It was a cold, rainy night in San Jose the night we met Leila. I still remember where she was standing and how she liked her coffee.
Our team, along with another organization, had just started visiting the red light district and zones. We would bring coffee and cookies and hangout with people living and working on the streets of the capital city.
Over the weeks and months of visiting Leila, I practiced my Spanish and she would practice a few words of English. We settled into a rhythm of sorts in our conversation topics. Our team van would pull up, she would recognize it and walk over with her coffee order ready. I would climb out and we would chat about the weather, music, Costa Rican food, etc.
One December night I found myself alone in our drop in center that we operated at the time-setting up a Christmas tree. I was homesick, exhausted and wondering if the decision to live and work in Costa Rica was the right decision. It had been a rough year and the ups and downs of running a non profit organization combined with living far from home and familiarity were taking it’s toll on my heart. I figured throwing myself into decorating the Christmas tree would help because I LOVE Christmas!
I had just started decorating when I heard a light knock on the outside gate of the center. To my surprise, there stood Leila with a shy smile as I opened the door. She had never visited before. As soon as she entered, she grabbed me in the biggest hug. It was as if her pain and loneliness was reaching out to mine in comfort. We stood there in a fierce embrace, no words, no explanation needed. Somehow that hug transcended both language and culture.
Leila changed my whole world that night as she shared with me and I with her. Eventually other staff joined us and she opened up about her story and life on the streets. Leila gave me a picture of world I didn’t know or fully understand. Her story is not mine to share but what I can tell you is that her life was beautifully hard.
Weeks turned into months and months turned into years of our tradition of the van pulling up, me climbing out and Leila running to hug me. We would teach other worship songs, pray and sometimes just sit quietly sipping our coffee together.
I’ll never forget the night the phone call came that Leila had passed away. My heart felt shattered into a million pieces. Leila and I didn’t always agree on things but at the end of the day she knew that I loved her and that I was for her.
Leila taught me that I didn’t need to visit people on the streets with coffee in order to solve their life problems or “rescue them.”
I just needed to show up and build a bridge of mutual trust and respect.
Sometimes love looks like just showing up, pouring a cup of coffee and sitting quietly without expectation.
Almost ten years later, I am fully convinced that I made the right decision to quit my job and leave my Kentucky life to live and work in Costa Rica. For me it was never about what I building but about who I was meeting.
Jesus was about the process of the journey. He knew that every person I would encounter would change and shape what we were doing in Costa Rica. He knew we would go on to work in other nations. He knew that women like Leila could impact our team which would in turn impact nations. All because we shared coffee on the streets.