Bonifacio is a 90-plus-year-old Guarijío man. He never married. Last year in one of our visits, Bonifacio explained to me that his father was a very abusive man, and that abuse instilled in his heart a deep fear that never really left him. It left him without the confidence to pursue a wife, and so he has remained single.
Bonifacio had a reputation, in years past, for being a heavy drinker and finding his way into many a fight. He still carries aches, pains and scars left behind from fights he had with other men while drinking.
We got to know Bonifacio about seven years ago when we first moved to this village from a different Guarijío community. He was always friendly toward us, but kept his guard up.
Because Bonifacio couldn’t get around much, my co-worker Dennis Bender would go to visit him to review chronological Bible lessons with him. It gave Dennis the opportunity to make sure his material was communicating well, and it gave Bonifacio the opportunity to hear Bible teaching in his own language.
I remember a time when, after completing the series of Bible lessons, Dennis Bender and I went to ask Bonifacio some questions about his understanding. I must have come on a little too strong for his liking, because he retreated inside his own internal walls, and the conversation clearly ended.
I am not actually sure what day it was that Bonifacio began to truly believe the message of the Gospel, but shortly after that time, when we would go to visit him, or he would come here, he began to talk more about the stories, and the wisdom in them. He said that God’s Word was really the truth, and the ancestors didn’t really know the truth.
He clearly expressed his understanding of sin in these conversations, and the value of what Christ did on the cross in his place. That was when we became convinced that he truly believed and embraced the Gospel.
Bonifacio enjoys talking about the Bible. We loaned him a “megavoice recorder” (a type of handheld recorder with a solar panel.) It plays mp3 recordings of the chronological lessons, as well as Scripture readings. He listens to it often and loves the messages.
About two years ago, Bonifacio began travelling on a four-wheeler with us to a neighbouring community where we were teaching the chronological Bible lessons to several families. He would sit in on the meeting, and add commentary to what was being said. He traveled with us there at least once a week to participate in the studies, even though the ride was uncomfortable for him. (He has severe arthritis in both knees, and uses two crutches to ambulate.)
When we began planning our first Guarijio baptism, I went to speak with Bonifacio about being baptised. His response was, “Yes, I want to be baptised. It is only pretty in one place, and that is with my Creator, Jesus Christ.”
So Bonifacio was one of the first four Guarijío people to make a public statement of faith in baptism. On the ride home, he said, “I believe God is pleased, because today four more of His children were baptised.”
Over the years, a bond began to form between Bonifacio and myself just through time we spent together. He would come as I was working on translation, and we would talk about what I was translating.
In one of our conversations Bonifacio said, “You are like my father, and your wife is like my mother.” When I asked him why he said that, his response was, “Because your wife always feeds me and gives me coffee when I am here, and you teach me the things my father should have taught me.”
About a year-and-a-half ago, Bonifacio began struggling with what can probably best be described as mini-strokes. They leave him confused, essentially blind, too weak to stand or even sit up. He passes out, and has spent several nights outside in the weather, because his strokes came on him while he was walking home from somewhere else.
On one occasion he took all the money he had with him in his pocket for fear someone would break into his home. However, he had a stroke and spent the night in the weeds. In the morning, his vision was still blurred. He could make out the figure of someone near him, but couldn’t identify who it was. That person took all the money Bonifacio had on him, and absconded with it but because he couldn’t see and had no idea who it could have been.
Because he never married, he has no children of his own to help care for him. He has a niece that comes by once every day or every other day and gives him some breakfast. Bonifacio has other family, but to date, none of them have helped in his care-giving.
God has been using Bonifacio in my own life to teach me about compassion. When Bonifacio has his strokes, he is unable to feed himself, and is often too weak to get up to go the bathroom on his own. That means I have to help him get changed, wash his clothes, feed him, help him back into bed (a mat on the floor), and tuck him in.
All of these things are far beyond my comfort zone, and God is teaching me more about Himself and myself through it all. I often imagine that God finds us in our own filth, too weak and blind to help ourselves, yet He bows down to meet us where we are and lifts us up, dresses us in new robes and shows us His compassion.
Through these times, we have talked with Bonifacio about Heaven and the glory that awaits us there. I am glad to know that he will be one of those saints that will be gathered around the Throne with us in glory!
I know that one day soon, my friend, Bonifacio, will put off this old tent, and will be clothed in immortality. Until that day, would you ask God to be his comfort?