I used to wonder, what difference could I possibly make, until I went to Mexico.
I had gone away with some good friends on a cruise, we had arrived on the shore of Ensenada when we decided to take to the streets and meet some locals.
We were not walking long before the tourist shops began to disappear and the atmosphere began to change. We suddenly found ourselves surrounded by drunken men hanging around the streets at midday and eyes looking at us from all directions.
I noticed a woman staring at us from across the street, with a somewhat confused look upon her face. It was obvious we were not from this neighbourhood and she wasn’t too happy with her uninvited guests.
I instantly recognised the signs, the way she was dressed, the walk, the attitude, the swagger.
She wasn’t just there by chance she was there as an offering to every lustful stranger that walked by, and she was eyeing up her so called competition.
Having been in areas like this many times before my heart leaped out of my chest and I knew that we hadn’t just stumbled here by chance either but we must be here for a reason.
Pushing aside the uncertainty of our environment, we decided to hang around for a while and explore what our assignment here was all about.
We began to talk to people on the streets and seemed to draw quite a crowd. I was just chatting away as best I could in Spanish when I felt the presence of someone discreetly walk behind me and disappear into the shadow of a door step.
When I turned around to look I saw a woman, she was filthy from head to foot. Her fingers were black with dirt, her clothes were back to front and in tatters, but it was the look on her face that struck me the most. She was completely broken and vacant. She wished to remain invisible to these strange tourists that had wandered into her dark world. I knew at that moment that she was the reason why we were here.
I immediately walked towards her as she tried to back away. ‘Hola’ I said, it was one of the very few words that I did know in Spanish. She looked up at us and quickly looked away.
Her face told a thousand words
She was thinking ‘Could we really be talking to her? Why would these tourists come here, in the middle of their holiday? Why would they be interested in me?
Her only experience of the tourists that would come through this area were on a one purpose mission – self gratification.
Cual es su nombre? (What is your name) I asked. Claudia she replied. I finally got eye contact with her, when I looked deeply into her eyes and simply said two words to her. ‘Dios’ which means God and ‘Corazon’ meaning heart.
I was trying to tell her that she is loved. My words were not eloquent, I didn’t form a sentence, I didn’t get the right pronunciation and I didn’t feel I had a lot to offer her at all. Yet when you look at the expression on her face she was deeply touched and her harsh exterior broke as love seeped into her heart.
We simply stood in front of her and noticed her as a woman that is worthy of love and not a life that is forgotten and disregarded.
We often think we have nothing to offer people or question how can we help when the problem seems so big? Yet the answer is quite simple. Show up and be present in people’s lives. Take time to really notice others and see them for who they really are.
Look beyond the harsh exteriors or tatty clothes and see the pain and the brokenness behind the smiles. See their longing to be seen for who they really are not how they appear.
Making a difference is not always about volunteering large chunks of time or money or starting charities or doing things on a big scale. It can simply be really noticing the people in our world, being present in their lives and looking for opportunities to be kind.
If you really want to make a difference then be that person that walks in when everyone else has walked out.