October 31, 2009


The question I am asked more than any other is, “What do you do in Mozambique?”

My four-year-old niece prayed for me during my last visit home, “God, please help Wennie to look after the babies in Africa.” It is a fair assumption that I “look after the babies”, considering that I live in the midst of a 300-child centre and I do talk a lot about them to anyone who will listen. I spend time with the children of Zimpeto but that is not my official role – for me, being with the children is refreshment at the end of a long day or on a quiet weekend.

My main role is to look after the visitors who come to spend time with our kids and to experience the many ministry opportunities here. We receive more than 1000 visitors each year from all over the world. They play soccer, do craft, teach guitar, talk to, pray with and love on the children. For their two or three week stay, visitors pour into our kids the kind of focused attention that most of the resident missionaries, as much as we would like to, generally cannot.

My life in Mozambique began as a visitor to Zimpeto. Then when I moved here to live, it took me a day to travel but, in hindsight, a lifetime of preparation to get here.

I had spent much of my life turning away from the suffering of the poor, avoiding the horrendous statistics about child poverty and infant mortality, refusing to acknowledge how very rich I really was. Whenever a child sponsorship ad came on TV… cue soft music, zoom in on an emaciated little body, “For $30 a month, you can change Arsenia’s life forever…” I was one of those who could not watch.

I would shut my eyes tightly, reach for the remote and press any button I could find just to change the channel and avoid looking upon such agony. Then one day I stopped avoiding and began to look - to really look. I remember the moment. I made a conscious decision to see what my heart refused to acknowledge until that point. Denial was no longer an option. My own sense of helplessness could no longer excuse me from avoiding the truth. So I whispered, almost hoping my prayer would not be heard, “What can I do?”

In that moment, I stepped beyond helplessness and into a world of possibilities. It did not occur to me that I could make even the slightest difference. The problem was too big and I was way too small and inconsequential. Never did I think…

I was a visitor to Zimpeto for three weeks in 2006 and nothing has been the same for me since. I visited because I wanted to see. I wanted to feel. I no longer wanted to numb myself to the pain that others in the world were suffering. I wanted to confront my own sense of helplessness in the face of such pain and inquire of God, “What can I do? As tiny as I am, what can I do? You’re big, I’m not. You’re the God of the exceeding abundantly more than I can ask or imagine. So what can You do through me?”

Now I live in Mozambique. It was never part of the plan and I am still surprised that I am here. I laugh as I think of it! God has truly done “exceeding abundantly more…” and I am daily amazed.

Now I have the privilege of walking others through their oftentimes first visit to Mozambique and to Africa. I am one of a team that is building a bridge between worlds, walking brave souls back and forth as they negotiate this narrow way. I am very aware with each day that comes and each visitor I meet that it is impossible to step into this particular world, even briefly, without being changed deeply and forever.

The change works both ways.

The poor have no voice. They have no forum in which they can speak and be heard. The orphan, the widow, the sick and the outcast - they have no way to proclaim their needs in a form that will be heard by the rest of the world. They do not have the resources to change their circumstances or their future, no way to get their message through to a world that communicates via email and skype, cable television and Oprah. Their silence condemns them to unending powerlessness.

Perhaps, by welcoming visitors to this ministry, we can provide one small forum in which the poor can speak. 1000 visitors who pass through our gates each year hear the voices calling to them from the garbage dump, the hospital and the jail. They hear the stories of our children - the many, many stories of illness and abuse, of starvation and rejection. They stop long enough to listen and to learn.

Our visitors go into the community to pray for the sick and distribute food to the hungry. They cuddle the tiny malnourished babies in the nursery and visit the widows’ home while the old vovos – the Mozambican grandmas - tend their newly-planted vegetable garden. They watch the young mothers bring their newborns to the clinic for milk and they chat with the many lined up waiting for medical attention. They drive through the city and weep for the blind beggar tapping at the vehicle’s windows, palms turned upward and eyes cloudy and dull. They look away, deeply disturbed by the sight of the young woman dragging herself roughly across the busy road on her hands and knees, somehow waving two lanes of traffic to a halt as she crawls over the hot, potholed roadway.

When you come and you listen - and you hear - you empower the poor. By listening, you give them a voice with which they can share their needs. Then you take their message back with you. You go home and you pray. You stir others to pray, or to come, or to speak up, or to raise the finances so desperately needed here.

