Saturday, November 27, 2010

Faith, Hope and Love

During my last week in Zambia I started a blog entry with this exact title. I remember because I still had a draft of it saved. However I only got this far:

1 Corinthians 13:13 states “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Faith. Hope. Love.

It is amazing to me how much these three words have been pounding through my head lately…. and how much my perspective of the meaning behind those words has changed since first coming to Zambia.

I remember really wanting to write that blog entry.

I wanted to write it to try to sum up the entire experience in a blog entry and Bible verse that would catch at people's hearts... or more honestly, that would help me process what I had learned and had come to know about myself and God on the 'trip'. However, that was an impossible goal, both then and now.

I realize that I will never be done learning about those three words. Zambia was incredible, and I will never forget the people, places, and things I was blessed to be a part of there. Not a day passes when someone or something from there is not on my mind or lips. While there I did not only learn about God, I became friends with God. He became my life's breathe, and even now when I have forgotten to take that breathe for a while and I finally open my well worn Bible... I feel like I'm coming home, and all of the stresses prior to that moment simply melt away.

However, since coming home, watching my little sister get married, starting a new relationship of my own, road tripping from Sea to shining Sea and arriving in Pasadena to start grad school at Fuller Seminary's School of Psychology, that learning has not stopped. Again, faith... hope.. love... they echo through my mind and pound tirelessly at both my consciousness and subconsciousness. I can't escape them, nor would I want to.

When I think about that last week in Zambia, I kind of laugh at thinking I was actually going to be able to write that blog entry. Because the truth is, I could write for pages about those 3 words.

About FAITH... crazy, scary, don't-look-down but keep-your-eyes-on-Christ faith. A faith that keeps 4 mama's and 36 children fasting and praying on a once condemned, cursed, and forbidden piece of land, because they know who the land really belongs to....and one that got me up to pray at 4 in the morning, because God had bigger plans in my own hometown as well. A faith that gives us hope that wherever God calls us to jump next, is going to be perfectly within His grace...

About HOPE... true, potent, plan-redeeming, peace-giving hope. A hope that I saw reflected in faces of orphan children and widows despite what most American's would consider to be 'tragic' circumstances, but also a hope that we learn to give through a family therapy program in a seminary in SoCal. A hope that doesn't work to only cover up the brokenness of this word, but brings light to those stained and broken pieces of ourselves and lets the God who created us in the first place display some new beauty through the colorful mosaic of our messiness. A hope that allows us to love, even when that calls for great vulnerability...

About LOVE... deep, consuming, passionate, merciful love. A love that causes a single man to not let an article about the needs of the AIDS orphans in Africa to go unheeded on a plane ride. A love that allows commitment, grace, empowerment and intimacy to escalate in intensity between two imperfect people, because they have their eyes focused on the One who is perfect.. and then compels those two people to share that revelation with a whole Seminary so that families across the word can experience it. A true agape love that makes you not want to waste another day of your life living heedlessly without showing friends and family how much you really care.

I wish I could write for days on end about it all, but I suppose that isn't really possible. However, as it is Thanksgiving weekend, let me just say that I am thankful. I have been so blessed to have my world turned upside down by a God who had it planned out this way all along. Four year's ago I was living in the status quo. Three year's ago I was learning to stretch myself in my faith and ministry. Two year's ago today I felt like I was never going to be worthy to breathe the name of Christ again, but instead I discovered true grace. And a year ago this weekend (a weekend when I decided to go home on a whim feeling somewhat alone, overwhelmed and uneasy about everything that I knew God was calling me to in the next year) the craziness that was then, and is currently my life got an unexpected shove in the right direction... and it's been no looking back since then.

You know that feeling when you're trying to get down a steep hill... and you can either choose to go down the hill cautiously and perhaps skid a bit to keep from falling, or you can run down it in reckless abandon and just embrace the 'too fast' nature of the hill? Ya, I know, I'm the 'crazy' one running down with arms flung wide... despite sometimes wondering if it wouldn't be more sensible to take the slow path. But what I've realized is the choice to run with arms open really hasn't been mine at all. I've been so incredibly blessed that I couldn't keep my arms close to my body if I wanted to, as in that position I would never be able to hold everything that God wanted to give me.

Call me crazy if you want to. But I've decided that crazy is good. Crazy faith, crazy hope and crazy love. That's what I've discovered. And I'm even close to being done this adventure yet.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Is He Safe?

Wow. It is in a mix of amazement, humbleness, and a slight feeling of guilt that I realize that I have approximately three weeks left in Zambia... and I have not written in this blog since my 'halfway' point. However, I do not seek to make empty apologies for that, but to simply state why:

God has been overwhelming me.

There, I have said it. Every day, sometimes every hour even... I feel overwhelmed. But, this is what I came here for, though, right? To sit back and ride on the coat tails of an awesome, incredible God. (Well, I don't know if I would call it 'sitting back' at all... but it has been a ride none the less!)

The following is an excerpt of an update I had written last week for my churches newsletter:

Every day there is a new task, and a new challenge that must be faced in order to complete that task. Whether that challenge is a lack of funding due to the recession or simply a cultural difference in the Zambian way of life… nothing is ever ‘easy’, but I am learning that God would have it no other way.

In CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe there is a conversation between Mr. Beaver and Lucy that goes something like this: Lucy has just spotted Aslan, and is slightly terrified at the prospect of meeting the lion. So she asks Mr. Beaver, “Is he safe?” And Mr. Beaver replies, “Safe? Who said anything about safe? Of course He isn’t safe. But He’s good—He’s the king I tell you.”

This conversation between Mr. Beaver and Lucy was one that captured my heart long before coming to Zambia. It intrigued me and made me consider anew what this God we serve is actually like. In fact, a faith in and need for exploration of an un-safe but good God was part of the reason that I sought out such a drastic change from the everyday American life in the first place.

However, approximately two months ago, I had the chance to meet a lion of my own. A literal lion. Actually, there were four of them—all at approximately 18 months of age, semi-tamed, and walking around freely in a nature preserve (albeit with their tamer near by). I was given a stick as a ‘distraction tool’ in case any of the large kitty cats decided they wanted to chew on something, and taught to walk side by side with the semi-terrifying animals. As I sat and petted their necks, held their tails, and eventually was licked by one, I began to process anew what CS Lewis was alluding to in his first book of the Narnia series.

We serve an un-safe God. One who is powerful beyond all measure, and fearsomely awesome. A God that, at times, will surely make us want to proceed with caution. But He is good. Thus no caution is necessary, as long as we are walking side by side with Him in the way He has taught us. He is un-safe in His expectations of us, always pushing us farther than we first thought possible, or directing us down paths we don’t initially want to traverse; but His goodness allows us to run freely down these paths—and at a pace that should be out of the question.

And, as I reflect on my time here, I can think of no better way to illustrate what God is so clearly doing in and around me than to think of physically walking next to The Lion.

It has not been ‘safe’, but it has been overwhelmingly good. God has pushed me beyond who I thought I was; and my faith, reliance, and trust in Him has grown exponentially.

It feels like almost yesterday that I was sitting in Livingstone getting licked by a lion. Course, I will also always remember that day for the running jump I took off of a 370' bridge. (Don't worry everyone... I had a harness on and two whole ropes tied into that harness!) Psyching myself up for the jump, I remember saying out loud "It's just one step, like faith... just one step." And so it was, and so it is. Every day, one step after another.

That weekend in Livingstone will carry with it more than it's share of memories for years to come. Not just for it's life-risking stunts, or the incredible feeling of dancing in the down pouring 'mist' of the world's largest waterfall... but because it was also Easter weekend, and God's grace bathed me this year in a whole new way. It's amazing how much God can change in a year. Who am I to be playing with AIDS orphans daily and showing the love of Jesus Christ to this 'hopeless' African children? However, that still small voice has shown me that the greater question was, and will continue to be, 'Who is God that He would bring me here?'

And, so, that is the question that I will continue to ask. Who is God? When the injustice of the world is banging on you're front door, looking for dinner from the 'muzungo'.... when misunderstandings lead to tears.... when hearts are broken... when it becomes harder to write an open and vulnerable blog entry than to bear the shame of broken promises... when the God I know doesn't look anything like the God you know. Who is God? And what is His mission here?

