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.


  1. I was able to witness stories like this during my 2-month work with EOH last summer, and I must say that I have never read a blog that captures that brokenness of our world and its connection to EOH better than this. I'll be praying for you!

  2. Thank you, Annika, for being there and doing the work that you're doing for EOH and the sweet children there. As I read your post, I could see that you have encountered Zambia for real--it's difficult to do on a short=term trip. It breaks my heart and encourages at the same time. God is good, all the time! I'll pray for you.

  3. I am sobbing with you, Annika. And I have a feeling that Jesus is, too.

  4. It truly is amazing when God is able to open your eyes to the things that you have never encountered or never heard of. There are things in our world that seem to just pass by us and we may think they never exist. I have had small opportunities to see how depressing of a world we live in and the battles we all face. In worlds apart or the world we live in. I pray that God shows you His continuing light, love, guidance, and strength. The things you are seeing and enduring will be life-changing. It is truly heart humbling. I love you Annika and I'm so glad to read upon your encounters. God has lead you in a strong and humbling path. Keep up the good work in showing grace and opening your mind and thoughts to everything new. We can take so much for granted - it's wonderful to see things through another's eyes in a completely different land.

  5. Oh my gosh...I am in tears. Annika I was just praying for you today wondering how God is using you and then I come home to read this! You will continue to be in my prayers. Much love.