She came in the subtle lessening darkness of this dawn; the sun’s rays making their daily appearance, peering through the drawn shade and tiptoeing across the floor, heralding a new day. Blinking into the shadows, then, through my mind’s eye, clearly I saw the face of one who changed my life.
It is not unknown to meet someone who, in the barest breath of a moment, alters one’s perspective, adds a dimension of seeing, of knowing that, before that instant, was not only unimaginable, but impossible to perceive. I think all humans have, can have, or know of someone who has had this sort of experience. Again, not unknown, but, at least for me, uncommon.
I met Christina eight years ago nearly to this day whilst on sabbatical. Could it be…dare I think, believe that’s why she appeared to me this morning?
In 2006, Christina Gasa was an 80-year-old Zulu grandmother, who lived in the valley of Shayamoya (“where the breeze blows”) up and over a hill from a small town in the region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Standing on the crest of that hill, looking down, the valley appeared as the most verdant carpet of earth’s richest, most exquisite foliage. It was a beatific vision, however, that, upon closer view, also harbored the most excruciating poverty I’d ever beheld.
Christina lived in a two-room home, the square footage not much larger than my office, that stood on a narrow flat outcropping about a kilometer from the main road, down a long, steep knoll, the final approach reachable only on foot. Three of her four children having preceded her in death, Christina cared for seven grandchildren.
We, members of the local Anglican parish and I, who had come to assess Christina’s needs and to offer help, made our way to her home for what was and remains a life-transforming encounter.
Christina, greeting us at the door, a sheath of heavy fabric draped across the portal, offered a selfless hospitality in her welcome, a gracious humility in accepting whatever aid we offered, which was far short of her monumental need, and, for me, an inconceivable fortitude in keeping her faith and maintaining her sanity.
Christina, in our two-hour visit, taught or re-taught me many things. That physical poverty does not mean one lacks wealth, for she possessed an abundant capacity to give of herself, both to her grandchildren and to us. That an abiding, unassailable faith in God is honorable and must be respected, even revered, perhaps especially by a skeptical, ever-questioning believer like me. That graciousness and hospitality have everything to do with welcoming, accepting, loving “the other”, who, to her, I was and always would be.
Christina Gasa taught me who the Jesus I follow, the embodiment of love and justice, is and what Jesus does. Christina more than fulfilled the meaning of her name, for she, with no mere word from her lips, but more through the witness of her life, transformed the sinews of my idea of Jesus into the flesh and blood of living reality.