Jim read a Psalm, we prayed together, said our goodbyes, and worked out way back to the staircase. Manchay was not the only place wrapped in a fog. My mind also swam in a sea of haze. "What will happen to those children? How could this be reality? Where could they find hope?"
Looking back to the shack on that rocky slope, I can see that they lived a little closer to heaven. The streets of that Celestial City must sparkle a little brighter in contrast to the dusty path they walk each day. The promised new body must seem a little more exciting as they lay in bed, struggling to move. The verses speaking about a dwelling place must revive their soul as they stare day after day at their meager abode. The concept of not needing a sun because God will be their light must shine brighter as they look out into the dreary night. The guarantee that "I will never leave you nor forsake you" must be their daily strength and hope. Yes, they live a little closer to heaven.