The month of March was a particularly hard month. Not only in my life, but in the life of EOH has an organization. For years, EOH has had an orphan sponsorship program that had spanned multiple regions. Over 200 children were sponsored by Americans for approximately $30 a month. However, as easy as that is to say... the program itself was not easy. $30 a month here buys the exact same things it does in America. It was not enough money to support an orphan's full range of needs. School fees, clothing, food, shelter..... was not possible for $30. However, EOH had been making it work as best they could. Nevertheless, the culture here got in the way.

In the villages, where the orphans in the sponsorship program were living, the children would live with extended family members. Thus, whenever supplies for the orphaned children were bought, the aunts and uncles of the child would take the child's things... and give it to their own biological children instead. If food was bought, the child would taste very little, if any of it. Instead, the orphans were present in the household to 'earn their keep.' Despite many different attempts at programming to make sure none of this 'grabbing' was going on... it was impossible to ensure the safety of purchased goods.

And, while those cultural problems worked against the program on this side of the ocean... America was having its own: the recession. All across the board, numbers of sponsored children were dropping. However, how do we look a child in the eye and tell them that their sponsorship has been dropped, but that their friends would be able to still feel the love from an American family? Thus, the few American funds that WERE being generated were trying to cover over the multitude of orphans who, at one time or other, had been sponsored.

All and all, the program was simply unsustainable... and creating more strife in the lives of the orphans than good. Thus.... after many years of trying to make it work... the program simply had to close. EOH had found that the My Father's House Orphan Home system for sponsoring and raising a child in a Godly, safe, loving home was a much better way to go than to try to simply shovel money at children in an at-risk situation.... as that money just put the child more at risk.

Thus, as the American office set about trying to inform the American sponsors of the discontinuation of the program, I had the task of being the American representative in a team of three people to go to the various towns and villages and inform them that they would no longer be getting American funds to aid in their survival. To say that it was a heart wrenching task would be an understatement. Even to those who had been praying about the decision unceasingly, it seemed it was about as 'unsafe' a move as the come. What good could possibly come from admitting this defeat?

Nevertheless, as always, God met us there. And He was GOOD.

As we sat with teams of church pastors, elders, caretakers and coordinators from towns such as Musunda Falls, Kafue, Kittwe, Livingstone and Lusaka... every single committee surprised us by saying that, thought the American funds were ending, the program of supporting the orphans in their churches was certainly not coming to an end. The Livingstone church had a meeting right then and there to start developing a program amongst church members to better care for the orphans and ensure that they would actually receive the things they needed.

As I sat and listened to their talk, it occurred to me that this was probably God's intention in starting the EOH Sponsorship program all along -- simply to make the native people more aware of the needs of the orphans, and incite in them a passion to see the the wrongs righted. I also laughed at how, as the Zambians sat and programmed, the problems in our American - based program would probably be done away with. God knew what He was doing.

And so it has gone.
This unsafe, bewildering, ever revealing God of ours.... making Himself known time and time again.I am both in capable and unable (due to confidentiality within EOH out of respect for the children!) to explain all the numerous, numerous examples of other times that God has taken hard, impossible looking situations and made them 'good'. And, to be honest, I'm still waiting to see how He uses the risks of other situations for his purposes.

I have one month left. If I could make time stand still for just a little longer... I would. Nevertheless, God has plans for further adventures when I return to the States as well, of that I am certain.

And I have a feeling that they are going to be no more safe than they have been here.... but that I will continue to be overwhelmed by Him and see more and more of His truth daily.

For that, I can't wait.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


**I actually wrote this post last weekend, but didn't get it posted before leaving on vacation due to the typical internet problems... so I'll post this, and then post a blog about THIS week tomorrow. :-)**

Last weekend I was sitting with Sophie and Mary Leslie at their house. Sophie and Mary Leslie are the two American girls who work with the GEMS program here in Lusaka, and are the only two Americans that I commune with on a regular basis. As such, we have taken to having Saturday night 'girls night', which typically consists of an American-esk meal (whether thats us trying to make our own chicken nuggets or taco seasoning, or just going out for pizza), a time of laughing and/or crying about the things we have experienced that week, and then watching a movie on someone's laptop.

Thus, as we were sitting and talking, the three of us again came to the conclusion that Zambia is simply so far removed from anything we had experienced in America, that it is almost impossible to describe. We laughed at how daunting it seems to even put into words what it is like to walk down the street in Zambia to our friends and family back home. But, those who know me well know that I am not usually one to turn down a challenge. Thus, here I give you: a 20 minute walk down the streets of Zambia.

First, I must remind you that I am white. This is an obvious fact, but not one that I can say I have ever really noticed or paid much attention to before moving to Zambia. I have always grown up in a time and community where racism is being quickly eradicated, and the color of someones skin was a descriptive statement, much like "she has blonde hair" or "he has brown eyes". It never meant anything to me. I realize that to some people, even in America today, that is an obtuse statement. Surely I know about American history, about the gross injustices of the past? Of course.... but to me, its always been in the past--and never made sense as to why our country fell into such a pattern in the first place. I remember discussing the 2/3rds Act in 8th grade history wondering how in the world a person could believe that another person should only count as being 2/3rds of a human being. Why were white people considered better? However, I could easily pass that question off, as the Act has been abolished in the USA, and it no longer had any effect on me.

But here, in Zambia, its another story.

When I leave my front door, and start walking towards the gate... the guard used to jump up to open the small metal door for me. I have now convinced him that I am quite capable of undoing the latch myself, and walking out. But if ever I even turn and hesitate to talk to someone still in the office, you can bet he will have the door opened for me... letting me out with a small bob of his knees (a sign of respect).

Upon exiting the gate, I am immediately thrust into the heart of Zambian urban life. The EOH office is on one of the main roads, aka: one of the few paved roads. All around there are 'businesses' lining the streets. A gate welder lives to my left, and just beyond him is the gate painter. A few paces further is a furniture maker, and just the other day I noticed a pile of rocks on the side of the street... signaling that they will probably start crushing the rocks by hammers shortly, and start trying to sell the shards to make cinder-blocks with. On the other side of the street, there is a strip mall being constructed. Brick by brick, there seems to be continuous work crews there, whether it is day or night.

To the right of my wall, there is a small house with a large yard, where two moms live with there 7+ children. If the kids are around, they will usually be the first to greet me as I exit my gate. Choruses of 'Auntie Annika!!' can be heard... as they have figured out my name. However, not one of the children know a lick of English, thus our communication is usually limited to a few smiles, kicking around an empty water bottle or two, and (when I have a few extra minutes and a little extra money) sharing a few cookies. I always get a kick out of the youngest kid in particular. The boy is probably not more than 3 years old, and his Mama usually carries him over to me, with him kicking and screaming the entire time. Nevertheless, by the time he sees that I have a cookie for him, the screams have stopped and he holds out his tiny, dirty paw... shaking the whole time. The Mama just laughs and will usually try to encourage the boy with a line like "muzungo bueno"... meaning "the white person is good."


I don't think there is any word in any language that has ever confused, frustrated, degraded, respected, made me love on people, and made me want to deck someone more. "Muzungo"... "white person". It's the word that all the men whistle at you as you walk down the street. It's the word that the kids dance around you singing. It's the word that will forever make me wonder "why are white people considered better?"

Let's continue our walk.

After stepping out of the gate, and hearing my neighbor's cries of "Auntie Annika!!" I usually wave, greet them in the local language and continue on my way. I turn left, and start down the street. The work crews are out, busy with their crafts. But not too busy to notice me. "Muzungo! Muzungo! Helllllllo!" By now, I know these men. I give them a small smile and wave. The one younger man asks again for my phone number, I tell him my answer has not changed. He tells me he's still waiting for his white wife. I tell him to just keep on waiting. We laugh and I continue on.

During the day, walking down the street can become a hazard. Trucks are parked all over the sides of the road, and to get around them you must either walk in the road (which is NOT advisable, as cars have the right of way here!), or jump the drainage/garbage ditch and pass through peoples' businesses. My first few weeks here, this was a proposition that made me somewhat nervous. First of all, the drainage ditches here are up to 3 feet wide and at least as deep. However, in them can be found anything from empty water bottles to dead dogs. Thus, miscalculating the jump would not only be a somewhat painful fall into the ditch, but a rather unpleasant one at that. Once on the other side of the ditch, there is the task of maneuvering around teams of working men.... trying to jump over whatever it is they are welding, or squeak by without getting paint, mud or some other substance on you can be a task in and of itself. Never mind trying to do it with an air of confidence at a brisk pace so that they do not try to stop you and 'just talk.'

