I went to Africa apprehensive. What can I do for these people? How does me coming here help them at all? There is so much need. What do I have to offer?
I felt arrogant, haughty, presumptuous.
I was told over and over again, "missions are 90% presence." My presence just didn't feel like enough.
As we drove down the streets of Zambia, little stick huts all over with people trying to irk out a living, trash everywhere and people walking miles to get anywhere I thought, "how do you feel about all this, God?" He said plainly in my spirit, "Well, I love her...I love him...I love him" and continued with each person that came into focus.
"You don't think I see their need? I do. I see it. I love them more deeply than you'll ever know. They are my children. I know every hair on their head. That's how I feel about 'this.' That's how I feel about them. I know their need. Who do you think gave the idea for Horizon International, a group that exists almost wholly to meet those needs for children through sponsorship? Now I need you to go show them how much more I love them.
Day one at kids' camp, I met the cutest little boy ever named Ptashias, Ptaloras, Pistachios? We called him Peter. He had cerebral palsy and had one hand that wasn't functional. Every time I spoke to him, he flashed the biggest smile in the whole world. The kids there were very welcoming and kind to each other, but not to Peter. He was left out constantly. I loved him the moment I saw him and so did the rest of the team.
At the end of night one, we had a huge dance party in the church. These kids can DANCE. No shame in their game. But Peter wasn't so sure. He sat by me in the pew. I asked him if he wanted to join and he shook his head no. Kids kept coming up to me and telling me to get up and dance. I may have brought that on myself. When I had introduced myself that day in front of everyone I told them I liked to dance and I did the robot. It was that night I realized how dumb that was. They don't awkwardly dance with their hands in Zambia, they dance with their whole bodies, all the time, with full energy.
But I digress...
They all knew I liked to dance and kept asking me to join. But I felt God tugging on me to just STAY. "Stay with Peter. I know you love to dance, but STAY WITH PETER." I realized God wanted him to know he was worth missing the biggest dance party on earth. And he was. He is. After I had sat with him for about 20 minutes, he got up and started dancing. He held my hand with his bad hand and we spun and danced and laughed.
Okay, God. Presence.
On our last day in Africa, we did home visits in the Chongwe province. We went to a home way out in the bush where one granny was taking care of 10 kids.
We pulled up and I felt awkward, uninvited, intrusive.
"Hey! There's a bunch of white people here to hang out for a hot minute and then leave! Isn't that wonderful?"
All 17 of us Americans got out of our van and the children slowly trickled out of the home. Sandy had brought some clothes and was passing out some dolls to the little girls. My first instinct was to go play with those girls and the dolls. When I'm uncomfortable, play is my go-to. I'm really just a big kid. At cookouts where I know no one, you can find me playing catch with the host's kid in the front yard.
Sandy and a few others were right in the mix, but the rest of us were just standing around.
But God told me again, "STAY." I realize know it sounds like He's talking to a dog but it doesn't feel bad coming from God. He knows I need simple commands! So I did. I sat back. I watched. I took it all in. And I saw a little boy with the skinniest legs I've ever seen. We found out he had sickle cell and very few treatment options out in the bush. He was barely walking. But he did walk over to the side of the house by himself.
Then I finally heard, "GO."
I walked over to him and a little girl on our trip came over and handed him a few sour gummy worms which he seemed to love. He couldn't talk even in his own language and drooled a lot when he tried to eat them. I tried to play with him with a little truck but he wasn't interested.
But then I held his hand. His whole hand wrapped around my two fingers and held tight. It was so sticky from the candy. The thought came into my head, "Tony (my boyfriend) would hate that!" Just the stickiness, he can't stand being sticky :P (sorry Tony). Both world's collided in that instant for me and I started to cry. I just sat there for awhile, his hand in mine; no words, no play. Even when more gummy worms came over, he held my hand and took a few more pieces with the other. It felt like such an honor to get to hold his hand. I know Tony would have thought so too, sticky or not.
Presence is it, guys (sick of that word yet?) Doug Ehrgott, the Go Team leader said a hundred times over the week that we get to be the love of Christ incarnate to these people. God came down to show us his love in the flesh, now we must go out, in the flesh to show His love to others. We love because He first loved us. That's our job as humans. To bring Heaven here, not to get 'sinners' to Heaven. My awesome teammates did this by leaving their lives, their work, their families for a week to go hug and dance and play with the least of these.
Never downplay your presence like I did. We cannot let the devil tell us to not show up. We cannot listen to him whisper, "well if you can't fill their need, just don't even go."
"I can't go to that funeral, I have no idea what to say to that widow."
"How arrogant of you to go talk to that homeless man when you have so much."
"I don't even know the Bible very well, how can I go teach these kids about God?" (that's one he whispers directly to me).
I'm not saying everyone should go to Africa. Go where your heart hurts for others and just be. Listen to God's voice and do what He says (stop or go, listen or talk, play or hold a hand). All God needs to work is your willingness and your availability. Listen to someone's story. Become aware of who they are. Laugh with them, cry with them. Just being with someone IS ENOUGH.
Remember, people. Presence.
Now go save the world with your smile :)