Hot tears ran down my face as I buried my head in my lap. My companion and I had just returned from an exhausting day. Nobody had showed up for appointments and the few people out on the streets that blistering Chicago day did not want to hear our "message about Christ." Worst of all, we found out that Rochelle, who we had been preparing for baptism, had returned to her life of drugs.
We had been working hard in this area for more than four months and had seen little progress. "What's the use of my serving a mission," I thought. I didn't seem to be affecting anyone's life. My mind reverted back to another time when everything in my life seemed to be going wrong.I remembered those same hot tears burning down my cheeks in Washington, D.C. I had been working as an intern that summer and had just received some devastating news. Not wanting to talk to anyone in such a state, I had grabbed my scriptures and raced out the door. My feet moved faster and faster, carry me away, anywhere; it didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
After wandering for what seemed like hours, I found myself in a little park. Tears now cascading down my cheeks, I tried to calm myself, but the sobs kept coming.
However, the sound of two Puerto Rican men speaking rapidly in Spanish interrupted my inner woes. For a moment curiosity overcame despair and I restrained my sobs to listen.
"Do you think she's OK?" the tall one asked, motioning discreetly toward me.
"I don't know. Maybe we should go talk to her," the little one suggested.
The two men moved toward me but jumped as I yelled at them in my harshest Spanish, "Go away! I don't want to talk to you! I don't want to talk to anyone . . . ever!"
Perplexed, the men turned away and my sobs started again as I wallowed in my unhappiness. However, a few minutes later I felt a tap on my shoulder. The little Puerto Rican man crouched before me, holding a dog-eared paper cup of water.
"I though you might want some water. It's the best I can offer," he said timidly. He had picked up a discarded cup on top of a trash can and filled it at the drinking fountain. Before I could drive him away he said, "I just want you to know that it's going to be OK."
I nodded, wiping away my tears and taking the cup. "Thanks," I said, cracking a half smile. I couldn't help but accept his gift of kindness.
"Here, I found this too," he said as he pulled a wrinkled napkin out of his pocket.
"You know, it really will be okay," he continued in his Spanish accent. "I broke up with my girlfriend a week ago and it's hard. But, you know, life goes on and you get back to normal again. Is that it? Did you break up with your boyfriend.?"
"No," I had to laugh a little because to me, breaking up with a boyfriend seemed trivial compared to the problems looming in my mind.
"Well, whatever it is . . . everything'll be OK. You know, when I was really sad. . . ." The man continued to share with me what he did to feel happy.
The man didn't know why I was unhappy. That wasn't important to him. Yet, I was touched that day that someone, whose name I never knew and whom I had shunned, cared enough to really want to help me. Although our visit was brief and I left the park that day without having solved all my problems, I felt uplifted, reinvigorated and ready again to face life.
As I lifted my head from my tear-stained missionary skirt, I smiled as I thought of the Puerto Rican man in Washington, D.C. That man, who was struggling with his own problems in life, learning a new language, losing his girlfriend, looking for a job, I didn't even know what else, had taken the time to stop and help me, a complete stranger. That man taught me something important, something that as a missionary I often forgot. He showed me that service, no matter how small, really matters.
My mind returned to our frustrating day. I thought of the bag of oranges my companion and I had shared with a hungry lady on the street. I thought of the old woman's cart that we pulled up the subway stairs. I thought of the message we had shared with Rochelle, even though she rejected it.
Sometimes our service goes unnoticed by the world or unappreciated by those we serve. Sometimes we don't see the results of our service. I may never see Rochelle get baptized, just as the Puerto Rican man may never know how his small act of service affected me. But that is not what is important. We serve to follow in Christ's footsteps and when we serve, we feel His love.