William Shakespeare coined that, and I have seen it. Poverty can change a man’s eyes—all forms of poverty. And it can change all of creation.
A horse ministry to work with the poor is hard to start without a horse. So, that was my first step in my new world—finding a horse in a foreign land I didn’t know, in a language I barely understood. But I was persistent. I followed a great lead down in Cabo San Lucas, rallied both a trailer and my husband, and headed two hours south for my first horse. The owner had apparently had a car accident and was no longer able to drive—or ride. He was selling his “fabulous” horse at a steal—“dos mil quinientos dolares.” My new-to-Spanish brain calculated … dos mil is 2000 … quinientos is 500 … 2500 in pesos meant 250 in dollars. Perfect. I could scratch that together. The man repeated it several times over the phone to make sure I understood. “Yes,” I said. “I understand.”
The trailer we borrowed could barely fit a goat, let alone a horse. But, with the rusted-out bottom and the bald tires, we set out on our journey from La Paz to Cabo. Excited, I could barely contain myself. The doors were opening. Our dream was about to begin!
The horse was kept at a rodeo—a charro—and we drove up in the fading afternoon. A weathered man met us at the gate and brought us to the horse. I’ll never forget it. The bony dapple gray stood in a dusty corral alone. His neck hung low as though he was sleeping—or near death. It appeared as though nothing was left. I thought to myself the horse must be much older than the man had said, maybe close to the end of his life. But the cowboy reassured me he was only twelve.
As I walked up to the horse, his expression never changed. He never woke up. His dull eyes never flickered to acknowledge I was even there. The light never switched on. I brushed my hand down his neck and spoke to him in soft tones … but nothing. No spark. No response. I had never known such emptiness in the eyes as I had seen that day.
The man threw a saddle over the horse’s back. “Do you want to ride him?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “Let’s just load him up.” Let’s get him out of here. I need to save this horse. Something has gone very wrong in this animal’s life.
But the man was insistent. “Let me show you what he can do.” He wanted to seal the deal. He finished cinching up the girth, brought the horse into the arena ignoring my feeble protest, and climbed on himself. For the next ten minutes, my heart slammed into my chest as the man galloped that horse in circle after circle around me. Spinning. Twisting. Running at a full gallop and skidding to a dead stop. All to prove to me the horse’s obedience. Yes, he was obedient, and I wanted to drop to my knees and sob right there in the dirt. Finally, when I could not bear it one second longer, I yelled out, “Stop. Stop. I’ve seen enough.”
The man brought the horse to me and handed me the reins with a wink. Then he walked away to “do business” with my husband. I held the reins in shaky hands and touched the animal’s sweat-drenched flank. The gray’s legs trembled uncontrollably, barely able to hold himself up. Or take another step. I looked into his dead eyes, his broken soul, and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Jesus once said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22)
Slowly we walked back together toward the borrowed trailer and I loaded him up, ready to get that horse out of there and salvage whatever was left in this animal. Ready to erase all the pain and heartache and abuse he had experienced. My husband was at the back-end of the trailer arguing with the man in broken Spanish. He approached me and said, “We have a problem.” Dos mil quinientos dolares was NOT in pesos. It was in dollars. The man wanted $2500 for the horse. Expensive even from a U.S. standpoint. My heart sank. I didn’t have that, nor could I scrape it together with any amount of effort.
We bargained and negotiated to the point of pleading, but the man would not budge. I had to walk away. To unload the horse, put him back in the lonely corral and leave him behind. I was devastated ... and powerless to save him.
But I saw those eyes many, many times after that. Not just in the animals, but in the people around me. The deadness that comes from too many years of being beaten and broken. When all life is sucked out and nothing is left. If then, the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
It’s all around us. Every day. Even when we don’t stop long enough to see it. In the man … in the teen … in the child. A world alone. Broken. Apart from the Light of the world. You may not see it in physical poverty where you live, but it wears many faces. And truly, it is not the poverty of the world, but the poverty of the soul, that truly blinds.
And sometimes it seems too costly to intervene. Too out of your control. Too messy. Maybe it’s just easier to walk away. And to forget the vacant eyes. But, if you are a child of God, you—my friend—carry the match.
And there is only one spark that conquers that kind of darkness.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
We may not have the power to light someone's soul, but we can show them who can.