Spending some time with my Africa team inspired me to keep telling the story. My days and nights are starting to get back to normal but I still get tired very early. Pardon my run on thoughts.
Our first morning in Africa I woke up and was confused. I wasn’t totally sure where I was but I remember being so cold. It was so so cold. We were up early and told to be ready for a day at Emthonjeni. That morning we had our first cross cultural food experience. Our sweet hostess named Dawn, who was a firecracker, made us a wonderful breakfast. If I remember correctly it was eggs, bacon, and fruit. We lined up for the kitchen and I noticed two pots on the stove top. “Weird,” I thought, “I’ve never seen bacon in a pot before.” When she opened the pot I used every ounce of self control not to screw my face up and show my displeasure. I’m not sure how South Africa interprets the word bacon, but it’s NOTHING like we do. I’m not even sure what an American equivalent would be. It was more like boiled ham. She put some on my plate and thankfully one of the hungry boys wanted it so I was able to pass it off without detection. Bullet dodged.
After we had our fill of breakfast and geared ourselves up for a day in the cold, we headed to Emthonjeni. Emthonjeni is very much like a community center within one of the squatter camps in Joburg. When the Apartheid ended, the government sectioned off land for about 400 families or around 2000 people. Currently more than 75,000 people reside on those 400 plots. The poverty was enormous and I felt a deep sense of hopeless. However Emthonjeni is a bright little spot in the midst of the squatter camp. There is a preschool, trade schools, senior citizen program, and ante-natal clinic all on the property. What’s even cooler for us is that funds that Woodmen Valley Chapel collected bought and help run this property. Being part of the missions program at WVC, I felt a deep sense of connection knowing that we were part of this ministry. Typically the folks who run the community center let you walk through some of the squatter camp but the week before we arrived there were some dangerous riots. They felt it best if we only walked along the edge.
After a traditional African braii (BBQ), we sleepily headed to some botanical gardens in Joburg. We had about an hour to walk around and I just kept thinking to myself, “Holy crap. I’m in Africa!!! I’m looking at a waterfall. in. Africa.” It was so surreal. The grounds were fairly bare as it was winter, but beautiful nonetheless. We had our first team debrief in the large open field. Jet lag hit us full force that afternoon so we headed back to our camp to nap a bit before dinner and then back to bed.
Friday had more impact on me than any of the other days we spent in Joburg. We started out at Forest Farms, which is a home for people with disabilities. Right before I left for Africa I got a chance to be part of WVC’s camp for people with special needs. It was a powerful time in my life and I saw God move in a mighty way. Anyways, when I found out we were going to this facility, I felt goosebumps. I’ve never been comfortable around disabilities but the LORD has been stretching and growing me in this area. Plus, I knew our kids would sense any of our discomfort so I put on a brave face and jumped in. I was SO proud of our kids. They knelt down, got eye level with these folks, and loved them. As we toured the facility my heart was overcome. I knew that these 115 people were being taken care of and loved well. It made the time I got to spend at camp even more precious, imagining what type of ministry could happen if these people were able to go to camp with their families.
Our guide, Charlotte, took us to various rooms with each one gradually housing folks with more severe disabilities. Before we got into a room with some of the hardest cases, we met a woman who was recently engaged. She is a resident at the home and though she couldn’t speak, you could tell she was just GLOWING. They brought her fiancee to the room and sat him beside her. Charlotte told us their story with him chiming in through broken words. Apparently, they’ve both lived there for quite some time and he’s loved her since he was a little boy. Her mother and he are the only two people who can understand what her grunts and moans mean when she’s trying to communicate. He said, “I’ve loved her for a very long time, and I’ve always looked at her inside and not her outside.” I melted. Completely melted. He was the most tender sweet man I’ve ever met and he looked at her with utter adoration. If any man ever looks at me with half the amount of love he had, I’ll be a lucky woman. I moved to the back of our group and wiped the tears from my eyes. This was the last place I expected to be undone. I hung around as our team interacted with him before they moved us along and fell a little bit more in love with their story as he continued to talk. They left a profound impact on my life.
The next room was a little more difficult. The disabilities were severe and in one case, there was a young woman, not much younger than I am, who was blind and deaf. She was found, locked in a cage, about two years ago by someone from the church. She was a tiny little girl, frail, and reclusive. We had a video guy with us from Mosaiek and I’m not sure who’s idea it was, but someone said he should pick her up and hold her. He did and you could see his very countenance change as this girl settled into his arms. The strength in who he is allowed her to relax and be still. It was a moment where I was too afraid to breathe for fear of breaking the magic. The emotion of being there was hard. Very hard. But when I looked back at the pictures our trusty guide Bob took, there were only smiles. Huge broad smiles from our team, the residents, and the care takers. Infectious joy radiated from the still photos when I looked through them days later. I hadn’t remembered the joy from that day. Only the ache in my spirit. But I was transfixed when I saw those smiles.
After Forest Farms we went to the Florida Baby House. I had been looking forward to this since I found out I was going to Swaziland. I mean, basically we were going somewhere to hold babies for the afternoon. Can life get any better? They asked us to come in a few at a time and my servant leadership went out the door. I think I was the third person in the room. One of the older babies was sitting in a high chair being fed lunch and they asked me to feed her. I got to spend precious time with this little girl making airplane noises, playing peekaboo, and making a complete idiot of myself to get her to take a few bites. It was worth every dumb face and terrible sounding airplane engine noise. After that I had a few babies passed to me and finally got one little boy who had my heart wrapped around his finger.
I’ve always loved babies and little kids but there is something about a baby who has been abandoned and NEEDS me that awakened a mother’s heart in me. All of these babies have been given up – some left on the side of the road, others dropped off at places, all unwanted. This little boy looked up at me with big brown eyes that were drooping off to sleep and I felt like I would do anything to protect him. I sat in a rocker and left the world I was in to go where it was only me and this tiny little boy. My heart knew in that moment that someday I will hold my own little African baby.
After hours of holding this sleeping little baby who trusted me implicitly, Matt let me know we had about 5 minutes before we needed to leave. The whole team was pretty sure they were going to have to leave at the baby house because I wasn’t about to move. My sweet little boy woke up and started to get squirmy which allowed the care takers a perfect moment to steal him from my arms while the team pulled me out the door. I choked back tears as we walked to the bus. In our debrief that night I was amazed at how many of the team experienced similar love for those babies. So many of our high school boys said it was one of the highlights of their trip. So don’t be surprised if there is an influx of African adoptions at Woodmen. Ha 🙂
This is alot for now. Part 3 – baby lion cubs and African road trips is up next.