It is a phone call no parent wants to receive. “Jerry,” Bethany said, “Catherine’s had a little accident.” “Accident! How bad?” 

“She’s going to be okay. You want to talk to her? We’re in a kind of ambulance crossing the Andes, headed down to Quito. Here she is.”

My daughter Catherine and Bethany, one of her dear friends, spent the 2006-2007 school year in Central and South America, studying Spanish, traveling and serving in nonprofit organizations. They spent their last three months in Quito, Ecuador, working in a Catholic street ministry. During Mardi Gras weekend a number of volunteers and staff members, both Ecuadorians and Americans, rented a bus and traveled to the coast to spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach. 

Not surprisingly, the beach was packed with people. Catherine decided to go for a swim to escape the crowds…Swimming in deep water far from shore, she noticed a speed boat fast approaching her. The driver did not appear to see her. She yelled and waved as best she could, but to no avail. The boat continued on course. She finally decided to dive head first to get out of the way. She waited a split second too long. The prop caught her on her lower back. She knew immediately that she had been cut badly and would probably drown. Two thoughts immediately came into her mind, both quintessentially Catherine. The first expressed a sense of surprise, as if the accident were an irritating interruption. I wasn’t planning on dying this young, she said to herself. The second was a pleasant thought, borne out of the experience of losing her mother. I get to see my mom!

As it turned out, here first thought was the more accurate. Two young Ecuadorians witnessed the accident from shore and frantically swam to her reaching her in just enough time. Once on shore, she was rushed to a medical tent where an EMT began to work on her. He stopped the bleeding, cleaned out the gaping wounds and stitched her up as best he could. However nauseated, Bethany stood by her through the entire ordeal, holding her hand, praying for her and singing hand, praying for her and singing hymns to her. Another friend secured transportation back to Quito, the trip took roughly seven hours, much of it over gravel roads. Once in Quito, they took her to a missionary hospital where a plastic surgeon removed the provisional stitches, cleaned out the wounds and then sewed her back up with over a hundred stitches.

Over the next week, Catherine discovered what it means to belong to the worldwide church. As word spread, people in the U.S. contacted Christian friends in Quito, who began to visit and help her.  A retired missionary doctor, for example, stopped in to see her every day and took personal responsibility for her care. People sent letters, emails, flowers, and gifts. Though complete strangers, they treated her like a dear friend and showered her with attention and affection. She felt like a celebrity. Over the course of the next month she kept telling me about it, “I just can’t believe it Dad. Those people loved me for no other reason than that I needed to be loved.” “It’s the church,” I responded. I told her that when the church is functioning at its best, there is simply no community on earth that can rival it.

Gerald L. Sittser, Love One Another: Becoming The Church Jesus Longs For, InterVarsity Press.

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