Through the visitors who come to Zimpeto, the voice of the poor resonates around the world.

I do not take care of orphans as part of my role here. I do not play with them each day or feed them or tuck them into bed at night. My role is to facilitate others to come and to see, and then to go home with a good report, bearing witness to the hand of God working for a nation in need.

I work as part of a team that brings worlds together, in the hope that one can support the other in ways that will change both forever.

For more information about visiting Zimpeto Children’s Centre, email zimpetohospitality@irismin.org

September 12, 2009


[A brief look back to a busy, busy day in July...]

Yesterday the world was spinning faster than I had experienced for a long time. I am learning to say “despera por favor” with a smile. “Please wait…”

Needs to be met. Issues to be faced. Problems to be solved. Questions to which I must respond… now! Phones to be
answered, again and again and again. There are days when I juggle three phones at once. I have learned to hold two conversations at the same time; after all, I have two ears and two hands.

Yesterday there were plans to be finalised, messages to be delivered, money to be sorted, accommodation to be organised, directions to be given, vehicles to be coordinated, transport to the airport for 37 people all at once… hugs, thanks, goodbyes… oh no, I forgot to find the lost suitcase! As the day progressed and the world turned faster and faster, my head began to spin with it. I wondered how to do everything that needed to be done without dropping the ball, my bundle or the many papers I was carrying around to reassure me that I was on top of everything.

I headed for the Baby House to deliver a message. The plan was to be in and out in a moment. No time for distractions or play or loving on babies today.

Within seconds, I’d delivered my message but Lourenco had spotted me. I began to back out the door. He ran towards me, gathering momentum even as his feet tripped over each other. He leaned forward precariously as I began to turn away, his arms wide and face beaming even as I thought, “I don’t have time for you today.” As he reached me, he fell into my arms and I I instinctively swung him into the air. Somehow my day was hijacked by the smile of a precious babe.

To think, I almost missed it.

As I held him, he placed one tiny hand on each of my shoulders and turned his head, leaning his cheek firmly against mine. I felt his little body relax as he leaned against me. His breathing began to slow and deepen.

My day’s agenda faded as I held him close. I began to sing quietly to him, “Yes, Jesus loves you…” as his arms loosened and his hands dropped from my shoulders. The echoing noise of thirty children playing within the concrete walls of the Baby House faded as I focused on this one beautiful boy wanting a few moments of my attention.

Lourenco has no mother to rock him to sleep at night, no father to swing him high in the air and catch him as he squeals with delight. He has spent the first two years of his life without a family to remind him that he is loved and he is special and that there is hope for him to be all that he wants to be in his life.

Yesterday, for a few moments he had me. It is not enough but it is something. Somehow my heart was hijacked, just for awhile, by a toddler innocent enough despite his losses to still believe that a hug is enough. He stirred an instinct in me so viscerally powerful that it took my breath away. To hold an orphan seeking love is worship of the highest order.

And so I surrendered, my heart taken captive by the guileless trust of a child. He knew that, as he ran and toppled in my direction, my arms would catch him and lift him high. This babe who has no earthly reason to trust, trusted me. It is why we are here: to catch them before they fall and lift them as high as we possibly can, holding them there until they can soar on their own.

For a few moments yesterday, the world stopped spinning, my heart stopped racing and rest took me over. I breathed out the busyness of the day as I sang over him. He was being filled and refreshed by love, even as his tiny body relaxing in my arms was refreshing me.

I swayed gently and continued to sing as he leaned his head back and his eyes gazed at my lips singing life over him. My back found the wall and I slowly slipped down and onto the cool concrete floor, babe in arms. His eyes drooped and closed and he fell asleep. All the riotous noise of thirty children faded into the background as I gazed at his sleeping face and thanked God for reminding me why I am here – to stop for the one.

“The one” in this moment was a toddler needing a cuddle. Perhaps the one tomorrow will be a Mozambican tia needing a smile or a staff member a word of encouragement for all the work he does. Perhaps it is, as today, one of the 60 or so visitors wandering the Centre, their hearts being stirred for a harvest field so ripe that they can smell the richness of the crop as they walk through the sand, praying and laughing and loving on our children.

