25 August 2013
Yaneilis has a beautiful smile and sweet spirit. Her gentleness could melt ice cold hearts. She is a teacher by nature, and loves to laugh—which is fortunate, because she has a high-stress job.
At 7:30AM on Tuesday, March 12, at 7:30AM, I was still in my apartment way on the other side of the city. I had just grabbed my lunch and put it in my backpack. I was all set. Then, my phone rang.
It was Ramona, one of the loan officers at the branch office.
“Abby, did you hear?”
“Hear what? I’m on my way,” I said.
“No,” Ramona answered. “Don’t come. No one is in the office. You haven’t heard, have you?”
“Heard what???” Her voice sounded heavy.
“Yaneilis’ brother was shot and killed last night. No one knows who did it, or why.”
“Was he a believer?”
“No, we don't think so. He hadn’t been walking with God for a long time.”
I walked about in a daze at the central office that morning. I called my family. I called my brother David, even though he was at work and it went to his voicemail. Then, I took a motorcycle down to the metro station.
In the metro station, a metalwork sculpture hung on both sides of the tracks. On one side, blue and silver shapes seemed to depict a paradise in the clouds. On the other side, flames licked towards the ceiling, several stories high. I stared at the bright shards hanging on the station walls as I waited for the train.
As I stood on the platform waiting for the metro car, all I remember thinking was that the split second between a finger pulling a trigger and a bullet entering someone’s chest is not too short a time to cry for mercy. But who knew if he had cried out in that moment, like the thief on the cross?
Who knew if he had called on Jesus, as my very own blood brother, David, cried out after he was hit by a car and suffered severe head injuries? In that moment, David screamed, “Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me! Jesus, help me!”
Jesus did help my brother, David—both then, and again when he threatened suicide. Because I had suffered the pain and fear of the possibility of someone so close to me nearly dying so suddenly, and without the assurance of their acceptance of Jesus’ forgiveness of sins—because of that, my heart had already imagined the pain Yaneilis was actually facing right now.
As I rode the metro car, my heart ached. I cried, for the first time in too long, for those beyond the hope of Christ. My soul echoed Paul’s words of desperation: “I could wish I were lost, that they might be found in Him.”
When I arrived at Yaneilis’ house, there were a couple hundred people sitting in plastic chairs on the street, under a makeshift tent which consisted of a big tarp stretched from rooftop to rooftop. Neighbors, the church family, my coworkers, and friends had all gathered to be with the family. Many had stayed awake all night in a tradition called the vigilia, and would keep staying with the family until after the body was embalmed and brought to the house for one night.
I edged my way through the crowd, into the house. I saw a couple of women who looked almost identical to Yaneilis, so I guessed they were her sisters.
I made it into Yaneilis’ bedroom. There were my coworkers, sitting on the bed.
I approached cautiously, wanting to show love but knowing I couldn’t fix anything. I will never forget the words Yaneilis said to me as we hugged for longer than 5 minutes.
“Yo no voy a volver a sonreir. I will never smile again, Abby. How can I ever smile again?”
Yaneilis’ smile was famous in the office. It lit up her whole face with a tranquil joy and mature peace, imparting a soft beauty to her features. I couldn’t bear the thought that the pain would erase that smile.
But as I saw Yaneilis’ mother engulfed in sobs, my heart ached. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. Why should someone’s whole life be at the mercy of irrational, angry hands holding a gun?
All I knew to do was pray for strength. As we drove to the funeral the next day, no one in Yaneilis’ family had eaten or slept for more than 60 hours. Her mom was struggling with high blood pressure, and Armando’s girlfriend’s sobs ripped through the air:
“Por qué lo mataron? Why did they kill him? Por qué lo mataron?”
In the midst of the wild grief of those around her, Yaneilis had a strange peace. She was the one who was strengthening her two sisters and her mom. It was exactly what we had prayed for her, but it had seemed improbable that God would grant her this peace that passes all understanding, even now.
The next days and weeks at work were difficult for Yaneilis. Her eyes were often wet with tears, and shone with a determination to go forward with life, however changed it might be. She was more serious, more quiet. We all knew she was suffering. But she did volver a sonreir. Her smile lit up the office again. We know that she has hope that her brother believed in God for mercy and salvation, in spite of the problems he had in his marriage and how he left church. She has hope that he cried out and God heard his cry. And beyond that, she has hope that there is eternal life, and no matter what we lose here on this earth, even in our own family, we ourselves have still gained Christ. It brings immeasurable pain to lose a family member, but knowing Christ really does bring immeasurable joy. And it´s a joy only people like Yaneilis might ever experience so deeply on this earth.
In the week after Armando’s death, two people told me they would get right with God another day—that they are young, and they have time. I wanted to scream at them: ¨You don´t have time! You don´t have time! Don´t you get it, you don´t have time!¨
My heart had awakened again to the necessity of making Christ known. Of living each moment to make Him known. Of redeeming my time. Of preaching the true Gospel, the very Words of God that truly cut to through hard hearts and change lives—before it’s too late.
Every moment lost is somebody’s too late. Somebody’s daughter, husband, sister, lover.
How is the way I am living today serving to know Christ and make Him known, while there is still time?