February 1 & 2
Story time!!! I hate knowing I can’t possibly share everything I’m seeing and experiencing because every moment here is so precious, but I have to tell some of these stories – I have to get them out and onto something that will encourage others, remind me and outlive me. Just know, it is barely a sliver of a glimpse.
Children – God’s beautiful children are all around, and they are changing me.
As I am writing, this precious babe, 6 yrs old is leaning into my waist with her arm around me, just being with me. And that is exactly what God continues to whisper to me – don’t get ahead, don’t anticipate or expect or plan – just be with Me, and just be with my children.
We arrived in Africa late Friday night and we met many of the children, after riding a car to a ferry, the ferry from to Freetown and then a car from the ferry to the closest we could get to the orphanage. It was so dark – no street lights or anything, making for quite a trek into the Wellington village where the orphanage is. The many young boys came running down the hill to meet us and carry our heavy luggage ON THEIR HEADS back up the steep, rocky hill. Seeing my huge, overstuffed polka dot bag on a child’s head of maybe 8 or 10 years old, I remembered refusing to unpack anything at home, even though I had to put all my weight into closing that bag enough to zip it shut. I was now regretting that and wished I would have emptied the whole damn thing. I now know it should have been filled with medication, schoolsupplies, soap, pads, FOOD, letters, candy, and things for the children – next time I’ll pack better, buy some African dresses to wear once I get here and not be so stinking packed full of what I think I need. FAIL.
Day 1 –
I woke up in Africa on Saturday morning to the bright sun coming through our window. I could hear the kids, the animals, hungry dogs barking, the babies crying and feel the heat warning us of what scorching temps to expect this week. 95 degrees feels more like 115 when there is no relief of air conditioning.
As we ate breakfast, I heard a familiar song. I was drawn to the window, I had to see what sweet voice was blessing my ears with this morning praise to our Father…
It was Emmanuel. Precious one…
Story #1 ~ The Beach – like THE beach — the most beautiful beach I have EVER seen or imagined.
We went to the beach with college kids that came into town just to visit with us this weekend. Gabriel, Solomon, and Abdul had met us at the airport, but today we would spend the day with them and I am forever changed by them.
There are no words to express what I saw there. It was the most beautiful place I have ever seen and I felt as if we might be in heaven as we walked toward it’s majesty. It was untouched by man with his resorts and hungry economy. Natural beauty of God, crystal clear water, perfect skies, towering palm trees and grandiose black rocks that The Father trickled along the sand. No picture will do it justice. I only hope to someday return there. I stood in the middle of waves in tears at the beauty and purity encompassing me all around, and I wished for my family to see what surrounded me. It was truly breathtaking.
I wondered why God allowed us to go to the beach first, when surely there was other work to be done – and He whispered, “ssshhhh… I will do the work. Just be.”
And he did.
while we played… we played in the waves together, and played and played and played, and laughed and sang. We danced to the reggae music and the boys wrote letters to us in the sand everywhere we went. Shanna was catching up with her Africa son, Solomon, who is one of the college boys, he holds her hand constantly and even at 23 yrs old longs for his mum. Summer finally met the precious daughter she has been sponsoring. Animata smiled and giggled the entire day – just as you might if you just met your mum for the first time ever. They shared stories and laughed and played like they knew each other always. It was the most precious thing to witness their first day together. And me – I spent a lot of time with Gabriel and Abdul at the beach, and they shared with me their stories of life and pain – the things they saw and experienced from the war and the loss they have overcome. They are both in college, and it is very hard for them. Abdul told me the professors will make it so hard until they have no more passion. But, they work so hard for every exam so they can be one of the few students left that survive the University.
The three of us stood in the ocean and they poured their ideas and dreams and sufferings into my heart. I stood there amazed and honored to hear ever word they shared and in awe of their resilience. They are survivors. They told me they loved me and that they are so grateful and happy for people like me to come to see them and to help them. And Gabriel said, “One thing I want to tell you. Do not forget me because so many come and then they leave and they never come back and never write me and I remember them always but they forget about us.”
God, please don’t let that be me. No matter how much time and distance separate me from these children – please don’t let me forget about them. I know I have come not just to meet them, but to know them forever and to advocate for them, even as they are constantly forgotten.
That night, after a long ride back to the village, and a long trek in the dark back up the hill, we got to hand out the letters from sponsors to the children.
This was both awesome and tragic.
The boys began to fill the room and wait for mail call, each one hoping his name would be one of the names called. They only receive letters every few months when missionary teams travel there, because there is no post office system – so this… tonight… was a big deal. And for some of the boys, their dream of being remembered was fulfilled in a simple envelope with their name on it. But, for others, devastation set in when the table of letters was cleared and boys were left standing empty handed. Some left in tears, some looked on as others’ read their letters, and for many, the disappointment was deafening.
