“Blessed are those who hunger….”
It’s a hot, sticky afternoon in Pemba and I’m at the internet café tired after 3 hours of sleep and wondering where to begin….
After miraculously recovering from some sort of unknown illness (pretty typical here) I was beginning to really enter into the presence of God again. My prayer the last few days has truly been, Lord make me hungry, hungry for your presence, and for love for these Mozambican people, hungry for the secrets of your Kingdom here on earth. I want to be so hungry that God sees and must come and fill me. Ever heard that saying be careful what you pray for?
I want to tell a story. I want you to understand what I mean when I say it hurts to be hungry. But there is no other way.
Last night after our evening teaching session, I was leaving the meeting a little disenfranchised, longing for more touch from God, hungry still. As I left the meeting a little village girl dressed in rags followed me out into what had become a cold night. She followed me up to the gate of my student housing compound and I knew she was not allowed to enter so I hugged her and tried to explain in broken Portuguese that she could not come with me. She just looked at me. No smile, just a face of stone, a face beyond her years, a face too old and too hardened for such a slight frame. I realized she didn’t understand me. I was just hugging her against my legs trying to keep her warm and praying in my spirit for the wisdom to know what to do.
IRIS is an amazing ministry and the things I have seen here, I have never witnessed before. Heidi is a true model of what it means to be Jesus lived out. But there are rules, rules that are hard, but necessary I understand. And the village children are supposed to be gone by 6pm so I knew, at 9pm at night, this little girl was not supposed to be there, and in my spirit I knew something was wrong.
Just then, Travis, a missionary here comes up to me and asks what’s going on (thank God for Travis.) In broken Makua we figure out that she lives in a village called Nateti or something like that, which we know is too far for her to walk to this late at night. Travis (bless him) is about to leave the next morn at 5am for an arduous journey to Tete province to do 3 weeks of intensive work setting up a village feeding program for about 3,000 children. Heidi literally described this place, built on volcanic ash, as a “hell-hole” (all the bad language around here has had me feeling right at home :) Normally, we would have to take the children to the guard and have them kick them out, but something in my spirit, just resonates with Heidi’s words, “Stop for the one.” “This is your one.”
Since I’ve been here, I really haven’t had as much of a bleeding heart as is normal for me. In fact I’ve been feeling rather numb, and rather lacking in love for the Mozi’s (lets call them) and longing for my Ugandan children. So this is rather uncharacteristic of my experience here thus far. But this little girl with her stoic face, her beautiful, light brown eyes lacking in any emotion, just undoes my heart. I give Travis this look and he is like, “Oh no.” After talking to the guards who speak to her in Makua, we piece together that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for her to walk home because of all the banditos and its too far so I’m secretly praying that the people in charge will let us drive her home. (All this is kind of a big deal because we’re not supposed to go out at night) But my prayer is answered and we hop in the Landrover and I put her on my lap to keep her warm, but notice she has a slight fever so I keep hugging her and praying over her while we try to figure out where she lives.
Long story short, she won’t tell us and where we take her that we think is “Nateti” she just shakes her head no. At this point Travis, who deals with stuff like this all the time, is thinking we should just drop her off near where we think and make a run for it. Before you go shaking your head…its hard for missionaries here….they see so many village kids that they can’t help, who are not part of the center, and get told so many lies about situations, that its hard to keep an uncalloused heart. But again, in my spirit, I just don’t feel comfortable with it, so he bared with me and we go to the police station to see if they can help us figure out where her home is. It’s fairly dangerous to be out this time at night (so they say…I don’t really buy into it J so two guys that are supposed to be police but smell like alcohol, escort us to where they think this little girl lives. But once we get there, I just feel such fear in her (her name is Medina) and they try to pull her from me to put her out of the vehicle because she won’t go, but she literally wraps her legs around mine, so I tell them to stop and we ask more questions. Apparently she is an orphan who lives with an auntie who beats her…but all of this information she doesn’t offer willingly. There is a huge difference in her than most of the other village children here who are quick to offer sob stories. I know I can’t believe everything every child says, but I feel in her, this fear, and trepidation, and just imagine that it must be true…or worse. I also feel how hot she is getting and am getting worried that she is really sick. The police want us to leave her there in the village or at the police station perhaps.
At this point it’s late, everyone is in bed, and we don’t really have anyone’s phone numbers…we are stuck making this decision on our own and even though we know its totally against the rules to take her back to IRIS, there is something in my spirit that will not let me leave that tiny girl in that place with all those men who are drunk. I’m sorry, but the mother in me is like “hell no!”
