NavidadIn Bogota, Colombia, a poor woman had lived a life of hardship since childhood. When she was two, her mother left her in the arms of a stranger and walked away. She has carried the pain of that rejection into her adult life.

The child—Nora*—lost everything that day. She became a slave in the stranger's household and lived in such misery that she ran away as soon as she could. Before she turned twelve, she lived on the street, joining other children who dug through trash looking for bread crusts.

Nora quickly learned the law of survival: Only the strongest, smartest, and cruelest make it. Having escaped her master, she felt a sense of freedom, but danger and loneliness replaced the fear of cruelty. Through time Nora grew to cope with the pain by using drugs.

Nora moved to a cardboard village—a town inside the city limits built of shacks stacked up beside each other in a field of mud and trash. The people in this village combed the streets in search of garbage and reusable items to sell. In this forsaken humanity she met thieves, criminals, and murderers. Evil abounded and Nora witnessed few acts of kindness, but she pretended not to care. Her trials went from bad to worse, however, when she realized she was pregnant. This was something she never expected or wanted. But in her drunken state she had failed to realize she was being used.

Nora entered a time of soul-searching, and over the months one thing kept coming to her mind: "I do not want my baby to suffer like I have." This became her consuming thought and she realized she had only one option: to find her child a loving home.

Time was running out for her when one day she overheard several women talking on a street corner. One comforted the other and pressed a few coins into her poor friend's hand. When Nora looked at the face of the generous woman, she had never seen such love and compassion in one smile. This was the "mother"—she had found her! She followed her from a distance and when the woman turned and climbed a flight of stairs, Nora memorized the color and place of the apartment, unable to read the numbers on the door.

Several weeks later Nora gave birth to a girl with dark, sparkling eyes and a healthy cry. Nora called her a "miracle child," and truly she was, considering all the drugs Nora had taken. But it was also a sad time for Nora, knowing that soon she would have to say good-bye to this tiny ray of sunlight. Never had Nora remembered having anyone to love. No one had ever loved her. She longed to keep her child, but the thought of the cardboard village gave Nora the strength to sacrifice her own joy so that her baby would not suffer the same meaningless life she had lived.

As soon as Nora felt strong enough, she wrapped her miracle in a dirty blanket and walked several miles to the kind lady's house. Much to her dismay, when the door opened, someone stared at her and demanded that this ragged woman leave or she would call the police. Before Nora could even ask the whereabouts of the other woman, the door slammed in her face. She returned home dejected. What would happen to her baby? Where would she get another day's supply of sugar water to feed her?

Six months passed, and she continued to look for the kind woman. One day in the market she heard a voice that made her turn and look. Standing there smiling and laughing was the woman she had sought. She had her arm around a young lady who looked like her and the two of them talked and laughed as though life was worth living. Nora followed them, staying out of sight. She carried her treasure tucked in her arms and was glad that her baby wasn't crying.

Fearful thoughts flashed through her mind. What if the woman takes a bus? I don't have any fare. What if I can't keep up with them? She pushed on through the cold streets until finally the two women ahead of her entered a parking lot. It was adjacent to a car wash, and above the wash a flight of stairs led to a second-floor apartment. The women had already closed the door when Nora entered the parking lot. She knew it was time. If she didn't do this now, she might never find the woman again or have the strength to do the right thing.

Nora squared her thin shoulders and climbed the stairs. Her knees trembled. This was her hour of greatest joy and deepest sorrow. She rang the doorbell and waited. A young girl, one much happier and more innocent than Nora had been, opened the door. The girl smiled shyly and spoke over her shoulder to the room behind her. "Mom, a beggar woman is at the door."

In a moment the mother looked into Nora's sad eyes. "What do you need, Señora?" she asked.

Now it was time for Nora to speak. Her heart beat so fast that she had trouble breathing. With tears spilling down her cheeks, she managed to say, "Good day, Señora. Will you please take my baby?"

The kind woman's mouth dropped open, but she didn't miss the tears or the look of fear. Without recoiling from Nora's foul smell, the kind lady quickly reached out and lifted the dirty blanket to see the face of a sleeping baby held in its mother's tight grasp. The child lay sucking on its dirty thumb.

"Won't you please come in?" The woman stepped back as she extended her invitation to Nora. She gestured toward a seat in a warm living room. Someone brought something to eat and drink, and handed Nora a clean tissue to wipe her face. She tucked the beautiful tissue in her pocket and wiped her face with the back of her dirty coat sleeve as she munched on the fresh bread. The woman sat in a chair across from her, watching and waiting. The baby whimpered, and the good woman reached out to pick her up.

Nora smiled a toothless grin to see the love on the woman's face. It was easy to tell her story—most likely the first time anyone had ever listened to it. She felt the warmth of the house and knew that somehow a miracle had happened, and maybe if there was a God in heaven He had led her to this place.

The kind woman agreed to keep the child. A letter was written, and Nora signed what she believed was her name, relinquishing all rights to the child. After a few more loving words to her child and a kiss on her check, Nora turned to leave. She had a peace in her broken heart. She had given to her daughter a gift that would change her life. "My child will never suffer the pain," she said as she walked away crying.

Today Nora still walks the streets of Bogota. This is a true story, not a fairy tale. Nora still lives in a cardboard shack, addicted to drugs. She is rarely in her right mind, but there was a day when she was wise enough to recognize a kind woman.

Nora's daughter's life, however, has a happy ending, as God in His love and providence gave this tiny baby to a loving Christian home. The kind woman in this story is Nerfida, a widow whose husband was murdered several years ago. She has raised three daughters alone and works tirelessly for others. Nerfida began attending our Bible study about a year ago. She travels by bus over one hour each way to hear God's Word.

The day Nerfida told me this story I was holding Maria, the Christmas baby. As I looked at her beautiful, dark eyes, I was reminded of the deep love of our heavenly Father and how He cares for each little one who comes into this world and that His compassion is sometimes displayed in the loneliest hearts of broken humanity.

And as I thought about it, I realized that I held in my arms the true meaning of Christmas: a love that knows the cost paid is necessary to save another, a love that hurts to give—true sacrificial love.

Denise Love and her husband David (ThM, 1994) are missionaries in Bogota, Columbia.  The have five children.