We met Domingo the first time we crawled through the hole in the barbed wire fence. We wanted to meet some of the people we saw shuffling down that dusty foot path behind our house day after day. We had only lived in Paraguay for a few months, so we grabbed a local friend who could speak Guarani and wiggled through.
What we found was incredible.
Some folks emerged from the forest with a bucket on their heads to carry water. Others were hard at work bundling and lashing sticks together to build cooking fires. Some had spent the early morning hours baking in clay ovens and now passed by, baskets brimming, with chipa to sell. There was a whole world hidden back behind those trees, and we wanted to know it.
We lived five or so kilometers down a rough dirt road in rural Paraguay. From that battered fence line, we walked the trail and began to realize there was a correlation between a family’s distance from that dirt road and their economic state. Those living farthest from the road were more impoverished. They were less healthy. They worked hard to survive but they seemed happy.
On this particular day we just wanted to be seen. Maybe shake a few hands and share some tereré with our neighbors. Nearly two kilometers from the fence, we walked up on a tiny little shack in the shade of a few scraggly trees. It was pieced together out of split coconut trees that were tied together with vine. It had a tin roof, I guessed by the tell-tale rust marks streaming down one corner. The entire structure was six feet by eight feet maximum. The roof peak stood around seven feet.
The whisper of a path we were on approached the little house from behind. At first glance I thought we had found the back of someone’s property and this was an abandoned shed. It made sense. I wouldn’t store my lawnmower in something like this. However, the closer we got, we began to hear the crackle of a fire. I noticed through the cracks between the wooden walls that someone was inside.
His name was Domingo. He was a gentle old man about 70 years old who lived alone. What made that incredible was that Domingo was blind. He looked our direction with his milky eyes and greeted us. He knew by our voices that we were foreigners. Foreign to his country. Foreign to his path on the other side of the fence. Through our interpreter we explained who we were and that we were just trying to meet our neighbors.
On hearing that we were missionaries, he brought out a tattered old radio. He told us how he listened to Christian broadcasting and that one day while listening he gave his heart to Jesus. He said people would bring him batteries from time to time since he didn’t have electricity.
We were so encouraged to meet our blind brother in the tiny lean-to house. I told him we would bring him some fresh batteries and asked if we could come back again. He eagerly agreed. We decided the next time out we would share a Bible scripture with those willing to listen.
At Domingo’s house we gave him some batteries for his radio and pulled out the Bible. We grew concerned for him. He was sluggish and didn’t stand to greet us. He had been dealing with a tumor on the bottom right side of his jaw but told us he was seeing someone at the health post.
At the other homes we visited Saul, our Paraguayan friend, picked something and read. But with Domingo, Saul asked if I had something specific I thought he should read. I chose John 14:1-3.
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
The temperature was dropping as winter approached. We had several days of cold weather in a row. My family and I sat shivering in our unheated house, thinking of those less fortunate on the other side of the fence.
The following morning we packed up and headed out of town. We had visitors to take back to the airport. It was kind of nice to be jammed in the car with a little heat and some new scenery. While on this trip, one of the local youth contacted us to share that Domingo had died. The cold, coupled with his age and the tumor, proved to be a fatal combination.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea that he was dead. I just saw him a few days ago. Having been separated from the land of plenty for only a few months, I didn’t have a place or understanding for this kind of tragedy. I knew this kind of thing happened but I had not experienced it so closely. My head was in disbelief and my heart was cracking. I had only met him a few times but it saddened me to think he died of cold exposure a short stroll from my house.
I felt guilty. The torrent of I-should-have’s were attempting to drown me.
In the end I came to one I-should-have that I couldn’t shake. I should have made more of that last visit. I should not have counted on having another chance to engage him. I counted on time that didn’t belong to me.