Travis looks at me and asks me what I want to do. And I’m just like, “I can’t leave here here.” He agrees, so we take her back to the base and were walking her up to the girl’s sleeping quarters when she just starts breathing heavy and coughing up all kinds of mucus and I touch her forehead again and realize her fever has really escalated. I’m really worried at this point because she is at the point of collapsing so I pick her up and we sit her down and pray for her and I try to sing to her to calm her down because she is so agitated. I think of how the mothers must feel here when their children are sick and dying in their arms and they cannot do anything---such a helpless feeling.
I end up taking her back to a room where I can sleep with her and make sure she’s ok, after we call the student nurse on call and get some malaria medication and Tylenol for her. It’s 1am and its too late to call the doctors so we just suffer through trying to make the best decisions we can. I couldn’t sleep much because I was so afraid she was going to die on me, it was literally that bad. At this point I was just thanking Jesus for putting that tug on my spirit not to leave her because she ended up being so sick. So I totally broke a bunch of rules and am all worried how they are going to take it in the morning. I dutifully march her to the clinic after speaking with some staff, and get reprimanded by the doctors, but at this point I don’t really care because I knew I did what the Holy Spirit was telling me to. I understand how it is for them---they can’t help them all and they don’t want to start a pattern of letting village kids stay on the base. And yet, I know there have to be extenuating circumstances where those rules don’t apply. I think this was one of them. Because every day, all day long, we are taught here….love the poor, stop for the one, let your heart break for them, sacrifice your life for them, and be led by the Spirit. And even while the doctors (poor them) were giving me a talking to, they said that Mama Heidi would probably be proud of me. Such a conundrum.
But here is the pain---the hurt of being hungry---that when God actually lets you see, when he gives you that love for them, it breaks your heart. To be hungry, to feel, it breaks your heart here. Here we struggle to let our heart break for the poor, and they do, and then we struggle because we want it to stop—because to see is so hard. But my prayer, my prayer, is Lord keep me tender. Because I don’t want to get calloused. As much as it hurts to see, hurts to be broken for this little girl who got taken back by her aunt and who I may not see again, hurts to have her pulled from my arms and to know I don’t know what to do or how to ease her pain. And I ask God why…and this morning in Heidi’s preaching I get this answer in the Beatitudes…”blessed are those who hunger.” And I realize that unfortunately for me….God answered my prayer. I hunger. I hunger for righteousness in this land, for justice, for enough so that this little girl doesn’t have to go home to an abusive home. I hunger to hold her and not have her hurt. I hunger to protect her. I know God is proud of me…I heard him say that, even though I did break the rules :) Because it’s what Jesus would have done. Stop for the one. To actually think, maybe this time, I can do something.
There is a chance, if her story is true, that she might be able to be taken in by Iris…but pray because they are at full capacity right now. So much need. Such few resources for ones like her.
I do not feel full right now. Now, I feel empty. But I know that too is a blessing because it means I’m still hungry…hungry for God to fill me, and it means my heart is still beating, its still bleeding even though life with its cruelty would have it stop. We are such self-protectors. We don’t want to get involved. Don’t want to feel pain. Don’t want to be hungry. We do only that which might repay us in some way or offer some kind of return…even the feeling that we are good for a little while. Here…we are learning to let that go. Here, I’m still just a bleeding heart. And here I am still desperate. And I think it’s ok.
So to not end with gloom and doom, I’ll tell you of my promise: This morning in class after all the drama and tear filled goodbye to my little clinging girl….I was just balling my eyes out and hurt, and angry, and just upset but trying to understand….after I really felt like I gave it back to God….I feel a hand on my leg and look up and one of the little girls I’ve been holding and eating lunch with, Pretoria, who doesn’t speak but just looks at me with luminescent eyes---she is there and she is smiling (and she rarely smiles) and I know she is happy to see me and I am so happy to see her. I pull her into my lap and just rock her and she is content to just sit there and let me love on her even though she is missing lunch…and I heard God say to me… “For every one you give back to me, I’ll give you another.” And I knew that God sent her there as a promise, to just give me a hug, and some hope---that to love and to hurt, as much as it might cost us, is still the only way. This disappointment cannot break me….it is just one more thing I am laying down for the promise---blessed are those who hunger….for they will be filled.