However, I can usually make it down the main road without too many confrontations. Nevertheless, it is when I make another left hand turn and start down the dirt road into the compounds that it becomes significantly harder to avoid the men. Especially on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

At the corner of the my main road and the dirt road to the compound is the first of many bars. Alcohol in and of itself is a major issue in Zambia. I am not ashamed at all to admit that I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, or a beer at a cookout, or a mixed drink with friends. I don't believe alcohol in and of itself is bad. However, I have never been drunk; and never plan to... as God voices his disapproval for drunkenness in the Bible. As I know that there is quite a range of people who read this blog, from my Grandpa to college students who I have never even met before, let me clarify this further by saying that I do not despise or judge those who have gotten drunk or enjoy a weekend escapade here or there... but I simply think that if God gave a recommendation in the Bible to 'not get drunk' as one of the better ways to do life; then I'm going to choose to take my Creators advice. Plus, from what I've seen during the moments where I have helped hold the hair back of a friend or two, or cried with someone who has made decisions they wouldn't have normally made after having more than I personally would consider having, I think my Creator was right. It doesn't look like much fun.

Nevertheless, in Zambia, there is a strong stigma against alcohol. When I first arrived here, I thought that was rather unjust. How could some random person on the street assume that if I had a beer I was not a Christian?? It seems preposterous! But then I started to learn that in Zambia, WAY more than America, drinking is a hobby. It is what the men do on nights when they don't want to deal with life. It is what groups of friends do because there is literally only one movie theater in the entire city. What's more, is it is an expensive hobby. One that costs a family its food money for a week, or a child his or her school fees. To go for a drink in Zambia, means automatically spending money on a wasteful, hurtful substance... simply because it wastes the family's money on something unneeded, and thus hurts the entire population. Whats more, is it becomes an addiction to many people, thus causing abuse in families where the abuser wants to squeeze every last Kwatcha (money note) out of his or her family members. Add into this the whole proposition of the AIDS pandemic, where a decreased inhibition here has the same effect that it has on many college students back home, and suddenly alcohol has a very deadly ring to it.

Thus, turning left and passing the biggest of all the compound bars is always a slightly unnerving prospect. Inevitably there will be at least 4 or 5 men calling out "MUZUNGO! MUZUNGO!", and inviting you inside for a the hopes that you will drink more. Other men take a more direct approach, coming up beside you, walking along with you, trying to get you to stop and talk. "Baby, I like the color of your skin! Be my wife!" "Your skin speaks of money! Come have a drink!" "I want babies with you!" "I want American wife, I go back with you!" "Pretty Mama, show me more white skin." The most drunk of men might try and grab your elbow when you refuse to stop, or put their arm around you. A quick shrug of the shoulder and a firm "NO!" stops most of them in their tracks, but the most audacious will continue on... pressing for answers. "What, you think you're better than me because you're muzungo? You think you can't have a drink with me? Come have a drink with me!"

I actually fell for this line the first few times... and I would stop and try to point out to them that THEY were the ones trying to coax me inside simply because of the color of my skin. Or I would explain that I find us equals, and that they should too.. and stop hitting on me simply because of my whiteness. Or I would try and persuade them that America isn't an instant ticket to fame and fortune like Hollywood makes it out to be (as 90% of what common Zambians know of America is what they see in movies). Or, in the most desperate of situations, one time I simply lied and said that my boyfriend wouldn't approve... to which I hastily had my left hand grabbed, and was notified that I was not wearing a ring, thus I was fair game. I considered buying a fake engagement ring for the first time in my life... but then realized that such a possession would probably only make it more likely that I would be mugged.

Nevertheless, I have since learned to just keep walking. I cannot convince drunk men that I am not better than them because of the color of my skin; but nor do I have any desire to be groped by them while sitting in bar. I walk on.

At this point of the year, the streets are one muddy lake after another. It has been in the 'rainy season' since the end of January, and at some points it takes a full on running leap to make it to the next portion of land... and at others, you just step down into the calf deep puddles, and grown as you see rotting vegetables, old hair weave, and empty beer bottles on either side of your foot. In the drainage ditches there are children playing, sending 'boats' made out of trash down the streams that have been formed... or simply splashing around in the dark water. In a few months time, all this water will be gone as we enter the dry season, and these roads will have a solid 3 inches of pure dust on them. Either way, I have begun to develop a whole new recognition of what it meant for Jesus to get down and wash his disciples feet.

As the kids in the ditches see you coming, they bound up from their games, and start in with that word again. "Muzungo! Muzungo!" The hungry ones look at you with big eyes. The shy ones hide behind their siblings. The brave ones muster up their best 'How are you?' and squeal in delight when I respond with "I'm fine, how are you?"... in their local language. And those who have learned my name come running, arms open... screaming "Auntie Annika!!", and just want to be picked up. I often wonder what these children see in me. Why do they get so excited? Do they think I have money for them? All the kids that I meet in the market ask me for money.... but these kids seem to just be content to have the attention and affection of a white person. However, I have to be careful. The children easily become jealous. If I pick up one of the kids, within seconds I have 15+ children surrounding me, all expecting to be picked up as well. And if I don't pick all of them up, you can visibly see them push around the little one who reached me first. They become so easily jealous. And of what? A hug from a stranger?

After untangling myself from the kids, I continue on down the road. I will continue to hear shouts of "MUZUNGO! BYE! BYE MUZUNGO!"for the next 70 yards, and will continue to smile and hold up a hand to wave goodbye to the mass of kids... how can I not?

Nevertheless, at the very moment when I am still smiling over the kids' use of the word Muzungo, I become instantly disgruntled again when I hear the men at the next bar start whistling it. I'll admit, there are a few times when I simply want to turn to some of these men and say something like "Congratulations, you're not colorblind! Yes,I'm white!" or just turn and shout and point back at them "Black person!", as I truly wonder if they understand how ridiculous it is to just be shouting "white person!" every time I walk down the street. Nevertheless, I simply ignore them and take in the scene of the rest of the street.

There are women and girls selling vegetables, ground corn, caterpillars, and capenta (small, dried fish). Ten year olds carrying two year olds strapped to their back with Shatengais (long pieces of African clothe). Five year olds cooking on open fires, while their Mama's watch from the shade. And, inevitably,there are 'Top Up Here!" signs stapled to tree trunks, with men sitting under them... no shoes on, threadbare clothes, but talking on a BlackBerry.

I should mention now that cell phones in Zambia are a huge deal. There are two major networks, 'MTN' and 'Zain'. Though Zain is considered to be the 'most trusted.' Everyone who is everyone has a cell phone. It is the biggest status symbol there is. In fact, because it is such a status symbol, apparently thefts of cell phones became a huge problem about 2 years ago. Now there is a THREE YEAR prison sentence for stealing a cell phone... whether it is a cheap hunk of plastic, or something imported from the USA. In addition, all cell phones in Zambia are prepaid. Thus, in order to get more 'talk time' you must purchase a 'top up' card. These cards can be purchased on any and every street corner. If you are driving in a car, simply stick out your hand with a bit of money in it, and a boy will come running with a card, handing it to you as he jogs beside you until you can make the exchange. Sometimes I wonder how everyone becomes a 'dealer' for these cards, as it appears that everyone is selling them. Nevertheless, no matter who you buy it from, when you buy a card, the exact amount you buy the card for is credited to your phone when you scratch it to find your 'secret code' to enter (think about lottery tickets and/or game entry pieces from cereal boxes).

However, the big to-do in Zambia right now is because of an additional 'scratch off' on the Zain Top Up cards. As, at the moment, Zain is running the biggest promotion Zambia has ever seen. It is being called 'The Real 2010'and thus throughout the course of the 2010 year, Zain is giving away 20 vans and 10 houses to people in Zambia who subscribe to the Zain network. In addition, everyone has the opportunity to win T-shirts, key rings or hats when they scratch off a 'winning' Top Up card. However, in order to win one of the vans or houses, 3 contestants a week are brought on a live TV show to play a few games for the chance of winning big. Last Wednesday night was the first episode of 'The Real 2010' in Zambia... and I actually got to be a part of it.

