It’s a dangerous thing to put a book in someone’s hands who never read one. Especially when the book is The Book. Maybe it’s true, what the old nuns said about the Santa Biblia.
I don’t know who invited Marta inside our doors, but I do remember seeing what appeared to be a slight, almost stunted woman waiting for beans and rice. She stood in the midst of a group of adolescents waiting to be served. The children came daily for a meal and activities in the afternoon. For some reason, I held back from stopping her from joining the teen class.
We had a policy, kids only. From experience, we had learned that adults and kids weren’t a good mix to be served together. Maybe it was because she was so small and quiet, or because I suspected, wrongly, she had no clue that she was not 12 or 13 herself. She seemed harmless, and she was hungry.
She ate, but she devoured the lessons, too. We were studying stories of Jesus that month, and each child had a booklet with a story, puzzles, and sharing activities to complete with a partner or alone. I insisted that the teacher allow Marta to participate.
I don’t know when it began, but slowly, Marta grew from a child-like student to an adult volunteer. Marta cleaned with the same zeal as she ate and read lessons. In fact, we often had to tactfully suggest that further cleaning was not needed, as no one could see anything but gleaming white appliances in the kitchen. Maybe it might be time to go home instead?
To direct her energies away from scrubbing the enamel off the stove, I suggested that she help us with the youngest students rather than just cleaning or sitting with the teens. Would she like to assist with the little ones, the four and five year olds, and help them with their singing, playing and preschool learning?
A teacher was born. Marta guided those kids with pride. Each lesson was studied, applied, and reinforced. Her face shined with enthusiasm each day as she taught her young charges.
Marta’s fellow workers at our project never appreciated her or welcomed her with genuine friendship. When I was away, she was treated discourteously. They knew her as a marginalized woman who used to come only for handouts. They knew her shack was smaller than theirs. They knew she never went to school.
Marta gradually drifted away. Marta took her talents and energy to the local Catholic school that allowed her children to attend on scholarship. Maybe the nuns didn’t appreciate her story about the Santa Biblia, but they welcomed her willing servant’s heart to clean and tend to the children.
Marta is a nobody to most people. Just a poor woman without an education. Yet, the last shall be first, and the first, last. Letters and words came first, then understanding was born. And the Word became life.