May 18, 2008


Last week, a friend asked me a question:

“Been thinking about you. Does it feel like you have slipped through into a different world that actually bears far more relation to the majority of humanity than the rarefied life we enjoy here in Australia?? (Just a thought …)”

My response (copied below with some edits) surprised me. I tend to err on the light side when it comes to describing regular Mozambican life. It’s hard to know what people want to hear and how much of “the whole truth” a hugely varied audience can cope with, without disturbance.

Quite possibly, though, this is the height of arrogance, thinking it my role to control the flow of information about a nation bent low by so many years of unutterable suffering. Perhaps disturbance is why I’m here. To challenge the status quo. To speak up for those who have no voice by telling the truth plainly, without embellishment.

The truth I confront every day in this nation needs no embellishment.

Perhaps this is the most important job I have ever had – describing what I see. And perhaps those who read will be stirred – to give, to go, to pray, to send. To allow the plain truth to sink so deeply that their hearts are torn in two, the way God’s heart breaks each minute of every day for the people of Mozambique.

Following is my response to my friend’s question:

“Interesting question. I think I'm in some denial because life for most people here is just so unimaginably hard. I can't process it within the framework I have for understanding what a ‘good’ life is. I hear of someone I know, or know of, dying every week. Many of the kids in the school live in canesu huts - straw walls and, if they're lucky, a tin roof held down with rocks, usually leaking. I work with kids in the school who don't know they live in Mozambique and who go home into the community at the end of the day to find rats roaming through the puddles on the floor of a one room hut. I teach teachers who've never seen a jigsaw puzzle or a map of the world.

“We received a one-year-old a few weeks ago who had been cared for each day for months by her siblings - three and five years old - while the teenage sister went to school. She was literally dying of starvation. No idea how to process that, so I think I just don't.

“Some of our babies have big scars on their bellies where a witch doctor has cut them as part of some ritual.

“One of our babies, Lucia, was here for a couple of months when her mother suddenly showed up. She told us that her family had stolen Lucia and given her away as retribution for something the mother had done. How do I process living in a culture where this happens?

“No matter where I go, even here at the Centre behind barbed wire with guards on duty 24 hours a day, I can't put my keys or other belongings down because they will vanish instantly.

“There seem to be no rules to live by and no law that can be enforced. The police pull you over and demand bribes to let you go. Men swap women like cars and children seem to be viewed as dispensable and of little value. How to process all of this, to live here, to love and bless and stay full of hope? How to offer dignity to a people so beaten down by years of starvation - physical, emotional, spiritual - that they've lost the ability to value themselves and each other?

“And how to feel anything other than powerless in the face of all this?

“I'm thankful every day that I'm here, living in the midst of it, albeit in my cushy apartment with running hot water, tiled floor, electricity and a screen door. I LOVE my screen door! And I know that, without some comforts and ease to my lifestyle here, I’m not sure I’d last the long haul. Sad but true. I wish it weren't.”

The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. I have been given much. This year, this challenge, this time away from all that is familiar and comfortable and predictable – this is one of the most precious gifts I’ve ever received. The question for me now is, “What do I do with this gift?” How do I respond?

All I know to do right now is walk carefully through each day, one step at a time, and every time an opportunity presents itself, grasp it violently and with both hands and refuse to let go until I’ve given love away, the very best way I know how.