Back in February Esther and I had decided to write into Zain about trying to get sponsorship money for the MFHs. She had heard a tip from a friend that Zain was considering donating money to an orphanage, and thus we jumped at the opportunity. On Monday night, I returned home from playing volleyball at the International School to find a note from a Zain representative who said that they had decided to sponsor EOH, and needed to come the very next day to film some footage of the MFHs! So Tuesday there was a camera crew, and Esther did a quick interview about the EOH mission... and we found out that we were one of two finalists for a huge donation! We were told that as the 'kick off' for the new 'Real 2010' TV show, they had decided to put two charities on the show, and demonstrate the last game to raise both hype for the Zain promotion, and awareness for the charities. Thus, Wednesday night Mama, Patricia, Esther, myself and three of the kids and the Mama from House 3 were on live national television! To make a long story short, we ended up winning $2000 that night for EOH. A great night indeed... and forever cementing Zain in the hearts of my Zambian coworkers.

However, it is probably almost night time for you if you're reading this (even if you started reading it in the morning!), and I have not finished walking with you... so let me continue.

My feet are dirty, I'm emotionally drained, I am sweating from trying to walk quickly in between my stops to love on the kids, and I am just arriving at my destination: the My Father's House's 3 and 4. Before I go in their gate, the neighboring kids again accost me. "Why do you go THERE? Play with US!" How do I explain to them that they are loved, but that I am not capable of being a second mom to every child in the street? The 16 kids waiting just inside the gate are already a lot to handle!

But I kick an empty bottle at them, buy one or two of the vegetables that they are selling, and give high fives to the boys. A little bit of love can go a long way.

I walk into the gate, and finally I have made it. I try not to think of the gross injustices I see outside of the walls. I forget the harassment of the men on the street. I try not to muse over how my very face can bring such hope to some kids and such disappointment to others when I dont take the time to stop and play. I try not to think about the fact that on my walk I have passed at least a dozen kids who honestly need to be in a safe, loving, orphan home just like the one I am currently standing in.... and concentrate instead on just being "Auntie Annika" to these kids.

At least until I have to start the walk home.

Back in the USA, I used to really enjoy going for walks to clear my head. Or a run every once in a while when I really needed to let off steam.

That is not possible here. Going for a run would cause more disappointment than I could handle, as all the kids would be hurt if I did not stop. Plus, running through the puddles would mean soggy sneakers for volleyball. But even a half mile walk requires emotional toughness. Sometimes I force a smile to my face, and try to not cry when I see kids digging for food in the garbage on the side of the road. Sometimes it is all I can do to resist the urge to walk up to the parents of those children and ask why they are letting their children eat garbage, when the Mama is cooking food. Sometimes I laugh out loud when the youngest ones run awkwardly towards me. Sometimes I want to slap young men across the face when they get upset that I am paying attention to the children, but not their sexual advances.

But, in all actuality, all these 'sometimes' are just my 'always' life here in Zambia.

One step at a time.

I am a muzungo.

And I am here to love God and love others.
Even when I'm just walking down the street.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Who cares if we'll ever be right.

Hey all, so unfortunately this needs to be short, as I leave for Livingstone in a few short hours and need to get a few hours of sleep before I go. However, I needed to write.

The moment I stepped onto the Calvin Track and Field Team, I knew that Track was going to be about much more than distances and throwing events. My teammates challenged me, my coaches encouraged me, and to put it bluntly, Norm Zylstra confused the heck out of me. However, over the past few days, one of the things Norm always tried to infuse within us hit home.

In the midst of endless sets of discus throws, Norm used to ask us repeatedly whether we tried to 'be right' or whether we would 'do right'. To be honest, some days I just thought he wanted to start debates (as he IS a gifted debater...). However, I realized this week that I never really understood the question, and if I had I might have benefited much more from his (and others!) coaching. I always tried to respond to the question by saying that we should strive to 'be in the right' as Christians. Seems like a good answer. Heck, seems like a 'right' answer. However, its not a Godly answer.

We are foiled, broken, emotion filled people who will never 'be right'. We can simply try to do right, as dictated by God. Thus, in all honesty, I now realize that it is impossible to 'be in the right.' However, it is possible to 'be in the light'.

So what is all this about? Why talk of Calvin Track from Zambia?

Because, this weekend I tried to 'be right', and this week I learned what it looked like to 'do right'.

This weekend, when I posted my previous post, I think I can say that I was 'right' in saying the things I did. I was hurt by the email that my friends sent. I was justified in my tears, frustrations and anger. I was further vindicated by the many emails of encouragement and love that so many of you sent. But what I did was not right at all. I took a few of the people I love the most, and hung them out in the open for all the world to gawk at; when I knew in my heart of hearts that the things they said were out of love for me and concern (and perhaps a little uniformed confusion) as to what was occurring in my life. However, this was a fact that I could not see Sunday night. I was too concerned with my own rightness.

So what changed?

Monday and Tuesday I completed a two day fast. I do not say this to sound vain. I say it because it changed my life.

For two days I ate nothing. Instead of thinking of food, I prayed. Instead of taking time for meals, I read my Bible. I dwelled for two full days on learning God's heart.

To be honest, I started the fast because I wanted to hear God's guidance on how to respond to the words that my friends had sent me in the previously mentioned email and subsequent emails... but I ended the fast hearing of God's guidance for life.

Stop trying to 'be right' and start 'doing right.'

Who cares that I was justified in what I said? The fact is, in trying to 'be right' this past weekend (and truthfully, in much of my life), I was wrong.

I don't need to be vindicated. My life is not a Dashboard Confessional song. My life is about God. My life is about loving others. My life is about denying myself and taking up my cross. Thus, the things I wrote in frustration and hurt should have never been posted for the world to see. Therefore, I want to issue a public apology to those friends.... Thank you for loving me and forgiving me in spite of everything. We'll figure this out together.

Up until now, I feel like my Christian walk has been a little bipolar. There are days when I feel like a failure of a Christian, and that I could never do what God is asking of me. And then there are days that I feel completely and udder self-righteous about how I handle myself and the things that I am feeling. I am a missionary to AIDS Orphans in Zambia. Even as I speak that sentence these two extremes compete. I am a missionary (self-righteous... cause let's be real: I have the faith to actually be here doing this) to AIDS Orphans in Zambia (oh ya, that... ya, probably going to fail when you put it that way!). So how do I combat those extremes? Where does the truth lie?

It lies in my confidence coming from GOD. It lies in 'doing right' instead of my own feeble abilities to 'be right'. It lies in a complete abandon of myself.

Thus, I ask you to pray for me. Pray that I would develop a confidence that is directly of God, and of nothing of myself; and pray that I would learn to do right.

Thanks everyone. And thanks especially to Norm for trying to teach me the truth behind these words long ago, and to the Zambians for giving me the tool of fasting to actually take the time and focus to discover what God would have had me understand years ago.... if I had only taken the time away from my own fulfillment to notice it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Will we ever get this right?

I don't know anymore how I am even supposed to start this blog.

All too often I can't help but feel that I am a failure. They should have sent someone else.

For literally a month I have worked on this blog entry. Friday night I was getting ready to (FINALLY!) post this, and then I got an email that sent me into a tail spin. When I finally recovered and figured out how to make sense of some of it (at around 5am), the internet cut out. And so, I am currently sitting at a different house... trying desperately to post this. But that just how it it always seems to go. I struggle through life and try to find words to describe it... but as soon as I'm getting ready to post it, something else changes. Or the internet isn't working. Or something with me isn't working.

As I said, Friday night I received an email.... from a few people who I love most in the world. And in not so few words, they let me know very bluntly how badly I have screwed up. These are the friends who I talk with more than anyone else. Who I look forward to being able to share with more than anyone else, and whose support I rely on more than anyone else. And this is what they had to say:

"You haven’t updated your blog in over a month and a half, and people are wondering why and asking questions. Have you forgotten about all those people who have supported you and want to continue to support you? (And that includes us…) I’m not expecting every detail, nor deep dissertations. We’ve tried to tell you that before.... What’s the problem? Do you not want to share things with us? Or are we only allowed to hear about certain things? I don’t understand it."

And so again I tell you, I have failed. And, truthfully, some of that is due to a lack of internet capability, but most of it is due to a lack of my capability.

