I haven’t really shared this story. Until now.
I pulled this photo out yesterday for a Throwback Thursday photo on Instagram. But the photo flooded me with so many emotions and memories I hadn’t really tapped into for a long time. And I decided it was time to share the story. The story of Noris.
In 2005, I went to the outskirts of Lima, Peru, on a missions trip with my church youth group. (When searching for the specific portion we were in, La Tablada, I stumbled upon this YouTube video. I got a big lump in my throat when I saw the cross at the 1:36 mark–we repainted that cross when we were there because it was covered with graffiti.) I had gone on a trip the year before to the Dominican Republic, which had definitely made a lasting impression on my life.
But I was unprepared for what Peru would teach me. All because of a little girl named Noris.
During the course of our week there, we helped with construction at a church, served at an orphanage, and walked door-to-door to tell people about Jesus. But we also ran a VBS every afternoon in the town square that was a few blocks away from the church.
Kids from all around would fill the square every afternoon. It was so beautiful–we shared with them about salvation through Jesus, and they shared joy and pure love with us in return.
I loved every minute of it. But there was one little girl who made a lasting impression on me.
I don’t remember exactly how we found each other. Whether she was next to me during song time, in my group for crafts, or some other circumstance, I don’t remember. But all I remember is that she was there.
We didn’t speak the same language. The interpreters were all always busy with other conversations around the square, so I don’t think the two of us ever had a fluent conversation. I asked her, “Como te llamas?” “Noris,” she whispered back. She hugged me.
It wasn’t like any hug I had ever had before. It was a no-holds-barred, I-don’t-know-you-but-it-doesn’t-matter hug. It touched something deep inside me. She didn’t know me. She didn’t know my story, my history, my failures.
All she knew is that I was there. In that moment. And she hugged me.
For the next few days, I spent the majority of my time in VBS with her. Letting her play with my hair. Helping her watch her tiny sister. Giggling together about things around us, not needing to speak a word to share a laugh.
On the last day we sat together, just holding each other. She was curled up in my lap. I stroked her glossy black hair, which was always messily done in two braids. When it was time to say goodbye, I cried.
She whispered, “Te amo.” Choking back more tears, I whispered it back to her. I told her in my broken Spanish that Jesus loves her, too, and she nodded and smiled. Then she grabbed her little sister’s hand and walked away.
Noris showed me what unconditional love looks like. Growing up in the church setting, I had often struggled with that concept. I had heard so many sermons and talks about it but couldn’t wrap my mind completely around it.
Jesus died for me? Me? And everyone else? Even the people I don’t like? I believed it, I had asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, but it was just something I struggled with on the daily level.
Because there’s no reason a perfect God should love someone like me. I sin. All the time. I hurt people, I lie, I worry, I say cruel things. I don’t deserve a perfect Love.
But God sent me Noris to show me what it looked like on an earthly level. To trust without boundaries. To love in purity. To not overanalyze things. To just accept His love, even if my finite mind can never truly fully comprehend it.
Every day, I’m thankful for what she showed me. And I can only hope I show that love to others.