As a child, Chera cried when the circus master locked Pinocchio in a cage. I was sure she'd weep at the degree of poverty and deprivation we would witness.
But she didn't weep. She studied every story, every landscape, every detail; she soaked it all in. She played soccer in the village streets with giggling children all around who were mesmerized by her blonde hair. She touched each child that came near her and sat still while they slowly reached up to touch her strangely colored locks.
She made them all laugh when she called out, "¡Escuchen al pepino!" which means, "Listen to the cucumber!" It was the only Spanish phrase she knew. (Veggie Tales doesn't exactly prepare you for international travel.)
Maybe this fanciful notion of being a missionary will pass now that we've gone out of the country and the romance of the idea has been stripped away, I thought. At least I thought that until I got an e-mail from Chera not too long after we returned.
It was only a few weeks before her 15th birthday, and she should have been concerned about the party, the invitations, the silly boys at school. But her e-mail was about Mauritania, one of the most desolate countries in all the world.
She did some research on the Internet and discovered that about 2 million people live there, most of them without running water and other utilities. It's only a couple of degrees away from qualifying as a desert. And by the way, it is against the law to be a Christian there.
But there is where she says she wants to go.
What am I supposed to do? I desire nothing less than that she have a happy and loving relationship with God the Father. But how can I keep these crazy notions of trotting the globe to spread the gospel out of her head?
The more dangerous the possibility, the more she seems to like it. She wanted to go to China last summer just so she could smuggle Bibles. Do you know how many Bibles you can hide in a trunk with a false bottom? I do because Chera told me.
As I watch her growing, reading, studying (lying upon that altar), I realize that I can't stop her. "Mother, I can't wait to take them some hope," she said to me, referring to the people of Mauritania.
Sometimes I think it would be much easier to give my child to God if she were a drug addict or an alcoholic. Don't misunderstand me here. I know this dilemma may be different than most parents face with their children.
I rode around the city of San Diego with a pastor's wife on our way to have a Girls' Nite Out event at her church. She shared with me her incredible story of God's faithfulness and redemption of their son, who had been addicted to drugs and involved in selling drugs.
She said, "You can't imagine what it's like to answer the front door one morning to see an FBI agent standing there, telling you the most frightening stories about your son—the same son that just graduated with honors. All there is to do is to give him to the Lord. It is completely out of your hands at that point."
Out of my hands. That's what frightens me. Sometimes I find myself thinking, If I give her to Him now, He may take her away. That just doesn't seem fair.
The water's no longer cooling—it's cold. Besides, the muffled sound of children's voices are creeping closer to my door, and the sound of a glass tipping over on the coffee table, and my husband, David, stomping past a few times with that slight "huff" that says, "How long are you going to be in there!"
I lift the stopper and start looking for the cucumbers before they can clog the drain (wouldn't want that to happen again). I find one of them stuck to the bar of soap and the other to the side of my Tweety Bird sponge. (Don't ask.)
Once more I think about Mauritania. Maybe Chera will never really go there. Maybe God has merely sent along a catalog so she can familiarize herself with the courses available to would-be missionaries. That's all.
Now, wrapped in my tattered terry cloth robe, I dry my hair and pray that Chera learns all she needs to know to survive in a place like Mauritania. She knows that God is real, that He loves her and that He will guide her steps.
I wish she would stay with me always. But I know that in her heart there rests a desire to see more children laughing like those in Guatemala. (Why did I ever take her?)
"Do you know how many people immigrate to Mauritania every year?" she asked me one day shortly after she sent me the e-mail. Then, without waiting for an answer from me, she answered herself: "Zero."