Today, Lourenco’s soul needed refueling, as did mine. He reminded me to slow down, to breathe, and to stop for awhile. As he slept in my arms, I poured love into him with my touch and my words and my prayers. I quietly thanked God for these moments, for using the outstretched arms of a toddler to draw me aside from the busyness of my day, reminding me that He leads me beside still waters and He restores my soul. I could so easily have missed it. Even on the busiest of days, He is my Restorer - and Lourenco’s.

Half an hour later and the world was no longer spinning, my heart no longer racing and my head now thinking more clearly about the next steps to take in this day full of challenges. I whispered my thanks to this little boy for giving me more than I could possibly give back to him. I handed him carefully to a tia and slipped away, walking more gently now, back into a day filled with opportunities to serve, one person at a time, with a smile.

“…ask where the good way is and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jer 6:16

September 5, 2009


Finally! Blogger is allowing me to upload again. Forgive my five-month silence and thank you for the gentle - and the not-so-gentle - prompts to keep writing. A day feels incomplete to me until I have poured some words out as my soul seeks to make sense of the world in which I am living.

Now, here, in a land so different from the one in which I have spent most of my life, I need to write more than ever before. As I write, I hold circumstances with all their attendant joys and sorrows up to the brightness of the sun. I peer closely to find meaning in each shifting glint. As I construct sentences and paragraphs, revisiting events and conversations of the day, I glean meaning from the state of affairs that stretch my soul each day. I seek to discard the chaff and, hopefully, retain the nourishing life lessons that shift me closer to being all I can be, giving all that I can give.

There are days when the arrogance of my human soul astounds me as I attempt to draw logical understanding from unutterable suffering. Mostly, there is no sense to be made. On other days, when my soul is tired and needs to rest from trying to understand all it witnesses, I rest from thinking and I just feel. Oh what a relief that is! Even when the feelings are deep and painful and shake me to the core, it is a relief to lay down my need to understand.

I am learning just to be. I am seeking to master the art of breathing slowly and deeply through each minute and each circumstance, no matter what comes my way. I have entrusted my soul to someone greater and my circumstances to the goodness of the God who designed me for the life I have been called to live. Ah the peace in trusting!

Since my last post, life has moved apace as it only can in Mozambique. I have watched again and again as friends and coworkers grieve the deaths of friends and family members. I have witnessed three Mozambican marriages, welcomed several new babies into the Zimpeto family, moved house for the fourth time this year, sadly farewelled old friends and welcomed new ones.

I had my first run-in with a shapa (public minivan) as its driver tried to squeeze between my vehicle and the truck coming in the opposite direction. The shapa driver was obviously a man of faith – after all, faith is being sure of what we do not see: he tried to get his vehicle through a gap that did not exist and he succeeded. Despite the shapa catching my side mirror, there was no damage to my vehicle. Note to self: never assume two lanes mean two lanes.

Here at the Centre, I continue to struggle with the language, inflicting my appalling but gradually improving grammar on anyone who stops long enough to listen. I will never surrender! The toddlers now occasionally understand and respond to my Portuguese. The teenagers still laugh. Some of the little ones have come close to mastering my name: more “Winda” than Wendy but that’s OK with me, especially when grubby fingers are reaching for a hug while faces beam, content and satisfied and asking for nothing more than a cuddle and a smile. And a song sung to the strumming of my new guitar, sent to me by some school students in Sydney, Australia. Thank you!

Days have turned into weeks and weeks into months as the year flies past. The mild, perfectly pleasant winter is now making way for spring and I am continually challenged to make the most of every moment of my days. And still I can say with all my heart that I would be nowhere else in the world.

March 27, 2009


When I moved to Mozambique, I took with me certain expectations, many of which have already been realised.

I fully expected meltingly hot summers that lasted for half the year. I knew that clean feet would be a thing of the past and that noisy children would be raking the sand under my window at 5am in the morning. I understood that the hot water supply would be inconsistent, that the electricity would shut down regularly and that internet access would be slow at best and non-existent at worst.

I hoped for regular meals out and an occasional hot afternoon meandering slowly through the upmarket, air conditioned mall in town. I longed for adventurous drives into the bush to stay with the locals, and road trips with new friends to view the magnificent northern Mozambique coastline. I dreamed of glorious orange sunsets and clear African skies reaching on forever. I even planned some holidays, perhaps to Swaziland or Tanzania or South Africa’s Cape Town way down at the bottom of the continent.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the adventures of last night.

