I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26, NIV
In early 1993 a large group of Guatemalans, after nearly ten years of exile, had negotiated a return to their homeland. So in the dawn mists of January 20th, families eagerly filled sixty large buses. Excited bodies pushing, filling seats, steaming up the windows closed tight against the morning chill. Belongings bundled in brightly woven cloth, or wide woven baskets. With a chorus of belching air brakes, the caravan headed south.
One bus driver was not a fan. Not happy to be there. Seemed to think the refugees were troublemakers to start with, now getting attention they didn’t deserve. Only there to do his job, less than thrilled at the cheering crowds lining the shoulders of the Pan American Highway.
But something happened along the way. Maybe as the bus threaded the winding roads of Huehuetenango, through steep hills with terraced crops, men releasing their hoes to wave a greeting. Maybe along the cloudy pass high above Sololá, women with massive loads balanced gracefully on their heads slowly turning and raising their arms. Maybe as they passed the wide fields of Chimaltenango, filled with cabbage and broccoli and squash, children running alongside. Maybe it was the tears of the men and women inside the bus, faces pressed against the glass, scarcely daring to believe where they were going, what they were seeing.
But when they got close to the capital city, where the throngs multiplied, the driver called to his passengers, with his own tears running down his face: “Open the windows so your country can welcome you home!”
It was what you might call an unintended consequence. An answer to prayer that no one had uttered: that one heart, closed hard, would open. That years of death and exile, years of planning and organizing at every level from dirt-floored jungle homes to marble lined halls of power, would answer an unspoken prayer on one bus out of sixty.
Perhaps the kin-dom of God is like this: a beleaguered people, oppressed and exiled, return home to a tearful welcome. And one driver travels from uncaring to compassion.
Holy One, you are the shelter and hope of the exile; you are the softener of hearts. Give us grace to make a home for every wanderer. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.