Not much had changed in 36 years. The pathways were worn, and the buildings looked older – but with freshly painted Bible verses on the walls. It was the fall of 2007, and the private Latin American boarding school in this Colombian coastal city looked virtually the same as when I was a young teacher there in 1971.
I was 22 then, fresh out of college. As well as teaching all day, I had to be dorm mother to the students at night and on weekends, making sure they brushed their teeth and got to bed on time, and supervising the cleaning of their rooms and washing clothes by hand in a bucket.
Daniela, a bitter woman in her 40s, was the director of the school. She didn’t want me to make friends with the students, or even talk to them. It evidently made her jealous that the students liked me. Daniela accused me of prejudice against her because she was Colombian and I was American, even though I grew up in Latin America! She also couldn’t understand why I begged for time off to go to the beach that was just minutes from the school, or to visit my friends in the city. After all, she never went anywhere! This school was her whole life.
Finally, I decided I couldn’t stay there any longer. So one day, saying I was going on a “short vacation,” I left Colombia and went home to Mexico. I never returned.
For years I felt guilty about leaving on bad terms, without really saying goodbye. So when I had a chance to go back to Colombia in 2007, I started asking God for a chance to see Daniela, if she were still there and still alive. Amazingly, I ran into a man who knew about this small school and gave me the phone number! With fear and trepidation, I went to meet Daniela, taking a friend with me for support.
Bed-ridden for two years with diabetes that claimed both her legs and most of her eyesight, Daniela was a totally different person from the hard, angry woman I knew before. She smiled gently when I came into the room, genuinely happy to see me.
I told Daniela I had come to ask for forgiveness. Amazingly, she didn’t seem to remember that I had left under negative circumstances. There was no resentment, no anger. I was clearly forgiven. Suddenly, I felt an overwhelming love for this lady, now in her 70s, who had lived a lonely and difficult life. Through my tears, I prayed for Daniela as I knelt next to her bed, aware that this was a heavenly moment.
Daniela died just a few months after I saw her. What a blessing it was to see her and ask for forgiveness. I thought I had gone for Daniela when I went to Colombia and asked for her forgiveness. But it turned out that the healing and release, the peace that came from forgiving and being forgiven, was really for me.