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Starting Point

A moment, long ago, of purest love


Juanita lived down in the projects by the Kansas River in those days when I was first involved in the Jesus Movement of the ’70s, full of zeal. I was working down there, a girl of only 15, and Juanita pattered after me with grimy blonde hair juxtaposed with an immaculate smile. She epitomized the plight of the place -- such new hope infused with old despair.

One day Juanita showed up with her foot thickly and professionally bandaged. She told us she had stepped barefoot onto a broken bottle and been taken to the hospital. She was hobbling around outside, staying close to me. We settled on a grassy slope as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.

I worried about Juanita’s wound, for it was a serious one and I wondered how it could keep from infection. Just then a group of young boys from the project came up and circled us. For no apparent reason, perhaps other than boredom, they began to throw rocks at us. I was incredulous and stunned until one hit Juanita’s injured foot and she began to cry. This brought out the mama bear in me, and I stood up. As I rose, I began to speak to the boys, who were not very many years younger than me. I should have been enraged by what they were doing, but instead the words I found coming out of my mouth were not angry words. I was speaking to them gently, and the words stopped their assault. I was filled with such an emotional overflow that I told them in complete truth, “I love you. I really do. Jesus loves you.” I was crying.

It sounds so hokey and fake to my ears today that if anyone told me that story I know I would struggle not to laugh. So go ahead -- I give you complete freedom. I only know that I can still feel the strength of that love when I think about them. They were so embarrassed or afraid of me that they ran off down the hill. I believe it was one of the purest loves I have ever felt, even purer than the love I have for my children, for they are mine. These children were God’s.

So I have grown and attained education and biblical finesse, but I have never again experienced anything close to what happened that day. I wonder what I do now that shows my faith. And I’m not sure I know. Faith is not expressed in negatives. I do not show faith because I do not do drugs; I do not kill people. I show faith because I do something. But what?

The day I sat with Juanita on that hillside I believe I would have given my 15-year-old life to protect her. But I cannot do with acquired wisdom and accumulated college credits what I did that day. Now I would be enraged; then I was filled with love.

“What good is it to profess faith without practicing it? Such faith has no power to save one, has it? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and no food for the day, and you say to them, ‘Goodbye and good luck! Keep warm and well fed,’ but do not meet their bodily needs, what good is that? So it is with the faith that does nothing in practice. It is thoroughly lifeless” (James 2:14-16).

Jill Zasadny Blanche is currently working on a book about the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, titled Following Gawd. Her e-mail address is grnacrs@prodigy.net

National Catholic Reporter, January 12, 2001