I received the call with only 23 hours notice that something was up. I was invited to a reception and was I free? Of course! I had never met the woman on the phone – she was an Australian working at the US Embassy, which made no sense to me at all. But a free night out is worth a lot to a tired, dusty Aussie living in Africa, so of course I said yes. I hung up the phone then thought, “Did she just say ‘The Palace?’”

At 10.30 the next morning, the gilt-edged invitation was hand-delivered to confirm what I had begun to suspect was someone pulling my leg. “The President of the Republic of Mozambique invites Senhora Wendy Walker to an Official Banquet at the Palacio de Ponto Vermelho...”

And so it began. I was officially invited to the Palace for a State Banquet being hosted by the President and First Lady of Mozambique, in honour of our very own Australian Governor General who was dropping in briefly during her ten nation tour. Being an Aussie living in Maputo is serving me very well indeed.

So, how to proceed? First, a quick dash to the nearest clothes shop forty minutes away. But no, the car wouldn’t start. After an hour’s delay, I borrowed a vehicle and was on my way. Then home with a new skirt to ask Laura’s help with the rest of the outfit. Only then did I think to get the invitation translated precisely. Oh no! Formal! A cotton skirt would never do.

I am an Aussie gal living in a developing nation in a compound with 300 kids. I play in the sand. I climb splintered wooden play equipment. I carry babies around at every opportunity. The only reason I wear shoes is to avoid catching those tiny little worms that bury into one’s skin and lay their eggs there. I fight a daily war against dust and grime which I will never win so I may as well signal surrender and relax. The closest I get to formal is tying a capalana over my cut-offs and swapping my grey thongs for black ones for church on Sunday mornings.

It did not occur to me to bring a formal gown from Australia to my orphanage-home in Mozambique. What an oversight.

Laura took charge. God bless Laura. “Wendy, we’re going into town. We have to SHOP! Meet me at the car in 15 minutes.” So Laura drove me all the way into town to buy clothes. She also drove me all around town showing me how to find the Palace and how to get home at the end of the night. Here I was thinking, “How hard can it be to find a palace in the middle of Maputo?” I never would have made it there and back in the dark Mozambican night without this tour.

We had less than an hour to find something floor-length and formal. For the first time in my life, I was thankful that my dress size is more Harare than Hollywood. The first thing I tried on was a floor length skirt. Perfect fit. Done. Second shop, black wrap top. Done. I believe I just witnessed a miracle. In and out in forty minutes for a job that could have taken months back in Australia.

Home. No time to sit down with just over an hour to get back out the door. I borrowed a selection of handbags and shoes and wraps and jewellery from my “ladies in waiting”, all as excited as I was. Showered then searched for the blow dryer for its first use in Mozambique. Then makeup (I had to remember... is it liner or shadow first?) and finally worked out the rest of the outfit. No time for trial and error. The last thing I did was slip on some borrowed sandals - perfect fit! I felt like Cinderella being dressed for the ball. Then Sandra took photos and sent me on my way.

I hiked up my long skirt and clambered into the big old filthy, noisy, borrowed ute, wearing very unglamorous sandshoes for the drive. It was about then that I started laughing and did not stop all night. I drove the fifty minutes through smoky, smelly Maputo, dressed up to the nines, feeling very much like a princess driving a pumpkin.

I pulled up at the boom gates to the Palace but was refused entry, even with my fancy invitation. What to do? “Nao falo Portuguese! Do you speak English?” I begged as several guards with rifles gathered around my car. Then, right next to me, an official vehicle with flags on the hood pulled up. Someone opened the back window and called, "Wendy, is that you? Follow us!" It was the woman from the US Embassy who had phoned the night before to invite me. I realised I must be even more conspicuous than I thought. I took a deep breath, waved and smiled at the armed guards then drove past them. I was in.

I pulled up behind all the clean, sleek white government cars and slipped out of the high cab of the ute, hoping not to catch my now-dusty dress on the way down. Then I realised I still had my sandshoes on. Back up into the cab, changed my shoes and got out. I looked across the road to see the official party from the other car waiting patiently for me and watching every move.

I made it half way across the road before a guard caught up and told me to move my car. Back I went, inelegantly hitched up my shiny black floor-length gown, climbed in and started the car again.

