This past month my husband and I traveled with a team from our church to Mozambique, Africa for two weeks of work through Children's Relief International. Pastor Jeronimo Cessito and his wife, Noemia, national missionaries, had a heart for their poverty stricken country and its people and started this mission, now called Ray of Light project. As you can imagine, this country is very different from our own in just about every way imaginable. There was much to learn during our time there.
- People are being called to help in Africa. After boarding at Atlanta and getting settled on the plane that would take us over the Atlantic Ocean for 15 1/2 hours, we found ourselves surrounded by many fellow passengers. Early in the flight I noticed that the man sitting next to me was getting out his Bible and making notes on a small yellow legal pad. Sure enough, he was a Christian, with a team of people from his church traveling to Zimbabwe to participate in a three week mission to help build houses and lead Bible schools with the kids. Their energy matched our own in anticipation of what they would experience in the coming weeks. On our way home, two weeks later, I found myself sitting next to a high school student named Hannah, just finishing up a month long mission trip to Swaziland with a group of fifteen girls. From these two encounters, I concluded that God is moving in Africa. He's sending folks from America to serve and help in this work. This compelled me to believe that there is a bigger plan out there and somehow we are being allowed to be a part of it.
- Life is not fair. Psalm 139 has always been a comfort to me. Verse 16 reports, All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. In my naive little "easy" life I have always pictured this as a positive narrative; those days were surely intended to be good! But in observing such extreme poverty, my understanding of that verse has expanded. Many people suffer greatly. The days ordained for them are not pretty, hopeful or pleasant. I find this hard to understand or to face. Searching farther into scripture I find that God is "near to the brokenhearted,"as in Psalm 34. Jesus declared from Isaiah 61 that he was anointed "to preach the good news to the poor" and "to bind up the brokenhearted." Even the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 "opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy." After meeting Domingos and hearing his story (which I will tell another time) I feel hopeful that God does indeed see their suffering and is allowing opportunities for people to come to their aid until they are able to stand on their own. This is God's way. Are we listening? Are we stepping up to the opportunity to be Him to people in need?
- Mentoring changes lives. Todd and Christa Bush and their two children opened their home to our team for our eleven day stay. Part of their work with CRI is to be in Mozambique managing summer teams that come to participate in the compelling work there. Todd is a master story teller and through his heartfelt narration we got an inside view of the powerful influence this ministry has and the emotional roller coaster they ride while working with these outstanding people. Five young Mozambican men served as translators to teach us about their culture and to enable us to communicate well. Jerimias, Gerson, Torcatos, Rafa and Max carefully kept an eye on us, laughed with us and undoubtedly shook their heads a few times at our "American" ways. But these young men have come to trust Christ and have committed themselves to getting an education and making the future of Mozambique stronger. Really. After getting to know these guys, I realized that there is hope for Mozambique! These are quality men burdened for their country, striving to make a difference in the lives of their people. One is studying at the University to become a doctor, another, a civil engineer and several want to become teachers of English. One of the ministries, Spark of Hope, founded by Ercylio Dos Santos Greva took the sport of handball and turned it into an opportunity to bring young boys in and offer them a place to belong, some One to believe in and to embrace a vision for their future. Many times over we witnessed the power of relationship, love, commitment, belief and hope.
- The Gospel plus food provides a clearer picture of God's goodness. We knew before leaving for Africa that this country had been burdened by a severe drought. People's gardens had produced little in the dry growing period and much suffering had ensued. So we asked some of our family and friends to donate money so we could help alleviate a bit of their hunger. We added to what was given and together we took over $7,000.00 and sent it ahead of us. Bags of rice were purchased and food distributions were set up. The first was at the Dondo Baptist Church on a Sunday evening. People who attended that morning got a little card that they were able to trade for a sack of rice. That evening, anticipation was high as we entered the church. Brian got up and greeted them telling them that God had heard their prayers and we were so excited to deliver his "Yes" to them. I prayed and thanked God for hearing the cries of his people and for providing for them in this way. And the distribution began. Orderly and joyful. People went home able to fill their bellies with a bowl of rice that night. There was much singing and praising throughout the evening. We were privileged to do this five times! Once in a community of orphaned children who were raising their younger siblings. Another to a group of blind people, plus two church plants in the bush. Each time we were greeted by beautiful people singing and worshiping with joy. I'd look at Brian and say, "Can you believe we get to do this? God is letting us participate in this good work?" Then we would line up, receive a bag of rice, give it to the one whose name was called, and then turn for another bag. Often we got to pray for them afterwards. We felt so honored. One time there was rice left over when the list was complete and the neighborhood children were told to run home for a cup or a bowl and we would fill it with rice. In joy they ran home in hopes of getting a bit before the rice was gone. Oh, it filled our hearts with joy for those who took home a cup of rice...and then sadness for those who were too late.
Psalm 41:1 says, "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak..." I feel blessed to have walked among these people, to have had the opportunity to give them something to eat, to pray for them, to touch their hands and to smile into their eyes. I have been given much more than I gave. I have the assurance that God sees them, knows them, loves and calls them and he wants to use us in ways we never dreamed possible.
I, in turn, pray from Psalm 28, "Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever."