Forgotten Voices' Mission:

"Demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ by equipping local churches in southern Africa to meet the physical & spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities."

Sunday, January 4, 2009

1/4: From the plane

I’m writing to you from the plane (NOTE: obviously posting from south Africa after I landed). I remember just a few distinct moments when I understood, personally and deeply, what it means to die. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, passed away about 5 years ago. I remember that gut wrenching, instant pain that grabbed the depth of who I am as a man and took part of me away. It’s an incredibly awful feeling. Even as I write about it, my eyes tear up and my stomach begins turning over. My grandfather’s death was sudden. He was preparing to take a shower as he got ready for church, just a day after dancing the night away at a family reunion party and being the hit of the room, as he and my grandmother often were. I’ll never forget that instant feeling I had when I was told that my grandfather had died. All my other family members were there, except me. They were there in Nova Scotia, as they waited for the proper authorities to come and take the body. I was not. Even when I try, I cannot imagine what that empty feeling must have been like for my family.

That next year, I lost a mentor of mine, the President of Messiah College, Rodney Sawatsky. His was a slow, painful death, as cancer took away various functions over time. I’ll always cherish the last time I spent with him and his wife, Lorna. Rod, Lorna, and I sat on their back porch and talked for about 3 hours, while eating cookies. Sometimes we would sit for long periods of time without saying a word...just cherishing each other’s company.

Just this past year, I lost my hero and one of my closest friends to cancer... Cliff Jones. He was in his early 80s but lived like he was 25. Cliff and his incredible wife, Carole, had essentially adopted me in Central PA. They had become 2nd parents to me, offering (sometimes instructively insisting) advice on my career, love life, priorities, church, whatever. Shortly after meeting my now wife, Katie, Cliff insisted on repeatedly reminding me that Katie was the one for me and I shouldn’t waste any time before proposing. In fact, once when I was about to leave one of his house parties, Cliff stopped the festivities to announce to a room of some of my co-workers, that I was leaving to go home and propose. He made a big scene of it, bringing me a nice bottle of champagne and asking if I wanted to say anything to the group before departing. The thing about it was that I was NOT going to propose. It was just Cliff’s way of pushing me in that direction, despite only dating Katie for a couple months at the time. Cliff knew and he was right. He was funny like that to those that knew him well.

I’ve lost other relatives, some close, classmates and distant friends, as well as relatives of close friends.

Why am I writing this as a blog post about Forgotten Voices and my trip to southern Africa? Well, death is something I must consider often on these trips. It’s something that forces me to wrestle with truth, life, death, realities that make me uncomfortable. It’s the kind of thing I typically think about, but don’t share with you all because who wants to read about death, right?

Well – here’s the reality. Yesterday, I wrote about kids and how passionate I am about them. Every day, 1,000 children in Zimbabwe become orphaned because of AIDS related illnesses. That’s about 365,000 kids a year now! 365,000!!! Each with a name, like Peterson, Hope, Grace, Godfrey, Ryan, Michael, Jesse, Abigail, etc.
Kids who have watched their parents die, some slowly and some quickly. AIDS is incredibly erratic and the pace HIV/AIDS destroy the body varies, based on a multitude of factors. I implore you to read more about it under our Resources section at

I’m going on this trip to help launch new projects in Zambia and Zimbabwe, as well as creatively trying to keep existing projects going in Zimbabwe. All projects are working hand in hand with local churches and communities to meet the physical & spiritual needs of these vulnerable children.

Here’s more reality. Sometimes kids die because no one was there to champion for them. Sometimes they had people willing to care for them, but these folks lacked basic resources to make sure they were eating, going to school, and getting healthy. Sometimes, people have those things, but don’t know how to provide counseling to kids that have just watched their parents die, leaving them seemingly alone in the world. An estimated 16% of kids live in child head households in Zimbabwe, meaning no adult is regularly present and the child is looking out for siblings and/or cousins.

I’m going to help some of our partners develop a framework for how we can help even more pastors in Zimbabwe and Zambia learn the skills they need to care for these vulnerable kids and their parent, who may have lost a wife or a husband. Then, we, including you, can help fund the needs of vulnerable kids, with the local people running, monitoring, and evaluating from the project.

When I think about my friends Cliff & Rod, as well as my grandfather, their long lives give me some solace, as well as the assurance that each of them is in heaven with our God...worshipping Him and rejoicing in heaven.

When I think of the now thousands of kids I’ve seen here and the hundreds I have met, I do get scared that we will not be able to do the possible and fulfil the commands of God (James 1: 24-25 among countless others) to care for orphans and widows...physically and spiritually. And the WE is you, me, Fibion, Remmy, our friends in churches in Africa, your neighbours, mailman, WE.

EVERY time I come, church project leaders pull me away from the group of people I’m with and share with me who has died since I saw them last. They do it quietly, so as not to disrupt the hope that is brewing when we are all dreaming about how we can help more kids and their caregivers.

Kids die or appear to be about to die and that bothers me deeply, every time. Every kid.

For about a year, from mid 2005 – mid 2006, I stopped asking the names of these kids because it was too hard to know their stories and see so many of them pass away. Not anymore.

Today, as you go about your day, I encourage you to pray specifically for these young children. Pray for peace and solace for them as they grieve the lost of THEIR loved ones. For me, it helps to imagine and remember what it felt like to lose my grandfather, Rodney, Cliff... not so much to create grief, but try to relate...even though I’m 29 years old and not 12 like many kids I will meet this month, staring at the reality that “I just lost my mom and now must care for my 2 brothers...I may have to stop going to school unless something is done.” As that kid, I would realize that I’ve been doing it for some time now, with my mom too tired and weak to do much else, as HIV/AIDS destroyed her immune system over time. Now is not the time for tears, I may say, but tears are what I need....if I was this kid, I would be lost.

I’m not manufacturing pain or loss or grief, which is sometimes what it may appear if you haven’t been here to see and understand the magnitude of the challenge. In fact, after writing this, I have boundless joy with the realities that face us. Our God has given us the awesome challenge and privilege to join Him in loving our neighbours. I’m SOOOOO excited to begin this new trip and dream with people in Africa and you all back home.

I know this was a long, meandering post. After writing it, I feel better so perhaps this post was simply a self-reflection that I just needed to write for me...or for you. Not sure. Probably both.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing this blog with others. Above all, thanks for saying yes and helping Forgotten Voices help equip local churches to care for kids that need a champion.

With love from South Africa,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking us on the journey with you (figuratively). It is SOOO important.

God bless