I tried to back up over the curb and onto the footpath as instructed. I was still being watched as the car chugged loudly then stalled. I started up once more then skidded the tyres trying to get the back wheels over the high gutter. Finally and after much revving and screeching, I gave up with half the hood still hanging out over the road. I motioned thumbs up to the guard then refused to look his way again, in case he made me move the car further.

Out I climbed once more and honked the horn accidentally on the way down. I scurried away from the guard, inasmuch as one can scurry in slip-on Cinderella sandals, and joined the very patient group waiting for me. I was laughing as I introduced myself. Why were they not smiling?

Finally – finally! - I walked in with my new friends who then left me on my own. I took a deep breath, walked up to complete strangers, held out my hand and said, "Boa Noite. Chama me Wendy. Do you speak English?" Every Australian I met knew other Aussies there with whom they wanted to chat so, feeling like an unwanted extra, I made for the Africans and was welcomed warmly.

At Table 17, I sat between a Presidential Aide and the Tanzanian Consul to Mozambique. What delightful company they were. I learned that not all Presidential Aides speak English, that my poor Portuguese is apparently very amusing, and that Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti are a must-see for anyone living anywhere near Tanzania. I believe an open invitation was extended. I believe...

The military band played the Australian National Anthem (oh my) and O Presidente da Moçambique made a speech which was translated via headphones on all the tables. The translator kept referring to the "Australian General Governor" which made me giggle, quite inappropriately.

We – about 200 mostly Africans with some washed-out Aussies in the mix - were seated at round tables in a giant white marquee with crisp linen, fresh flowers and air conditioning. The special guests were seated on a long table up high at one end. Imagine the Last Supper African-style. GG Quentin Bryce looked stunning in bright pink but so skinny and fragile compared to the Mozambican women that I fully expected her to be blown over at any moment.

On the table were red and white roses with a tall, wooden giraffe standing up in the middle of each arrangement. The food was part Mozambican (kassava, maize meal and bean leaves) and part “western” (turkey, prawns, citrus sorbet and spinach mousse) which was a bold blend of cultures, no less. The entertainment was provided by several apparently well-known Mozambican musicians – Amelia Moiane, Madala, Gabriela and Eyuphuro. It seems that one single name is all the rage no matter where in the world one is famous.

After three hours of superlative service by white-gloved waiters, the fascinating company of Kilibi and Cassimiro and some scintillating conversation in which I learned much about African ways, the President suddenly rose to leave. The band played the Mozambican National Anthem and we all stood and clapped. Within moments, our tables were being cleared and we were ushered out.

Everybody waited out by the road for their government cars to pull up and I realised that my big ol’ 4WD was parked right in front of the crowds waiting for their drivers. I paused then decided that any semblance of dignity had been lost when I stalled the first time, or perhaps it was when I got out of my car wearing sandshoes. Or was it the horn-honking? I clambered in, watched by about 50 people. Started up. Then stalled again. Perhaps my dainty little Cinderella slippers were the problem. So I changed shoes, started up again, pulled onto the road right in front of the crowd where the car shuddered loudly to a stop once more. Something was wrong and it was not about the shoes.

Gradually the crowd dispersed to their cars, driving around me and leaving me stranded in the middle of the road. My car was in the palace grounds, all the guests were now gone and all was silent. A dozen armed guards were staring at me, wishing I would leave so they could all go to bed.

Eventually one of them took pity, came to my window and motioned for me to get out. What's a girl to do? The man had a gun. I got out, by now an expert at hiking my skirt up and slipping off the car seat. I stood in front of all the guards in my floor length black and my sandshoes. And I laughed, smiling and gesturing palms up with a shrug to say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” I am sure the young man on the end laughed. I’m sure of it.

The guard had the same trouble as me and kept stalling which made me feel so much better but did not help me get home. The car was stuck in 4WD and there was nothing I could do about it. So I could drive home but only in low gear, slowly. I thanked my helper, climbed in once more, waved to the guards, and called “Obrigada! Boa noite!” I smiled directly at the one on the end who, I swear, lifted his hand just a little by his side to wave back. I drove off into the night as we all breathed a sigh of relief.

This night was an adventure beyond anything I could imagine for myself. It was a free gift I will always remember. It is not, though, the presence of the President that I will think back on particularly, nor the speeches nor the military band nor even the grandeur of the Palace.