One thing was for sure, by the end of it – Summer and I were so heartbroken for the boys, seeing with our own eyes the power of the letters in the lives of the children, that we comitted then and there to WRITE THEM LIKE CRAZY!!! And to get all of you to write them, too. 🙂
Story #2… The worship. Again, I have no words to express to you this experience. I have tears again just remembering the songs and the singing – singing from a circle of boys so loud it would hurt your ears if it weren’t so angelic. I thought maybe the beach… but no, this – this must be heaven. This must be what heaven is like – so much singing, children YELLING PRAISES AS LOUD AS THEY CAN FROM THE DEPTHS OF THEIR BEING AND THE TOP OF THEIR LUNGS –
and they sang –
ALLLLLLL THAT I HAVE – THE LORD HAS GIVE IT TO ME
ALLLLLLLL THAT I HAVE – THE LORD HAS GIVE IT TO ME
ALLLLLLL THAT I HAVE – THE LORD HAS GIVE IT AND THE LORD CAN TAKE IT AWAY
and i thought – What? What are they singing about? They have not lights, not air conditioning, no showers no parents no clean water no beds nothing to eat all day except rice and sauce… WHAT is this they are singing about?? GOD, WHAT is allll that they have????
and they sang –
I’ve got JOY like a river, I’ve got JOY like a river, I’ve got JOY like a river in my soulllll…
and I wept. And wept, and wept and wept. Their joy changed me that night. I know only a glimpse of their pain, and yet they have more joy than me – they sing louder than me – they hope bigger than me…
Story #3 –
After worship, I thanked Timothy for leading us in worship so courageously and boldly – he lead us loud and proud as he ushered us into the presence of God with words like, “IMAGINE THE GOODNESS OF GOD… IMAGINE ALL THE WAS IMPOSSIBLE THAT HE GAVE YOU… IMAGINE – IMAGINE – IMAGINE HIS GOODNESS…”
I kissed Timothy’s head and told him how much I loved him for being fearless in His calling… I want to be that way. I want to be fearless in my calling.
I turned around and met with Abdul’s eyes. I was weeping at the beauty of worship I was still overwhelmed from, and I asked him if he loved it.
And he said to me, “The problem is, I am muslim. But, I think I am supposed to be Christian.”
“You do?,” I asked. “When? Right now? With me?” He shook his head yes, and we pulled the hanging sheet back to my room and sat on the tile, and we prayed. And in that moment, Abdul confessed he was a sinner, that he believed in Jesus as the Son of God and that He came and died for his sins… and it was all so simple – but it reminded me of the salvation I, too possess even as he as receiving his Savior before my eyes. He said he felt it, that he knew muslim was nothing for him, but he wants to go to church and to be baptized. I gave him the only bible I brought, the gift bible from my old college MACU, special because he is now in college and I told him that even as I could do it, he can finish, too.
And, he smiled… that big smile… at small me.
Story # 4 – Amidu Johnson
This morning I was standing just outside Shanna’s room and two little girls, Sylvia and Mamiay, came running to me. It is OFTEN that I find myself surrounded by a giggling mob of littles and wittles fighting to hold my hand, my arm, my elbow, anything…
And I felt a little boy grab my hand from behind. I turned around to see a little boy, soft and smooth, beautiful skin with the most beautiful smile. I saw his eyes and I loved him immediately. I grabbed his face with my hands and asked him his name and he said, “Amidu”. He asked me my name and then said, “Stacey, I want to speak with you… I don’t have …” I didn’t understand the end of the sentence, he spoke so softly as though he feared getting in trouble. They are not supposed to ask for anything.
He kept getting softer until I called Gabriel over to help me. They spoke creole for a bit and Gabriel told me he just wanted to say hi and he likes my name. I said no, he’s asking for something – what is it? Gabriel got stern with him, we could tell Amidu was hiding his words. He had fear in his eyes. I’m not sure if it was fear of getting in trouble or fear of being rejected, but, then Gabriel informed me he was saying, “I don’t have a sponsor”.
Immediately I turned to him and said, “I am! I will be your sponsor!”
I had asked Shanna a couple of times before about a list of unsponsored children because I was already seeing the difference between those that are sponsored and those that aren’t. But, then, God whispered for me to stop trying to find out – who, what, when, how – all of it – just stop and be. I told Shanna, later, “Don’t worry about it – it doesn’t matter – the one that needs me will come tell me.” And he did.