I’ve had a hard time processing and accepting much of the stuff that has happened lately, never mind trying to find the words to bring everyone else into understanding. Beyond that, I usually have no one to discuss it with, thus... when I do get to be online and a friend signs on and I have the opportunity to actually fellowship with a real, live person who knows me and cares about me... I tend to choose that over writing a blog. If any of you have felt neglected or left out by that, I am sorry... it was never my intention. These past weeks have been the most frustrating, heartbreaking, and humbling weeks I’ve ever known. Tonight was probably the devil's crowning achievement as I sat for at least an hour barely able to breathe... crawling to the toilet to throw up... crying out to God as to why, even when I am giving all I am to try to walk along side Him, I can never seem to do things 'right' by everyone else's standards.

I know I have been neglecting this blog, but not for any reason of carelessness or apathy... just out of a hurting heart. However, I never thought I was neglecting the people that sent me that email, in fact... I felt as if I had been pouring out the hurting pieces of my soul to them, and asking too much of them as I hoped that they would help me put it back together. But apparently they don't see it. And thus, that hurting heart was finally broken in two.

The fact of the matter is, I love Zambia. And I believe in the mission of Every Orphan's Hope. And I have fallen in love with the kids. And have no desire to go home now. Honestly, it's going to be very, very hard to get on a plane in 4 months and go back to America.

But I still get lonely at night, when there's nothing to do and no one to talk to. I get scared when I hear stories of friends of friends being raped in their own beds at night, and having to fly home to the USA for immediate start of HIV meds. I get frustrated when all the native Zambians tease me constantly for not eating as much as they do (which, for the record, are huge proportions... I don't know how they do it), and thus try to live up to their expectations for food consumption and end up sick afterwards. I am disappointing when internet is down for 12 hours at a time... and I FINALLY get to sign on, and the only thing in my inbox is an advertisement for Kohls. I ask God why, even when I'm in the midst of doing the 'hard thing' of being a 'missionary' in a third world country, everything has to happen in the hardest way possible. (For instance, after working for months on my application to Fuller Seminary's School of Psychology... I went to go submit it the day before it was due. However, internet cut out for the next 2 days, and I missed the deadline. God is still working it out, as Fuller has agreed to accept the application considering the circumstances; but why the heart-attack God? Why couldn't internet work just for 10 minutes so I could press submit and have it taken care of 'right' by the world's standards?!)

But most of all, I am beyond myself when confronted daily with desperate situations that I have SOME capacity to change, but not enough.... and when Zambians on the street expect me to solve all their problems because I'm American, but Zambians in our office tell me that American solutions won't work. Even when every step I take is with the Lord, it seems that He refuses to let things work out in a way that I can understand.

So God, what am I really doing here? Why me? Why here? Why now? The only thing that seems to happen on a consistent basis is for me to beg you to make your presence known and felt in my life once again, and for me to desperately grasp at your joy... because my fount for laughter is no where to be found.

However, I suppose that is the real reason why I came to Zambia – to watch God take my heart, crumble it to pieces, and start rebuilding something new. And make no doubt about it, He is rebuilding something new. Even though I get a little anxious sometimes, because I'm not quite sure what that is.

So, here we go again.

I finally give you a post that I started over a month ago. Grab your lunch or a cup of coffee, and come join me in Zambia. For those of you have not read my previous post on rescuing Naomi and Boyd, I ask you to please pause and go read that post first, just so that you can really have a chance at understanding.

Ever since bringing those two beautiful kids to their new homes in the My Father’s Houses, they have had a special place in my heart. Especially Naomi, the beautiful little girl who I fell in love with via a game of ‘bounce the ball’. No words, no knowledge of one another… just smiles, laughter and Jesus staring back at me. Everytime we have visited the Chongwe MFHs since, she has been the one I look for. The one I want to hug. The one who I spend a few extra minutes smiling at and making to feel at ease. I never thought I would become a mama before I got married; but I was wrong…. I now have a little girl.

Make that ‘had’.

On Wednesday, February 3 (exactly a week and a day since we first brought Naomi and Boyd home), we again journeyed out to Chongwe… this time to bring Boyd and Naomi their very own school uniforms, so that they no longer had to share with older siblings (who go to school at a different time than the younger ones). We also were bringing fertilizer to the homes so that we could fertilize the corn fields that we had spent weeding the Saturday before. (These are fields that have been planted in the hopes of making the food source for the MFHs a bit more sustainable.) However, when we arrived, Naomi and Boyd had just gone off to school with the rest of the younger children, so we went with 3 of the 4 house mom’s to go fertilize the field (one stayed to look after all of the children who were home from school), planning on catching up with the children later.

We returned a few hours later covered in mud, but with all of the fields fully fertilized, thus greatly uping the chance of the crop being good. As we sat communing with all of the mothers, a few of the younger children were running about (they had been done with school for a while at that point, as kids go to school here for about 3-4 hour shifts per day). So we asked them to tell Naomi and Boyd to come in to see us. However, the kids looked at us rather dumbfounded. They hadn’t seen either of the children all day – including in class. They thought they had been with us. We then went and checked with the one house mom who had stayed back, and she too realized that she hadn’t seen them come back from school. (Neither Naomi or Boyd live in her house, so she had been doing housework when ‘her’ kids got home from school, and automatically assumed that all the kids came back together—as that is the normal.) It was at this point that we realized that instead of going to school 4 hours earlier, the 2 siblings had simply kept walking through the school yard, and on towards the main road…. That lead them anywhere but here.

At this point, I became frantic. I jumped up from my seat, rushing outside calling their names. I didn’t want to believe that they would really leave. They loved it here! The smiles, the hugs…. Why would they leave?! I ran to check all the places I had ever seen Naomi playing, calling her name. But she was gone.

At this point the 4 house mom’s joined me, and we started walking out to the main road together. As we walked single file in a rather purposeful march I couldn’t help but think of the parable in Matthew 18 where God talks about leaving everything to go find one lost lamb. I have always known the meaning of what Jesus was saying in the passage; about his obvious heart for the lost. Yet, at the same time, I don’t think I ever really UNDERSTOOD Jesus’ heart when he was describing that lost sheep. Until that day.

As I bolted up and down the street, going from vendor to vendor showing them a picture of Naomi and me that I had taken earlier that week, my heart was racing and my mind was filled with questions. Why? Why would they run away? Were they running back to their mother? Why would the want to go back to a life of abuse? Why, when they appeared so happy, would they give it all up? Were they ever really happy, and if not… why the ruse?

A few of the vendors confirmed that they had seen the children walk past hours ago… headed towards the main part of town, which also was headed towards their old home. At this point, it was about 6pm, and so Mama, Humphrey, Mereta and I jumped in the car and started driving in the direction they had pointed. As we passed kid after kid on the road side, my heart would skip beats. But none of the kids were ours. Trying to hold back tears, I wanted to pray… but didn’t even have words to put complete sentences together… all I could think was ‘Oh God… save them.” Instead, I did the only think I could physically do to contribute at that point: I texted my mom in the USA to pray. I guess just as the kids were running to their mom, I was running to mine as well.

As we arrived at the main part of town, which is also the turn off for where the kids would have to take a different road to go back to their old home, we decided we should file a police report before the office closed. So to the police office we went… which was right next to the Social Welfare office where I had been playing with Naomi only a week earlier. Mama and I rushed inside the police station, and the police agreed that a missing person’s report should be filed… but they couldn’t find a pen to write the report. COULDN’T FIND A PEN? Are you even serious?! At this point my temper was rising… I was ready to sound an Amber Alert, send out search parties and drop billboards from the sky with the kids’ photos on them… and the police’s only response was that they didn’t have a pen! In a fashion that might even challenge Coach Diemer’s steeplechase form, I leaped off the porch, over a huge mud puddle and ran to grab my bag out of the truck. Inside again, I handed them an old LaGrave CRC pen… and watched as the information about the kids was handwritten in an old notebook. Meanwhile, behind the police officer at the front desk (who was helping us), all of the young men being held in the cell behind him were calling ‘muzungo’ (white person) and laughing and whistling. My patience was growing even thinner. I needed to get out of there and go DO something, so I excused myself and jogged out to the main street again. People were swarming everywhere through the town market, and I prayed in earnest for a glimpse of the kids. I walked, jogged, sprinted, called their names… but nothing. People probably thought I was crazy. I might have been.