I will think back on the overwhelming peace with which I was enveloped as I walked through what had the potential to become a tense and frustrating day. I will remember the selfless joy of friends helping me, laughing with me and ushering me into a dream, blessing me with their time and energy and cars and clothes and shoes and even their money.

The magnificence of a Presidential Banquet was somehow eclipsed by the charm and wit of dinner companions as interested in my culture as I was in theirs. The five course meal drew less appreciation from me than the gracious patience of Mozambicans willing to converse with a westerner who does not yet speak their language. The frustration of a broken-down car was completely overshadowed by one guard willing to step from his post to assist me, and another smiling ever so slightly as we shared a joke.

I will forever remember the humour I discovered somewhere deep inside me as two worlds collided and laughter lessened the impact. This is the place where I want to reside, where laughter and peace lead and all else must follow.

Now, if only I could find that other slipper...


9.30 Anna and I leave in the "Black Panther", a low sporty little sedan, a bit beaten up and fragile. This car is a Godsend I've been leant – seems to me not the most practical sort of car to own in Mozambique but so much fun. We’re off for a morning of errands, planning to be back by 1.00. I begin to adjust to the Mozambican traffic again, remembering that trucks get right of way because they're big, two lanes mean four or possibly even five at a pinch and indicators mean nothing at all.

10.00 Airport to change US dollars to Mozambican metacais for hospitality department shopping. While I wait in the car, illegally parked, I watch a young boy of about 9, shoeless, dirty and dressed in rags, search through the bin next to the car and take out two empty water bottles. He puts them in an old rice sack, throws it over his shoulder and moves slowly on. I cry and I pray. I feel incredibly conspicuous in my nice black car. I vow to remember to buy some packets of biscuits to keep in the glove box for begging children.

10.15 Anna’s back but the car won’t start. We call Vasco (head of vehicles for the Centre) who says: "The Centre mechanic didn't come to work today. I'll try to find him.”

10.20 “He’s at home. He’ll be there in half an hour." Anna buys drinks while I wait for Julio.

11.00 Call Vasco again, who says, "He's nearly there." We sit on the ground out front of the airport and wait, receiving many second glances. I see no other white faces the whole time we’re there.

11.10 Jonny pulls up, having heard that we broke down. God bless Jonny! Opens the bonnet and tinkers. Soon a Mozambican man offers to help. He starts the car in just a few minutes.

11.30 Anna calls Vasco to cancel the mechanic. “He keeps telling me he’s almost there. He’s not there?” Mission resumes.

11.45 “Game”, my favourite place to shop. Imagine a huge Kmart and Bunnings combined, without the clothes.

12.30 Buy a new printer for hospitality. Forgot the ink, which means another trip into town another day.

12.45 Lunch at Sagrez, my favourite place to eat – right on the beach. While sitting, all we can see is the ocean, brown, hazy with scum floating on top. Cooling sea breeze, I forget for awhile where I am. Have the typical Mozambican lunch of Portuguese chicken, salad, rice and soggy chips. Hawkers hold up their touristy trinkets from the beach beyond the low green wall, calling “Sensa... Sensa...”, “Excuse me...” quietly to get our attention.

1.45 Stand to leave and notice, for the first time, the piles of garbage all along the dirty brown sand’s tide line, blocked from our view while sitting and enjoying our meal. What a mess.

2.15 Shoprite for groceries. Usually I go on the “visitors’ run” in the minibus once a week and buy very little for lack of space on the way home. Today Anna and I have a whole boot we can fill if we want to. I stock up on heavy items like canned toms and long-life milk, while Anna is here to help me carry and we have lots of space in the car. Anna buys six weeks’ worth of nappies for Gilda, the disabled girl she cares for in the girls’ dorm.

In the fresh food aisle (the term “fresh” used loosely here), a young girl, maybe ten, sidles up next to me and stands for awhile. I pull my handbag closer, thinking she has seen me withdraw money from the teller a few minutes earlier. She holds her hand in front of me and on her palm is written a word in ink: “ioma”. Then she zips her lips just like a teacher to tell me not to speak and shows me the word again. She’ll be thrown out if found begging in the supermarket. I don’t know what this word means but I suspect it’s Shangaana, perhaps for money. I look deep into her eyes and smile, and she looks back for a moment, sadder and more lost than I can imagine it’s possible to be. Then she turns and walks away, disappearing into the crowd of people shopping for luxuries like soap and cereal that she has probably never had. I want to chase after her and hug her and bring her home and feed her and tell her I can make everything better. But I can’t. Every day here, my heart breaks in a new way. Imagine how Jesus must feel.

