This week, in my quiet time and in my conversations with our friends in Africa, I was convicted by the realization that many of us involved in Forgotten Voices have drifted our thoughts away from the core of what should drive us: "demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of AIDS orphans in their communities."
Amidst all the chaos that has been the Zimbabwe election for President, I (and so many I've talked with) have become consumed by this tragedy that has unfolded before our eyes. We've been consumed by the drama and the disbelief that this could happen.
In my conversations with our local leaders on the ground and partners that work in Zimbabwe and Zambia, I've been personally convicted that we need to surely factor in how these elections impact (or don't impact) our operations. We need to surely approach our projects and activities with open eyes, but we also need to not become obsessed by the things we are unable to do and miss the opportunities that are before us.
Specifically, we have an incredible opportunity to support the work of the Church in southern Africa and its desire to empower orphans. Regardless of who is elected in whatever country we operate in, our primary goal must be to complete our mission.
Sure. You all know this and I know it too, but isn't it easy to get swept away in the politics and the drama? Am I alone? I don't think I am, as I've taken hundreds of phone calls and emails from some of you over these past 2 months, including while I was in Africa.
I am DEEPLY thankful for your prayers and I am deeply thankful for your concern. I share your love for the people of Zimbabwe and the challenges they face. But in those challenges, I see opportunities. Here's an example that may break your heart... or inspire it....
"I knelt down beside this woman and took her hand, as I've done for so many people over my time in Zimbabwe. She was dying. As I was asked to pray for her, I asked her name. It was a name I couldn't pronounce then and still can't today. But her eyes lit up my heart. She was beautiful. Even as she approached the last breaths of her life, she was alive...deeply alive.
We sat under a tree with this woman, as she was propped up by her mother and father, who graciously were allowing us to see and understand death at one of its most intimate moments...
As we surveyed the landscape of this young woman's home, we saw very little signs of life. There were small chickens that looked like they hadn't eaten in months. There was a garden that had gone untended for quite some time. There was a small pile of papers near the door of the hut that is used for the kitchen... school papers perhaps?
Inquiring about the family, I learned that this woman had 2 children.... 4 and 7. There were at school or with a friend. I didn't quite understand her mother, who was answering for her daughter.
This woman dying couldn't talk. Her bright eyes were the only source of guidance for me to understand what she was saying. She'd motion with her head, but I could see it hurt. In the final stages of AIDS, the throat often fills with a thick substance that essentially clogs ones ability to swallow/eat and eventually even takes away your ability to breath. One of the many vicious symptoms that say to those observing that death is near.
I'm still holding this woman's hand. Thinking of what I can say. What I can do. How I can I say anything or do anything that will take away this woman's fears? Her life is before her eyes and death is at the end of her nose. She can see it closely and knows it is near.
When someone asks what she is afraid about, I can't help but laugh in my head. I'm scared stupid and I am just holding this woman's hand. I laugh out of tragic desperation, more than humor, of course.
As I pray, I plead with God to intervene and thank Him for giving us this woman's life to learn from, enjoy, be challenged by and encouraged by. I thank God for the gift of life in this woman's body and in the legacy she will leave behind through her 2 children. I wrap up my prayer noting that I do not know how to pray. This is, perhaps, the most common prayer I have when I come to Africa.
After an extended goodbye, well wishes, and survey of the farm, I leave with a local pastor that ministers to this woman regularly and a friend from a local AIDS clinic that Forgotten Voices helps fund in this woman's community.
As we talk about this woman's situation, I hear what I hear so often. The biggest fear is what will happen to her kids? Who will care for them? She has no other relatives living besides her parents, who are both quite old and live far away. At 4 and 7 years old, the kids are young...too young to take the lead on building a family.
I'm reminded by the pastor that the church has committed to doing all it can to help make sure these kids have a safe home, food when they can, and a church community that will let them know they are not really alone...even though they will honestly feel that way.
In these moments, I am reminded that death is part of the life of Forgotten Voices. We exist to help these churches give life to this woman's kids and, in a way, life to this woman. I will never EVER forget the first conversation I had with a woman right before she died in Zimbabwe. When my 2 friends and I promised that we would do whatever was in our power to look out for her kids. To make sure they had a home, school, food, love, security.... I cannot express the relief I see when a parent hears that someone (anyone) will commit to caring for their kids. They can die, not in peace, but with some peace. These promises helped sew the seeds for what would become Forgotten Voices.
As I think about this woman and the hundreds of men, women and children I've interfaced with on death's door, I think of life and the life we will protect... with the local churches that care for these kids. I hope we can. We must. I'm scared though because like I always seem to pray, "God, I don't know how or when or anything, but I am willing to learn."
Stories like this one (from my 3rd trip to Zimbabwe) are what we should be thinking about in Zimbabwe...the men, women, and children working alongside their churches to find homes, security, and love for the children orphaned because of AIDS....and loving them as if they were their own.
It's why we do what we do at Forgotten Voices and why your gifts, love, prayers, and support help us help now over 3,000 kids in Zambia and Zimbabwe in situations just like the one I describe above.
I'm thankful for you and I'm thankful for our friends in Africa. Keep praying with me and join me in helping us continue telling the stories of local churches, caring for local kids that need a champion...regardless of who is serving as President.
Ryan aka mkuelko ndlovu (praying elephant as i am known in africa)