Monday, July 30, 2012

How I Really Feel About Going Back To Work

James 1:27 - Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world

When I left for Cape Town, South Africa in November of last year, it was my first mission trip.  I had heard many say that it would change my life and I was anxious to see how that would play out for me.  I would soon discover that God would do such an important shift in my thinking that it made life change inevitable.

 Prior to that journey, my definitions for the words “orphan” and “widow” were very traditional ones.  My thoughts were in line with the dictionary definitions which are as follows:

Orphan - child without parents; a child whose parents are both dead

Widow - woman whose husband has died

At first I was confused when the children whom we built beds for in Cape Town did not fall into this traditionally defined Orphan category.  Weren’t we supposed to be caring for orphans?  Most of these kids are cared for by their mother.  What God revealed to me is that these children were orphans and these mothers were widows. 
What was missing in every single case was a father.  Without the loving, supportive role of the male leader of the household , these mothers and these children suffered from the same things that traditionally defined orphans and widows do.  What I walked away with was a priceless gift:  freedom from looking through a telescope to find those that God wants me to look after in their distress.  When I set down the scope, I saw that the broader picture offered many to help.  Overwhelming?  Yes.  Inspiring?  Very.

I remember coming to this poignant realization a couple months after I had returned home.  I was sharing with a congregation that I knew quite well about my recent journey to South Africa.  I was struggling to communicate the way God had changed my heart.  I now know that the reason for my struggle was because I was just discovering that change myself.   I looked out into the crowd and saw a young girl whom I had known for several years, belly swollen with child, abandoned by the baby’s father.  It was in that moment that I realized, it was for her… and the many that are like her that, prior to my trip, I would have never seen as widows... or orphans.

Recently I have gone back to work after almost 5 years of staying home to care for my own children.  It’s a move that was necessary, but I have not felt at peace about the decision since I had hoped to be home until my little Noah went to pre-school.  Last night as I prayed about this, God lifted the veil of my sadness long enough for me to come to a couple of realizations:

1.      I did not seek out this job.  It just kind of fell in my lap.  When stuff like that happens in my life, I can’t help but see God’s divine orchestration of something beautiful in my life.

2.     My job consists in large part of loving on and encouraging mothers and babies, most of which fall into my newly broadened definition of orphans and widows. 

I hear Him saying, “I have prepared you for this, child.  Trust me.”

And peace, like a river, attendeth my soul…

Friday, January 6, 2012

Jesus, Orphans & Masi

I have lagged behind a little in my Sweet Sleep blog post series... mostly because I have had a hard time finding words to do the stories justice.  It's frustrating to have something touch your heart so deeply only to not be able to transfer that feeling to others adequately.  And so, I sit here this morning and pray that the spirit will take over as I write these words.

Masi.... short for Masiphumelele.

To most, this just looks like an African word that is hard to pronounce and has no known meaning.  But to someone who has been to this place, it evokes feelings and images that are overwhelming.  By the way, Masiphumelele is a Xhosa word meaning "We will succeed".

Here is a brief history lesson about Masi as borrowed from a non-profit site:

"Apartheid—meaning separateness in Afrikaans - was a system of legal racial segregation enforced by the National Party government in South Africa between 1948 and 1994.

 Apartheid legislation classified inhabitants into racial groups (black, white, coloured, and Indian), and residential areas were segregated by means of forced removals. Blacks were stripped of their citizenship; legally becoming citizens of one of ten tribally based self-governing homelands or Bantustans.  The government segregated education, medical care, and other public services, and provided black people with services inferior to those of whites.

During the Apartheid era blacks were evicted from properties that were in areas designated as "white only" and forced to move into townships.

 In the early 1980's a group of 400-500 people started the first informal settlement close to where Masiphumelele is today.  Under the old Apartheid laws the families were chased away and moved on by force.

 The people were told that they had to live in the poorly set up township of Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, more than 30 kilometres away. For those who had found work in the Fish Hoek area this meant a long journey on bicycle or public transport every day. They tried again and again to move back to where they had first set up camp.

Nearly ten years later, in 1991/92 as Apartheid was ending, they tried again. A group of people from Khayelitsha, joined by a few thousand people from the Eastern Cape who hoped to find work in the area, moved onto what was then known as "Site 5". It was renamed Masiphumelele by the people soon after.

 In the early 1990s about 8000 people built their shacks and simple homes and started to set up their own community. Until 1995 there was not even a building for a school or a clinic. Today more than 38,000 people live in 110 acre Masiphumelele."

During most of our bed builds, we were priveleged to be working with Africans who knew the English language.  However, when we entered Masi we took a translator who spoke Xhosa, the African language known for it's distinctive clicking sounds.  We were briefed before entry, being warned that we were to stay close as a group since Masi was like a maze.  Once inside it would be nearly impossible to find your way back out without the help of a guide.  We each grabbed pieces of the beds and started in, winding our way through corrugated metal shacks.  Although we were there in the middle of the day with the sun shining, the place felt dark and devoid of hope.

When we arrived at the shack, we found a grandmother caring for her 5 grandchildren.  This family ate maybe once a day.  They had recently been through a fire in which they lost everything.  Father was something foreign to these children.  Their mother only came back to drop off another baby, steal money and food and then leave again.

I have tried to put myself in the shoes of these children many times since my return, wondering what it must be like to anxiously await the return of your mother, hoping that this time she would stay and love you the way a child deserves to be loved, only to have her leave again and again.   It is bad enough for a child never to know a mother or a father but to know your mother and be abandoned by her brings a whole new kind of heartache to the table.  No wonder God is so passionate about us defending the cause of the orphans.

As dark as that little shack was, the light of Jesus shone bright that day.  Once there, we realized that the one bunk bed that we had planned for this home was not sufficient, so we returned to the hardware store to buy supplies for another bed.  The need of this family was great.  We left wishing we could do more but were encouraged that the Living Hope ministry had been connected to this family in order to help in other ways as needed.  We expressed through a translator to this grandmother how we wished for her and her grandchildren to know the love of Jesus more through these warm beds.  Although she was a woman of few words, her gratitude was communicated through her tired eyes and tears.

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.   -Isaiah 61:3

The grandmother with one of her 5 grandchildren

 Loving sisters sitting on their new bed

 Sweet baby

Dedicated to her  grandchildren

Two happy girls

 Old Mattress

 The entrance to Masi

Winding through the maze of shacks

 A sea of corrugated metal

Notice all of the electrical lines for each shack strung to one little box

Here is a video of the trek through Masi

Find out how you can help more children like these precious five.  Sweet Sleep is still in a fund-raising campaign to raise the funds to provide 2500 orphans in Northern Ugandan who suffer from HIV/AIDS with beds.  Please go to to find out how you can help.  $50 provides a bed with bedding.  $10 provides a Bible.  $8 provides a mosquito net.  I have seen the way a child's eyes light up the first time they sit on their very first bed.  Be a part of something amazing!