Slowly I trudged back to the police office. The report had been written, and Mama was discussing with them the next course of action. The police explained that they thought it was best to ‘give the kids a few days’ and not go after them right away. The reasoning behind this being that if the kids had indeed returned home, they would probably resist going back right away and/or just try to run away again if we brought them back in the same day. And, if the kids were simply lost, someone in the village would find them and bring them to the police station. Thus, we were told that we were not to come back until Friday. FRIDAY?! I thought they were nuts. It was for their own good that we chase after them now, save them from the mom, bring them to safety… wasn’t it? But my opinion did not matter. Thus, we were back in the car, headed home.

Later that night, back in my secluded bedroom in the office, all I could do was ask God ‘why’. Why would they run? Why would he let them go back to a place like that which they had come from? And slowly, I started hear God asking me the same type of questions.

Here's the thing about my life in Zambia. I knew when I came here that this was going to be a lot less about me, and what I could contribute to Zambia... and a lot more about God and what he had to teach me. And that has certainly been true. As I sat contemplating why these two kids, whom I loved so much, would run away from the good things we had been able to provide for them..... I started hearing God asking me why I run away from the good things He provides for me. And we do run, all the time. Don't we?

I could sit and walk you through all of the great things God has put in front of me that I have run from. Or simply ignored in lieu chasing things that I thought were particularly good or important at that point in my life. But, that would take forever. In fact, that night, as I sat praying for Naomi and Boyd, the list of things that God brought to my attention was so overwhelming that I found myself praying for forgiveness for my own sins instead of for the safety of the children. Why does it take kids running away for us to realize the ways we've run?

However, my prayers for Boyd and Naomi did not cease.

Friday could not come soon enough. However, when it did.... unbeknownst to me at the time, I started to get a picture of what the next month would be like. We had gotten up early in the morning and traveled out to Chongwe to meet with the police and social workers as previously arranged. Upon arrival, we first went to check with the police. They confirmed that the children had not been brought in as 'lost' (as stray children would have been), so they must have found where they were going. Thus, the police wiped their hands of the situation and told us to proceed with the social welfare office for any further investigation.

So off we went to Social Welfare again. When we arrived, the front porch looked rather lonely compared to my last visit there. I wanted the kids back.

Thus, we entered the Social Welfare office and began discussion about the children. One of the children at the MFHs in Chongwe thought he had overheard Boyd saying something about a 'father' (which typically is synonymous for 'uncle' here when the child's real father has died, so we assumed thats what he meant) at a place called 'Green Water'. The welfare agent said she had no idea what in the world 'Green Water' was, but agreed that the children would probably go there. So, it was settled, we were off for 'Green Water'.

However, we didn't know how to get there. So we discussed our options, and agreed that the best bet was to go visit the children's grandmother and see if she knew of the place. I was already in the car, waiting to head to the little hut, when I was told that we would not be going to today, as the grandmother would probably already be working in the fields, and thus we wouldnt have an easy time of finding her anymore that day. Easy time? "Ya," I thought, "Of course its not going to be easy, but lets go.. I'll chase through a dozen cornfields if I have to.... lets find her, find this Green Water place, and get the kids!" But I was in the losing majority, and we were headed home to Lusaka.

The weekend was torturous as I sat and considered the dozens of things that could be happening to the kids. Who knew where they were? Did they have any food? Were they safe? Is this 'uncle' a good guy? What about the people he lives with? Obviously the kids were scared to be in a place they didn't know, so scared that they were willing to run away to find something more familiar... but what would it bring them? Would there be any familiarity? Any safety?

Monday morning we were supposed to leave at 7am to head to Chongwe, grab the welfare agent, and pick the grandmother.... however, as I sat on the front step of the office for over an hour, I was beginning to realize that we would not have anymore luck that day than the previous attempt. But why? Where was Humphrey? Why weren't we leaving?! My frustration was mounting. I found out later that Humphrey was sick with a mild case of malaria, and Mama is not a fan of driving... thus it was decided we wouldn't go. Mama did not have 'talk time' on her phone (all phones are pre-paid here), and thus she did not call me to inform me of the decision not to go. I was upset. If I had known driving was the only thing stopping us, I would have grabbed the car keys and gone to pick up Mama hours ago! I have a driver's license! I explained this to the office staff, and they agreed to let me 'try' driving ...but it was already too late in the day to catch the grandmother before she headed to the fields.

Over the course of the next week similar yet different problems kept creeping up. The social welfare agent wasn't available, we didn't have gas money for a trip to Chongwe.... the 'excuses' felt endless. However, that week we did learn that the children had NOT gone to Green Water as first expected, but had in fact returned home to the grandmother's and mother's place; as apparently the grandmother had come to the Social Welfare office to report the children arriving back.

At receiving that news, I was even more concerned. Back with the abusive mother, whom Social Welfare had BEGGED us to take the kids from. However, now it appeared that Social Welfare could care less that they were back there with her. What changed?

That would be a question that I would ask myself continuously over the next few weeks, after attempt after attempt to get the kids back was shot down. With each delay, I became more and more frustrated. Why didn't anybody care about those kids? I mean, personally, I had quite a bit invested emotionally in Naomi and Boyd, so I was rather eager to see their particular two faces again. However, beyond that, why was the fact that two human beings were being placed in harms way needlessly being ignored?

Finally, during the last week in February, Mama announced once and for all that we were going to stop trying to get Naomi and Boyd back.

My pulse soared. Why?!

And then my education of Zambian thought began.

First of all, I need to clarify that the EOH staff here did in fact do about all we could think of to get the kids back, however... it has been Social Welfare who has continuously avoided us and delayed anything from happening. My American boldness wanted very badly to march into the Welfare office and demand propper service. However, that is not how things are done here. If Social Welfare wanted us to get the kids back, they would help us....if not, there is nothing we could do.

But how could Social Welfare defend their decision (or laziness?!) of not trying to get the kids back??

Mama, Mereta, Esther and Frieda tried to explain. Here, family is foremost. Thus, if a family member is alive (no matter how good or bad that family member is), he or she has the first right over the kids. (And we wonder why there is so much child abuse in Zambia?) Secondly, kids are allowed to make their own decisions. If they WANT to be with the mother, then (it was argued) who are we to take them away.

This is where my American thought, buoyed by my psychology academia again began to kick in...

Who are we to take them away? I couldn't help but ask, who are we NOT to take them away? We were talking about elementary students who have not developed formal operational thinking, and thus are not capable of abstract reasoning. According to the Attachment Theory, to kids of that age, what they know as 'familiar' is going to feel safest to them. Thus, it is almost common sense for one to determine that they do not have the mental ability to realize that the new and strange situation of the MFH homes are indeed safer than staying with their mom. How does the Zambian government expect the kids to choose the strange situation (although safer, and more beneficial in the long run) over the one they know and feel familiar with?

When I tried to explain this line of thinking to the staff, I was told that I simply did not understand how, in Zambia, if a child wants to run away... he will run away and there is nothing we can or should do about it. I coudn't help but feel that I DID in fact understand the concept that they were relating, but simply didn't agree with the philosophy. However, regardless of feelings, the fact remained: there was nothing I could do to help, and no one would ever agree with me. I felt defeated, in every sense of the word.

And in some ways, I still do. I do not know when and if I will ever see Naomi and Boyd again. They are constantly in my prayers; and I cannot help but wonder if they will ever want to go back to that which they gave up. However, at their young age, I think it's a little optimistic to believe that they will 'come to their senses' and come back. Even at 23, there are far too many things in my life that I run back to the familiar in. Thankfully, unlike Zambian Social Welfare, God is still chasing me.

Two weeks ago the office dealt with a similar situation when two boys (who have been in the MFH homes for the past 6 years) stole a few items from the office.... and both boys immediately said that it would probably be better for them both to just move out of the MFH homes than to change their ways. One of them did just that last week.

It broke my heart to see him go. A 16 year old boy, who thinks he knows whats best for his life.... giving up the opportunity to go to school, have 3 meals a day, a bed, and be cared for. But he wants to live HIS life. And so, by Zambian laws and customs, we had no choice but to let him. (As much as I, personally, didn't want to.... and grieved over what teenagers in America, myself included, would be like if our parents, teachers, and mentors had let us make our own decisions no matter what.)

When we visited the police station to get the boy's release forms, the cops informed the boy that he would never be allowed back inside the gates of My Father's House.... and I got a pit the size of a baseball in my stomach. I suppose I was hoping he would become a prodigal, and come back to His Father's home... but instead, he was being told by the law that he wasn't allowed to. For an instant I wanted to tell the cop he was wrong, and tell the boy that he would always be welcomed home... but instead, I sent him away with the biggest piece of pizza I had in my kitchen, a hug, and the simple words of 'remember God.' I pray for him daily too. I just wish I could figure out how to do more.

Praying daily.

Sometimes I feel like that is the only thing I'm left with here. There are so many ways of doing things that I don't understand. So many parts of my education that I value that are ignored. Many more situations that could break you're heart (some of which I'll share in the coming week, promise). The feeling that nothing anyone does (including myself) will ever be 'right' by anyone's standards. And beyond that, a feeling of both being too overwhelmed to relate it all, and incapable of processing it all.... which was also confirmed as a being a hurtful offense to those I love the most just hours after I had finally completed this blog.

And so, once again, I apologize. I love you all, and I thank you for taking the time to read. I am sorry if I have let you down thus far. I wish there were a way for you to just get a clear snapshot of what things are really like here.... and I know that I am the best tool for that... but I am a bent and somewhat broken tool. In the response that I sent to the loved ones who sent that email, I said that sometimes I feel like Moses standing before a thousand Israelite. Except that, for some reason, God choose to send me without an Aaron by my side; which is a little tough to deal with sometimes. In all my readings of the Bible, God always sent out the prophets two by two.... Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathon, James and John, Paul and Silas, Timothy and Barnabas..... but I'm here alone.

However, I don't think God would have it any other way.

What am I doing here? Why me? Why here? Why now? I already know the answer to those questions, though I will admit that there are times that I have to remind myself. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure that to doubt the answer would also put me in that 'runaway' category, as it would be running away from what God had planned for me far too long ago.

And so here I am, in Zambia. Resting in God's peace and joy, despite a hurting heart. Will we ever get 'this' 'right'? Who knows. Who knows what 'this' is, and who knows what 'right' is. As far as I've been able to figure out, the best we can do is love God and love others. And that's what I'm striving to do.

PS: For those of you who don't have facebook, despite not being able to write coherently for the last month, I have been posting pictures. Feel free to check them out through the links below!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Worlds Apart

So I keep thinking I'm going to write a blog to tell you all about everyday life here.

Discuss the water turning off at 8pm, and all the adventures one endures when it turns off a little early. Especially when the electricity is ALREADY off, thus making it that much harder to navigate your way to the kitchen to find your boiled water to rinse the rest of the shampoo out of your hair.

Or talk about my weekly duties, which have come to enclude going to Chongwe village 2x a week, and visiting the Lusaka homes 2x a week, and enevitiably having another day set apart for errand running or meetings.

I could talk about what it is like to live with all Zambians during the day, and yet feeling like I'm surrounded by all Americans in the evening....when all I have for entertainment are the emails and messages you all have sent me.

Or I could tell you how the office staff declared that I was officially Zambian this week, because I had eaten Nashima (a corn mealish substance that reminds me of cold cream-of-wheat that you dip in vegetables/chicken/ect) with my hands, and enjoyed it.

However, I never have too much time to write about all these things, because there is never just anything mundane. Instead, weekly, I have had something that looks me in the eye and begs to change my life forever. And this week, it happened yesterday.

It has taken me a full 24 hours to dare to even start this entry. A full day from the moment I arrived back home to consider how I could possibly capture yesterday events, or do justice to the goodness of a God that literally had me bawling on my knees for hours last night. But, because I have the ability to live this reality that I am about to relate, I feel an equal calling to relate that reality. Because the world needs to see. And right now, we're world's apart.

This week given a tip by Social Welfare that there were 2 kids in a remote part of Chongwe who were being abused heavily and whos lives were in danger. According to the source, in addition to the two above mentioned children, there was a small baby who had been cut with razor blades by the mom.... but that child was young enough to be accepted into the Moses' House, a local orphanage. The two older children, however, were out of luck. Except for maybe us.

At the moment, every single one of the My Orphan Homes is at full capacity. Every bed is taken. But, we certainly couldn't leave these two kids where they were. So at 7am yesterday morning... we went.

After a few hours of getting lost while driving through fields on dirt paths, we finally found the dwelling that the family was calling home. There was a single mud hut standing, with no windows. Coming close to the closed door, I could smell the stench from inside. The small hut that would normally be used as a kitchen was completely caved in, and there were simply 3 or 4 rocks placed together in what must have been the fire place. (Though the only way we could tell this was due to the ashes.) No source of clean water, no food storage, no bathrooms. It was deserted.

However, there was a small neighbor boy who had been passing boy, and informed us that the grandmother had to take the children to the Social Welfare office that morning, despite her daughters protests. Thus, we were back in the car, headed to Social Welfare.

Nevertheless, when we arrived at Social Welfare, they weren't their either. Back in the car, we headed back to the dwelling, hoping to find them since they must have turned back. At 98F, it was hot.... with dust flying everywhere.... and the roads are not a pleasant drive. But as Humphrey put it, "There's no getting tired when you are trying to save a life. I'll drive it a million times if we just find them." Nevertheless, on the way back to the home, Mama Harawa received a phone call from Social Welfare.... the family had arrived. Another u-turn, and we were one step closer to our mission.

At that point, I got to admit that my heart was racing. Here we were, on our way to change these kids lives. Did they even know it? In 15 minutes time, life would never be the same again.... and I got to be a part of it. I could couldn't help but smile.

We pulled up to Social Welfare again, and there sitting on the porch were the kids, the grandmother, and the mother. The entire time we had been driving, I had been trying to envision this family. I had envisioned two beautiful kids.... and I was not disappointed. For the first time in my life, the term "beautiful" even seemed too anorexic of a term for the lives that were sitting on that bench. It was hard to tear my eyes off of them... but there was one other person who I was very interested in observing. The mom.

What type of lunatic mother would cut her baby with razor blades? Or beat her children? What about how I had heard she she had burned down her own hut (apparently the dwelling we had visited was actually the grandmothers), all of her belongings, and all of her kids clothes in an angry rage? I wanted to hate her. I wanted to blame her for the hurt she had caused her kids. I pictured a vicious, seething woman who deserved next to no grace... or would have to be pretty damn sorry in order to earn the grace of our King.

But, instead, when I looked at her.... her eyes seemed close to empty. She looked lost, and downcast. And she was pretty. Very pretty. She simply sat on the ground, with her hand folded in her lap, looking as if there was something missing in her life. And for the first time, I started wondering what her story was.

As a disclaimer, if you are reading this with younger children, or are easily squeamish or offended... you might just want to skip the next 7 paragraphs. But for those of you who are willing to face the truth... read on.

Her story (which we found out from the grandmother while still in the social welfare office) completely changed my perspective on trying to point fingers. I wanted to hate this woman. But I can't.

She had married young. And apparently shortly after her 3rd child was born, her husband died. Looking at how gaunt the young woman was, I wondered if she had AIDS, and if her husband had died from the disease. There are some things we will never know. However, after her husband died, the woman was doing OK. She was still capable of raising her children, and in a village where there is so much disease... single parenting is almost the norm. However, one night she was walking home alone in the dark. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is not a safe practice in Zambia. She was spotted by the Police force and thus, as I understand it, picked up by them for her own protection. Why they didnt bring her directly home, I will never know... but she was instead brought to spend the night in a holding cell... to keep her safe.

However, apparently she was not alone in that holding cell. There was a pornographer also being held that night. With camera in tow. Being a pretty young woman, she was abused... and made to have intercourse with a dog. Even as I type those words I have to keep from vomiting, and I cannot fathom the hurt and degregation that she felt. After that night, she was never the same. She spent a year in a psychological hospital, was released, but never 'better'. How could she be? As I sat watching her on the step of the Social Welfare office, I had to wonder if she was suffering from a severe depression, with anxiety outbreaks causing the rage and abuse of her children? Or had she developed a bi-polar or schizophrenic personality? Again, there are some things we will never know.

Where was the police force while this type of abuse was occurring? Couldn't they have intervened? How did they let this woman be put in a cell with a man? And one who still had a camera nonetheless!?