(On a lighter note, last week at Shoprite a short, gorgeous black man started a conversation with me in the laundry products aisle. I had begun to suspect somewhere near the insecticides that I was being followed. He said he was Sudanese and he obviously wanted to chat. We talked for a moment then I excused myself, saying I had to meet my friend. He asked for my phone number, “So we can talk...” First time I’ve been asked for my phone number in quite a while. And it had to be in Mozambique, in the supermarket, next to the bleach, by a Sudanese refugee “wanting to talk”.)

3.00 I put the groceries in the car and dash up the road to Woolworths (imagine a classy deli back home with packs of ham costing $9 and individual frozen meals $13). I wonder if it's worth the effort in the heat. I nod at the guard as I enter. I buy yoghurt that I can be reasonably sure won't go off by the time I get home. I buy half a dozen eggs at almost $1 each – the only eggs I can find in Maputo with yellow yolks. Shoprite yolks are beige and, I suspect, bereft of nutrients. My weekly splurge.

3.15 We head home, Anna looking for brooms for sale on the side of the road and me looking for a bed. We see a bed, after six weeks of searching! We pull over, right outside the Bocaria, the garbage dump where the smells and the smoke are almost overwhelming some days. Today, it’s not too bad at all. We wait for several minutes for a break in the traffic then take our lives in our hands and cross in front of several shapas fighting for lane space and heading our way at speed.

We check out the silver-painted metal bed, propped up on empty cans in the sand. The maker appears and I tell him, “Nao fala Portuguese”. I don’t speak Portuguese. Somehow, he gets the opposite message, so directs all his comments to me and won’t listen to Anna, a consummate Portuguese speaker. He eventually realises his mistake and we all laugh. We take his number. Yes, he has a phone. He makes beds from scrap metal and sells them by the side of the road, in the sand. He has no running water and probably no electricity. And he has a mobile phone. Very normal here.

4.00 We get back to the Centre and wait for the guard to open the gates. I pull through and feel the piled-up sand in the middle of the driveway drag against the bottom of the newly christened Black Panther. One of our Mozambican workers appears in a car from the opposite direction. I assume he'll pull back and let us through, there being room for only one car at a time. Instead of reversing, he keeps coming towards us. He doesn’t stop – he slows and pulls to the side and motions for me to do the same. I know that if I pull into the soft sand, I’ll get stuck. He keeps driving towards me so I have no choice. I pull to the side. I get stuck. He waves and keeps driving.

We’re stuck. Anna gets out and tries to push. Another worker drives towards us. He slows, looks, waves and keeps driving. Two men walk over, look, nod, and keep walking. All the while, Anna is pushing and I’m revving and we’re getting nowhere. Then, the boys on the soccer field (really just a red dust bowl) see us and a swarm of them start yelling and running towards us. I think, “I don’t want children near a bogged, slipping car” but then realise I have no choice. And they’ll love to be the rescuers of we damsels in distress. So, seven little heroes push and push and get the car out, and cheer. We’ve made their day and they’ve made ours.

4.15 Home, groceries unpacked. We took three hours longer than expected, as we always do here. My western planning mentality seems unable to adjust to how long it takes to accomplish anything. I’m exhausted. Over the next two hours I receive eight visitors, three phone calls and half a dozen texts, for all sorts of reasons. This is why going out for a day of running errands is actually quite restful, even with break-downs and bogs and begging children in the supermarket.

February 21, 2009


It has taken me by surprise, the ease with which I have transitioned back into this hot, dusty land and this very different life. I realise now that my heart was here all along, in a place where I must keep things simple and live just one day and one hour at a time. Here, I must resist the temptation to hurry through each day. Neither the heat nor the Mozambican pace allow for rushing.

My western tendencies to list-make and race through each job were thoroughly reinforced In Australia as I tried to get everything done before my return to Mozambique. Post-trip, it has taken a month of regular frustration to remember that rarely does anything happen fast here. Once I accepted that fact, what a relief it was.