After than, while we were eating, Amidu would walk by the windows of the dining area and smile so wide at me. Since then I have not been able to be far from him for long. He is sitting next to me now, just watching my words form as my fingers type. He’s enjoying the sprite and pb crackers I gave him, and sharing his mattress we moved into my room with his friend, Theo. Theo needs a sponsor… he says he is dying inside in his heart, we see him crying often. Will you be his mum?
Mum. When I used to see Shanna’s posts about her “sons” and being a “mum”, I would just think ‘awww, that’s sweet’ – but now I get it so much more.
I am Amidu’s mom. It’s not a game and it’s not sweet. It is his reality. He has NO FAMILY whatsoever. He is ten years old (as far as he knows) and has been in the orphanage only since November. Before that, he lived with people that hurt him, abused him, flogged him, and used him for slave labor. After school, he would be sent to the market to sell fish.
“I put the fish on my head. I lost one fish and they flog me, with a cane”
I keep saying to Amidu, “No more hurt, only love. Only love.”
I noticed Amidu smelled a little more than some of the others. Noone wears deodorant, but this was different, and his white tank top was extra dirty.
“Did you take a bath?”
“No, I cannot bathe because I have no soap.”
Um, what? Am I now to realize that soap is a luxury around here? Are you kidding me? I have a new son and he can’t bathe because HE HAS NO SOAP???
Summer and I talk with him some more and before long, Summer leaves and returns with a back pack, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a wash cloth, and fresh, clean clothes.
And a cup. A cup that he reached for excitedly because the cups are so helpful to them when they are bathing.
You should have seen his smile. He ran off to take a bath and then he came back with the smile and energy of a new boy.
And off we went to church. Amidu in my right hand, Abdul holding my left, we walked together all the way down the hill and to the church service.
I wept as we walked…
with my boys.
And I wept. And I wept. And I wept.
And just when I thought I was done weeping, when we arrived at the church, the college boys had to leave.
Now you have to understand, that day, at the beach – it wasn’t just the beauty of the place that affected me so deeply. Gabriel and Abdul affected me. God used that day to begin a connection with us so Abdul could trust me enough to come to me later that evening after worship. And Gabriel… Gabriel and I have shared music and laughter and he has taken care of me so much already. When I was picking sea shells, he held them for me. As he picked one up, he said, “Tell your daughter I helped you and that I love her.” What I’m saying is, I love Gabriel and Abdul. And after only 2 days, I was to tell them goodbye. My heart was breaking just looking at their beautiful faces. There is a small chance they will return for a visit next weekend, but with 7 or 8 exams each, and the seriousness of their studies for their future, that chance is slim.
So I held their faces, and we hugged, and I kissed their heads and told them how they changed me and how proud I am of them. And Gabriel said he is so proud of me, too.
And Abdul told Amidu, “She is the best mum in the world.”
And I wept.
Church was incredible – indescribable. THREE HOURS of praise and preaching.
The men & women & children are separated so I didn’t get to sit with Amidu, but it was priceless watching him with his little eyes closed, praising God and every once in a while looking for me and smiling as big as Texas.
oh, hey – I got a nap today – Praise God!!
And on the way to worship tonight, I thanked Amidu for waiting for me. He said, “you are my mum. It is right I should wait for you.”
As we walked, he told me these things:
“God have mercy on me. The blood of Jesus give me grace and He send his angels to bring you. I pray for you every night and they bring you to me. I do not focus on idleness, I do not focus on idleness, I do not focus on idleness, I focus on my studies. I love school. I am so very glady you will sponsor me.
At worship, I just stared at him as he sang and clapped. And I wept. My heart loves him so much – my heart knows he has been waiting for me, and my heart was waiting for him. He is perfect, and I cannot bear the thought of not being with him.
Now I realize, Shanna doesn’t come to do ministry the way I perceive it with my jacked up American eyes. She comes to visit her sons, to encourage her family and to show them that she has not forgotten them.
It is only day 2. If I get some of these priceless photos uploaded, you may not recognize me, what with my huge puffed up face from crying constantly. The stories of brokenness and redemption that surround me are too many to even give you a glimpse and too heavy to ever think any but God could bear them. I am so grateful to see God at work in these children – to see His power and love so present that they can sing of all they have – even though they have nothing. They can smile even though they are hungry, and hot, and desperate for love.
So many more stories to tell you –
But for now, I have to go. My son is sleepy, his friends have left to their beds, and he is laying next to me… amazing him, next to small me. Tonight and for the next 9 nights, I get to pray with him, sing over him, and softly scratch his back, just like I do Jacey’s. He has never known his parents, never known any family. Tonight, for the first night of his life, he has a mum. And somehow, by God’s redeeming grace, it’s me.