8.20.2011

One Year Later: Memories From Africa - Part 4

After what seemed an eternity of waiting, the day had finally arrived to go to the Bheveni Carepoint!

We woke up early in anticipation of what the day would hold, prepared for our planned ministry times, ate a bit of breakfast, and briefly waited for our ride from Elliot. When Elliot arrived we all piled into a small van that we found to be filled with autographs from previous mission participants. One of the funnest to see was that of Anthony Hargrove of the New Orleans Saints.

We had heard that several NFL players had been to visit Swaziland not too long before our trip. Seeing they had been riding around in the same rough, dusty, van that we were in, was pretty cool.

I remember those first few rides around with Elliot. From the back seat of the van I had pretty good views of the B-team and the countryside along the way. 

We moved through the city streets, pushing past small seas of pedestrian traffic and whizzing around cars and trucks. Riding with Elliot reminded me of some cab rides in the USA. He was used to these streets and wasn't going to waste much time waiting on traffic. I didn't fear for my life on those rides, but wouldn't have been surprised if we hit something either!

As we neared the edge of the city, the homes started to have a little more space, the roads were a bit bumpier, and rather than shops and buildings, there were small, wooden fruit stands with their vendors huddled around. I remember seeing large bags of oranges hanging from the top of the stands waiting for someone to stop and make a purchase. 

We turned off the pavement onto a red gravel road that quickly became more of a path. It was the road, just not in the sense that I'm accustomed to. As we swerved and bumped along the dusty trail passing children walking around to who knows where, I noticed the change in homes and buildings. Rather than houses built from more traditional materials, these buildings were either cinder block, or wood sticks stacked vertically with mud holding them in place, along with a thatch or tin roof. Most were about the size of small shed or ice-fishing house. 

The realization that we were passing homes similar to those of our Bheveni kids was unnerving.

The path seemed to get worse and worse as went along. We were chatting and talking, our heads on a swivel, snapping pictures with our digicams like a bunch of tourists when we made the last left turn onto the road to Bheveni. I don't remember who said it first, but the Carepoint was in view!

Set on a hillside in the midst of several small shacks we could finally see the Bheveni building with our own eyes!

It was about 8:30 that morning as we pulled into the yard of Bheveni. I could smell the fire burning in the kitchen lean to preparing the morning meal. There were a few children wandering about, staring toward our van as we pulled in. 

We all put our cameras away for the first few minutes. We wanted to be there to visit with the children and get to know them, not to be tourists at an attraction. It was important that with our first impressions we be respectful and approachable, not hidden behind a camera's lens.

In those brief minutes we met Bheveni. Most of the children there were preschool age. They would spend the entire day at Bheveni with us, and most of the week too. After some quick unloading and orienting with Zodwa, our AIM staffer, I was able to "meet" some of the children. Those introductions were filled with waves and hellos, hoping that I was making some sense in just saying "Hi."

I can't say exactly how it happened or when, but all of the sudden I was deemed trustworthy by the kids. And then I was fair game! I became a jungle gym, and the butt of jokes I could not understand, and a source of laughter and joy for them. And we started to play. And that was what they wanted and what I was able to give. There was little else that mattered in those moments.

As we continued to get our bearings and get situated for the ministry of the week, I heard one of women who volunteer at Bheveni call out something, and all the kids started lining up.

They had been told to wash up for the morning meal, and they were quick to obey!

It was kind of incredible to see these kids follow the order of meal time. There were 30 - 40 kids running about at that point and they all knew just what to do. Washing hands, grabbing bowls, older preschoolers assisting the youngers in getting to where they needed to be.

I've been part of many kids ministries in the States and I've never seen meal or snack times go so smoothly! 

As the children ate their meal, scooping a natural looking porridge from their bowls with their fingers for a spoon, we continued to meet and talk together. We started snapping more pictures to share back home. That's when a small scale pandemonium broke out. The children loved to have their pictures made! They had seen digital cameras before it seemed because as soon as the shutter snapped they grabbed at our hands to see the image appear on the back! It was fun to share this bit of magic with them.

After eating I was again impressed with the children. They took their bowls to the one water tap in the Carepoint, at that time run from the small water tower on site, and carefully put in a bit of water to wash their bowl. They were careful to conserve the water and get it just right each time. Seeing this awareness and understanding of resources in 18 month to 5 year old children was very impressive!

The first day at Bheveni kinda put me into sensory overload. I had to just soak it in as the day went on. We started to see the conditions of the kids, their clothing, their lack of shoes, their homesites, the lack of parental oversight, the lack of natural and financial resources, the hazards of the environment, and all sorts of challenges faced in their normal everyday life. 

"What can I do?" was the question that went from a whisper to a silent scream in my ears.

Within hours I was intimately aware of the seeming overwhelming challenge that residents of rural Swaziland face each day. In the face of it all, I could do nothing. Not that day. Not in that moment. I had no magic wand to wave over the country and fill their homes with food, provide protection for their children, or jobs for those in need. 

All that I had in that moment was the ability to share smiles and hugs, be their jungle gym, and try to share Jesus' love in the best was I knew. I could be present to their needs and share in the joy they found in the simple moments of playtime and interaction.

Our introductory day was filled with joy, heartbreak, challenge, mystery, and wonder at what the next days would hold. We had made it to Bheveni and the children had accepted our visit with open arms. Now it would be up to us to share in loving them, and share them with the world.

Asking myself what I can do has been a haunting question in many ways. But I believe the answer becomes clearer each day. I can remember. I can hold onto these children each moment in my heart. I can advocate on their behalf. I can share their stories with you. So for now, that is what I'll do. You can do it too! 

You can help with Bheveni through prayer, connection, financial support too.

Go to www.moms4change.net to find our more about Bheveni Carepoint specifically.

Go to www.hopechest.org for more about the ministry we support in Swaziland.

Comment and connect with me through this blog or email here.

Be a blessing today. Step out of your world and into the greatest of adventure!