The sun glared down and baked the road, sending silvery heat waves up from the broken asphalt. Vehicles were scarce, and the rare one I saw sputtered and clanked like it was in need of a few vital parts. Often, a mule-drawn cart would drive past, loaded with metal scraps and old machines. The people standing on the side of the road stared at me with empty eyes that perused my blonde hair and fair skin. I smiled when they stared, but not a muscle moved in their stoic faces.
Everyone in my work group hauled ladders and paintbrushes and buckets along the sidewalk. The pastor of the mission base and our driver, Marcelino directed us to the bed of a rickety white pickup truck and said, “All of you pack like sardines in here.”
In Juarez, Mexico, there are no speed limits, stop signs, or apparently seat belts. I wedged myself in the corner of the truck bed in between the paint buckets. The acidity of gasoline and rusty metal stung my nose and eyes. We rattled along at a most unsafe speed, and I swear that Marcelino sped up for the potholes and grinned beneath the brim of his hat every time our rears bounced up off of the hot metal. As we chugged to the summit of a sandy hill, I turned and looked down at the village. It looked as if it were built of playing cards. The peeling paint in all sorts of garish colors reminded me of a run-down circus. The busy street noises had dissipated and I could hear the wind scraping across the sand as it blew clouds of dirt into the air. We stopped. I hopped out of the truck and stared at the house we were parked in front of.
The walls were sheets of aluminum, covered in cardboard and plywood. A rickety wooden fence of sticks went around the house. There were pieces of wire and rope stretched from the roof to the fence as clothes lines, and metal and wood scraps all over the ground. We set a ladder up against the house and started to ferry the buckets of paint and tar up to the roof. The roof was made of metal sheets covered in tar and plywood, and there were gaping holes and cracks in many places. Marcelino pointed down at the house below our feet and said, “They say every time it rain, there is two inch of water on floor.” I was shocked. At home, when it rains I stay warm and dry inside, and couldn’t even imagine two inches of water flooding our floor.
We toiled away for hours, peeling off the plywood and laying the new material down. I stood up for a moment and shielded my eyes with one hand. A huge mountain loomed up like a skyscraper to my right. The sun was suspended directly above my head, and seemed to be hanging lower than normal. I pulled up my sweaty hair and let the breeze rush across my neck. I was hot, tired, and sunburnt.
We finally finished, and one by one we climbed down and stood in a small patch of shade by the house. The couple came out of the house, and Marcelino told them, “Aquí están las personas que fija su techo.” (Here are the people who fixed your roof.) They both looked about sixty years old, with greying hair and wrinkled eyes. The Mexican senora looked at all of us Americans standing there, covered in paint and tar from her roof, and her eyes widened. She opened her mouth as if to say something, and promptly toppled over backwards against her husband. Luckily, he caught her, but barely held her up. Marcelino jumped to help and together they carried her inside and laid her on the small bed. Startled, I stepped back and stood there for a moment, confused. We all waited outside nervously, thinking she had just keeled over dead right in front of us.
After a few minutes, Marcelino came out and said, “She is okay, but fainted and we not know why. You like to come pray for her?”
We all crammed into the tiny house. The walls were made out of hand-hewn wood planks, and the floors were sand. There was one table with two chairs, and the one bed in sight that the woman laid on was smaller than a twin. When our leader was finished praying, the senora stirred and I sighed in relief. Her husband thanked us profoundly through tears as we filed out of the small doorway. Our leader said she might have been overwhelmed, seeing us all standing there, or she may have simply overheated. Either way, I knew that I had been a part of touching someone’s life today.
I wedged myself in between the paint buckets again as we bounced all the way back to the mission base. As soon as we got back, Marcelino said, “Okay, clean up and meet back here in one hour. We have big surprise for you.”
The sun was setting as we drove out of downtown Juarez in a white van. The canyon road slithered like a snake through the mountains, which were a scarlet red and reflected the evening moonlight oddly. I was hot and tired, but an odd sense of anticipation and reverence filled the air. We sensed we were about to experience something incredible. The windows of the van were open and a slight breeze blew in and brushed my cheek. The tires squeaked a bit as the big van took a tight turn. Finally, the canyon road opened up into a clearing. We stopped and piled out of the van like performers out of a clown car. I had not taken two steps when wonder froze my feet. Ahead of us, the ground disappeared. The sun had just finished setting and the midnight blue sky faded into a deep red and orange on the horizon. I could see for what seemed an eternity. The small town of Juarez was below, guarded by mountains towering on both sides. The stars twinkled above like someone had thrown glitter at the sk y; the lights of the small houses below shone like a reflection of the stars above. I was in awe. I had never been so overwhelmed by beauty that I felt like crying. I walked slowly towards the edge, where there was a bridge hanging suspended over the canyon road below. I gripped the edge tightly and looked out into the bright night. The sky was dark, and a storm brewed on the horizon. Dark clouds were starting to roil against a distant mountain, and faint outlines of lightning glinted from within the clouds. Thunder roared in reply to the lightning and the mountains shook in defiance beneath my feet. I was terrified of the fierce beauty of the heavens. I looked down at the city below and saw man’s glory, the bright lights of a city like a thousand stars, and I looked up and saw God’s glory, the stars and the moon suspended in the heavens, illuminating the war in the sky.
I felt small.
So unexplainably, insignificantly small.
How inconsequential was I, compared to the mountains, the lightning, the heavens? How trivial was I, compared to the billions of other lives on this Earth? My eyes filled with tears, not in hopelessness, but in revelation.
Earlier that day, I had spent hours working to touch two people’s lives. We had done something so small for them, yet accomplished something so great. As I looked down at the city, I saw two of those little lights as those two people we touched. They were warm and cozy in their home, as small as it may be, and when it rained tonight they would stay dry.
I am still small and insignificant compared to the world. In a way, we all are; the world is a big place with billions of people walking its surface. But that’s okay. Every single person has a life and a story, and no matter how small, they are valuable. Those two people in Juarez were two lights in a city of a thousand lights, but I was still able to help touch their lives. It’s not how smart, important, or privileged you are that lets you change the world. Just one simple act of kindness can make the world a smaller place. One single candle can bring light to a dark room. If you have the Light inside of you, it is your choice whether to share it or hide it. If you share it, you may start a chain reaction; you might never know whose life you may touch. Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.