Only two weeks left here in Gabon and I am still seeing new parts and aspects of Africa every day. First off (just so I don’t end the post on a melancholy note) I’m going to start out by doing a little “end of the journey” shpeel now. I’ve decided that I do not want to further depress myself when leaving by most likely crying all over my computer my last night in Gabon while typing up a “I’m leaving” post (yes Mom, I know that was an atrociously long sentence). Truth is, I’m going to miss it here, as can be expected of anyone with similar experiences. I’ve not only experienced living in a community of family in Christ (missionaries, Gabonese, my housemates) but I have gotten to also live day-to-day life in another culture. I have experience the family of Christ (and the love that should be present in that family) with people used to a way of life so different from mine. But oh how I love so many aspects of their way of life! Time isn’t pressing, dancing in church is normal, sitting after dinner and singing together…
But! There are so many reasons that I should be filled with joy as I leave this place and go back to the States. One, I have been so blessed and been given so much love from being here. And yes, I may be leaving that but I do know that if God ever calls me back to Gabon that love will still be here! Secondly, I have so many adventures ahead of me this year and in the years to come. My Lord has shown me so many times that He has His hand in my life, instigating, guiding, initiating, holding. And not to mention just getting to go back to Colorado to see my wonderful family, great friends, grandparents, not to mention drinking my first cup of milk in 3 and a half months…
As I write that, though, I think about my past week, which has been full of experiences with children. Last Saturday morning I went with Shannon, Leanne, and Sam Straw to Hope House for a few hours. Mama Nathalie (their “Mama”) had us cut up loaves of bread and butter them, as it was early and the kids hadn’t had breakfast yet. We also made them “cafe”, which sounds yum but is really just Nido (powdered milk) with hot water and sugar cubes. As Hannah says, we here at the Envision center, “Treat Nido like dirt!” but to these children it is a wonderful treat. (So I’ll just stick with regular milk and let them have the Nido–more for them!).
Today for church we went to Avea I, the church where the Hope House Papa, Pastor Israel, is the senior pastor. As we walked up to the church all of our Hope House kids came pouring out of the door, smothering us in hugs, their smiles big enough to melt hearts of ice. I think to myself, “Why do they love us so much?? All we do is play clapping games with them, give them crayons and paper, and twirl them around in circles.” The level of contentment that these children have just astounds me. And I realize that spending hours playing with them is such a blessing to me. I can’t even understand what they say to me, but I see so much in their eyes. I see joy, pain, love, rejection, fear…have you ever stopped to really look into someone’s eyes? And not necessarily when they are looking into yours, but at a moment when they don’t realize anyone is observing them. I think you can see a whole other level, something so deeper than the surface.
“The eyes indicate the antiquity of the soul.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Yesterday our house team split up into two groups–the new interns, Robert and Reinette, went with Shannon to Hope House while Leanne, Hannah, and I went to a medical clinic conference thing for children. I’m not really sure what to call it because I’m not really sure what it was…and I don’t even want to try and explain what I think was going on or who was involved or what was happening–big picture-wise, that is. What the three of us ended up doing was getting in a car with one of the pastors and driving to an orphanage in a part of LBV I hadn’t been to before. Judging from a little table in a corner with candles, flowers, and a statue of Mary (the mother of Jesus) I am guessing it is a Catholic orphanage. Several other pastors and workers from the clinic had come in other cars, one of which was full of boxes and bags of food. We unloaded about 1/3 of the food and piled it in the main room of the orphanage. For about 20 minutes we prayed, the pastors spoke, took pictures, and the children sang a song for us. Then we all piled back into our cars and started driving to another orphanage! Up until that point, though, I didn’t realize exactly what we were doing. So it turns out that we visited 3 orphanages, giving them food, words of encouragement, spending a little time with the kids…what was really cool was that every orphanage was different from the other.
Et Jesus dit: “Laissez les petits enfants, et ne les empechez pas de venir a moi; car le royaume des cieux est pour ceux qui leur ressemblent. – Matthieu 19:14
The second orphanage we visited was located in a little community area that ran along a long, dirt road. We parked our cars on a main road and had to carry everything down this hill to the house, which was located at the bottom of this big, long hill. All of the children were sitting out on a porch in front of the house, and I noticed that a majority of these kids were under the age of 10. There were also two wheel-chairs on the porch, each holding a child with either a mental or physical disability. One of them was a little girl who’s body was deformed and crippled, her head abnormally large, but her smile and eyes (yes, eyes again) were…precious. If an angel had the face of a child, it would have hers. We followed the same procedure at that place but with a bit more interaction with the children. As we prepared to leave, one little girl shyly tapped my leg and asked (in French), “Can I touch your hair?” She then lightly stroked just few hairs on my forehead. Three months ago did I imagine that a little African girl would ask to touch my hair??
Could you imagine a little African girl asking to touch your hair?
The third orphanage we went to was government-run and more like a boarding school/compound than the homes where the other two (as well as Hope House) were. We also learned that this is more of a traditional orphanage where they try to find homes for the children, as opposed to shelter where most of the kids live permanently (again, like Hope House). Again, the same presentation except no children were present…I guess they were all in school? I’m not really sure, but it was a big compound so they might have all been in one of the buildings. At that point there were only 20 kids at the center, I believe.
I love kids. Sometimes kids even love me. Hey, I even had someone here speak a word of prophecy over me that I will be working with children in the future (awesome!! does that vision include cute little African kids or…?). I just want to know, how can little people so innocent and precious squeeze your heart tight with feelings of helplessness, inadequacy, and selfishness? I buttered bread for 30 kids, the same breakfast they get every day, only hours after complaining of having nothing in the house to eat…besides yogurt. And granola. And eggs. And who knows what else. I have stood in front of my closet here and gotten frustrated that I have worn and re-worn every piece of clothing that I brought with me, while I think I have only ever seen some of these children in one or two different outfits. Yet beyond material guilts like this, these children…their hugs, little gifts of plastic flowers, their desire to just sit next to you–all of this puts my ability to express love to shame. I realize how tightly and closely I guard my heart to spare myself pain. Yet I feel little Grace’s hand hold tightly onto mine, or sweet Josue squeeze me in a tight hug, propelling themselves into a deep infatuation with their American “playmates”, all the while knowing that at some point we will pack up. We’ll get on an airplane and fly away, maybe never coming back. So many teams, interns, and missionaries have done so over the years. Yet they still love us. And you remember when I talked about being so blessed by their love? If they held it back, stayed in the corner, reservedly accepted our gifts, offered their hands instead of their hugs, then I would never have any reason to tear up from an overflowing heart!
God has commanded us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven like little children. So I ask myself, how can I truly be like a little child? Perhaps I could start off by loving like one. Not being afraid to love, to offer a hug, to jump into someone’s arms. Even if I only spend 3 months with that person, loving them like Jesus loves me if anything could be more of a blessing to them than a pain to my own heart.
Does that make any sense?
I don’t mean to be preachy, or to make anyone feel guilty. I deal with a touchy subject…one that I think every person just has to wrestle with themselves. With open hearts to what God wants to teach us…through His word, through others, through our experiences, I think we can learn so much. So look at the eyes, take time to just sit and think…
Happy Mother’s day 🙂