The babies I left last June are no longer babies but toddlers wobbling around and singing and dancing. Even in Mozambique, the Wiggles are tops. This past week has seen the temperature remain relentlessly in the mid 40s so yesterday the tias in the Baby House had a creative idea. Flood the play area. Yes, indoors. Fill the concrete-floored play area with several inches of water, strip the kids to their undies and let them loose.

Big plastic tubs overflowing with water and several toddlers squeezed into each, laughing and splashing and squeeling together. Three-year-olds belly-flopping on the flooded floor and splashing each other with all their might. Carmina, who cannot walk, rolling back and forth, smiling wider than I have ever seen and, of course, wanting me to roll with her. Bigger kids gently holding babies up as their feet kicked at the water. Four-years-olds competing for the biggest splash as they landed hard on their bottoms.

And a hose. Did I mention the hose?

These moments capture the essence of why I am here in Mozambique, one member of a disparate band of international interlopers from a dozen nations, all wanting to “do something”, to “make a difference”, to “serve the one…”

Cliches aside, yesterday I was reminded that our 300 kids are free. Free from starvation, free from the terrors of being orphaned and alone and living on the streets. Free from leaking, falling-down homes ruled by poverty, neglect or abuse. Free from the fear of what tomorrow may bring.

For now, our kids are free to be kids.

It is not ideal, this community living. 300 children in one “home” does not always work as we would like. We need more workers in this overripe harvest field, and more funds and more ideas and more grace and more strength and more breakthroughs.

But it is what it is. And each day is a new day. And God is good and He is faithful. And yesterday I watched 30 kids play in the water, screaming with delight, without a care in the world. That is the miracle I witness every day here in a land groaning for help but not sure how to receive it. Just a few of Mozambique’s children are free, and saved, and sleeping in clean beds tonight under mosquito nets that literally save their lives.

Our kids will wake up tomorrow knowing that they will get three meals in the day. They will receive some education tomorrow. Their attention will be drawn at some point in the day to their Creator, the One who saves and heals and gives hope. And they will be loved and protected and taught about life.

When the lists in my day seem overwhelming, when more people are asking for my help than I can possibly manage, when my body begins to betray me once again by refusing to go one more step through the sand in the stifling heat, I remember where I am and how far God has brought me.

I watch the toddlers, some who were malnourished almost to death when brought to us, who are now walking and laughing and calling “Mana… Mana… “ and singing “If you’re happy and you know it…” with gusto. I watch Lena and Enoch learning to walk, and twins Francisco and Lorenzo racing towards me for a cuddle. I see Nemais, this time last year in a coma in the hospital, now kissing chubby, gorgeous little Louisa on the cheek, and Antonio proudly balancing his shoe on his head. I watch Alirio trying to push Minda off the slippery dip and Vasco tying a doll to Lucia’s back, Mozambican-style.

Our kids are free to be kids. How much better can it get?

Then I hear of an unnamed girl, about three years old, who was to come and live with us here. That was the plan. She was in the orphanage down the road which provided desperately inappropriate care to its children for many years. The orphanage has a new director now, a wise man who quickly recognised the deficiencies, humbled himself and asked for our help, passing 16 children to us almost overnight.

The previous director, on leaving, took a few children with him including the little girl who was to live at Zimpeto. It was illegal. It was akin to kidnapping. It was evil.

She died last week. I do not know how she died, or of what. I know that she was meant to be with us. I know that she should have spent yesterday playing in the water and squealing with delight among her new friends. I know that she was a defenseless child with no power to fight for herself. I know that she may have died anyway. Or not.

It is our job to defend the weak, to help the afflicted, to speak for those who have no voice.

But she was taken away, right on the edge of being saved. And she died.

I see life and joy and hope and it is good. I also see death and suffering and tragedy. I see evil and the pain it inflicts on the weakest and youngest of this society. And it breaks my heart again and again. I watch our babies grow and our toddlers walk and our preschoolers learn to write their names. I cry for the ones who got away from us and occasionally I point my finger heavenward and demand to know why this has to happen.

For now, our kids are free. Who knows what the future holds for them but here, for now, they are fed and sheltered and loved and carefree, as it should always be for children. Pray for our kids and for the many we have not yet met. Pray for the weak and helpless of Mozambique, both young and old. Pray for the workers here, that God’s strength and grace and creativity would lead us.

Pray for God’s will to be done and His Kingdom come here, in this corner of the world, as it is in Heaven.