My trip to Africa comes in sporadic memories. Twelve days in a foreign country and different time zone tends to blur some things. So please bear with me as I do my best to describe the indescribable.
When I close my eyes the first memory is a twelve-year-old girl’s imperfect yet bright smile. I looked right into her chocolate eyes as she embraced me, a complete stranger. Joy radiated from every part of her and for the first time in years, I felt peace.
What many people don’t know is that over ten years ago I felt a pull to take a trip to Africa. I learned of these children who they called “throwaway kids” children with HIV or AIDS. For nearly a decade, I waited and hoped to one day meet them.
This was my moment.
Children flooded around me as I felt more love than I had ever in my entire life. It was true, it was pure, it was unconditional. Just like the love only Jesus can give.
For years I have lived guilt ridden and ashamed of a past I thought I let go. Unintentionally punishing myself for the lack of “Christian” qualities I possessed. Weighed down with church rituals, Bible Studies and an image of what I thought leadership to be. Nothing like what I felt when those kids wrapped their arms around me. Nothing like the life of freedom that Jesus offers.
I didn’t experience miracles or see crazy things. I did see love though and that is the point. There is no way to sound less “creepy” or “weird” because to be honest, being a Christian is just that- weird. However, I risk the awkwardness to share a couple of things I know to be true- I know had to have been God.
We visited a hospital. It looked more like a prison or something you would see on a movie based on the projects. Concrete floors, pancake thin mattresses and the smell of must. In this place was a four-year-old girl whose parents just dropped her off. They left without visiting her tuberculosis filled little body.
The government is unlike ours in America, they don’t provide food or clothing to patients so she had nothing. Another team from our group brought her items to bring comfort. A doll, some food and of course their sweet smiles and kind hearts.
By the time I had the opportunity to visit, she was sitting alone in a hallway. Her illness preventing her from interacting with other patients. I felt compassion for this little one because she was sick and alone.
One of the greatest battles to fight when on a trip like this is to grasp the fact that everyone cannot be helped. We were able to help this one though and it was enough, at least in that moment.
Just shortly after, I came across a stunning nurse with bright blue eyes. We started a conversation and long story short, she was a Christian who had also been praying to be used by God that day. She invited us to go down into the maternity ward to pray for a woman who was just experiencing a miscarriage. Fear overwhelmed me.
For now, my story consists of infertility. So to go into a place where I knew what she was feeling was overwhelming. I felt her pain, I knew that there were no words to bring comfort in such a time of grief. I only knew to hold her hand and cry. So here I was, 10,400 miles away from home, empathizing with a stranger.
But that’s not even the story I am leading up to. Across the way was another patient, also recovering from a miscarriage. We walked over and I had the strength for this one. I prayed for her and we left. Well, days later, our dear friend, Sim, another in our group ran into a friend she had met while in South Africa. He shared with her that his wife had just miscarried and she was also able to pray with him. Well, guess what? His wife was the woman we had prayed for just a day before. Jesus saw these two and wanted to comfort them separately and He used us to do it.
Our group was rather diverse. There was a Hispanic, several Caucasians, and a Sikh Indian. Somehow, we were all on this trip in a small town across our world in Cradock, South Africa. Here we also met a Chinese family who resides in this town and uses their wealth to serve children in the area. One of their works takes place at The Amy Bell Center. Each week, over 80 children are given meals 4 days a week after school. A bus picks them up and they get to spend 2 hours together.
A caretaker by the name of Nosiseko stole my heart. Her name means, foundation. It couldn’t be more fitting. We call her Mama. She is a beautifully joyful woman who has seen and felt much pain. With the most genuine heart and humorous spirit, she cares for these children at this hospice. These children who are either affected directly or indirectly by HIV and AIDS.
I couldn’t tell which of the 80 children had the disease. I am thankful for my ignorance because my privilege would only allow me to feel pity instead of seeing them for who they really are, just another child wanting to play. With few options on how to occupy their time, many unfortunately turn to drugs or alcohol. However, in the heart of this town lives a leader unlike any other I have met.
Wandy is a seventeen-year-old boy who has taken it upon himself to start a dance and singing group. He shared with me that he lost his father just three years ago and wanted to honor him by living for Jesus. Instead of turning to other substances, he chose to sing and dance. They can really sing! This was another answered prayer of mine. That we would find a leader there to support after we were gone.
The trip had its challenges. It would be unfair and dishonest to leave these parts out. Different personalities, illness, pride and just plain old human emotions got in the way sometimes. Frustration often flooded my mind until I reminded myself of one simple phrase- It’s not about you.
If there is one thing I left Africa with it is a sense of complete gratitude. A thankful heart for the many blessings I have been given. I refuse to feel guilty for them but instead choose to use this advantage to commit myself to be better. I want to give more, waste less and honestly, just simplify my life.
I refuse to complain about the holes in my carpet when I saw homes with dirt floors. I refuse to complain about what to wear when these kids had so little. I also choose to love life and live it to the fullest. I choose to chase after Jesus every day and if I get the chance to share it with others, I am taking it!
Africa, I will never get over you.
I will never forget your decluttered sun, endless sky, and boundless pasture. When I close my eyes I see the khaki blades of grass swiftly swaying in the wind. Just as the earth should be. Just as it was intended. I want to live as free and as plain as this.