The thrum of bass rattles from one bamboo shack in this slum outside of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Somehow the sound seems to clash with its humble container.
Inside, a little girl is sweeping the floor, shoving a pop can and pieces of plastic into a hole in the wood flooring. We sit on a couch and she tells us her story, her hands folded in her lap.
She is the second oldest of five, she says. Their mom left them and appears infrequently to visit. Their dad works all day.
She looks younger than 8 years old, with thin arms and legs and a delicate face. She seems older than 8 years old, poised with her hands folded in her lap as she talks.
She asks us to pray for her mother to return home and to come to church for the first time. We bow our heads and hold her hands.
Later she appears at the church with her little sister, where we are doing construction. I twirl her over remnant of finished floor we are helping to lay. She tugs at the handle of the bucket of sand I am hauling, helping me lift it. I doctor oozing spider bites on her legs. We laugh and tease and play without understanding each other’s words.
Suddenly, she is a kid.
“Un pina. Un chocolate…” she says handing me bricks stacked on a truck. “What other flavor would you like?” At least that’s what I assume she is asking.
“Hmmm…strawberry!” I reply.
Every day she finds me. Every day she stays close.
It’s our last day of work and we are getting on the bus. She and her siblings run with screams to a woman approaching the church. “She’s their mom,” someone tells me.
We see them all at church on Sunday. The young mom stands tucked among her five children for a photo.
I tug the girl to the side, my arms around her checkered green dress, and through a translator, ask her if she remembers our prayer. She nods. “Do you know that God loves you that much, that he hears you. He knows who you are. He answered this prayer.”
Suddenly, I have to say goodbye. She follows me to the door of the bus, holding my hand. She speaks, but I don’t understand. “She asked if she can come home with you,” a translator says.
My heart breaks.
I feel the overwhelming weight of knowing what I am leaving her to and the helplessness of knowing there’s nothing I can do but pray.
I have thought about her every day since I got back. I pray for God to mend the broken pieces of her family. I pray that God sets locks on her door to protect her as she raises her siblings alone. I pray God keeps her child-like innocence in tact. I pray she grows up healthy and happy, knowing Him.
I pray I will see you again, Diana.