Who was this man? And where is he so that I can personally cut off his testicles? And where is the tape, because it deserves to burn in hell with him.

I want to hate them. I want to blame them. But then, when I truly ask myself where the police force was, I come to the conclusion that they were probably in the other room, unaware; or simply shrouded in corruption themselves and afraid to intervene. And the man? Probably trying to fill a quota of tape, in order to keep up with the American market.

How is it that we try to point fingers at the brokenness of our world? But it makes us feel better, doesn't it? Because as long as I can blame them, I can't blame me.

However, I can try and change me... and I can try to change the world.

As I approached the children, they were stone faced. No ounce of emotion showed. I smiled at them, waved, said hello. Still nothing. I reached out my hand to greet them, as is proper in this country, and they robotically shook my hand, certainly out of duty more than anything else. This is not what I had pictured. All of the other children who I had met (whether in the MFHs or on the street) had always smiled at me... or at least sent a curious glance my way! How in the world could I get these kids to smile?

Mama Harawa took the grandmother inside the Social Welfare office to start looking at the paperwork, and I stood on the porch to start looking for a way to get the kids to trust me. Through Humphrey, we learned that they kids names were Boyd and Naomi. They didnt know how old they were, but my guess was that Boyd (older boy) was around 10, and Naomi (the younger girl) about 7. Obviously talking was not going to be the way to break the ice. So I relied on the one thing I know best: games. I took out a small rubber ball that Mom and I had purchased in packs of 3 from the dollar store right before I left. Could $0.33 change a life?

I bounced the ball at Boyd, expecting him to catch it. Instead, he let it bounce off the top of his head, and again off his body, and as it was rolling to my feet I realized he still hadnt moved. I tried to signal as best I could that he should catch it.... and tossed it again. Same result. What child doesnt know how to play catch? I asked Humphrey to try to explain to him.... but the child sat looking bewildered as Humphrey explained the concept in the native language. A few more gestures to try to instruct, and I again tossed the ball. At last he moved. He didnt come close to catching it.... but he tried. And he smiled.

At that moment Boyd was called inside, obviously to help contribute to the the legal matters occurring. However, as her brother made his exit from the porch, Naomi sent me a shy smile. And then, much to my surprise, she cupped her hands, ready for the ball. A single bounce and she trashed around violently, trying in earnest to catch it.... which she did, on approximately the 15th throw.

For the next half hour Naomi and I would play bounce. She learned to catch, she learned that if she threw the ball harder it would go higher, and she learned that it was OK to laugh when either of us missed picking it out of the air. Her joy was electrifying. More than anything I wanted to take a picture. My camera was burning a hole in my pocket... but I resisted, as her mom sat watching us and I did not want to upset her. I couldnt help but wonder what she thought of this albino stranger playing with her daughter. Did she know that I was going to take her away from her?

When the door to the Welfare Office opened again, the grandmother emerged with Boyd and said something to the two of them. Mama Harawa translated into my ear.... apparently she had instructed them to go live with EOH 'and learn English'. The kids nodded. No smiles. No tears. Simple acceptance. Or maybe a lack of understanding. As the mother rose, I waited for her to hug the kids goodbye or put up a fight.... but instead she just strolled off the porch. The kids didnt run after her, nor did they hug their grandmother as she shook their hands in the same way that she shook mine. Together mother and grandmother walked off, not looking back.

At that point, I bounced the ball at Boyd again... and he caught it. We continued to play catch as the office staff finished whatever it was they were doing, and it started to occur to me that this was really it. In a few moments these children would be in the car with us, going to a different life. Personally, I was ready to cry.... but it seemed as if I was the only one.

When the time came to get in the car, the kids looked afraid. So I reached into my bag of dollar store toys and pulled out a small stuffed dog and handed it to Naomi. She looked confused at first, but eventually took hold of it. Then I grabbed a small matchbox car, and drove it up and down Boyds arm. He also looked uneasy at first, but a small twinkle caught in his eye when I handed it to him. Their first toys. Ever.

As we rode in the car (with the windows rolled up so that the mother would not see the kids) the two children hung onto each other for dear life, and hung on to their new toys. It was at that point that I realized that the things they held in their small fists were the only things they were bringing with them from this day forward. They had no other possessions, and probably would never be spending any significant time with their other family members again.

When we arrived at the Chongwe MFHs, the usual flock of children danced around the car, eager to greet us and hug us as we climbed out. However, as I reached back inside the car to unbuckle Naomi, I couldnt help but notice the slight dip in noise as all of the children recoginzed what was occurring. And why wouldnt they? They had all come to this place of hope in much the same way. With reverence and joy, they greeted the new children... and for the first time all day, my heart felt at peace.

We then filed into the living room of one of the MFHs. The house moms were waiting, and greeted both children with a hug. After a few moments of orientation, Boyd was escorted by a group of boys to the room he would be staying in, and Naomi was taken by the hand to another one of the houses where she would be staying. I didnt see either of them from that point on, and I couldnt help but smile. Kids making friends and being excited about life... isnt that how its supposed to be?

However, our day was long from being over.

As I sat with Mama Harawa and the house mamas, we then started discussing how to make this work. We have two extra children now in the houses. Five children sleeping in a bedrooms with only four twin beds. Two more school uniforms to buy, never mind regular clothes in order to replace the ones they were wearing that had been supplied by Social Welfare earlier. Two more mouths to feed, and to buy toothbrushes for.

Toothbrushes. Such a mundane thing had slipped my mind. For the first time in their lives, these kids were going to have toothbrushes! And they were going to wake up in a home where they were safe, and valued. They were going to be able to attend school. And they were going to be taught about a man named Jesus who changes everything....

As we were talking, one of the Mamas admitted to Mama Harawa that she actually knew of another family who was in desperate need of our help. So, as natural as can be, we jumped in the car again. However, there was no road to this house, so we walked a quarter mile from the last possible place we could squeeze the car.... and came upon another humble mud hut to find 2 more beautiful kids.

A small girl; who was apparently 3 1/2, but looked like she was 11 months. And a boy of 10, who looked to be 5. Both parents had died, and malnourished was an understatement. However, the grandparents had arrived and claimed responsibility.... thus the case must go to Social Welfare before we can step in. So, instead, I just hugged the little girl... and tried to give her a stuffed animal too. However, she was terrified at the small fuzzy thing, and I realized that the only thing small and fuzzy she had probably ever seen was a rat. I would be scared too. The boy, however, gratefully except the small token of love I could give, and his eyes glowed as he petted it and rubbed it against his cheeks. Walking away from them would have been impossible if I hadnt remembered that my God who looks after me looks after them as well.

But I cant help but ask, how is our God going to look after them if not through us?

There is currently another MFH in the process of being built, an opportunity to bring 16 more children like Boyd and Naomi into a place of hope, but the work on it has been suspended because there are not enough funds to continue. Last Monday a portion of the roof was torn off by a huge rain storm, and thus the building structure is deteriorating everyday that we dont keep building. But it takes $33,000 to build these houses, and $800 a month to keep them functioning, so we wait.

And as we wait, we watch little 3 1/2 year old girls sit slumped against the side of trees, because they have no energy to stand or play. And as we wait, we see mothers slumped on porches hopeless and out of touch with reality because of a great abuse that could have been prevented.

Last night I returned back to the plush EOH office that I call home. And as I sat in my bedroom that contained not 1 but 2 beds..... it was taking all that was within me not to shout up to God, "HOW LONG WILL BE TOO LONG!" And yet, I heard him echoing back, "How long will be too long?" There havent been too many times in my life when I have literally fallen to my knees, but upon hearing that.... last night was one of them.

I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
and wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
More and more I need you now,
I owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
and wash the feet and cleanse my pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
the sin-soaked heart and make it yours
take my world all apart
take it now, take it now
and serve the ones that I despise
speak the words I can't deny
watch the world I used to love
fall to dust and thrown away
I look beyond the empty cross
forgetting what my life has cost
so wipe away the crimson stains
and dull the nails that still remain
so steal my heart and take the pain
take the selfish, take the weak
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
take my world apart, take my world apart
I pray, I pray, I pray
take my world apart
(Worlds Apart - Jars of Clay)

Oh God, just take my world apart. Just take my vision of the world from me. And let me see yours. Because its ALREADY been too long.